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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The devil in nostalgia.

With the advent of my oldest nephew turning 18, I found myself thinking back on the last 18 years. As you do. Where I was in life when he was born, which is to say, on the verge of homelessness and complete physical and emotional devastation. It would be another nine months or so before I’d accept a lifeline, and things would finally change for the better. So I find myself thinking back on all that has transpired since then. The person I am today compared to the person I was 18 years ago, and all the stops in between. I think back on jobs I had, places I lived, friends I made, men I dated, and all the work going on underneath the surface to shift my own emotional landscape. All the “life” that has happened for me over the course of my nephew’s life, because he came along at such a pivotal time.

And while in the midst of all this reminiscing, I find myself battling a not-so-subtle shift from nostalgia to regret.

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing – or at least, it can be. You think back on good times, you reminisce about happy memories and events… that stuff doesn’t have to take away the present moment, it just means you can look back on your life and enjoy the highlight reels, you know? But for me, at least recently, it seems like that nostalgia can take a wrong turn and before you know it, you’re wondering where you went wrong and wishing you’d done things differently. You’re thinking things were better back then, and wishing for times gone by. You’re sometimes even forgetting the bad or not-so-awesome parts and only remembering the good parts, maybe even as being better than they were.

And I guess maybe that only happens if you’re not finding the happy with where you are right now. (Note to self: remember to keep finding the happy in where you are right now.)

Regret is one of those things I’ve always promised myself to guard against. I’ve seen how it destroys people – in particular, someone very close to me; I’ve seen how it can permeate every waking moment, and how it can tarnish even the happiest of times, turning it all into one big pile of “not enough.” I’ve seen how it can make you turn against yourself, lamenting choices made, paths taken… all of it.

And now, I know what that feels like.

(All the more reason to battle against it, then.) 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a family of my own. Maybe it’s because mine was blown apart when I was a kid, and I’ve been trying to get that sense of security back ever since. Maybe that’s why I’ve never truly felt at home anywhere – not for very long, anyway – because it’s just been ME. But whatever the case, I have recognized in me the desire to have kids, the desire to find a partner, the desire – a need, almost – to pair up and settle down and have a life and family together. And maybe it was just the *idea* of these things – although my body was always yearning to know what it felt like to grow and carry a human – but whatever the case, that desire has always, always been there. It was never strong enough to make me willing to settle, mind you; to have a kid in less than what seemed like ideal circumstances, but it’s definitely been ever-present.

Unfortunately, I think that desire was coming from the wrong place. And I should probably put quotations around the word “wrong” because, you know, we all just do the best we can. But when you’re being driven by a desire to fill a void left behind, the results you net probably aren’t going to be what you really want, and, more importantly, what you really, actually need. Instead, it causes you to be a whole lot less selective in your race to the finish line of “happily ever after.” I spent a lot of time and effort on liars, cheaters, manipulators, addicts… you name it, all for the sake of trying to fill that void and get that happily ever after.

That’s a lot of wasted time. A lot of wasted years – if that’s how I choose to view it.

To find myself, at the age of 43, still single and without a kid or two of my own, still not having experienced a thing that, to me, is one of the greatest representations of what it means to be human and to participate in that life experience… it’s hard. To know what a solid human I am and all that I have to offer someone else, all that I would have had to offer a little human as a parent, and to have spent the last 18 years growing and changing and working towards that “better person every day” thing and to STILL have never found what I’ve wanted with someone else…

I think I might just be mourning the loss. And I think I have to be REAL careful to not fall into the trap of blaming myself somehow for all of this. Wishing I could have grown and changed faster, or gotten myself ready to receive those gifts when it was still a possible thing. You know?

Nostalgia takes me back to Minneapolis, when I dated one of the sweetest, kindest, smartest, most generous and thoughtful men I’ve ever known, until he moved back to Boston to finish school. Neither of us was prepared to navigate a long-distance thing, and I know that. We lost touch not long after, and I was left with a lot of happy memories with him, as well as the knowledge that I could, in fact, open up to someone good (after spending a lot of years falling prey to not-so-good). But that nostalgia turns into regret sometimes. Why didn’t I try harder? Why didn’t I stay in touch? Why didn’t we try again? Why couldn’t that have been the one?

Nostalgia takes me back to Portland, too. To another sweet, kind, thoughtful, emotionally-present man who was ALL IN with me… and I loved him enough to break things off when I realized I wasn’t there yet. He deserved and needed more than I could give, and it wasn’t fair to pretend any other outcome was possible then. We’ve also lost touch, and I think that was more of a protective measure for him than anything, at least in the beginning. But again, nostalgia has turned into regret there, too. Or at least a whole lot of “what if” and “why not.” Why couldn’t I have been ready? Why did I have to miss out on someone good who was all about it – and me?

And maybe it’s just that neither of these were the right time, right person, right situation, and that happens. Maybe none of it warrants regret, because sometimes things just don’t work out. I’d imagine they’re both happily with someone else by now, if that’s what they wanted, because they both had such good and willing hearts. I don’t begrudge THAT at all; if anything, I’d be happy for the women they’ve found to spend time (or their lives) with. They’d be some fortunate women.

But I see where nostalgia can go with me, at least some of the time. Nostalgia turns into lamentations of wrong turns and bad calls and all the other things that, at this point, I have no control over other than how I choose to remember them. I’ve continued to make “interesting decisions” in who I spend time with, but I’m pretty sure those days have also come to an end. I’ve finally, finally had enough; I just wonder sometimes if it’s too late.

I mean, I know. There is still plenty of time to meet someone and to have that partnership, barring some unforeseen tragedy. If all goes well, I still have another 40 years of life ahead of me, and that’s a hell of a long time; a lot can happen. And, truth be told, I’m finally in a place where I am happy on my own, too. I’ve got a job that I love again, I’m in school and learning about things that fascinate me and it’s got me on the right career trajectory, I have a roof over my head and loving family members and friends nearby… what it means to be alive is however you define it.

I think I finally get that.

So I guess I’m just making room for mourning the loss – of past loves, sure, but also the loss of hope surrounding certain things coming to pass in my life. Acceptance. And then, too, making room for appreciation of everything else that’s come to pass instead. Engaging in active gratitude, and maintaining perspective about all of it. When you regret, there’s no room for anything else; it tarnishes even the brightest and shiniest of things, and adds a whole lot of weight to the burdens we already bear, just by our very human nature. If nothing else comes to pass in the next 40 years of life, I just want to keep on shining.

And so, no more looking back with anything other than a fond thought and a small smile. Onward and upward, y’all. ❤

that spark and that shine and that warm golden light.

A whole lot of years ago (seventeen, to be exact), I found myself in a pretty terrible situation, by all accounts. It was sad, hopeless, soul-depleting… at the time, I was pretty well numb to all of it; now, of course, I have nothing but empathy and compassion for the person who found herself in that place. I don’t regret a minute of it; I also just don’t think anyone should ever have to go through that.

But in the midst of it all, despite making all the wrong choices and feeling a whole lot less than nothing, there was this thing. This spark. Something all the way deep down that told me I could do better. That I wasn’t done. That it didn’t have to be that way and that I counted, I mattered, and there was a better life to be lived. I had this thing, this voice, this tiny little shine inside, and (with the help of family and friends) it was just enough to move me forward. And just as it was like a fuel for forward motion, it was like a beacon; the light would shine bright enough for those around to see me, to hear the call, to be there for me and remind me of my worth until I could hear and see it, too.

It’s that little sliver of light… I want to know what that is, and where it comes from, and what builds it and feeds it and is it always there for everyone or is it something that comes from within (or without) and what can you do to find that light when you think it’s stopped shining or it feels too weak for people to see? How do you ignite it in yourself? Or others?

I’ve been thinking a lot about unhealthy situations… dysfunctional or toxic or even just unhappy relationships / work environments / family / etc. (I should clarify that I’m not talking about dangerously abusive; that’s a whole other thing and not at all applicable here.) For these kinds of situations, and speaking from experience, there are things that happen to get you to that place. Even the most “together” person can find themselves in an emotionally abusive or unhealthy relationship, or a terrible and toxic job situation, because of a weak moment or a blind spot or a need that’s being met or a slow creep or who knows what, but it happens. So, what is it in a person that gives them the strength and the courage to leave? To move on? To trust there’s something bigger and better (or at the very least, different) out there? Why do some people stay stuck and unhappy while others have it in them to just move on? Is it that the light doesn’t shine as bright for them? Is it a sense of responsibility or a lack of self-worth or a higher pain threshold or tolerance?

There are times in my life where I have stayed in something a whole lot longer than maybe I should have, and definitely longer than other people would have, but it always felt like just long enough. In The Four Agreements, he talks about how you only accept as much poison from another person as you believe you deserve. So if that’s the case… does the light start to shine when you’ve finally had enough?

Not completely unrelated… there’s a street here in town that I’ve fallen in love with. The stretch of 23rd Avenue South, between Sharondale Drive and Golf Club Lane, has a funny little way of lighting me up every time I drive it (pun partially intended). There’s something about the houses, about the warm, enveloping lights shining through the windows and from the porches, that makes it all just feel like home.

“Home” has been a long-running theme of mine, and I’ve been paying a lot of attention to all the people, places, things, and ideas that elicit the home response in my heart. So maybe that thing, that light, that spark inside a person is really just another version of home – and maybe it’s the most important version of all.