Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Random Acts of Cruelty

Last night I talked with an online friend that I hadn't spoken to for a few months.  He and his wife were expecting a baby in late October, so as I settled into conversation with him my first thoughts turned to his upcoming bundle of joy.  This would be their first child, after a long period of trying to conceive and I had been thrilled for them when he shared the pregnancy news with me.  Being a parent is an amazing, transformative experience and I was elated that my friend would have the opportunity to see what it's like first hand.

After the initial hellos, I asked the question, "Baby yet?"  That's when he told me something that hasn't really left my mind since the words blinked on the screen  in black and white.  At thirty-five weeks of an uneventful, healthy pregnancy, his baby died in utero. I was shocked, saddened, and felt so badly for him and his wife.  I couldn't help but cry for them, for their tremendous loss.  I can't even begin to imagine how something like that would feel, a shredding of the heart.

And then I thought about how incredibly unfair life can be.  How ugly.  How hurtful.  I had no platitudes of comfort to give my friend.  Everything I thought to say sounded false to my ears, shallow and tepid.  Nothing I could say or do would make the situation any less horrible than it was and I felt helpless.  As much as I like to believe that I am an optimist, a person who thinks that the world is mostly good, that things eventually work out, and that a reason exists behind every event, situations like this blow all that away.  My carefully constructed beliefs collapse like a house of cards.  I'm left staring into the abyss--a moment's clarity that the world is a random, cruel, unjust place in which to live.  There is no rhyme or reason.  Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people and the planet keeps right on spinning not paying attention to any of it.

Something such as this seems inexplicable to me.  It is not karma being fulfilled, it is not punishment for some sin, it is not some lesson to be learned.  Those are all things we tell ourselves to gain control over that which is totally out of our control.  It is a denial of the true randomness of life.  It is a rejection of the knowledge that we never know what will happen or why it happens.  I admire the people who can live their lives acknowledging those things.  It takes real courage and strength to face life without any palliatives of religion or faith that things occur for a determined reason.  I know I am not that strong--I don't think I ever will be.

Rather than being devoid of belief, when my belief is shaken like today,  I think I'd just rather live with not knowing.  That might just be the best I can do for now.

Friday, October 4, 2013

All Shapes and Sizes: Meaningful Friendships

We learn so much from other people.  Every person that comes into your life provides an opportunity for growth.  Life lessons come in all shapes and sizes, and all different kinds of people. The trick to gleaning something meaningful from interaction with another person is being able to see that there is something to learn.  I am fortunate that as I have aged, I have become much more open to meeting new people and really talking with them.  When I was younger, I had all sorts of ideas about what made a decent person. Thankfully as I've gotten older, I realized that most of my criteria was based on bullshit.

 Even though my parents raised me to be open-minded, I placed a heavy emphasis on a person's upbringing, background, education levels, and even appearance.  If they didn't meet my automatic, judgmental standards of what I considered correct, I invariably engaged with them in my much cooler, disinterested version of myself. I cut off further interaction by being a supercilious bitch. If they met the criteria, I behaved with a warmth and openness that allowed for further knowledge of one another.

 While it's understandable that like attracts like, and most people "make friends" with those people who are similar to themselves, having such arbitrary and high standards for even basic interaction caused me to miss out, I am sure, on some seriously awesome people.  Somewhere along the line, as I gained more experience, learned from my mistakes and became much more comfortable in my own skin, I realized that all people, no matter how different from me, had value and interest.  Some of the nicest, deepest-thinking, and warmest people I've ever met have come from incredibly disparate backgrounds from my own.

I have friends that run the gamut from ultra-religious Muslims and Christians to former felons and recovering alcoholics and crack addicts. While I have nothing in common with the behaviors of the ultra-religious or the criminally inclined, I do have things in common with the people behind those identifying factors.  I now connect with the humanity of a person as opposed to all the signifiers I used for classification of another.  I've learned that being devout doesn't make a person all good, nor does committing a crime make a person all bad.  That's the fabulous thing about maturing, things cease to be purely black and white.  Life becomes a fantastical landscape made from a thousand shades of gray.

This morning, I had a lovely conversation with one of my more unusual friends.  He's North African, Muslim, a former drug addict, well-educated, world-traveled and one of my favorite people ever.  He's both seen and done things, not all of them good, that I can only ever imagine.  He was raised in a traditional household where his father had two wives, and he has more brothers and sisters than I do first and second cousins.  He is so very different from me, yet also very much alike.  In all areas that really matter, he and I have similar mindsets.   We hold ideas in common about people in general, how to live an authentic and generous life, and how to be in-tune with the world and humanity.  We have the best discussions regarding religion, moral obligations, self-improvement, and valuing the important aspects of one's life.  We also share a keen sense of humor and wit, with our conversations careening from esoteric to absolutely goofy.  I've learned so much not only about life in general, but about myself because I was open to friendship with him.  If I had gone by my youthful list of requirements regarding friendship when I first met him, I never would have been his friend.  I would have completely short-changed myself and I am exceptionally glad that I did not do that.

I look back at my younger self and smile. I was so very different than I am now.  If I could go back in time and give myself some advice, it would definitely be to lighten up, not take things or people or requirements too seriously.  I would tell myself to enjoy people for who they are, not what you assume they should be.  I would like to think, that even as uptight as I were then, that I would have listened to my older self.  I also like to imagine all of those people I shut out, that I could have befriended and what I might have learned from them. It's definitely something I am trying to instill in my children--seeing beyond the superficial factors and really looking deeply and thoughtfully at the people with whom they interact.  I can't get back the opportunities of friendship I missed when I was young, so I really hope they take advantages of those they have now.  Who knows what kind of amazing people they will meet?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Feeling Squirrely: Harvesting Good Moments

Storing up good moments is essential.

It's perfect Indian Summer weather.  Crisp mornings and full-on warm afternoons, marked by cool breezes and that one-of-a-kind golden light just make me happy.  This time of year possesses not only natural, weather-related qualities that I adore, but it is also associated with memories I hold very dear to my heart.  It is a time of family birthdays, an anticipation of the holiday season, and outings in the aforementioned perfect weather. It's a time of harvesting and gathering.  It's cozy, and I've always been a big fan of cozy.

Autumn makes me both appreciative of the moment as well as nostalgic.  I seem to alternate between out-right happy and mistily melancholy.  Overall, however, I thoroughly enjoy this time of year and all the memories the brisk October breezes stir up. If you were to ask a group of people, each one might have a different season they relate to more strongly than others.  They would wax eloquent about the wonderful winter or the splendor of spring.  I suppose it would be an insight into their personality or character and I am sure there are some online quizzes that will analyze everything about you based on season preference.

I am not sure what autumn says about me.  Perhaps it reveals that I am family oriented, maybe someone who has a wide romantic streak and loves to add a touch of rose-colored, golden glow to her life.  It could tell me that I am a nurturer, someone who gathers family and friends close to the hearth, preparing for the eventuality of winter's harshness.  I don't know.  Maybe it means nothing at all and no insight can be drawn from my love of all things fall. In any regard, the meaningfulness of something depends on the value or weight we give it.  It's all about connotation, personal relevance, and associated emotion--and those things are different for every person.

I'm just going to enjoy the turning of the leaves, the activities associated with autumn, and the family moments.  I am reminding myself not to over-think and to just enjoy. It's important to pay attention to one's life, especially the good moments and good feelings, because it is the memory of those things that sustain us during difficult times.  Much like a squirrel storing nuts for the dark, cold winter, I am harvesting memories for moments of winter that dot all of our lives on occasion.  So far, this fall has been a bumper crop of good things and feelings.  I am a very satisfied squirrel.