Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Thursday, May 05, 2016

No regrets

I heard on the radio again yesterday that one of the top regrets of people at the end of their lives is losing contact with friends. It's probably not surprising it comes at a time when I sit in my own self-conscious place, worried about my own recklessness, and wondering if it's too late to contact three precious women I have neglected and lost. I say reckless not because that was my intent, but more to describe what it must have felt like from their perspectives when I disappeared. At the very least I keep thinking I would like to say I'm sorry.  

I lost my dear college-and-beyond friend during a major shuffle in my life just about 15 years ago. She was a funny, peaceful sort I even lived with for a time, and loved like a sister. The shift in my life changed my habits and our phone time got compromised. Once I was out of touch for a few weeks, it was hard to call. Then months turned into years. I am stuck with my own inaction and can't seem to make a move. Not even just to apologize. I want to, but don't.

Not long after that I let another friend go in a similar story. She was hired into a company I consulted with and we became fast friends. I was accepted into her family and actually traveled with her and her daughter abroad. She too was funny, and smart and always working on some new something, or making something better/cleaner. And then she got sick, cancer, and had surgery. With a tight group of friends around her, and my own discomfort about how to help or be, I only stayed connected with her for a few months after. I cannot believe how despicable that makes me feel. I don't know what happened really. I vaguely remember some tension developed between me and her husband as I tried to help, but in retrospect hardly a reason to bail. It still pains me that for some reason I couldn't be there for her. 

The most recent story is of an artist friend I met in Mexico, an incredible, talented, peaceful woman that helped me believe in myself as an artist. She lives several hours from me, and while we didn't communicate frequently, we were in touch, and one of my favorite trips of the year was driving to stay, eat, walk, write and dream with her. During the time I was really connecting with this woman my Mom was deteriorating from Alzheimers. Mom died a short time after the last time I saw my friend. I think I went into la-la land after that, isolating and reflecting. By the time I looked up months had passed and I was too embarrassed to call. I even framed some beautiful photos her husband gave me hoping my sense of decency would make me call before I could hang up the pictures. They are hung and I still haven't called.

I have learned some things about myself over the years. First I am kind of a turtle. I pull my head in my shell and shut out the world, especially under stress. Second I spent years at home hearing how idiotic I was for wanting to talk on the phone to my friends, and it seems too have stunted my ability to be good at it. Third, I procrastinate, not everything, but usually things that daunt me.

All of these make me a candidate for regret, like everybody else who wishes they hadn't done something in their lives. I don't like being like everybody else. And I want to stop waking up in the middle of the night thinking about my shortcomings as a friend. I want to know these lovely people who have added so much to my life are well and happy, or at least they are surrounded by people to help them cope with whatever stands in their way. I want to tell them how sorry I am for letting them go, and how much they meant to me, even though I wasn't able to show it.

Somehow writing about it helps. Somehow sending it out to the Universe and to my blessed readers gives me hope. I pray now for the ability to act. Send me your good wishes for no regrets.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.