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Monthly Archives: November 2008

Idealism, live on

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I am an idealist, and all that encompasses. Knowing there is evil, I believe people are inherently good. I assume their good intentions, trust what they tell me is true.

Idealism does not equal naivete. I choose to believe that the evil is the anomaly. Believing good is the anomaly is cynicism, which is at the heart of selfishness, suspicion, bigotry, corruption. Cynicism keeps the change in our pockets, justifies the bribes, makes the case for prejudice.

Idealism is not an ideology. It does not necessarily translate into compassion, tolerance, and stewardship. But these cannot thrive without it.

I am grateful for idealism, and the change that comes when idealists declare that things can, should, be better.

All this has bubbled up from a recent reading of The True Patriot, by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer (www.truepat.org). It is a gorgeous summation of our nations’ most hopeful leaders’ words, coupled with stirring photos, and the authors’ manifesto on taking back patriotism. One of my favorite quotes from the book follows:

“America is exceptional. This is not boasting or jingoism; it is fact. We are exceptional in our provenance, founded as we are on universal ideals of freedom and equal opportunity. We are exceptional in our promise, striving as we still do to live up to those ideals. Our purpose in the world is simple: to kindle the flame of a freedom worth having. And the world knows this. For all our failings, America has been the object of more hopes and dreams of more people from more places than any country in human history. But the question is this: How can we be worthy of such hopes?”

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Email

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Yes, I am grateful for email. Because I just sat down and pounded out a particularly difficult note, one that communicated something that had been too hard to say in person. And I was grateful to have a medium as immediate as the telephone without the uncomfortable requirement of an immediate response. You see, email is the grown-up equivalent to the kitchen counter. As a kid, I used to sit on the kitchen counter while my mom cooked and tell her about my day – the spelling test, how Mrs. Waldron said I was the best reader, and Susan Cari was my BFF. As I got older, that time when she was focused on dinner and I was chattering away became the perfect time to ask all those, um, awkward questions. I could sort of slide them in real fast, without looking at her. And if she had to think about how to answer, she could always send me to the pantry for some forgotten ingredient. No eye contact necessary.

So in this in-your-face world, today I am grateful for email.

The Sweat Was Running in Our Eyes. And Still We Laughed.

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Since I moved here I haven’t pushed myself particularly hard, especially when it comes to exercise. I’ve been going to yoga infrequently and when I do go I’ve chosen the restful, inner-focus classes that are only mildly challenging. As in, don’t really break a sweat. Stress relief, yes; ab workout, no. So today I made a pact to honor my body with some real work. I just feel better when I’m in shape.

So I hurried home and promptly delivered myself to the wrong yoga location. The schedule on the door told me I could wait an hour for the next class or rush to the other location, which I did. I barely knew which class I was hurrying into, with my beach towel instead of a yoga mat, sans water bottle (in the car, of course). I’m barely in place when yoga boot camp kicked off. Let’s just say that when I returned the weights to the nice guy who loaned me his extras, I was embarrassed that I didn’t have a towel that was dry enough to wipe them down. The class was intense.

But the best moment came when we were doing a couple minutes of solid crunches, punching our weights in the air above us, and our soundtrack flips to this thumping club music. The guy next to me, who happened to be really into that song, starts singing. All the words. And my section of the room got the giggles, and before we knew it, we’d laughed our way through one particularly brutal set.

At the end of the class, when the instructor had calmed us down, she asked us to focus on something we were particularly grateful for. I couldn’t help but think laughter. I’m particularly grateful for the laughter that gets me through the hard parts. Not just joy, or happiness, but the belly busting, out-loud sound those make coursing through us.

Since there are ten days between now and Thanksgiving, I’m counting ten things, in no particular order, that I want to remember to hold in my heart with gratitude. Number ten: laughter.

Family Freeloader

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I may have already mentioned that I am in love with the two boys that live upstairs. I take enormous joy in being close enough in proximity to piggyback on some of the joy that is being part of a family, without any of the duties or difficulties that come with having two boys ages 10 and 3. I am a family freeloader. I did offer my babysitting skills as meager compensation to offload my guilt a bit, but I’m still the easily ahead in this bargain.

The youngest, with his lisping stand-up-comedy routine, pudgy cheeks, and recently broken arm, already owns my heart. He is a daredevil showoff, a complete flirt, and a mama’s boy all at once. Watch out ladies of preschool, here he comes.

I hate to say it, but I’d given little Buttons the lion’s share of my attention. His older brother had been so focused on conquering the next cringe-inducing skateboard maneuver that we hadn’t talked much. But I had noticed that no matter how focused he was, he was always watching to carefully avoid Buttons on his tricycle, even when the little guy made him miss a golden attempt. More recently, I’ve noticed how willing he is to halve his cookie, run upstairs for the forgotten bike helmet or otherwise just give his little brother a hand. He is the best big brother I have ever seen. I think the most telling detail is that I have yet to see even the slightest flicker of annoyance at his brother. They adore each other.

Tonight I was helping them unpack a bin of old clothes of Sir Older’s that were being handed down to Buttons. I wish I could transmit the joy I watched at he got to share his favorite old things with his little brother. Where there could have been jealousy and clinging, there were memories and laughter. I felt so honored to be welcome in that living room surrounded with such love.

I don’t know how they do it, but this family has figured out some magic recipe.

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

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When I was a kid, we didn’t have a swimming pool, but we had something amazingly similar: neighbors with a swimming pool. The kind of neighbors that you didn’t have to ask if you could use the pool, the same neighbors whose kids enjoyed our trampoline the way we enjoyed their pool. Taking it for granted was part of the deal. It defined the arrangement. If there had been elaborate permissions or expectations in place, we probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable “treating it as our own” as they insisted. And we did. The contents of our pantry were open to them and vice versa, in case of mid-recipe realizations. We were friends close enough to be family, and all was good.

This afternoon, a realization hit me like a lightening bolt – I’ve inherited this definition of close friendships, ‘insisted on it even, but sometimes find myself unsatisfied with the results. I’m all, “mi casa es su casa, don’t even think about asking.” Which I’m happy to do, but then if the same “please treat me as your servant” attitude doesn’t get offered in return, I feel a little hurt. Which is completely unfair, because most of the time, the recipients of my generous offer never even asked, so why should they owe me anything?

And yes, I realize the hypocrisy of this post on the heels of my “discard all expectations” exhortion just a few weeks ago. I didn’t say I had conquored it quite yet…

The Ease of the Everyday

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dirty-dishesI’m a firm believer in the ease of the everyday. That those things we undertake with some regularity tend to become less daunting simply by the fact that we overcome them on a regular basis. And that, conversely, simple things we forget to practice become difficult. Take, for example, handwritten thank-you cards; or my dishes. Every so often, I’ll leave them lounging languidly in my sink for days longer than I would like to admit. It’s as though I’ve forgotten how to do them, or, more likely, allowed a simple task to become daunting by lack of practice. And then I buckle down and it takes all of 10 minutes, and I am so completely thrilled with my accomplishment. As if it counts as such.

My point is things that are very hard (and yes, this is relative) become easier to do if faced routinely. One very good friend of mine gets up on a regular basis around 4am to run a mini-marathon. I may be exaggerating, but not by much. I can prove this, because when she was gracious enough to extend her hospitality to this appreciative houseguest, she snuck out in the pre-dawn darkness to put in 10 miles before breakfast. Breakfast at 8am. After we had toasted our glad-to-see-you-ness the night before. And she could do this because she has practiced. Every day, or with some frequency, she conquers the early morning chill, places one foot in front of the other, sweats, curses, and realizes, “hey, this isn’t so bad.” And the next day she does it again. Practice. The ease of the everyday.

I think motherhood falls somewhere in the “survival by sheer will and practice” genre as well. The mothers I know are superheroes. I’m tough, and I really, truly love kids, but if you dropped me in to their day job at any given moment, I’m not sure I’d report for duty on day two. But because the super-hero-ness becomes part of the routine, the muscles get stronger, (especially the heart one) and you keep at it, and even though it’s hard every time, the hard part isn’t a surprise. And I think that’s what makes it ok.

All this to say, not posting here every day (as I once did) makes it harder than it should be. I vow to stop making writing difficult and just do it. Because I feel most myself right here with you (did you get all warm and fuzzy?). This place is not daunting, it’s home.
So if you could kindly overlook an out-of-shape jogger blogger, I’ll see you again tomorrow.