Amnesty

Every once in a while someone makes up a new holiday that resonates with me.

Kim and I were sure that Sweetest Day was one of those made up holidays just to sell greeting cards and candy.

All holidays are made up – we just meant that it was recently made up and just for crass commercial reasons.

It turns out we were wrong. It wasn’t as recent as we thought. That said, we never celebrated it. We didn’t see the point of waiting for such a day to do something nice for each other.

But I digress.

In a week there’s a holiday that I like a lot: Email Debt Forgiveness Day.

The folks at Reply All (a podcast from Gimlet Media) invented this day to encourage us to write that email we’ve been meaning to write but haven’t gotten around to.

You know how it is. You’re going through your inbox and you come across an email that’s going to take longer than a minute to reply to. Maybe you need to gather information or maybe you have to cover something awkward or unpleasant.

Whatever the case, you put it aside until you have more time.

And then it sits there.

And sits there.

And the longer it sits there the harder it is to write because now you have to explain why it’s taken so long – or the fact that it’s taken so long has given it more import than it might otherwise have.

So you never write your response.

But you continue to think about it. You feel bad about not answering. Something that shouldn’t be that big a deal has become a big deal.

Email Debt Forgiveness Day is a day on which you are to feel free about digging up those unanswered emails and writing the short response they deserved. You can include a link to the official page: http://emaildebtforgiveness.me to explain what you’re doing.

Like Sweetest Day, I’m not sure why it should only be one day a year. You should feel free to send your overdue email and link to the site any day – but having it on one particular day might pressure you into actually doing it.

Your debt might not be an email. It might be a text, a card or letter, a phone call, or an in-person visit.

The level of guilt and resistance increases as we move towards the end of the list.

On the other hand, the relief of having done so also increases.

Last week I noticed I was speaking at a conference where a former boss of mine was speaking.

Our relationship had gotten awkward at the end of our time together and we hadn’t spoken in many years.

He sent me a nice email after Kim died and I replied.

That wasn’t a small thing for him to do. We hadn’t spoken in many years.

His business partner hadn’t contacted me after Kim died and we had spoken since I left and it was never pleasant.

So after noting we’d be speaking at the same conference, I sent him an email asking if he’d like to meet for a cup of coffee or a drink or something.

He emailed back right away that he would.

And we did.

And I feel so much better.

Neither of us talked about the past. We didn’t re-argue disagreements or even think about them at all. We talked about the present and the future. I remembered what I liked about our relationship and left feeling grateful that we’d had a chance to talk.

Will we talk again?

I don’t know – but we won’t avoid talking to each other.

Friends asked if we cleared the air.

I don’t know how to explain it but there was no air to clear. We weren’t who we were back then and what would have been the point.

Friends asked if I asked him about collaborating on work.

No. That wasn’t the point of the meeting. The point was for us to sit for an hour together and talk to each other. It would have confused the issue if I’d brought up a project or two. That wasn’t why I contacted him.

I’ve been doing a lot of this lately. I’ve been considering people that I should reconnect with, just because – and I’ve been doing it.

Not everyone welcomes it.

There are people who don’t respond when I reach out.

That doesn’t keep me from trying.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve greeted one of my neighbors for years and he’s never responded. The other day he replied and we stood and talked for a while. I didn’t need anything. I just wanted to say “hi”.  I felt great. It may be another four years until he replies again, but I’ll continue to speak to him whenever I see him.

I hope you’ll celebrate the upcoming holiday with me on April 30. There are no cards for Email Debt Forgiveness Day – that’s kind of the point.

I think I’m all caught up in my email – if I owe you one, you should let me know so that I can send you something next week.

Published in: on April 24, 2017 at 10:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Eight Months

Still doesn’t feel real.

Then it does.

Then it doesn’t again.

Published in: on April 23, 2017 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Easter

A month ago I had dinner with a friend in London who asked me to imagine a world where each of us had all that we needed.

Would people be satisfied?

 

I think about that today as people celebrate Easter.

If we could provide food, clothing, and shelter and health care to all and you could still have everything you need, would you be in favor of that?

I would.

I know people who don’t feel that way.

They want to make sure that the un-deserving don’t get things they don’t deserve. Some people vote in such a way that they themselves don’t get services they would be entitled to just to keep the un-deserving from getting those services.

So, I told my friend, “no.” No I don’t think people would be satisfied.

We can talk about what religion is at its worst. We can worry about the divisiveness and the “othering” that can come from gathering with a group of people and celebrating your love for God and God’s love for you.

But at its best, religion can bring a community together to remind it of the blessings they enjoy and to point to those around them who could benefit from the love, kindness, and generosity of those in a position to give.

We’re all in a position to give love and kindness.

Do we?

 

 

In my friend’s world, everyone would have enough. Not just a minimal amount – but by your own standards you would have all that you need.

But, I said, people keep score. It’s not enough for some that they have enough. It’s not enough that they have all that they could possibly need. It’s not even enough that they could have more than they really want. For some, they must have more than their peers.

We’ve been asked that since youth. Why do you care what the other kids do or have?

We just do.

It’s not healthy.

It’s the root of our unhappiness.

If we have all that we need and want, why do we care if someone else is given what they need and want?

“It’s not fair,” we think.

It’s not equal. It might be fair.

There’s the cartoon of the three people behind a fence of different heights. In one image they are all given equal height step stools and only the tall one can see. In the second image they are given different stools of different heights and all three can see over the fence.

The shortest one had the tallest stool.

Is that equal? No.

Is it fair? I think so. Not everyone agrees.

The tallest one can see over the fence in either situation.

There are two sorts of tall people.

One tall person complains that his stool is less high than the other’s. It’s not my fault they can’t see. We’re all given the same advantage.

The other tall person is happy that all three can see. He doesn’t mind that more material and effort went in to assembling the other stools.

To my shame, I cannot say that I am always that second tall person.

I try to be.

There are days that I know I’m that first version – mostly it’s when I don’t notice. Sometimes when it’s pointed out to me, I still don’t change appropriately.

My friend’s utopia has us all living as the second tall person.

I love thinking that that world could exist.

That we could stand side-by-side peering over the fence and being able to talk about what we all see.

Perhaps when there are fewer fences, we won’t have to worry about the different heights of the stools.

Until then…

Published in: on April 16, 2017 at 11:12 am  Comments (1)  

More

It started with an innocuous quote reminding women they don’t find their worth in a man, they find their worth in themselves.

That seems fine. It’s a lesson we tried to teach our daughters. I would replace the words “a man” with “others” because I think it’s not just about dating.

The final line of the quote continued in the dating direction rather than the self worth direction. It added that you then “find a man who’s worthy of you.”

Or not.

After a positive message, this seemed to imply that your process isn’t complete – that’s it’s not enough to find your own worth – if you don’t find that man.

But that’s not what moved me to respond. After all, maybe the woman sharing the post had found such a man and wants to share it with friends. Maybe she’s angry at a man who turned out not to be. Maybe she’s just posting advice for the young women she knows based on her experience.

That still wasn’t what bothered me. Well it was – but something else was calling for my attention.

Among the comments on her post was one from a woman who wrote, “that is what all people should realize – You are most important.”

I was horrified.

The quote began by reminding us that we must find our own self-worth. Perhaps we can re-couch that as a reminder that we should be on our own list of important people.

It does not say we are more important than anyone else.

It took me a long time to find my own worth but I am not the most important person in my life.

Maggie is.

I would do anything for her.

I would and have stopped or changed what I’m doing if she needs something.

Needs. Not wants. I often will if it’s only a want.

Before she died, Kim was more important to me than I am. In many ways, her memory is still more important to me. My memories of her and honoring what she was still make me a better person.

Before she died, Elena was more important to me.

I can’t imagine I would have been a very good husband or father if I was the most important person in my life.

I hope to surround myself with people who feel comfortable in their own skins – people who understand, yet may undervalue, their worth.

Am I making too much of this?

Maybe.

It bothers me that this benign quote becomes a checklist.

Got yourself in order? Check.

OK, now go find yourself a man.

You don’t have to – you’ve got yourself in order.

You can. You just don’t have to.

Find other people who you can see are important to you. Don’t rank them in importance – just spend time with them and enjoy.

 

Published in: on April 15, 2017 at 7:42 am  Comments (1)  

Passover

For me, Passover is all about the stories. Not just the central story of Passover – which is more of a meta-story – but the stories we tell in our homes each year that become part of the tradition.

I just couldn’t bring myself to celebrate Passover this year without Kimmy.

I know that’s silly. She was Catholic. How could her loss keep me from celebrating a Jewish Holiday?

Simple.

Kim was a central part of my celebration for a quarter of a century.

Kim is part of my story.  She always said her sister was my best audience – but Kim was my favorite person to talk to and to listen to.

So many stories.

There are the stories I remember from Passover’s growing up.

There were stories that my mom would start and that my dad would interrupt and say, “that’s not what happened” and then she’d say, “ok, you tell it.”

There were stories my father would start and my mother would decide he was telling it wrong or taking too long and she’d interrupt and take over.

There were the stories where they would begin them and interrupt themselves because it wasn’t on a Thursday it was on a Friday and they remember it because cousin Beth Ann – wait no, it wasn’t Beth Ann it was her sister Carol …

I’d listen and think, “wait a minute, that’s not how they told the story last year.”

Or I’d think, “we’re opening the door for Elijah, we’re going to hear about the year the cat walked in.”

Passover is about stories and family traditions.

We go to each others houses and swap stories and add to each other’s traditions.

One year Kim and Jodelle and Bill signed up for a Seder that was intended for non-Jews at a nearby reform temple. I went with them and had a great time. There’s a story we still tell from that seder.

The Rabbi led everyone through the recitation of the plagues where you dip your finger in your wine and dab the wine drop on your plate for each plague.

After the recitation most people put their finger in their mouth – you wouldn’t want to waste that wine.

The Rabbi said one of the purposes of that section is to remove a drop from your cup for each plague. If you put your finger in your mouth then you are “drinking” one of the drops that you removed. You should instead wipe your finger on your napkin.

We tell the story each year at that part of the service but we still put our fingers in our mouth instead of wiping it on a napkin.

Another year we went to my thesis advisor’s house. Initially his wife was reluctant to have us as she never included non-Jews at her table but she thought about it and welcomed us into their house.

That year the Seder fell on Good Friday. Kim participated fully in the Seder. The hostesses’ mother and father were there and Kim and I just loved them immediately. When it came time for the meal, Kim took a little bit of everything but passed on the meat. The father looked at her and winked and quietly asked, “Good Friday?” She nodded.

Our host, my thesis advisor, shared something at that Seder that stuck with me. It was a little thought but meant so much to me about the meaning of the holiday. So much of the meal talks about the Jewish people’s escape from slavery in Egypt.

Our host reminded us that while many cultures think back to a time when they were kings, it’s important to us to remember that we were once slaves.

It’s a sentiment I shared every year that we hosted a seder.

Another year we went to a friends house where the hosts were all non-Jews. They had somehow mistranslated the song “Dayenu” to mean “It would not have been enough” instead of “It would have been enough”.

And so instead of a grateful people, who would have been satisfied with lesser gifts, their translation amounted to us repeating, “really, that’s all you’ve done for us – that’s not enough”.

Kim kept looking at me until at last I quietly said something. “Oh,” said our hosts, “that’s very different.” Suddenly, the text made more sense.

It’s a story we told in our home every time we sang the song.

We used to watch the Rugrat’s Passover Special with the kids each year before our seder. I loved it. In that telling the babies were the Jews, as in, “Pharaoh, let my babies go.”

There’s a scene where the Pharaoh wants a bunch of babies thrown out – but then complains when it is time to take a bath, “you threw out the baby with the bathwater?”

Genius.

Before we had kids we looked at our religious differences and commonalities as we prepared to get married.

We first met with the priest who married us at around Easter/Passover time. We were talking about how many traditions from each are similar. The priest told us that when he was at Seminary they had invited a rabbi to lead a Passover Seder. Midway through one of our priest’s fellow priests-in-training and whispered in his ear, “look at all the traditions they stole from us.”

Kim loved telling that story at our table.

Actually, my favorite expression of that story is one that I’ve told here and elsewhere. But on Passover we retell stories even if we retell them differently.

The fact that we didn’t have a Seder this year isn’t going to keep me from sharing it.

It was Elena’s last Passover and she sat between her grandfathers. She took the matzoh and passed it to my father. He looked at her because she held it back a moment. She looked him in the eye as she put it in his hand and said, “body of Christ.”

That is still my favorite Passover story to share.

 

Published in: on April 14, 2017 at 4:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Club

I finished teaching a four day class in Portland and headed to the airport on the light rail.

The woman who checked me in at the United counter was chatty. She glanced down at my tickets one last time before handing them back to me.

“Hang on,” she said.

That’s not good.

“Uh oh,” she said.

That’s not good either.

She told me my first flight was going to be delayed. That’s ok, she explained, the flight that was supposed to go out an hour ago is going to be three hours late so it will leave when your original plane was going to leave.

She put me on that flight.

An hour later that flight was cancelled.

Fortunately, I’d used miles to join the United Club and the woman there came over to tell me the bad news and to hand me a ticket on my original flight. It was now a middle seat but it was still a seat.

I was trying to get home in time to leave for my next trip – nuts, I know. But both flights were on United so I figured we could work things out if need be. I’d brought my passport with me just in case.

I called United. Fortunately, when I would call back later I would get a kind, empathetic person. This one was neither. She tried to explain to me that weather and runway construction isn’t United’s fault. If my plane didn’t make it out tonight and I missed my next trip from Cleveland that wasn’t really United’s responsibility.

But, I said, instead of flying me back to Cleveland and then from Cleveland to Washington DC, why don’t you fly me from Portland to Washington DC. It’s fewer legs, there’s plenty of room on the flight.

I’ll spare you the next ten minutes but the upshot was that this woman was where she needed to be and didn’t really care about getting me to where I needed to be.

Fortunately, this was unusual. Most of the United people I talked to were nice and tried to be helpful.

I check with Maggie. She says when I call back I should get angry.

I’m not going to get angry.

She says I could cry. Sometimes that works.

For the moment there was nothing to do but wait and see if I got on the flight to San Francisco in time to catch the flight to Chicago.

I look down and there’s a text from Maggie. It says “Cry.”

I nod at the guy opposite me. He smiles and nods back. It turned out he was a tall Chemistry professor originally from Zimbabwe. He asks me where I was from.

“Cleveland,” I said.

“Cleveland,” he smiles, “the mistake by the lake.”

Sigh. Is that really all he knows about Cleveland.

Nope. It turns out he wants to talk about the Indians. He doesn’t want to talk about them starting the new season with three wins. He wants to talk about game seven of the World Series.

I mention the Cavs.

He nods but wants to talk about the Browns. He remembers red right 88, the drive, and the fumble.

He went to school in Boston but was a Browns fan.

I tell him I went to school in Boston too. I tell him I went to Brandeis.

“Me too,” he says.

“I graduated in ’81.”

“Me too,” he says.

He was a chemistry graduate student while I was an undergrad. He has been on the board of trustees and is active in the local chapter.

The woman behind the counter waves me over so I excuse myself.

The plane has left San Francisco for Portland but our flight back to Portland won’t get in until after the flight for Chicago has left and there’s no room on later flights.

Sigh. Travel.

I call the mileage plus number again.

This time I get a woman who wants to help me but it’s a challenge because I have two different bookings. She works really hard to get me two options. I ask her if she would mind hanging on a minute while I text my daughter to ask her what she thinks.

Kim used to do that for me. It was probably unfair to put Maggie in that position – she hates being responsible for decisions like that – but it was helpful to run it by her. I decided to fly home, spend the night, and then fly on to Dublin through DC.

The woman puts me on hold and works to book the flights. I get a confirmation number while I’m on hold. The United themed version of Rhapsody in Blue repeats and repeats. I think it’s so that you’re so grateful that the agent has returned to the call.

We check the itinerary together and chat a bit. She says something about knowing how stressful travel is and she just wants to help if she can.

I thank her.

And then I tell her about Kim.

I don’t know why. It’s just that if Kim were with me all this would somehow be less stressful. We’d go through it together. We’d have each other.

The woman tells me that her husband died suddenly a few years ago.

We trade stories about our marriage. Like me and Kim, she and her husband had had a great marriage that was only getting better. The years before he died had been particularly good.

We trade stories about life since our spouses died. She has four kids in the same age range as Maggie.

I know she’s got to go back to work and I’ve got to retrieve my bag and find a hotel but I just feel so much better after talking to her.

She’s used the phrase “meant to be” several times and I don’t tend to believe in that but somehow this conversation feels like it was meant to be.

This person I don’t know and will never talk to again has unlocked something in me that helps me see that so much that I’ve experienced in the past seven months is normal in the face of Kim’s death.

I hang up and take my bag tag over to the woman behind the counter to see if she can have them pull my bag so that it doesn’t go on the flight. During my phone conversation she has brought me over the newly booked tickets.

I ask her for suggestions for hotels and I start calling. There’s nothing.

Some sort of convention in town and after a half hour I still haven’t found a hotel.

The plane to San Francisco is boarding. The man from Zimbabwe comes over.

“Excuse me,” he says not smiling, “did I overhear you to say that you lost your wife?”

I nod.

“Me too,” he says.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“She died of AIDS in 1998.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. It’s not much but it’s all I have. “Is that why you studied AIDS?” I ask.

He had told me he studied AIDS before switching to his current line of study.

He nods.

The woman behind the counter is nodding too. “I understand,” she says, “my boyfriend died as well. He drowned.”

“i’m sorry,” I say.

It feels inadequate every time I say it but I do feel it and it’s all I have.

I guess it’s our club’s secret handshake when we greet each other.

I’ve met three other members tonight. Perhaps I was meant to be here tonight. I don’t feel better but I don’t feel as alone as I did when I walked in the door tonight.

 

Published in: on April 7, 2017 at 11:36 am  Comments (2)  

Mother’s Day

A week ago someone I’m connected to on Facebook “liked” one of their friend’s new profile picture.

I was hanging out in a hotel room in London looking for reasons not to work so I clicked on her friend’s picture and saw a great picture of this woman I didn’t know with her adult son.

It made me smile. It was a greeting card from some woman I don’t know, celebrating being a mother.

I don’t think this woman or her friend knew that it was Mother’s Day in the UK – their Mother’s Day (or is it Mothers’ Day) is about two months before the day we celebrate in the US.

Kim and I were in London a few years ago on their Mother’s Day and saw all the cards and displays and panicked a bit.

“Wait,” I said, “we didn’t forget to send Mother’s Day cards to our mothers, did we?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “Isn’t Mother’s Day in May?”

A quick search revealed that they celebrate Mother’s Day earlier than we do. As one friend put it to me at a conference last week, “It’s kind of funny that Mother’s Day in the UK is nine months after Father’s Day.”

Once Kim and I knew we hadn’t missed Mother’s Day and we weren’t in trouble, we relaxed and continued to walk down Portobello Road.

Kim being Kim took the opportunity to buy British cards to “Mum” for each of our mothers.

There’s so many things I loved about Kim being Kim.

In England Kim would drink Gin and Tonics because you should.

Kim would always say, “we should drink more often.” We hardly ever drank at home but always enjoyed relaxing over a glass of wine, a beer or cider, or a cocktail while traveling. Kim mostly ordered location specific beverages – whisky in Scotland, whiskey in Ireland, G & T’s in London, and wine in Paris. Wine was a fallback pretty much everywhere, but always in Paris.

I’ve been traveling a lot teaching. One of my examples on the first day is to create two people “daniel” and “kimberli”. I’ve been teaching a variation of this example for a while. I haven’t been able to remove it since Kim died.

In the example, you see what it takes to change daniel’s name to “kimberli” and whether or not that changes kimberli’s name. It turns out it depends on what type of objects we’re creating.

At the end of the example, I clean up a bit and delete the parts referring to kimberli.

The last time I taught this lesson a student said, “time to say goodbye to kimberli.”

He didn’t know.

To him it was a coding joke.

I caught my breath and continued – I don’t think anyone noticed.

I’m at a strange point in this process. It happened with Elena too.

There are times that, just for a moment, I forget that Kim is dead.

Usually, I’m in a hotel somewhere waking up. I used to text her in the morning. I wake up and reach for my phone and then I remember and say, “oh.”

I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to say goodbye to Kimberli, but there are those moments when I forget that she’s gone.

Mother’s Day in the UK reminded me that Mother’s Day is coming here in the states.

I expect it to be horrible.

Kim and I had a long tradition on Mother’s Day and another on Father’s Day. We celebrated each of them together before the kids woke up to join us. Crepes on Mother’s Day; bagels on Father’s Day.

I enjoyed Mother’s Day in the UK. I glanced back at the woman and her son like I was glancing back at a greeting card before putting it in a drawer.

I poked around a bit on Facebook and found that the neighbor whose link had led me to the card also is friends with one of Kim’s cousins and her husband. I think she teaches with Kim’s cousin.

The world is so small.

One thing Kim loved about traveling was seeing the stores and tasting the foods that were special to the places we were visiting. She hated that the world had gotten homogenous.

When we were first married she loved going to Nordstroms in San Francisco. Now there are Nordstroms everywhere – they aren’t special.

When Starbucks was small, she would go to one now and then. Now there are Starbucks in London, Paris, and just about anywhere – they aren’t special.

When we were in London, Kim would drink tea and not coffee because it was London.

So many things are now the same everywhere – the places are still special but not in the same way.

At least their Mother’s Day and ours were on different days.

The day on which their clocks “spring forward” is also different than ours. This year I lost two hours.

This year the clocks in London spring forward on Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day was an hour shorter than Father’s Day will be.

I like to think that that’s in honor of Kimmy.

They did it because this year the world is one “mum” short.

 

Published in: on April 4, 2017 at 8:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Too Busy

There was an article yesterday on CBS’s website about being busy.

We used to show how well off we were by telling others about the time we took off from work and the places we went on vacation. Now, the article said, we tell others how busy we are to show how important we are.

Even though it’s not healthy, we seem to compete to out-busy each other.

It’s a very American trait.

A few years back a friend of mine went out of his way to drive me back to my hotel and saved me an hour or so on trains. He told me that a friend of his had taken time out to visit him when he was in town and it had meant a great deal to him.

It made me pause.

It made me reach out to friends more and suggest we meet for a cup of coffee or a beer.

At first I felt a bit itchy. Shouldn’t I be clearing my inbox or doing that very important work I had to do?

No.

What was more important than this.

The work would still be there. I would get it done.

I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. There’s a saying that no-one lies in their death bed thinking I should have worked more.

I don’t think that that’s quite right.

I think it’s more that no one looks at a friend or a loved one in their death bed or at their funeral and thinks I should have worked instead of taking the time to sit down and be with them when they were alive.

I visited my friend Chuck before he died. I’m glad I did but I should have visited him more. I don’t know why I didn’t.

I try to spend more time with friends and I’m lucky that I have so many friends that are willing to take the time with me.

I’m beginning to shed those that don’t. Not because I don’t like them. Not because I don’t value them. But it weighs me down and encourages me to compete in an unhealthy way.

After two months of trying to get together with one friend, I finally said enough.

She got mad and told me how busy she was.

My first impulse was to out-busy her.

The next day I was to fly to Amsterdam. I would get back from Amsterdam at eleven at night on a Saturday and Maggie and I would leave for Yosemite at five the next morning. In the six hours I was home I would have to do laundry, re-pack, and catch a few hours sleep.

The following Friday Maggie and I would get back to our house at noon. I would leave for London at four the same afternoon. Again, quick laundry, re-pack, a nap, and a shower.

Busy.

And yet.

When I landed in Amsterdam, someone picked me up at the airport. They could have let me take the train to the hotel but they were kind enough to go out of their way to pick me up. Someone else picked my up at my hotel that night to take me to a Cocoa user group. He said it was on the way between his office and his wife’s but it was an inconvenience. He dropped me at the hotel after the meeting.

At the meeting I talked to so many people I’d met over the years in the Netherlands. I was so glad that I’d taken time to go to this meeting and grateful for the people who made it possible. The people who took time for me even though they were busy.

There’s a woman who owns the company I do training at in London. The first time I taught for her, one of her employees asked if I would speak at a meet up at their location the night before the training.

Sure. I have a talk prepared I could give. They’re flying me over and putting me up in addition to paying me. I could have said “I’m busy” but sure.

“Come down to the pub afterwards,” Wendy said.

I almost didn’t. I was tired. I was busy. But I did and made a friend.

She told me that Americans often didn’t come down to the pub and the British find that an essential part of making connections. Americans are too busy, she said. She told me of many speakers who rush back to the hotel to work.

I saw myself in that. I’d almost done the same.

She talked of another American speaker who liked to go back to the hotel but saw the value in the pub so he’d come out for one drink and then head back. In a way it was mechanical – doing what he knew to be right. But he did it.

The next visit, I again agreed to speak at their meet up. Kim was with me and came to the meet up. Wendy met her and whisked her off to the pub while I spoke to the group. By the time I caught up with them, they were fast friends.

After teaching all day recently, I just wanted to go back to the hotel and rest but Wendy popped by and said “beers after work?”

Sure.

So she and her husband Nick and I sat and had beers in their wonderful bar at their office and caught up for hours. No rush.

I thought of my almost friend who was too busy. I hope she’s too busy because she has friends like this that she’s hanging with. I hope she’s not too busy to spend this kind of time with friends and family.

I have to shed people like this because it’s easy for me to become like the people around me. If someone describes an illness to me I begin to think “hey, that hurts in me too. Maybe I have that.”

If someone is too busy, it takes everything in me not to say “I’m busier.” Instead I now think, “ooh, I don’t want to be that busy.”

I need to be less busy.

i make the time.

Kim and I were once on a long car ride through beautiful countryside on our way to somewhere. We looked at the gorgeous green rolling hills, the palm trees, the ocean, and tons of other sites on the long ride. In the back seat, a friend read a week-old magazine not noticing anything.

“Isn’t that beautiful?” Kim said.

I nodded.

Kim looked around to the backseat. The friend glanced up from the magazine and told us that she’d look once we got there.

“There” is good, but there are so many wonderful things along the way.

Be there. Wherever there is at the moment.

So many of us are so busy getting there that we don’t look up and see the friends and opportunities on our path to getting there that we’re missing.

Don’t rush through here to get there.

Be where you are.

Published in: on March 29, 2017 at 4:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Friend

I’ve recently thought a lot about what it means to be a friend.

I’ve been lucky to have received extraordinary gifts of friendship lately.

My brother and sister have been amazingly supportive and present since Kim’s death.

“Yeah,” you say, “but they have to. They’re your brother and sister.”

No they don’t. Many brothers and sisters aren’t and wouldn’t be. It’s been a gift of love and friendship.

Kim’s family has been so there for me. Her parents, her brother and sister, her cousins, her aunt and uncles. So there.

Sure, they’re family too – but this was the moment that they could have said “we’re Kim’s family not yours” and instead they said, “of course we’re your family too.”

You might say that again they have to, I was married to their daughter for more than two decades, but again no.

I’ve met plenty of people who have told me that once their spouse died, their spouse’s family didn’t really have anything to do with them anymore. It wasn’t so much that it was painful for the family – it was more that the family didn’t feel a connection.

I’m lucky to have in laws who embraced me during our marriage and aren’t letting go after.

That’s family – but what about friends?

My friends near and far have been so good at reaching out and making sure I get out and do things. In the first months they called me for coffee or whatever and after the first couple of months I began to call them.

 

I have a friend who sends me pictures of him and his kids at just the right moment – it always makes me smile. Sometimes he and his family FaceTime me. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s just perfect.

I have another friend who’s come out to visit twice and stayed with us. His wife always tells him to make sure while he’s here that he’s not a pest. He never is.

Of course, there are friends who don’t check in. Somehow that’s ok.

I had a wonderful phone call last weekend with a woman who was afraid she’d left me hanging as she started her new business.

We’ve been friends long enough that I didn’t take it that way at all.

She had met Kim and knew how much Kim meant to me. She had suffered losses in her life and felt she should be better at saying the right thing.

I know that feeling. I’ve lost Elena and Kim and still don’t have words to help friends through their loss.

She called and it was like no time had passed. As it turned out, she checked in at just the right time to get me thinking about things I needed to think about.

This weekend I made a new friend.

A woman I’ve known a while invited me to come to her house and have coffee with her and her husband.

We’d known each other for ten years. She and Kim and I had met a couple of times a year to discuss a project we shared. Kim and I always liked her and came away from our meetings feeling better – but we weren’t friends.

After an hour in her house chatting with her and her husband over coffee I felt totally different. They each gave of themselves and shared things that friends share. Well maybe that people who care about other people share.

I think of this because I’ve met people lately who want to be friends more in the Facebook sense.

I don’t understand this.

When Facebook first used the word “friend” to describe connections, people observed that this wasn’t the correct word.

But now that we’re many years in and live in a Facebook culture the Facebook meaning has leaked into the real world.

In Facebook a “friend” can see what I’ve posted or reacted to. This often spurs them to comment. They are responding to a trigger.

In Facebook a “friend” gets notifications of life events like birthdays or anniversaries. Again, they might “like” or comment.

It’s as if they put a reminder in their calendar to check in with me on a particular date.

That’s wonderful – I have many friends who checked in with me on the anniversary of Elena’s death and on Elena’s birthday. I loved hearing from them. And it was easy to feel the genuine expression of the ones who actually cared how I was doing. They really moved me.

I’m not dismissing those who check in because a reminder popped up. They set that reminder and they followed up on it.

But I also have friends who checked in with me just ’cause they were thinking of me.

I love that.

It’s kind of like the time I was visiting Covent Garden in London and spotted pigeons walking in front of a street musician. I took a picture and sent it to Maggie because she loves pigeons (don’t ask). Around the corner from there Kim and I saw a mounted policeman patrolling the area. I took his picture on the horse and sent it to Kim’s dad who’d been a mounted policeman in Cleveland for years.

I saw this and it reminded me of you.

So what do you do when you notice someone isn’t really a friend?

I don’t know.

I have a friend who emails me now and then and we get together when either of us is in the other’s town. Her emails are filled with questions and my responses aren’t as full as they should be. I don’t know why not. I’ve known her for thirty years and in person we talk up a storm. But in emails I tend to be terse.

Not just in emails to her but in emails to anyone. I just don’t go on and on anymore.

I feel bad. I feel like I’m not holding up my end of the conversation.

I still think we’re friends but I understand that she might not feel that way.

I was thinking of that this weekend because I got a follow-up email from her when I didn’t answer many of her questions in her previous email.

The reason I know it frustrates her is I was frustrated by someone I’ve been texting back and forth with for just disappearing mid conversation. It somehow violated the rules of texting.

Several friends of Kim’s text me now and then. One texts me about sports and politics. She always makes me smile because she feels so passionately about the same things Kim did. She never intrudes, she just texts a bit and then somehow we both know when we’ve said all we have to say.

Another friend of hers texts me about end-of-life issues. She has cancer and is facing things I can’t imagine. I don’t know what to do to be more help – Kim would be there for her but it’s different for me. I don’t have fifty years of friendship with her to back it up. I try to do what I can but I’m sure I’m not enough of a friend.

On Facebook you can unfriend someone when you don’t want to be connected.

Somehow the word “unfriend” makes it feel like an aggressive move.

I think it really means not so much that I’m severing this friendship but I’m acknowledging that for better or worse we don’t have a friendship.

What about real life?

If Facebook friendships have leaked into real life, what about “unfriend”ing?

A friend told me that often people on Facebook don’t know that you’ve unfriended them. They might not figure it out for quite a while.

Perhaps that is what happens in real life. You grow apart from some people. You notice that you never set aside time for them so you have effectively unfriended them.

Maybe they won’t notice for years.

I’d like it to be more formal because there are people I haven’t really unfriended or forgotten about. I’m just not living up to what it means to be a friend.

Sorry.

 

Published in: on March 15, 2017 at 10:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Fear

After my last post “What About” a friend tweeted me the following:

“interesting. Not entirely correct, though, I think. You can want to but your fears can hold you back, for example.”

 

It’s not that I don’t fear things. I fear things every day. All fear is in our head and all fear is real. Some fear is there to protect us and other fear is just there trying to protect us from things we may not need protection from.

It’s hard to tell one from the other.

We can listen to fear and not do what it is telling us not to do.

Sometimes that’s the right response.

We can study fear. We can spend the time to understand why it is that we fear something and look at the roots of our fear and work on that.

Sometimes that’s the right thing to do.

We can also welcome fear, notice it, and do the thing we need to do anyway.

More than ten years ago I had a friend say to me, “You travel all the time, you must love to fly.”

No. Actually, I hate to fly and it’s gotten worse. Cleveland is no longer a United Hub so it always takes me an extra jump to get where I’m getting. The flights are more full and seem to be less convenient. The environment is often unpleasant. I don’t really like to fly.

I’m also afraid to fly.

It might go back to Elena giving me a wave as I headed out the door and saying, “Bye daddy. Don’t die on the plane.” It probably goes back before that.

I fly anyway.

I’m giving a talk in a month that terrifies me. The level of talks at this conference is top notch. I would never be mentioned in the same breath as the names of the other speakers. I will stress over this talk from now until at least a week after I’ve delivered it.

I’m afraid. I will deliver the talk anyway.

I am, by nature, an introvert. This doesn’t mean I’m shy so much as it means I get my energy from small quiet encounters and am exhausted by large groups.

And yet, I spend much of my time speaking at conferences and teaching large groups. I enjoy the people I meet there. I just need to go back to my room and rest afterwards.

There are so many things I fear or that make me uncomfortable that I do anyway.

And yet my friend isn’t wrong when he says “you can want to, but your fears can hold you back.”

They can.

It’s why I shared the story in “She said ‘no'” about asking a woman out on a date. There wasn’t a happy ending to that story. And yet there was.

The happy ending was that I did something I was fearful of and I would do it again.

I don’t always “do it anyway”.

I’ve thought about writing a novel or some other fictional creative endeavor over NaNoWriMo for years. I’ve used that month to write non-fiction, but I’ve never written a novel. I suppose it’s because I’m afraid. It might be because I’m fairly certain I won’t be very good and I don’t want to spend the time.

“But Daniel,” you say, “how will you ever get good if you don’t spend the time.”

Exactly.

We keep from trying because we’re afraid we won’t be very good and therefore don’t put in the deliberate time and practice it takes to be good.

We are what we feared. Not very good at that particular thing.

My friend, the one who tweeted me about fear holding you back, has suffered the loss of a child.

He knows that the things we fear can be real.

Every parent worries that something might happen to their child. I don’t think that most parents ever expect that day to actually come.

I never worried that Kim would die suddenly in a car accident.

Would it have been better if I had worried about that?

I don’t see how. I worried all sorts of things about her. None of them ever happened.

Would it have been better if I’d never worried about any of them?

Probably.

 

What about the many things that I fear?

I take a moment to feel my fear.

It’s real.

I take a breath. I smile a real smile. I picture Kim encouraging me by saying, “just do it, honey.”

Soon we’re cruising at thirty thousand feet and my fear is off doing something else.

Published in: on March 12, 2017 at 7:51 am  Leave a Comment