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  

What About

I emailed my friend Craig on Friday asking if he wanted to meet for coffee on Saturday.

He wrote back and said he couldn’t, he had a project he needed to finish at home, what about Sunday.

I couldn’t. I had the pancake breakfast. I let him know when I’d be around this week and he wrote back suggesting one of those days and now we’re going to meet for coffee.

On the other hand, another friend of mine was telling me about someone who says “let’s meet for coffee” every time they meet in passing.

He doesn’t just say this to my friend, he says this to all of the guys in their group.

This has gone on for years.

His friend never suggests a time and never responds to suggestions for times.

If they say, “I really want to get together,” and you say, “let’s meet on Thursday,” and they say “I can’t” but don’t suggest another time, they don’t want to meet.

The other person thinks they’re being nice when they say “let’s meet for coffee.”

They’re not.

I was thinking of this contrast lately and remembering a mother who told me that her son wanted to major in Computer Science in college. She told me that he wants to build iPhone apps.

“No, he doesn’t,” I told the mother.

Her son was a senior in high school with a Mac and an iPhone. If he wanted to write apps, he would have written some already. He would be spending his spare time fussing around with code and hacks that he found on the internet.

“Well,” said his mother, “that’s what he says he wants to do.”

I know. But when it’s time to decide how we spend our day, what we actually do is what we want to do.

That guy doesn’t want to meet his friends for coffee or he’d do it.

That son doesn’t want to write iPhone apps or he’d do it.

I’ve wanted to learn to sketch or draw for years. I really think it would be fun and help me express myself better.

I’m impressed by those who can. I once took a class in sketching and diligently did my homework.

I worked my way through “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.”

But you know what people who want to sketch and draw do? They sketch and draw.

They have a pencil and some paper with them all the time and they can’t keep themselves from noodling on paper while they sit and talk. They’re sketching while they meet with you for coffee. They’re experimenting with shade when they have a spare minute.

Let’s see if I can. Maybe I’ll stop and pick up a pencil and a little book this week and start playing. Maybe I’ll open up an app on my phone when I’ve got a spare moment or two.

If I can’t do that, then I don’t really want to draw.

There are so many things we say we wish we could do.

I think of my friend Jaimee and her Tiny Challenges. Her attitude is to start small. Her goal is to stay small.

Maybe she strings together enough days and enough successes that she can start to think bigger, but first she wakes up and draws something every day for a while ’til she knows she can and more importantly ’til she knows she will.

There are so many things I want to do but …

I can’t, because …

If I don’t follow that with “what about” with another time, place, or way to do it, that tells me something.

We can even meet for coffee and sit side by side and work on our separate goals. I can sketch while you write your novel.

“Want to meet for coffee Thursday?” I ask.

“I can’t,” you say.

There’s a pause.

During that pause I strain to hear if you can’t or you don’t want to. And then you look up, and I know we’re going to get together soon because you say, “what about Saturday?”

I smile and say, “Saturday’s great. I’ll bring my sketchbook.”

Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 9:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Eighteen

I’m meeting Kim’s mom and Kim’s aunt Mary Kay for breakfast this morning to celebrate Elena’s eighteenth birthday.

It almost didn’t happen.

We had snow forecast and it didn’t make sense for Geri to drive over here after she goes to mass. She invited me to meet her at Bob Evans for lunch. I said no thank you, that I’d go to Big Al’s by myself.

There’s nothing wrong with Bob Evans.

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating Elena’s birthday by going to breakfast by myself.

There’s nothing wrong with it snowing on Elena’s birthday.

All three take me back to the day she was born.

Kim and I dropped Maggie and Tara, our black lab, at Kim’s parents house around ten on the night of March 2, 1999. We visited a while and then headed to the hospital.

Kim had gone in earlier but they sent her home telling her that if she checked in after midnight she wouldn’t waste one of the days covered by insurance.

So we checked Kim into the hospital at midnight and were taken to a room. Kim was made as comfortable as they could make her and I was given a pillow and a blanket for the reclining chair next to her bed.

They told us it would be a while.

We quietly talked and napped now and then. We must have napped because I remember the nurse coming in the room the next morning and us both blinking at the light and looking at each other.

I loved looking at Kim first thing in the morning.

I loved looking at Kim just about any time – but there was something fresh and unguarded about her first thing in the morning.

Nine months pregnant, uncomfortable as can be, she smiled at me and said, “Morning, honey. Did you sleep at all?”

“A little,” I said. “You?”

“A little.”

To me, that’s a marriage. It’s not filled with momentous pithy quotes. It’s filled with little conversations like that.

The nurse checked on her. “It’s going to be a while,” she said.

Someone brought in a breakfast tray for Kim. She sat up and ate it.

The nurse stopped back in and asked if I wanted them to bring me coffee. I glanced at Kim. She shook her head slightly back and forth.

“No thank you,” I told the nurse.

The nurse looked at me, “you should go get breakfast, walk around. She’s going to need you later. Not now.”

I looked at Kim. She nodded. “You go, I’ll be ok. You’ll feel better if you go.”

So I drove over to Bob Evans and had breakfast alone. It was only snowing a little then. I finished and went across the street and bought Mille Borne. Kim had always wanted to play that. I took it back to the hospital and we played for a while until she was tired. She napped.

Elena wasn’t born until after ten that night.

Some test showed that there was a risk if Kim delivered naturally so she would need a C-section. She was so disappointed but realized it didn’t matter. Soon she would hold her baby and none of it would matter.

They asked if I wanted to be in the operating too.

Of course.

Well maybe not of course. I was prepared for a natural birth but hadn’t really thought about being there for an operation. But, I told them, my wife and new born baby were going to be in that operating room – of course I wanted to be there.

I can’t believe they’re both gone. I remember that night so well.

They wheeled Kim out to the operating room and gave me clothes to change into so that I could be in the operating room too.

They brought me in as they were intubating Kim. The next time I would see Kim intubated was as she lay dying six months ago.

It’s like everything is somehow coupled together in my head.

They gave Kim general anesthesia which meant they had to work fast. They didn’t want the drug to get to the baby. I watched as they cut Kim wide so they could deliver the baby quickly.

Kim would feel that cut for the rest of her life. She said her stomach never felt exactly right. She never felt that the muscles completely healed.

I remember my focus shifting from Kim to our baby as soon as Elena was born.

One set of doctors checked on Elena while another set put Kim back together.

“How is she?” I asked – meaning Elena.

They told me everything looked great.

“Do you want to hold her?” one nurse asked.

Of course.

I wanted to hold her then and more than anything I want to hold her today. I want to say, “Happy Birthday baby – how does it feel to be eighteen?”

A couple hours later, Elena was in the nursery at the hospital and Kim was coming out of recovery. Kim blinked the anesthesia from her head and looked over at me.

“She’s beautiful,” I said.

Kim asked to hold her baby. The nurse said “no”, that Kim was too tired, she’d see her later.

“No,” I said, “she’d like to hold her baby now.”

The nurse made a call and someone brought Elena in and handed her to Kim.

Kim in a hospital gown with post-op hair that would have made her cringe holding our baby. As beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen.

I hate talking about Elena and Kim in the past tense.

You know what I’d like more than anything today? Even more than the more-than-anything I just said?

More than anything I’d love to see Kim give Elena a big hug today and say, “Happy Birthday baby – how does it feel to be eighteen?”

 

Published in: on March 3, 2017 at 8:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Balance

One of Kim’s friends told a great story about Kim at her funeral.

Kim was cleaning the house and the kids were home and bored and in the way.

The house needed to be cleaned. She had to do it.

And then it occurred to her.

She didn’t have to.

She turned of the vacuum cleaner, turned to the kids and said, “it’s a beautiful day, let’s go to the pool.”

She decided not to waste those precious moments and opportunities. She took the kids swimming. Laundry can be done after they’re in bed. Floors can gather a little dust.

There are some things that have to be done – they just have to. But mostly, we’ve convinced ourselves they have to.

If we don’t do it, who will?

In some cases, no one. They won’t get done.

In some cases, we’re doing it because we’ve convinced ourselves we’re the only one who can or will.

When Kim worked her first job she used to bring paperwork home with her every night. She was home but she hadn’t really left work.

She put in hours every night finishing paper work that had to get done.

“Do it at work,” I said.

“I don’t have time,” she answered.

I convinced her that if she did it at home and it just magically got done, her bosses would assume everything was ok and it would continue like this forever. If, instead, she did it at work, her bosses would understand that this was part of work and that if it was important then something else would have to give.

If not everything can be done during the day then they would have to decide whether they needed to bring in another therapist or revise how the work was done.

But this isn’t about Kim.

It’s about you.

How much are you doing because it just has to get done?

Maggie and I met someone last week in London who has an hour commute each way to work. That’s not so unusual there. He leaves around eight in the morning and his wife picks him up at the train station at ten at night to bring him back home.

He has to. He won’t get everything done if he doesn’t.

He’s doing it just for now.

I asked him if his managers will come to expect this of him and that if he cuts back from a twelve hour work day to even ten will it look as if he’s underperforming.

He said, this could be a problem.

I urged him to change now. He’s a wonderful man who is running a great team building products people love and depend on. He makes sure the people he manages leave at a reasonable hour because he knows how important that is.

He needs to treat himself with the same kindness that he shows other people.

Of course, that’s true for all of us. But I digress.

It’s not that I don’t work a lot and work a long day. I’m just lucky enough to be able to break it up with time with friends or time at the gym or an afternoon working at a coffee shop.

Lucky? Sure. Lucky that I was able to make it work, but it was a conscious decision.

A month ago Maggie and I were in Paris where the attitude towards work is very different. It’s not that people don’t work hard and accomplish a great deal. But most of the people we encountered work a reasonable day. It’s illegal for them to handle work emails after work or on weekends. They take a lot of vacations and there seem to be a lot of official days off.

Of course I’m overgeneralizing about the people in these two cities, but Londoners and Parisians don’t understand each other’s attitude towards work.

In France the life-work balance is very important.

We lose that perspective in the US. Work isn’t what you do here, work is who you are.

We ask, “what do you do for a living?” before we ask, “what music do you like?”

I was texting with someone this morning who is too busy. She has a long commute to work, she works so much that she ends up coming home and going to bed.

That’s not good.

I know she feels she has to. They’re depending on her at work.

But what if she put in a reasonable day,  worked really hard while she was there, and then left at a reasonable hour?

If that’s not enough for them then nothing will be enough for them.

She needs to be as kind to herself as she is to others or else it impacts the energy and time she has left to give to herself and the things that might matter to her.

She tells me I don’t understand. I’m lucky that my work is flexible.

Yes, I’m lucky. But it also required a decision. I had to leave the field I loved the best. I had to stop doing the work I loved the most. I had to not take a job offer because it would have meant moving my kids away from their grandparents and Kim away from the world she loved most.

She said she would go. She meant it. And if it had just been the two of us the equation might have been different but I love that our daughters could be with their grandparents.

Before she died, Kim was encouraging me to reconsider. She had me interview for a job where I would have had to live most of the time in California. The constraints were different.

I interviewed. The job wasn’t right for me. I wasn’t right for the job.

One of the things they asked me was if I could change from this world of being a consultant and contractor to being an employee.

I don’t know.

I may have missed the flexibility.

There’s the cliche that no one lies sick and dying thinking, if only I’d worked more.

Elena and Kim didn’t have time for this reflection.

Elena was too young and went to quickly. Kim’s accident left her immediately unable to have such reflections in the three days she lay in the hospital bed.

I had very little regrets about the times we spent together.

We spent a lot of time together. We did wonderful things.

What amazes me are the people who have lost someone and still don’t realize how short life is and how important it is to live it.

I still think now and then about the trip to Berlin where Kim stayed behind because she was needed.

Kim never said she was staying behind because she had to. She stayed behind because she wanted to. There were people she wanted to help out. Co-workers who would be unduly stressed if she went.

That was sweet.

She didn’t make that choice all the time. This was special because a co-worker was getting married.

She knew she didn’t have to stay and work and most times she wouldn’t. This wasn’t were life-work balance being off. This was her making a life-life choice to help someone.

 

For the most part, Kim understood life-work balance. For her, it was people that mattered.

She’d look at someone at work and say, “what’s wrong honey” and mean it.

She chose to stay at a hospital where the pay wasn’t great, where she had many frustrations, because they made it easy for her to take time away to travel with me on trips or to just spend a day watching Maggie play Rugby.

People thought she too was lucky because her time was flexible.

Lucky? Maybe. They didn’t know what she’d given up for this flexibility. I guess, lucky in the sense that she was able to find a place and position that allowed her this flexibility.

Kim worked a short day when appropriate and a longer day when needed. She worked hard at work and then she came home.

They fired her after twenty years without any warning.

It wasn’t personal.

Not to them.

They had fired every part-timer like her.

Thank goodness she had life-work balance.

The next day when they hired her back she was able to think about it and decide if it was still the best thing for her.

It was. Some people thought, “lucky for her.” I thought, “lucky for them.”

Your job probably cares less about you than you think.

Next time you spend all that time because you “have to”, stop and think, “do I?”

What are the things that this “have to” is keeping you from doing in the rest of your life.

 

 

Published in: on March 2, 2017 at 9:24 am  Leave a Comment  

She said “no”

Last week I asked someone out.

On a date.

She said “no”.

I know that I’ve said many times that this blog is for me – and it is – but I also know there are people who read it so I don’t post everything and often I leave out names when I do post things.

Last week I didn’t post something I wrote because I worried that it might effect the court case against the man who hit Kim’s tiny car with his semi. I showed the post to a lawyer first.

He said, “there’s nothing wrong with what you’ve written here.”

Even though he said there was nothing wrong, I had a feeling that he would prefer I didn’t post it.

So I didn’t.

I tend to be pretty good at reading between the lines.

After I wrote to thank him and to tell him I wouldn’t be publishing the blog post he went into more detail of why he thought it was better to restrain myself in this case.

I started to not write this post as well.

I know the first sentence will upset some people.

Last week I asked someone out.

“How could you,” some will say and many will think.

“It’s too soon.”

“You must not have loved Kim that much.”

I understand those that feel that way.

I really do.

I’ve looked at other men and women in my position and judged them. I didn’t understand how they seemed to be off and dating or so happy so soon.

I completely understand that others will judge me.

I’m not sure that those who say, “it’s too soon” are wrong.

Not because it implies that I’m moving on from Kim cavalierly, but that maybe it really is too soon for me to be making a rational decision.

It may be too soon because I may not be ready.

I’m really not the best judge of that.

And yet, I’m the only judge I have.

Those who think it implies that I didn’t love Kim completely and in every way and with everything in me – I can’t answer them. They’re wrong.

If they don’t understand, then they won’t understand.

In fact, most of you know I still love Kim in every way with everything in me.

And yet…

Last week I asked someone out.

It’s not that I was looking for someone.

It’s more that it felt appropriate to take that step with someone I’d been talking to.

I likely misread the situation or misinterpreted a signal. But from what she was telling me, it felt right to ask her on a date.

I tend to be pretty good at reading between the lines.

It felt right. It didn’t feel awkward. It didn’t feel like back in seventh grade crossing the gym floor to ask a girl to dance.

I thought she was giving me an opening. I thought it made sense for both of us. I asked her if she’d like to try cautiously dating.

She said “no”.

I waited.

I watched my reaction.

I looked to see if I’d feel bad.

I didn’t.

I didn’t feel bad or embarrassed or wrong – if I did, I don’t know if I’d be telling you about it now.

I also didn’t feel ok in the “I didn’t want to go out with her anyway” kind of way.

I did want to go out with her. I asked her. She said, “no”. And I was ok.

As a younger man I might have thought of the reasons she should have said “yes” and tried to convince her. At my age, I know that that never works – not in the long run. Even if you convince them in the short run they’re not there because they want to be.

I looked back at our conversations and thought about how we’d had such a different view of what we’d been saying to each other.

I tend to be pretty good at reading between the lines. It seemed that I wasn’t this time.

As I looked back, I saw both sides.

I understood how she saw what she saw. I understand how I saw what I saw.

Both interpretations are readily apparent in the conversation. The two views are consistent with our different vantage points and not in the actual words that were spoken.

So, I felt pretty good.

I’m not in a rush to go out with anyone. Really.

Actually, I don’t like going out that much at all.

Mostly, I stay in.

I cook. I hang with the dog. I hang with Maggie. I go to the gym. I go out for coffee with friends.

I’ve been happily married for twenty-some years. I’m pretty boring.

So now what?

Now that I’ve asked one person out and feel pretty good about it, I’m not going on a “will you go out with me” rampage.

I’m in a good place.

I feel really good that when it felt like I should ask someone out, I did. And when she said “no”, it was ok.

The next time it feels appropriate, if there is a next time, I hope it goes as smoothly.

Right before Kim died, we were in the kitchen talking about how we were glad that we’d never have to date again.

I’d still prefer not to ever have to date again.

But if I have to, I’m so glad I’m not the person I was when I was twenty.

Last week I asked someone out.

On a date.

She said “no”.

I’m ok with that.

Published in: on February 26, 2017 at 5:57 am  Comments (3)  

Only Kim

Before it was 7 I’d gotten texts from my brother and Helen.

In the next fifteen minutes one from my sister and one from Kim’s friend Kim (like I have to make it clear that it wasn’t from Kim herself).

Maryann posted a “Girl Power” picture on my Facebook timeline.

Jodelle and Bill came to visit yesterday. Kevin came last week.

Folks at my CocoaHeads meeting were just so nice last night.

Susan hung the valentines in the garden.

I’m surrounded by love and support and I appreciate every one of you.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but in a way it makes me miss Kim even more.

People always supported Kim and me separately and together on this day. It meant so much to us and means so much to me.

But today was the day that Kim and I would look at each other and nod, “I know”. And we knew that the other knew.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years all felt different without Kim with me.

But Daniel, you say, I didn’t know that Washington’s Birthday was so important to you?

Today, Elena is dead eleven years.

I flash back eleven years and Kim and I are in the hospital room standing together looking at the body of our dead six-year old daughter waiting for the priest to arrive.

I flash forward to six months ago watching that same priest say last rights over Kim in her hospital bed.

For ten years Kim and I marked this day together.

Some years were harder than others. No year was easy. But each year we had each other.

I never traveled this time of year.

Kim called February our month of eating cookies.

I baked a lot of cookies.

People gave us recipes.

I didn’t bake fast enough.

Kim would come home from Heinen’s. “Look,” she’d say, holding up a package.

“What did you get?” I’d asked.

“Homemade cookies from Heinen’s.”

“They’re not homemade,” I’d object.

“Heinen’s homemade them,” she’d say opening the package. “Want one?”

And we’d stand in the kitchen and eat cookies together.

Over time our month of eating cookies began in January and ended in March. Later it didn’t really end in March, it just slowed down.

This year I decided to break that tradition.

We’d go to breakfast together each year on this day. After the first couple of years, Kim didn’t like to have people over.

We’d have them over in a week for Elena’s birthday.

Maggie and I decided to have family over for Elena’s birthday again this year. Colored pancakes, sausage, and bacon.

Some traditions continue. Some don’t.

After breakfast I would drop Kim back at the house and go to Elena’s grave. The last couple of years Kim would go with me.

Maggie and Elena’s birthdays were just about six months apart. Six months and a day.

Kim’s mom would always celebrate the half birthday of the one whose birthday it wasn’t with a little gift. A nice gesture that coupled the two girls and their birthdays together.

The anniversaries of Kim and Elena’s death are six months and a day apart. Elena is dead eleven years today. Kim is dead six months tomorrow.

Their deaths are coupled in so many ways.

Kim was the only person on this earth who felt the loss of Elena the way I did and do.

I’m not saying other people didn’t love Elena. I’m not saying other people don’t miss Elena.

I’m saying Elena’s mom and dad stood by her dead body eleven years ago today. It was a shared experience we could have done without. It’s a shared experience that was communicated in a nod and a touch.

We came out of that room and sat with all four of Elena’s grandparents who had come immediately to the hospital.

Washington’s Birthday. Elena’s favorite president.

I’m not going out for breakfast today.

On Elena’s birthday I’ll meet Kim’s parents for breakfast after mass. Kim’s mom and Kim used to go every year then meet me for breakfast. The last few years Kim’s dad has joined them.

Then I’d drop Kim off at the house and go to Elena’s grave. The last couple of years Kim said, “I’ll go too.”

Two breakfasts in two weeks. Two visits to Elena’s grave.

So no breakfast today. I’ll head over to the grave site in a little bit.

I’m not ready to go yet.

Today is about Elena but I find myself missing Kim so much more than I can explain.

I know I’m surrounded by love and support. I really do appreciate you more than I can say. I know I’m whining and not noticing the good around me.

But I’m on my way to visit the grave of my daughter on the eleventh anniversary of her death.

This year I’ll go alone.

Kim is already there.

Waiting for me.

Right next to Elena.

Published in: on February 22, 2017 at 7:57 am  Comments (1)  

Signs

This morning I saw the sun rise.

I took it as a sign that today was going to be great.

I know people who see signs everywhere.

They ask for a sign and they see it.

I don’t worry about them. I don’t question them. I don’t think they are silly or wrong.

These people are happy and going about their lives. They just are thinking about someone or something and want something in their environment to chime in.

I worry about the people who wait for a sign and don’t do things because they haven’t gotten the sign yet.

It’s kind of like a study about pessimists and optimists where they were given a newspaper and told to find some item. In the newspaper was a large ad that told them where to find the thing they were looking for.

The optimists saw the ad and found the item. The pessimists didn’t.

The sign was there for both to see.

Some saw it. Some didn’t.

All day long I get up from my chair and I head somewhere. I may head down the hall to the bathroom, to the kitchen for a snack, to the backroom to get something, upstairs for a minute, or to the dining room to grab the checkbook.

If I stand up around five o’clock, Annabelle pops out of her chair and follows me.

She takes it as a sign that I’m about to feed her.

She runs and stands by the stairs to the basement because we keep her food on the landing. If I pause at the landing she then runs to the kitchen and stands over her bowl. I don’t know if she’s waiting for me or helping me figure out where to bring the food. Impatient, she runs back to her food bag then back to her bowl to make sure I understand.

I’ve stood up all day but when I stand up near five o’clock, that’s a sign.

Last night I stood outside a moment after taking the garbage out.

The sky was so clear.

The stars just popped.

This morning I watched the sunrise as I made my coffee.

The sun rises every day.

It’s a big freaking sign.

It’s why it’s so important that we notice it.

It asks, “what are you waiting for?”

It reminds us of the empty day ahead of us that welcomes us to accomplish our dreams.

After something sad or tragic happens we don’t notice the sun rise.

We dismiss it as something that happens every day.

We think that there will be other sun rises.

There will be.

We might not be there to see them.

And even if we are, think of the days that just went by without us embracing them.

Annabelle’s morning routine is different.

She doesn’t wait for a sign.

She jumps at the back door until I let her back in and she runs to where her food bag is.

I follow her and scoop a cup of food and turn to see her running to her bowl.

I close up the food bag and she runs back to me – just making sure I haven’t forgotten.

She gets excited twice a day, every day.

I know people who don’t.

They’re waiting for a sign.

The signs are there.

There were weeks when I didn’t see them.

This morning I saw the sun rise.

Published in: on February 20, 2017 at 7:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Just One

I tell Maggie I’m off to meet the boys.

She rolls her eyes. Their ages span from late fifties to late eighties. The mean is probably eighty. So I guess she’s right.

When I got there, only one was there.

He’s not so much the leader as he is the center of gravity. I look at him and remember that I’ve known him since he was my age.

He runs through the group. One can’t make it because he can’t drive anymore. The guy who usually drives him can’t make it because he has a funeral. Another doesn’t come much anymore. The last one might be working.

Not really meeting the boys this morning. There’s just one. Just Bob.

We talk about politics like always. We talk about the news. He has facts and figures at his fingertips that just astound me. He tells me how many people have been killed since 1970 in the US. He talks about how many people have been killed already this year in Chicago. He then uses it in an argument about our current and planned immigration bans.

We’ve been discussing the news now and then since Reagan’s first term.

Finally, the line drops down so there’s only one person waiting. I stand and get in line. Bob doesn’t want anything. He’s got his coffee and he’s already had another cup today.

With one person ahead of me I get served in just under five minutes. While waiting for them to pour a cup of drip coffee for here, I look back over at Bob. He’s reading a newspaper.

He’s always reading. Always learning something new. Always has a story to tell you about something he read.

I sit back down. I check that he’s sure he doesn’t want anything. He waves me off.

He’s ok.

I gesture at his Smithsonian magazine on the table between us. There’s a giant Cambodian Buddha on the cover.

Bob tells me he read an article about Einstein and space time theories.

Not in this issue he tells me, pointing to the magazine between us. He has a bunch of back issues stacked up at home.

Me too, I tell him. That’s why I finally unsubscribed. I love the magazine but I wasn’t reading it.

National Geographic too, he tells me.

Yeah. Me too.

So he tells me about a mental model from the article of how space is bent. The metaphor uses a bowling ball on a trampoline.

Nice.

Bob pauses, looks up, and asks, “are you dating?”

“No,” I say, “I thought I might try it but it didn’t really work out.”

Bob nods.

He doesn’t ask why.

He wouldn’t pry anyway but there’s something in the way he doesn’t ask.

This isn’t a question about me. This is a question about him. Not that he’s wondering about dating. But it’s about him.

His wife of sixty-plus years died a little over a year ago.

“I miss the two of us sitting and talking,” he says. He looks to me to see if I know what he means.

I do.

I nod. “Me too.”

Sitting with him and talking is good. But it’s not the same for him and it’s not the same for me.

I lean forward, “especially,” I say, “especially, now. I would love for her to help me make sense of this world.”

He nods but you can see his thoughts have shifted again.

“And cooking,” he says. “I miss cooking for two.”

“Yeah,” I say. I miss that too. Really it’s not that I miss cooking for two so much as I miss cooking for Kim. She appreciated it and always helped out. It was coupled with the time we would talk to each other.

She’d go to the refrigerator and cupboards for ingredients. We’d stand in the kitchen a few feet from each other. She’d cut with her knife on her cutting board. I’d cut with my knife on my board. I’d go to the stove to cook.

Cooking for one. One cooking.

Bob brought me back from my thoughts telling me that there were only really a few people left connected to Sue: her sister, their son, their daughter, and their grand-daughter.

The daughter lives close. I asked about the son.

He lives far away.

“Did you ever visit?” I ask.

No, Bob says. He and Sue were going to drive out there.

They had a trip planned that included side trips and stop-overs. He mentioned the Carl Sandburg house. That’s so Bob and Sue.

I look at him. I know it’s not a trip he’ll ever take. Not now that it’s just him.

I look at him again. I don’t think of me. This is his story, not mine.

Published in: on February 18, 2017 at 2:11 pm  Leave a Comment