A little touchy-feely every once in awhile never hurt anyone

2012 ended rather gloomily, and 2013 was starting slow and creaky.  I was talking the talk of being a goddess of self-actualization, but I was not walking the walk.  Inspiration and motivation were in short supply.  Something had to give.

I read the essay (below) from Keri Smith’s “Living Out Loud” a few days ago, and it seemed fitting as I tried to find the right approach to achieving my goals for the coming year.  It made me realize how much I compare myself to others and/ or worry about what other people think of me.  I don’t think this is a huge issue for me, but it’s funny how it can still creep in from time to time, without me even knowing it, and create unseen obstacles in my life.

In terms of my goals, I had especially been thinking about how intimidated I felt about attempting a triathlon.  A lot of my fear comes from the fact that I’m pretty much surrounded by super-athletes.  OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.  But  a good portion of my close friends and broader circle of acquaintances are very athletic, many of them quite accomplished.  I’m not sure if it’s because we live in an area of the country renowned for its outdoor recreational opportunities, which tends to attract a lot of adventurous sporting types, or if I’m just drawn to healthy active people (a good thing!).  Either way, for the kid who grew up being picked last in elementary school gym class (not just a cliche — but actually true!), it’s hard not to make comparisons and feel intimidated about athletic endeavors.

Sometimes reading an essay or article like this one provides exactly the little jolt I need to bring things into perspective and start moving forward again.

Below is the piece from the book (which I keep in my Zen Kit, by the way, with all my other slightly touchy-feely stuff…).  And here is a link to a longer version on Keri Smith’s website.

Facing the Fears

The week I turned thirty I made a list of “30 Things to do in my Thirtieth Year”.  I wanted to move forward into a new decade with power and excitement.  Many things on the list were relatively small and easy to accomplish:  Enjoy a long walk on the beach, eat a fresh lobster, plant a rosebush for my mom.  Some of the things were more difficult and intimidating:  Write a book, learn to drive.  These things were a way of trying new things and pushing myself “out there” beyond my known world.

One of the difficult things for me to do was singing in public.  When I mentioned this to one of my friends, an accomplished folk singer, her eyes lit up, and she invited me to do a song with her grop at its next show.  My reaction was one of giddy excitement, which quickly gave way to fear.  (Singing around a bonfire is more what I had in mind.)  “But isn’t this what you wanted?” I asked myself.   “What better than an opportunity with a deadline?” I had to try.

The show was more than a month away, providing ample time to rehearse and work on my voice.  But could I sing?  I had not sung since sixth-grade choir, when my best friend at the time let me know that I might better spend my energy on things.  Even though, I loved to sing, I had never sang again.

I was pleasantly surprised by my first rehearsal with the group.  We managed to learn the song and get some harmonies down relatively quickly.  To my untrained ear, it sounded on key and actually quite good, but could I really pull this off?  We had chosen was “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls, a tune that talks about moving beyond comfort zones and taking life less seriously, something I had hoped this whole experience would help me with. 

After weeks of practice and lots of support, I had an epiphany:  I cared too much about what other people thought.  I worried that if I san poorly, people might think less of me.  I had to be willing to fail!  I had to surrender to the process and let it happen.  I finally realized that I made my list to push MYSELF, not to impress OTHERS.

On the night of the performance, the cafe was packed.  There was an electric buzz and energy in the place.  Although I wasn’t singing until halfway through the second set, I started to lose feeling in my arms.  I said a silent prayer to whoever would listen.  When it was my turn I seemed to float in the direction of the stage.  I pulled up the stool for support.  The audience, which had been so rowdy, now sat silent and transfixed with all eyes on me.  And in that moment all my fear vanished.  

I told the audience about my list of thiry things, and people cheered.  Then I knew that everyone in the room was with me.  I had no fear because they had joined me in my journey, I could not fail because I had already succeeded in pushing myself.  As we held the last note, the place errupted into wild applause.  I screamed into the microphone, “I did it!”  More applause.  I was on top of the world.  People ran to hug me as I left the stage.  A woman with tears in her eyes said, “Thank you.  You’ve given me courage to face my own fears.”

I have learned that we must never underestimate the poer that facing our fears has on other people.  We help the world to be stronger when we ourselves become stronger.

So there it is, a little reminder not to get caught up in comparisons and worrying about what other people think.  Easier said than done sometimes.  But reminding yourself does help.

Here’s a link to the Indigo Girls singing “Closer to Fine.”

And here’s some more cool stuff on Keri Smith’s website.  Because a little touchy-feely every once in awhile never hurt anyone.

Last word:  Finally went running today for the first time in weeks.  It was good.  : )

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beginnings and endings

The world surely started to spin faster and more madly in the month of December 2012.

Sadness and unease floated through our lives in the weeks leading up to the holiday. The killing of children and teachers in Connecticut was the stuff of waking nightmares. The fiscal cliff was an ominous cloud looming over the nation, threatening not only to create further economic turmoil, but sucking us, once again, into political angst and disillusionment.

On a more personal level, my aunt who lives in Maine died of cancer in early December. Dirk’s aunt in Iowa is terribly ill and dying. A very active, loved and admired member of our local community (a strong, beautiful woman in her early forties) died suddenly of pneumonia. And the mother of one of Zoe and Alexander’s classmates (who we did not know well, because the family had only recently moved to the area) died of cancer, which she had spoken to almost no one about. Just a few days before Christmas, my father emailed to say he had gotten a bad report from the doctor about a spot on his skin and would be going for a follow-up appointment to find out more in early January.

Mortality, loss, and the potential for loss was pushing at me from all directions, and I felt it keenly.

And yet joy crept in. As it will. Christmas was nice. Lights sparkled, candles glowed, cookies were baked, presents were opened. We spent time with friends and family and, somehow, it was just right — actually, one of the better holidays I can recall — festive and fun, but peaceful and relaxed, as well.

And then, just when I thought we were out of the woods — happy holiday accomplished, bills paid, resolutions made and ready to be launched — another body blow. On the morning of December 30, my mother slipped on the snowy floor after taking a bird feeder out onto her deck and fell, injuring her hip and leg. She was transported to the ER by ambulance and then admitted to the hospital for observation. Although she hadn’t broken anything, she was in terrible pain and could barely move. The suggested cause of her condition (more of a speculation than an official “diagnosis”) was severe trauma to the area around her sciatic nerve, a part of the body (and on the side of her body) where she has already had a lot of issues and suffers from chronic pain. As several days passed and she actually felt worse instead of improving, her situation became more uncertain and the outlook more discouraging. Communication with doctors in the hospital (known as “hospitalists” under a new model of health care our local hospital network has adopted) was hard to come by and, to make things even more stressful, my mom’s scenario placed her in a position where Medicare would only cover a certain number of days in the hospital and would not pay for inpatient rehab, despite the fact that she could not even get out of bed by herself.

For those who don’t know me, I’ll explain that I’m my mother’s only child and that she moved to North Carolina from Minneapolis about eight years ago to be near us. My mom is not terribly old (for the mom of a forty-nine year old, that is), but she’s been hit by an array of orthopedic and other health issues over the past ten to twelve years that have seriously challenged her quality of life. It makes me really sad to see how limited she’s become (though she’s one of those people who pushes herself and is still very active in many ways) and how she really cannot do any of the physical activities that she used to love (walking, hiking biking, birding, canoing, camping, cross-country skiing).

And so, we return to December 30 and the call that my mom was in the hospital. After a brief period, it began to appear (though things were still murky and uncertain) that this might be a complicated and prolonged medical situation. Somewhere along the way, I thought to myself: How will I ever be able to accomplish my goals with all that is going on and everything I will have to do to help my mother? It was a selfish thought, and I felt embarrased for having it. But there it was. I felt overwhelmed by the immediate situation and the obstacles ahead.

But with a little time, I began to have a somewhat different perspective. I saw how following through on my goals — the small daily ones that help me stay healthy and the bigger ones I’ve tossed out into the universe for the year ahead — was more important than ever during times of challenge and adversity. There will always be something.

You do what you can. And you do what you must. Or as Bob Dylan said, “You do what you must do, and you do it well.”

So begins 2013.

Please share your stories of challenging situations, how you handled them and whether they turned out better or differently than you expected or feared.