Memoir, Personal, Relationships

Regrets and Do-Overs

While in Utah visiting my family, my sister and I got into a conversation about regrets.

What do I regret? What kinds of things would I do differently if I had a few do-overs?

Life never stops moving forward. Stay focused ...
credit: deeplifequotes)

Do I regret filling yards of surgical tubing with water and spraying an apartment full of poker-playing boys in college? No.

Do I regret filling up my first semester of college with classes like trampoline, tennis and dance?

Or making a spontaneous decision at 9 p.m. at night to load my car with college friends and drive to Las Vegas for the weekend?

Nope.

What I regret are the times I could have been kinder to people.

Valentines-Day-Hearts-Collection-Free-Stock-Photos-Small

I remember a girl in junior high and high school that everyone teased mercilessly because she had acne and a nervous twitch.

As she walked down the halls, people imitated her twitch as she passed them.

I hated walking that same gauntlet as all the boys sat on the hall benches and called me “Little Bob,” after my Dad who was a little league football coach or “Little Snowsie,” after my brother.”

If I hated that kind of attention, how must it have been to be mocked for bad skin and a sudden jerk of the neck I couldn’t control?

Luckily, I can’t remember directly teasing her myself, but maybe I’ve conveniently forgotten that detail because I’m ashamed of myself.

Even if I didn’t personally injure her, I never once stood up for her.

I’m ashamed of myself for the times I could have stepped back from the teasing or stepped in to stop it; for the times I kept my mouth shut when I could have jumped to someone’s defense or when I opened my mouth only to add to the cutting remarks.

Doug shared a story on Facebook from The New York Times Magazine called, “George Saunder’s Advice to Graduates.”

http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/

He wrote about regret he’s carried for  42-years. He regrets that he wasn’t nice to a shy girl who joined his seventh grade class.

She wore blue cat-eye glasses and nervously chewed on her hair.

Students teased her, asking if her hair tasted good, or they simply ignored her and never tried to befriend her.

I don’t know how many kids passed through my life like that. How many did I ignore because they didn’t look or dress right or simply because I had plenty of friends?

Saunder’s said, “Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her. But it still bothers me. So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

That phrase “failures of kindness” hit me hard because that is what I regret most too.

“Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly,” he said.

But, what about the times I didn’t respond sensibly, reservedly or mildly and without even knowing it, may have been downright cruel?

There are no do-overs for those times.

In his graduation speech, he wisely shared that: “as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will be gradually replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You won’t really care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit.” (One of the best reasons ever for having children!)

His end-of-speech advice was, “Since , according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up! Speed it along. Start right now.”

If I had one do-over, I would definitely follow his advice and err on the side of kindness. I’ve clearly become a much kinder, more selfless person as I’ve aged.

But, if I could dial the years back to my adolescence and do a few things differently, I’d still do the crazy things like hose down the poker-playing boys, master my trampoline moves, and skip off to Vegas; but, I’d also be a lot kinder.

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Family, Relationships

How Do I Love Thee?

Cover of "Valentine"

Let me start by confessing that I am not the most romantic woman in the world.

When Sara was a little girl, she called me “pathetic” because I couldn’t think of anything romantic to give Doug for Valentines.

I guess she thought my red toolbox didn’t cut it.

Tool Box
(Photo credit: pferriola)

I am a practical gift giver.

I try to be a frivolous giver but it’s just not in my personality.

Sometimes I say, “Let’s not give each other Valentines this year. We know we love each other.”

I say that to save me the trouble of trying to think of a romantic gift.

Even when he agrees to the no-gift idea, he still sends me gorgeous, generous bouquets of flowers.

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He can’t help himself.

He is a romantic.

In Myers Briggs language, he is a strong “feeler.”

I am a strong “thinker.”

The way you know which one you are is by considering what is most important to you when you make a decision. If you prefer to make decisions based on objective principles like what makes sense or is logical, you are probably a thinker.

If you put more weight on personal concerns like what is best for the people involved, and what will make them happy, you are probably a feeler.

Thinkers like to analyze pros and cons. Feelers like to create harmony and are motivated by what seems most caring and warm.

This is why I give Doug gifts like red toolboxes and why he gives me luxurious flowers and other impractical, but loving gifts.

I’ve mentioned before that Doug and I took the Myers Briggs test before we got married, and it was very educational. It helped us understand each other better.

When we went house hunting for our first home, we walked into the top-of-the-line builder’s model, called the “Laurel,” a large townhouse with a sweeping spiral staircase in the entry way. The salesman told us it was the most popular model because it also had a garage. (Actually he said it had a “Gar-Arge,” which we forever after enjoyed mimicking.)

Doug immediately said, “This is it! This is the one. We don’t need to look at the other models.”

I immediately said, “We don’t need that staircase and we can’t afford a Gar-Arge.”

“But it’s so pretty,” the feeler husband said.

“And so impractical,” the thinker wife replied.

These types of thinker-feeler discussions are integral to our marriage.

When we stopped at the outlets on the way home from the beach one summer, the girls wanted to buy school clothes.

We went into the Ralph Lauren store and they grabbed arm-loads of clothing to try on.

girls

All of them looked adorable.

“Which one should I choose?” they asked.

“Which one will you wear the most?” I asked.

“Why are you even trying to choose?” Doug questioned. “Why not get them all if you like them?”

The thinker in me could not be silent. “Doug, they do not need all those clothes.”

The feeler in him said, “But they like them!”

The negotiations went on, and since he had the money, he won.

(Obviously, our kids have always loved shopping with Doug. We are just lucky he doesn’t go very often because it’s about his least favorite thing to do.)

So, as Valentines Day approaches, I’m back at wanting to say, “Doug, my darling stud muffin of a Valentine, how about if we forget gifts this year?”

He might say yes to please me because, of course, he is a major feeler, and he wants me to be happy, and for our marriage to be harmonious.

But, I know he will never forget Valentines Day.

Never.

He will do something lovely, thoughtful, and sweet, and all I can think of is to give him a new Nats baseball hat and some game tickets because, of course, they are practical…and red. (And he already knows I bought them.)

Last year, I outdid myself.

love

I wrote love notes on red hearts and taped them all over the inside of his car after he went to bed so that he would be surprised by my tenderness on Valentines Day.

I don’t know how to top that.

He already has a red toolbox and a red tool cabinet.

I am desperate for romantic ideas.

Please send them my way… but only if they make sense and seem practical. At times like this, it’s so much better to be a feeler.

Family, From the News, Parenting, Relationships

Trying to Find Words of Comfort

Last night I heard on the news that a post office box has been set up to receive condolence letters for the families of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.

I felt like I should send notes to the grieving parents. But, what could I possibly write?

What words of condolence could I share that could uplift these heartbroken, bereaved families?

On September 11, when I heard that terrorists had attacked our nation, I immediately drove to the elementary school to pick up my children.

The principal met me at the door and asked me to let them stay in school because it was the safest place for them. The school was in “lock down” mode and the principal wanted the children to stay in classes and return home on the bus as usual. Then, parents could explain the events of the day to them after they’d had time to process it themselves.

I saw the wisdom in the principal’s words and went home without my two daughters. They were in the safest place for them at that time, I kept telling myself.

Those words have haunted me for the past week because the children in Sandy Hook Elementary were thought to be in one of the safest places for them. Most children spend the bulk of their time at home or in school, and both places are supposed to be safe havens for them.

Parents worry about their children every time they walk out the door — even when they leave for school. But, for most of us, school shootings of the magnitude experienced in Newtown, Connecticut are beyond our fears because they are so utterly evil that we can’t let our worries even go to that extreme.

So when I think of those bewildered parents in Connecticut, and see them on television or read their words in the newspaper, my heart literally hurts. I know what it’s like to have your normal breathing pattern halted, and I wonder when they will breathe normally again, and when will their goals of survival stretch beyond a mere second at a time?

I want to console them but I am lost for words.

We went to the Kennedy Center Monday night to see “An Enchanted Christmas” performance by The Choral Arts Society of Washington.
As we sat in the Concert Hall listening to and singing Christmas carols, I thought of the peaceful feelings and the spirit of warmth that enveloped that beautiful roomful of strangers.
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Then I thought of the people in Connecticut and wished I could transport the sweet serenity that fell upon us in that Hall to Newtown, and just wrap the entire town up in a cocoon of safety and love.

Yesterday, we went to the White House and marveled over the gorgeous holiday decorations and listened to a children’s choir sing “Still, Still, Still,” one of my favorite Christmas songs – “Still, still, still, one can hear the falling snow…”
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As we left the White House, we noticed all the flags at half-staff, and again I wished so deeply that just one of the peaceful still moments I’ve experienced this week could float in a cloud to Connecticut and hover there for months to come dropping heavenly dews of tender mercies on the heartbroken, devastated people there who are just trying to get their bearings.

US Navy 040609-F-3050V-009 The U.S. flag atop ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“…The tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance…”

Deliverance is what I want for them.

I guess if I were to send a letter to the new post office box, I’d say something like this:

“To all the families, friends and loved ones affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy:

I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. I won’t pretend to understand what you are going through, but I want you to know, I love you. I pray for you. My heart breaks just knowing of your unfathomable loss and acute sorrow.

I know the deep, unparalleled love that parents have for their children, and that just the fear of losing them is unbearable.

So, my urgent and heartfelt prayers on your behalf are that during this time of sadness and bewilderment that God will swoop you up and cradle you like a child in his arms, just like he is cradling your little ones. And, that you will feel his love, warmth, understanding, and compassion and know that his heart beats in sympathy with yours.

I know your lives have been permanently altered, but I also know there is a God who lives and loves you, a God who can and will carry you through this, a God who welcomed your babies home and healed their wounds instantly, and one who will heal yours too.

While I’m sure you feel utterly alone, there are good-hearted people all around the world kneeling in prayer and pleading with the heavens on your behalf.

I wish my words had the power to elevate your grieving souls and to assure you that while your heads hang down in sorrow now, they will rise up in joy again. You will be reunited with your children one day and your joy will be exquisite. I hope you will all faithfully live for that day.”

Sometimes our words are all we have, and yet, they are so inadequate and can seem so empty at times like this. I can only hope that when I send my words skyward that God will hear them and send these dear families the healing balm that they so desperately need.

Check out this beautiful piece by Jeff Benedict http://www.ldsliving.com/story/71249-jeff-benedict-witnessing-grief-and-compassion-in-newtown

Family, Relationships

Judger vs. Perceiver

Myers-Briggs Frequency visualization
Myers-Briggs Frequency visualization (Photo credit: Peter Forret)

When Doug and I were dating he was doing a lot of professional work involving the Myers Briggs personality type test — a test that determines your personality preferences.

Relationships

Mars and Venus

A few weeks ago, I told Doug about an experience I had at the nail salon.

English: my toes
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A woman sat in the pedicure chair next to me.

Before Tiffany, the nail technician, started this lady’s pedicure, the lady said, “Oh, don’t massage my legs.”

Then she leaned toward me and said, “I have cancer.”

She had breast cancer, then it spread to her bones and she couldn’t handle any pressure on her legs.

Then she proceeded to tell me everything about her life.

Her husband divorced her. She had no children. Her family lived in Florida. She didn’t have a job she liked. She was lonely.

As I spilled out this story to Doug, he said, “Wait a minute. You were just sitting next to her in the salon and she started telling you all of this?”

“Yes… and she told me she’s lost her sex drive because of her meds. Then, she said…”

Doug interrupted me and said,”What? She told you about her sex drive?”

“What is it about women? Everywhere you go, people tell you things. Men never do that.”

While I didn’t ask her any questions to prompt all these disclosures, I’m not sure Doug believed me.

Women talk, share, and talk some more even if we don’t know each other.

Coming out of the gym together a few years ago,  I started to tell Doug a story about a woman I met in the dressing room.

He said, “Women talk to each other in the dressing room?”

“Of course. Women talk everywhere,” I told him.

He said it is silent in men’s dressing rooms.

Perfectly silent, and it would be creepy to start chatting with a man while he’s either getting dressed or undressed.

“Men don’t do that,” he said. “Ever.”

I often come out of public restrooms with stories about women I’ve met.

English: I photographed this picture from a pu...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“How do women do that? They just strike up the most random conversations,” he said. “And in the bathroom? Really?”

“Don’t men talk in restrooms?” I asked.

“Oh gosh, NO! Never!”

English: I photographed this picture from a pu...

If one man is standing at a urinal, another man never stands right next to him.

“You go to the next one over. There has to be one urinal between you, always.”

And, they never talk to each other.

I guess it just happens in the movies because I’ve seen a lot of uncomfortable bathroom scenes with man standing at urinals, talking.

In a real man’s world, apparently this doesn’t happen.

In the airport last week, I stopped in the restroom after our flight landed.

While I was washing my hands, I glanced up at myself in the mirror to see if I should fluff up my flat hair or dab on new lipstick.

A woman at the other end of the restroom said, “You’re beautiful. You don’t need a mirror.”

I don’t know how one thing progressed to another but by the time I left the restroom, we’d discovered I once worked with her sister.

So we left the restroom and visited all the way to baggage claim.

Doug saw us approaching him, and just shook his head.

I introduced him to my new friend and explained the random connection.

He looked baffled.

After the woman retrieved her luggage, she wrote down my phone number, gave me a big hug and kissed me goodbye on the cheek.

Best friends.

As she walked away, Doug said, “How did you even start a conversation with that woman?”

Before I could answer, he said, “Never mind. I can’t begin to understand how you get into these kinds of conversations with people.”

Later, we were standing in a hotel lobby after the Presidential debate.

I said to Doug, “I wish we had seen the debate. I’m eager to watch the rerun.”

A lady standing near me walked toward me and said, “Oh, Romney slaughtered him.”

Within a few seconds, the woman had given me her life story.

She was a Democrat and expected President Obama to “slay” Romney.

It shocked her to watch Romney win the debate, and she seemed befuddled.

When the elevator opened and Doug and I walked inside, again, he looked at me and said, “How do you do that?”

“She started it!” I said, like a guilty child.

Then, I shrugged my shoulders.

“I’m approachable, I guess. People tell me stuff.”

“Tell me about it,” he said. “Everywhere you go, you make friends. Every time you go into a restroom, you come out with a new friend.”

I’m not even going to mention my last trip to the nail salon and my new friend Jack.

He was getting his eyebrows threaded.

He’s from China and was living with his dad in Manassas, and just moved to Reston.

We both love Sweet Frog yogurt.

Next time after we get our brows done, we might slip over to Sweet Frog to see if they have pumpkin yogurt yet…

English: A shot of the yogurt with one of Berr...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Family, Memoir, Relationships

Remembering the good stuff

I recently read a blog by Michael Hyatt titled “We are what we remember.”

http://michaelhyatt.com/we-are-what-we-remember.html

I’m intrigued by this concept and title and how our memories define us.

In many cases, we can choose the memories we want to keep and, hopefully, we choose the good ones.

When I look back on my years as a mother of young children, the days of drudgery are a blur while the moments of joy shine brightly in my mind.

I remember going to the town festival, riding carnival rides, eating snow cones and watching fireworks.

An assortment of rides at the Royal Melbourne ...
An assortment of rides at the Royal Melbourne Show. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I forget how mad I was when the girls cried when it was time to leave.

Hadn’t I done everything to create the perfect day for them?

Yet, at the end of it, instead of thanking me profusely, they cried and wanted more.

I laugh at how disappointed I was that day. And, when kids are having fun, they never want the fun to stop, right?

I’d rather remember them giggling as they spun around on the Tilt-a-whirl than crying because it was time to go home.

When our girls were home for the summer, we talked about curfews.

One of our daughters always came home on time. The other one never did.

(If you know my kids, you can guess which one was chronically late — always with a good excuse, of course!)

I remembered all those late nights we spent waiting for them to come home safely.

But, I don’t remember the fatigue, frustration, and mounting fears that came with the waiting.

(Okay, I do remember it, but I can smile about it now.There is no end to a mother’s worry.)

Thankfully, they always got home safely, and my spirit always relaxed when I knew they were sleeping peacefully down the hall.

Mark Twain said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

A portrait of the American writer Mark Twain t...
A portrait of the American writer Mark Twain taken by A. F. Bradley in New York, 1907. http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/publications/siycfall_05.pdf http://www.twainquotes.com/Bradley/bradley.html See also other photographs of Mark Twain by A. F. Bradley taken in March 1907 in New York on Mark Twain Project Online. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thankfully most of the things I’ve worried about haven’t happened either.

I know that time has a wonderful, miraculous way of making most things better.

But, when you are in the midst of difficulty or worry, it’s hard to be patient with time.

It can be pretty darn miserable to wait for time to pass when you desperately need to feel better and move forward.

The waiting can be torturous.

Cancer treatments spring to mind — UGH.

I’ve shared my favorite quote on this blog before, but it can never be shared too often.

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

In other words, keep moving, keep fighting, don’t give up hope. Everything will work out.

In Hyatt’s blog he said, “What seems awful will soon seem manageable.”

He said, “We live up to the narratives we tell ourselves.”

Narrative Ecology Framework
Narrative Ecology Framework (Photo credit: Crystal Campbell)

For now, my narrative is this:

No matter what happens, I’ll never lose hope.

I’ll take something good from everything that happens, and move forward, cherishing the lessons I learn along the way.

Life is never easy, and we don’t always get what we want, but time really does miraculously bless, heal, and restore us.

While making friends with time is one of life’s greatest challenges, it delivers life’s most precious gifts.

Family, Friends, Relationships, Uncategorized

Below the Surface

Doug, my font of all wisdom, says if we barely scratch the surface of people, we find their hearts aren’t buried too deeply below that surface.

Calm and serene above the water but paddling like crazy below the surface.

I’ve learned the truth of that statement in my writing classes.

I teach personal writing workshops where we focus primarily on essays and memoirs.

One of the assignments I gave this last group was to write about a turning point in their lives — a time when one day they were one person and the next they were someone else.

While the stories are turning points for them, they are turning points for me too because they open my mind to the challenges and resiliency of others. I am moved by their courage, their faith, and their determination to keep going in the face of such difficulties.

Writing workshops are a type of therapy, and when people write their stories and face the big, ugly, scary things in their lives, they get stronger.

It’s like teaching children to look in the closet when they imagine something threatening is hiding inside that could hurt them. When they open the closet and face the perceived monster, the scariness diminishes and the monster is de-clawed.

Similarly, sometimes when we write about our challenges or fears, just that we are exposing them in the bright sunlight diminishes their power over us.

In Doug’s personal coaching training he learned that emotions are pieces of energy designed to move through us — not get stuck inside of us.

Problems arise when we stop the emotions and dwell on them.

I often listened to a healing meditation during my cancer treatments (forgive all my cancer references but that was one of my turning points!).

The goal of the meditation was to realize that emotions and pain have a natural life cycle — they approach, we recognize them; they hit, we briefly feel them, and then we watch them leave. Bad feelings and pain are like buses we can choose to get on and ride or watch them slow down in front of us and move on.

In Doug’s training, he learned the same kind of lesson. Many of us don’t progress through some things in life because we let them stop and take up residence in us.

I love this!

Part of the therapeutic power of personal coaching and writing workshops is that you get to tell your stories and have others genuinely listen. And,when we have good listeners and feel heard and understood, we always feel better.

The New York Times ran an article last week about why talk therapy is on the wane and writing workshops are on the rise.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/magazine/why-talk-therapy-is-on-the-wane-and-writing-workshops-are-on-the-rise.html?pagewanted=all

The author, Steve Almond, confessed that he starting writing for the therapeutic benefits. About a writing workshop experience, he said, “…Looking back, I can see that the instigating impulse for me, for all of us really, was therapeutic. We were writing to confront what Faulkner called ‘the human heart in conflict with itself.’ And not just any hearts. Our hearts.”

I’m fascinated with what’s below the surface of people because I keep discovering such strength and beauty there.

As I walked to my car last week carrying a beautiful bouquet presented to me by my writing class I wondered, “what is it I love about teaching these workshops? Is it the writing and helping people become better writers and craft stronger essays or is it the people themselves and their powerful personal stories and the strength I get from them?”

I decided it’s all the above because every time they share something unique and moving from their lives, I get to experience a subtle turning point in mine.

And by the way, I’d love to hear about your turning points! Send them to me and I’ll post them on my blog.