Things About The Normal Days: a useful list

I googled "how to stay focused and content," looking for a Quick List of Useful Instructions that would keep me from waking up wishing that I was ANYWHERE in the world but here. I didn't find a list. In fact, I didn't find anything useful except for a PowerPoint presentation with some Seth Godin quotes that I liked but didn't really have anything to do with what I was looking for. So I decided to make my own list, because maybe somebody else is out there looking for a Quick and Useful List of Instructions and if somebody is going to make some up, it might as well be me, right?

How To Be Content And Focused On the Normal Days:

Step 1) Drink. No, not that kind. Drink coffee. I have a few friends who claim to have been redeemed from the power of chemical stimulation and are now caffeine free, and some who have never even dabbled in the stuff. These people are usually super peppy and optimistic and clearly have no grasp on reality anyway, so I discount their caffeine naysaying with all of the vigor of a triple shot americano and no breakfast. Coffee is the stuff of life. Or it's at least the stuff of reasons to get out of bed in the morning and not yell bad words at the first biologically active thing that crosses your path. Like the dachshund. Or a spider. Or the mold growing on the inside of the cream carton. Coffee helps. It's the chemical boost to get you to the next step. I strongly recommend coffee first thing in the morning, preferably with someone that you can say bad words to about the things that are wrong with first thing in the morning and they will agree and still love you. That is the best way to have coffee.

you can get this shirt HERE

Step 2) Dress. Put on the right clothes. If, say, you wear the wrong jeans - the ones that cut right in at the fattest place you have (and all real people have one of those places), or maybe your socks don't match your trousers, or you can't find your favorite belt, or you get to work and the shoes you're wearing are just WRONG, the whole day is shot. Make sure that what you are putting on your body brings you joy, like those Japanese de-cluttering methodologies, if it doesn't make you happy, take it off and throw it on the ground and cuss. Then find something that brings you joy. Like sweatpants. Or holey jeans that feel like sweatpants.

Step 3) Talk. Share your frustration. This might sound like I am encouraging negativity or complaining, but it really does help make the day seem ok when you realize that you're not the only one who doesn't always want to be wherever it is that you are and don't want to be. It doesn't have to be an elaborate dumping session. Human beings are empathetic animals, and sometimes a quick exchange of a knowing look with a "coffee is good this morning"  grunt, speaks volumes. And you just know. We're all in this together. All the normal. All the people. All the time. And it's going to be ok. If you want to level-up this step, and combine it with the power of Step 1, deliver coffee to someone else. It's like telling them,"I know, life sucks, but here's coffee," and it makes both of you feel that much better. Trust me, it does, even if it's gross coffee.

Step 4) Listen. I have watched music visibly change the attitude and posture of people. I know for a fact what it does for me. Sometimes it's angry rock music that takes the angst out on a drum set for you. Sometimes it's Alison Krauss lulling you gently back to sanity. Sometimes it's the music of absolute silence. Peace and contentment can be found behind the wall of noise-cancelling headphones plugged into nothing. Or the interior of a car with no sound but your own weird breathing. Find the noise you need to make this day ok.

Step 5) Daydream. Some people call this meditation, not paying attention or slacking off, but for me, unplugging from the four jobs and three conversations I am in the middle of for just a few minutes is the only way to keep myself from freaking the eff out. Sometimes I drift back to that Mexican Hermit Crab on the beach, or sometimes it's the warm squishyness of All The Pillows in bed last night, or Holding His Hand. But if I can let my brain disconnect from Right This Moment, Right This Place for a few minutes, I can come back and plug in with a little more energy.

Keep Calm and Scuttle On
Step 6) Eat. Days when you are really questioning where your life took a bad turn are not the days to be eating salads. Save your salads for those peppy, optimistic days after you quit drinking caffeine and your whole world is wonderful. Eat something that makes you happy. Eat something that makes you feel good. I don't care what it is, but you have to WANT it. Crusty white bread and pasta? Sure. Medium-rare ribeye? OK, if you can afford it. Cheesy bread? Definitely. Life is too short to be miserable on top of being unhappy. Eat something you love.

Step 7) Move. Go above and beyond rolling over on the couch. Get up and move. Shuffle to the kitchen for more coffee. Stand by the window. Every step you take gives you a thousand more possibilities that you will see, touch, smell, hear, feel something that reminds you of why you are here. Something that excites you. Of course, there's also the increased risk that you will see, touch, smell, hear or feel something that repulses you and confirms your suspicion that life sucks, but it's a risk worth taking. If at all possible, get outside. Unless you're one of those people that hates fresh air and all living things and prefer cardboard and drywall and scratchy upholstery to dirt and rocks. In that case, stay inside and move around. It takes all kinds, after all.

Step 8) Sleep. Find a way to get good sleep. Not having good sleep and not eating good food are the Two Primary Reasons for Hating Life. I just made that up but it sounds really good. Everybody's sleep trigger is different. Sometimes some of us need a little help. A glass of wine, a heavy dose of muscle relaxers, a swift kick in the head... Figure yours out and cash in on it. Don't miss sleep. It's not worth it.

Step 9) Give. Try to notice one person during the course of your day that has it worse than you. Maybe it's the hobo on the street corner or the single mom with a broken down car (not me, this time), or maybe it's the One You Love that has to put up with you. Find a way to give them something. A coffee, a hug, a jump start, or maybe a big and sincere thank you. Get outside yourself for a minute.

Step 10) Love. If there isn't a single person that warms the cockles of your heart then you should seek help more professional than mine STAT. But I'm willing to bet everyone reading this has at least one person that you can see when you close your eyes and be overwhelmed with gratitude for the place they hold in your heart. The people who don't have anybody are probably on a different blog about how to build bombs and stuff. Love your people, or person. Hold the hand. Steal the kisses. Feel the love. Go after it actively. You need it. It needs you. It's easy to let the doldrums convince you that you're not worthy - at least for me it is. That's when its the most important to find the love and bask in it.

Reading through my Quick List of Useful Instructions, I should probably rename it something like "A Hedonist's Guide To Everyday Living," because it's all about what feels good. But we're so good, these days, about beating ourselves up and Making the Tough Choices and Taking the High Road that we forget about how good life can feel if we let it. Sometimes the rougher path is the right one, but sometimes the Normal Days need a little love boost.

Things About the Holidays

Current Mood
Feliz Navidad, Amigos!! Ok, so it's officially the Holiday Season, and if it weren't for my kids transforming my house into some holiday extravaganza of mismatched Christmas attire while I was in Mexico, I am not sure that we'd be getting in the spirit of the season at all. It's December 13th and not only do we have NO TREE to date, I also haven't made it to Costco to purchase the wreath for my door that has been a tradition since 2003 when Aunt Tracey brought one to my house and I felt like a Real Live Grownup. In fact, my Costco membership expired and I am not 100% sure that I will renew it, which feels like the most sacrilegious of all perpetrations, since Costco is like home to me. But I only have like 1.5 children at home at any one time these days, so all I end up with is rotten lettuce and moldy cheese. Also a Grocery Outlet just opened in Colville. But I digress.

It's true that we swapped out some holiday traditions this year for a visit to the Nation's Capitol (not to mention my foray to Baja), but we still have enough time to sneak in a few of the prerequisites. The advent calendar hangs on the wall, sadly neglected like a cast-off chore chart. 13 days behind, and nobody seems to care. I guess that's what happens when all your kids are old. We haven't made a single Christmas Cookie, and my sister and I keep playing leapfrog in scheduling, canceling and rescheduling things like tree hunting and Gingerbread Houses (OK, so she beat me to the tree, but still). This is holiday reality. Basketball games instead of gingerbread, fevers of 102ยบ instead of tree hunting... But it's still the holidays, as evidenced by the jingle bells strapped relentlessly around the neck of the poor, deaf Old Truck Hound. 

Speaking of hounds, I took a little nostalgic detour through Grinchland this morning - we haven't had time to watch it yet, but we have the whole story on CD that stays in my disc changer in the car year round - I pretty much have it memorized. Anyway, I was thinking about how much I relate to Max the Reindeer/dog, because he really doesn't mean to take everybody's crap, but he's just loyal to his guy, and wants to make everybody happy. He tries so hard, pulling that GIANT sled of confiscated merriment, and it finally gets the best of him. I can't help but thinking that Max is in part responsible for the Grinch's turn, for the 3X growth of his cold, Grinchy heart, as the faithful little dog quietly perseveres, waiting for his master to Get It.

Well folks, I figured it out. The Grinch is Real Life. Bills and responsibility and stealing all the joy. It's overcommitment and obligation and worry. But once we hear the music for what it really is, and that none of those things matter - not the snoof or the fuzzles or tringles or trappings. Max is the people we love and the ones that love us, reminding us that we can do All Those Things, but do we really need to? Or can we just go eat Roast Beast with the rest of the Whos? Maybe Christmas perhaps, means a little bit more...

Things That You Can't Take Seriously

Life. Life is way too short to take so seriously. The other day, I posted about how old I was feeling, the aches and pains, and how certain I was that the End was near. Turns out that I was having a reaction to a medication that I was on. Once I realized what I was doing to myself, stopped taking the drug and gave it a couple days,  I found myself with plenty of energy and pain isolated to my shoulder and 1.5 hips. Feeling sheepish, it occurs to me to share with all of you the reminder that it really is often darkest just before the dawn, or at least before the realization that you have an intolerance for certain antibiotics.

Life is short and it's funny as hell. I have been forgetting that a lot lately. Forgetting to laugh at the ridiculous things. I blame part of that on the time this summer that I got in big trouble for laughing at the ridiculous things in a blog about a fire situation... which the bosses didn't think was funny. The fact that I became infamous from the post was almost as funny and ridiculous as the post itself, but a threat to my job made me kind of crabby. But there's a balance, right? And you have to know who has the cojones to make fun of life with you, and which incident commanders are all about maintaining a facade in the throes of chaos. #lessonlearned

I guess I've been so caught up in the sort-of-serious aspects of my life lately that I forget to talk about the ones that are not at all.

Like when I thought for several days that the resident bear was getting into the garbage in the front yard, but it was really Old Man Truck whom we caught red-pawed early one morning. And Old Man Truck himself, the zombie dog who will live forever. I don't think he can see or hear a thing, but his hound dog nose, even in it's current state of decomposition, seems to work well enough to steer him in the direction of the garbage, recently relocated out of reach of "the bear."

Truck. The undead, zombie truck. He's a 13-year-old hound who is quite literally falling apart at the seams.

Even in the aches and pains, there is comedy. I had the orthopedic surgeon's assistant in stitches the other day when I couldn't remember which joint I was there about, or which one I would choose if I had to focus on one, or how to explain how each one was slowly obliterated over the years....

(I never finished writing this and so now here it is, published in it's unfinished glory.)

Things That We Didn't Do: On Baja Dogs and Breezes

We came to La Ventana to kiteboard, or more accurately, He came to kiteboard. I came for the beach and the beer and the warm sunshine on my face. A little fishing village nestled into a protected cove on the Sea of Cortez, La Ventana was founded in 1940 by a disenfranchised pearl diver and his family in search of a new beginning. Most parcels of land in the La Ventana bay were co-opted by the government, subsidizing small family plots until 1996 when Mexican law changed and granted ownership to the longtime farmers and ranchers who had worked the land for generations. La Ventana became a mecca for wind sport enthusiasts in the 1990s as the daily El Nortes (northerly fronts)  make for a wind sport enthusiast’s wet dream. It was a history I could relate to - a new beginning and the dream of doing my job somewhere that wasn’t cold and dreary. Anywhere that wasn’t the snowless frigidity of post-holiday wintertime in the northwest.

We got into La Ventana just in time for dinner on Thanksgiving night, and by some miracle, one of the little restaurants squeezed us in for an all-the-trimmings turkey dinner buffet, sans reservations. Later, He would say how it was the best food we had the whole time we were there, the piles of deep fried turkey and mashed potatoes so creamy that they couldn’t have been real. Even the wine tasted better than the merlots we had back home. I would agree with Him, except for the bag of totopos that the last residents of the Casita had left behind. They were salty and perfect. I couldn’t stop eating them at midnight and for breakfast, and while we laid out in the sun on the plaster roof top in the late morning the next day.  

All I wanted was a space of seaside to sit next to and write. Or daydream. Or drink. Maybe all at once. There was seaside, all right. Miles of it, white and sandy and the perfect amount of warm. Occasional Canadian kiteboarders drifted by, and the fourth generations of the family farmers, picking up sticks off the beach and being chased by little white Baja Dogs everywhere.

Late Friday  morning, we walked three miles along a dirty highway to cash in whatever tourist panache we had for a couples massage at the only large resort in town. We paid the going rate willingly, if for no other reason than to feel like we could afford it, and then we tromped back down the highway and then the three minute trail of sand and clay from our Casita to the beach with all of His kiteboarding gear and sat expectantly in the sand, waiting for the wind to pick up. And waiting. And waiting. In between the waiting, we wandered over to Baja Joe’s where everybody goes for coffee, and then beer, and then tequila, and some killer Asada Tacos. Saturday we repeated the process, but with less waiting and more tequila, the kiters bemoaning the quiet air over their Pacifico and nachos. Frustrated windseekers found solace in the mellow beat of a reggae band at Joe’s on Saturday night, the dance floor carelessly littered with multinational escapees of all generations and some of the farmers.

There wasn’t much accounting for Sunday morning, thanks to the Peyote IPA and the number of Baja Fogs that Paula the bartender made for us the previous night, but by afternoon, the waiting game began anew, and in anxious earnest as the wind picked up just enough to rustle the palm trees in the courtyard at Baja Joe’s and tease all of the pent up athletes. Kiters with small physiques and large kites hustled out to the beach to catch the gentle breeze, but those of greater substance knew the wind wasn’t enough to carry them offshore, so the wait continued.  

I didn’t do very well at proving that I am good at working “anywhere,” since unplugging and not caring about work seemed so much more important than getting 18 new stories cranked out and all of my deadlines met ahead of time. But it was heavenly. No place to be unless we wanted to be there, and nowhere to go except where our feet would take us. Lazy afternoon siestas were punctuated with walks up and down the beach for food, catching sunrises and sunsets if we felt like it, counting the constellations we could name and making up new ones. After a few days we found the Baja Dogs on our heels like the farmer’s kids, weaving in and out of kite shops and little make-shift patio restaurants that most of the locals seemed to run as a by-the-way businesses along the beach.

Another night at Joes’ brought in a cover band that played everybody’s favorite song from all generations and genres. The dance floor was full of expatriate and unfulfilled kiteboarders dancing to “Jesse’s Girl,” locals still wearing the uniform of the restaurants next door from the shift they just finished, old run-away hippies and Baja Dogs. Pacifico bottles rolled across the paving stones and beer splashed between the toes of bare feet while the band played AC/DC and Elvis covers. That night nobody cared that the wind hadn’t come for them. That night the moonlight and the tequila and the music was enough.

He only got out on His kite once, and even then it wasn’t His kite, but a bigger one that He rented, hoping the bit of wind that picked up one afternoon would do it. It didn’t, and after fighting His way down the curving shoreline, He endured the walk of shame back up the beach, board in hand, to get back to the more readily accessible sport of beer and tacos and dreaming up ways of smuggling Baja Dogs home to the northwest. Secretly, I didn’t mind the lack of wind, mostly because I was selfish and liked Him next to me on the beach. But Him being next to me made for less work getting done and more lazy wave-gazing, watching the hermit crabs scuttle sideways across the beach and staring at the cloudless sky as if the wind might suddenly appear visibly. I wouldn’t call it a loss, for Him or for me.

Things I Am Able To Do

I would like to say that I have never given up on something because it was too hard, but that would be a reckless untruth. I, as the epitome of a comfort seeking creature, have many times walked away from a project or a dilemma because it was too frustrating or physically challenging, or because The Universe was set against me and no solution was in sight. Maybe I have even done this with people, which is a thought that makes me very sad. One of my daughters was just telling me how she can't do anything, because nothing works for her. Setting aside the gross overstatements, it's an attitude, or even an overwhelming feeling, that I have modeled for her in the moments that she has seen me quit.

While I am definitely guilty of quitting, I have also been successful at pushing through hardships to accomplish things, even when I was not entirely sure of my ability to do so. As I listened to my daughter huff and puff about the impossibility of ever accessing a website since her password was wrong (one of my GREATEST pet peeves and lessons in anger management), I was wrestling with a broken pellet stove and a Phillips screw driver that had no intention of behaving as I imagined a screwdriver should. It was a three hour contest that ultimately, after a few tears of frustration and MANY calls to the stove shop, I won.

Within the first hour I wanted to quit. By the second hour I wanted to throw the screwdriver through the window. I realized that the alternative to me overcoming the stupid thing meant waiting until after Christmas for the only repair guy in town who charges $69 an hour and $1.90 per mile to come to my house. This adds up to hundreds of dollars after you add in parts and troubleshooting and the time it would take to lecture me about my shoddy maintenance in the last four years. So by the third hour, I was determined that victory would be mine.

There I was, belly down on a floor that smelled suspiciously like a Weiner Dog hadn't used the dog door last time she needed to potty. I was frustrated, irritated, uncomfortable and WAY out of my comfort zone. But after eliminating all of the other possibilities, I found the problem, and I fixed it. I did it because the several hundred dollars I would save were worth more to me than the irritation of having no idea what I was doing. I did it because I could stop for a minute and remember why it was important for me to keep going.

Not because I am the smartest ever. Or the most clever (in fact, later I would discover that I broke a different part in fixing it and have to re-fix the damn thing). Generally speaking, I avoid hard things. But I did it. And I can do it. And I don't have to rely on somebody else all of the time. I just have to take the steps. To keep taking the steps once I identify what's important to me. And when one step doesn't get me there, I take another and another... and my whole life is full of steps that aren't getting me there. But then again, maybe they are. Unless there is really here, and I have actually arrived, and I just need to see this topsy-turvy journey as the destination.

It's not all fun. But it's all good. And while there are lots and lots of steps, there are no wrong turns. Just hard work and learning and I'll be damned if I'm not gonna try to find the joy in it, or at least the upsides. Like for instance, a newly mopped floor and a merrily burning stove. And marketable knowledge worth $69 an hour and $1.90 a mile. Because now I am a pro.

Things That Aren't Mine

I’ve never lost someone very close to me. Seems like lately, all the people I care about are losing loved ones and I hurt for them, but it’s hard to know how to be there for them.

My sister in law, whom I think is a super rad girl, recently lost her dad. I’m not bffs with my sister in law. I can’t even say we’re totally close. The most time we’ve spent together was a jam packed weekend for her wedding to my brother and some kick-a$$ dive bar karaoke in a little beach town on the Oregon coast. We’ve had a lot of late night messenger chats about boys and men and Boyz 2 Men and yoga and fashion and family and the ire of all those of those things.

But when her father died, I wasn’t sure how to be there for her. Knowing she’d be flooded with support from people who were closer to her than I, I held back from reaching until she asked me for a little help with something in all the memorial commotion, which, obviously, I jumped at the chance to do.

But in the whole scenario, like many others, close friends losing friends close to them, it is hard to know how to process and how to BE THERE without indelicate interference in an experience somewhat removed from my immediate sphere of influence. It's certainly isn't that I lack empathy, to the contrary, I find myself weeping on behalf of others, even total strangers, more often than I would care to admit. But I am also keenly sensitive that this grieving process has nothing to do with me and I get sort of terrified of being the kind of nuisance that makes every one else's ordeal about me.

It has steeled my resolve, for the inevitable times that I will face my own grief and tragedy, to remember the ways that I wanted to be able to help. And maybe I can remember to ask the people outside of my immediate grieving circle for the specific help that they can offer, and give them a chance to pay their respects in a practical way.

Things That Are The Worst

There's this self-help guru out there on the inter webs named Tim Ferris, and other than having a stellar six pack and rocking a bald head almost as well as Bruce Willis, I am not sure what he exactly does that makes him so amazing, other than writing some pretty decentish things, which is something that I aspire to (along with a stellar six pack). But whatever it is that he is famous for, he's so good he only needs a website with his first name : - also something I should aspire to, except has a WAY cooler vibe than his. Anyway, Ferris - Tim, that is, has this thing he talks about called fearsetting. It's like goalsetting, except the un-side of it. Like, what you DON'T want to happen. When I stumbled across Tim's fearsetting TED talk, it occurred to me that I had actually been fearsetting in my own life for several years.

The first time that I remember consciously doing it was when I was in Uganda , trying to sleep in the searing heat under a mosquito net with tarantula sized holes in it. I was having a full-fledged panic attack. I couldn't breathe enough to gasp out the sobs that my soul was working up, and it wasn't the mosquitos or the tarantulas, since I am pretty sure there aren't any tarantulas in Uganda. It was as if I had suddenly realized, laying down to sleep, that I was, at a bare minimum, two days of travel away from my four little girls, without the resources or ability to get to them if something went wrong. I was a single mom, beyond poor, halfway around the world from my kids. The fear and doubt and guilt that raced through my mind that night was crippling. I couldn't escape it, so I faced it. Starting with the Worst Thing I Could Imagine, I looked each fear in the eye and asked myself what I would do. If one of my girls was hurt -  how would I deal? I made a plan, who I could call, how I could get there. Then I faced the next fear, until I worked my way down the Worst Case Scenario List, making plans, until I had taken away all of the reasons to not go on with my trip and sleep soundly that night.

That, in an nutshell, is fearsetting. It's looking the most Terrible Thing You can Imagine in the face and asking yourself what you would do. Once you find an answer, the fear subsides. And there is always an answer.

On a daily basis we deal with anxiety about relationships and money and decisions, when the reality is that the thing that we are freaking out about is something we have probably already faced (which makes them rational fears, but fears nonetheless). When I panic about the risk of a being dumped or rejected or abandoned, I remember when I was, and I think about how I survived it, and how I would survive it better now. When I fear financial destitution, I reflect back on the moments of absolute poverty-stricken impossibility and how I got back on my feet by digging all of the quarters out of the couch cushions to buy gas to get to work. I wish I could say I was exaggerating.

I have never faced the loss of a child, or even a very close loved one, but I can imagine the disabling grief and when I am overwhelmed with the knowledge that their protection, especially as they launch into their own lives as adults, is out of my hands, I have to find peace in knowing I have the people around me to keep me together if something like that happened. And if I don't, I'd better get busy finding them.

Fears are really the things that keeps us from our goals. Fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of wasted time, energy, passion - those are my big things. I have never really had money to fear losing, and failure is such a ritual procedure for me that it doesn't scare me that much, but wasting one more day of this infinitely short life (yes, that's an oxymoron), scares the shit out of me. It's like FOMO (fear of missing out, for all you old people) on speed, because instead of missing out on like, the best Halloween party EVER, you're missing out on years of your life - or you gave them away like an idiot to some jerkface who didn't appreciate them.

So I face that fear, the fear of wasting time, and I look at all of the things that I have brought with me from the "wasted" years. Four AMAZING kids. Skillz. Mad skillz. Insight. Compassion. Empathy. Humility. A complete Battlestar Gallactica DVD set. So how wasted were those years? Look where they brought me! To a place I would never be otherwise, with people I might never have known. The fear subsides and I look forward to the next adventure. I pray that it is one that will last, but if it isn't, I know I will have gained even more.

So that's where I am at. Eating fear for breakfast along with pain and failure and stomping off all of the negative vibes. Or at least most days I am. Why we, as humans, and especially me, are so intent on finding the things to worry about when we have such good things to be doing, cookies to eat and dogs to pet and just, LIFE! But we, me especially, have to bog the good things down with the what ifs. And what if things were just fine? What if we had nothing to fear because we always have a way out? I say these things to remind myself that even the Worst Things can, and will be survived, so I might as well enjoy all of the Best Things that surround me every day.

Lost Munu

Things About Gratefulness

November is traditionally the month for gratitude. I suppose that’s because of Thanksgiving and the fact that us people forget that we have All The Stuff to be grateful for year-round. All of my friends are on these gratitude campaigns on social media, which I love, and is a continuous reminder of how rich we are, every last one of us.

I’ve been working through some things this year. Some good things and hard things and fun things and difficult things. Big changes in my life and my perspective and my priorities have led to big waves of mental struggle. Fear and insecurity and worry - all the things that we like to call “anxiety” these days. I am a champ. It keeps me awake some nights, telling me stories about all the things that can and might go wrong, all the things that could happen to my kids or Him or me or my money… whispering lies all. night. long. You feel me?

“We Suffer more in imagination than in reality,” - Seneca

So I started this exercise a few months ago, one that I am good at sometimes, and that I forget to do or ignore completely when I get to a Particularly Dark Place, because even I, with all of my strength and splendor, find myself overwhelmed by fear from time to time. Before I talk about my survival trick, I have to talk about how Everyone agrees with me.  

I tend to be all fatalistic about the influences on my life. For instance, I like to put my entire iTunes library on shuffle when I am driving and let The Universe, or Fate, or if you will, God, talk to me through the random selections of music that come on. If it happens to be Tenacious D, I feel like God and I probably have some stuff to work through. If it’s Christmas music, well, then it’s not my fault for breaking the After Thanksgiving Only Rule. The Lord has spoken.

I have the same approach to books. I currently have a stack of books next to my bed taller than two Dagnies that I need to read. I usually pick them by “feel” (which is also how I get dressed in the morning, much to the chagrin of my grown-up friends) and let the Guiding Hand of Providence  open to me the world of understanding that the moment is asking for. Usually it’s The Frozen Chosin (talk about a lesson in gratitude!), or a similar military history book, but last night, it was Outwitting The Devil, which I bought quite serendipitously because it was super cheap after I bought a different Napoleon Hill book recommended to me by Someone I Like Very Much, and which I clearly needed, Think And Grow Rich.

“The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”
-Marcus Aurelius

I don’t mean to prattle on here, but I have become firmly convinced that there are no coincidences. I’ve been studying stoicism lately, the philosophy that everything happens for a reason and every obstacle is an opportunity, which falls right in stride with the mindset that I have adopted over the years in order to survive and have tattooed in Latin on my back: Dei Plena Sunt Omnia (all things are full of God/ God is in everything).

The author of Outwitting the Devil, Napoleon Hill, is certainly a stoic. In the book, he interviews the Devil - like, literally, sits down with the Prince of Darkness and gets the down low on how he rolls. Here’s the thing. The universe will keep telling you(me) the same thing over and over again until we figure out how to listen, right? Whether it’s Marcus Aurelius, Napoleon Hill, A Very Dashing City Planner, a Navy Seal or the mouth of an Ass, the message will continue to be delivered until it’s received, because God Is In Everything, right?

Anyway, Hill, Marcus, CP and All of the Asses have been reminding me, in their own delicate words this year, that the enemy of stoicism (which is to say graceful acceptance of all circumstances of life) is fear. In his interview, Hill uncovers the greatest tool of the Devil’s trade: his ability to keep us from independent thought, confident movement and the installation of a  paralytic lack of motivation through FEAR. And here’s the biggest deal of all: FEAR is the opposite of GRATITUDE. Because fear is the focus on everything that you might lose, instead of everything you HAVE - which, as it happens, is exactly everything you need to get you where you need to go.

I could go on for hours and days and pages with evidence to prove my point, refuting every argument which I, myself, have perfected. I can tell you how I am not good at certain things and should therefore be exempt from them, but I know that I have the tools within me to become good at them. I can tell you that I don’t have the financial means to get to the lofty goals I have in my imagination, but I know that I have the power within me Think and Grow Rich in order to reach those goals. In Hill’s interview, the Devil describes the biggest threat to him as the one who:

“Has a mind of his own and uses it for all purposes... never offers an alibi for his shortcomings”

Fear creates excuses. Excuses create failure. We find a false safety hiding behind the “reasons” we cannot do things. We also find stagnation and death. Gratitude creates ability. Ability creates innovation. Innovation creates success. The most beautiful part of all of this: each failure is another chance to learn and grow. So be grateful for the failures too. Lord knows I am.

“...the humility to admit and own mistakes and develop a plan to overcome them is essential to success.”

Anyway, that rabbit trail leads me back to the ritual I created months before I read Napoleon Hill or Jocko Willink, but one I came up with to overcome the fear that was robbing my sleep and holding me back.

One night, lying anxiously awake, “suffering more in imagination” like a pro, I felt desperate to overcome the “irrational fears” that were running through my mind. Another important piece of this mental puzzle is something that a realio, trulio psychologist said to me - “fears aren’t really irrational if they’re things that have actually happened to you.” So maybe the fears of abandonment, of financial ruin, of Being Old, Alone and Done For, weren’t 1000% irrational, but they were rendering me ineffective, which is almost worse.

Anyway, as my darkest fears spiraled into anger and resentment for circumstances in my life which felt out of my control, I reached out in my mind and started to list off the things I was grateful for. The things I COULD control, and the things I KNEW WERE REAL. The health of my family. The love of My One. The warm home, the food on my shelves. The gainful employment. The Endless Possibilities. In that dark night, I began sending texts of gratitude to the Ones That Mattered. I started with the one where the fear was focused. Fear of abandonment, rejection, betrayal  - rational fears based in real life experience - but I sent Him a text - the one who has never perpetrated any of these transgressions, and I thanked him for being Different.

In that moment the cycle of fear was broken. The next night, I sent texts to my kids, each specific things, the first things that popped into my head when I imagined their beautiful faces as I lay in my sleeping bag in fire camp. Thankful for their brightness, for their humor, for their brilliance, for their perseverance… I made it a ritual for several nights, until I fell asleep peacefully thinking about how Very Rich I was. I still do this, when I remember to, and some nights, when it’s very late, I just whisper my thankfulness to the dark night and all of the fears shrink back. It really works.

There are side perks to this practice. That old adage of never letting the sun go down on your anger? I don’t often find myself going to bed angry, but whispering my gratitude to Him makes it impossible to dwell on any negativity between us. It kills the bad vibes right dead. Try it. It works. He whispers back to me and All Is Right in Our World. And my kids, after they accused me of being drunk in fire camp, or got over their paranoia that I was making some deathbed solvency, responded to my gratitude with gratitude of their own, or with a new level of faith in my love, even if I was miles and weeks away.

So take it from me, or Marcus Aurelius, or Jacko Willink or Napoleon Hill or Seneca or the City Planner. See your fear, rational or otherwise. Face it with gratefulness. Give your shortcomings no alibi. Use your own mind to make a plan. Be the change in your own life and the lives of others.

Things About The Good Ones

Even though I am an EMT, I haven't been around death all that much. I like to think I am one of the lucky ones, a "white cloud," narrowly missing the gruesome calls that are so hard for responders to shake off. Not that I haven't been on some horrible scenes, and not that I haven't seen death, and grieving, but in both my personal and professional life, my exposure has been less than that of many people I know, and I am grateful for that.

In the last few weeks, two people that I know have passed away unexpectedly. Two people who were too young. Two who were, in my memory and experience, good people. One was an exchange student who graduated with MacKenzie's class and then went back to Brazil. He killed himself two weeks ago. There couldn't have been a more unlikely kid.

The first day I met Felipe, I was the subbing for the high school science teacher, during the very first week of school in 2014. When I got to my classroom there was a tall man standing in the back of the room with the other students. He was over 6 feet with a beard and a tattoo on his bicep. I asked him if he was a TA. He looked confused and told me, with a suave Portuguese accent, that he was Felipe. Turns out Felipe was almost 18. He was a senior in high school, a model and on top of all of that, a genuinely kind, good guy. Felipe went snowboarding with us that winter, the one thing that he had been most excited to do in Washington during the winter. He loved it. He was a good friend to MacKenzie, when most high school boys used her adolescent insecurities to their advantage, he encouraged her and praised her without using her or capitalizing on her great beauty and soft heart. He played Kristoff in the World's Worst Production of Frozen, and while the other high school boys rolled their eyes, wrestled back stage and broke props, Felipe diligently memorized his lines and played his part faithfully without complaint in what was ultimately a great lesson in humility for all involved parties. He was one of the good ones. He was back home in Brazil, he had just turned 21, and was going to college when he took his own life. I will never understand how such a permanent, irreversible choice seemed like the only one to a boy who had everything going for him.

The other day I heard that another friend passed away. He was one of the first professional wildland firefighters that I met when I was pregnant with Aspen in 2003, going through Guard School with the Forest Service. Lynn was a gentle giant. He was a jolly soul with a sandy blonde beard and some sort of beach-boy laid back confidence. He reminded me of my Uncle Leonard, which was funny to me since Uncle Leonards' wife is Aunt Lynn. But Lynn the firefighter talked to me about fire, about fire boots, about hot shots and fire stories as I ran into him over the years. I considered him one of my mentors in the fire world. One night in Kettle Falls, back when I was learning all about who I was, I had too many drinks and Lynn drove me to a friend's house to keep me from driving. He was always kind, funny, helpful, encouraging. Lynn died last week. He was only 55. Just last fire season I was teasing him about getting me signed off on a new qualification. He seemed ok. But I think that the good ones usually do.

Lynn Bornitz
Neither of these guys were close, intimate friends of mine. They were more acquaintances, but both of them touched my life enough to make me know that there were many, many other lives they touched even more profoundly. I am sure the people closest to them could fill in the blanks about their flaws and weaknesses, and maybe the signs leading up to their disappearance from this world. I cannot. I knew only good, kind men. Ones that I would, and did call, when I needed help. Ones that would come. I was talking to a friend who knew Lynn, and I told him that sometimes the ones that seem the strongest and give the most aren't the best at taking care of themselves. I wish that I had known them well enough to be around when they needed help. Because I would have come. It breaks my heart that they are gone now. Too soon and too young. But they gave the world something, and they gave me something, and for that I am grateful.

Losses like this give death a whole new significance for me. It's such a heartbreaking reminder of the permanence. It's such a stark wake-up to the brevity of life and the realization of how much we impact one another, even the distant circles. I have struggled in the Dark Places at different seasons in my life. I have fought to find reason to go on. Sudden loss is a great reminder of how precious each day we are given truly is. It gives me a new and deeper gratitude for the second, third, tenth chances I am given. I makes me profoundly thankful that I have not made permanent choices that would forever change the ones I love. And it makes me more determined than ever to see the hurting ones,  especially the ones without voices for their pain. The strong ones who need help without knowing it.

The world, and my life, was brighter for having held these two souls and it was dimmed just at little at their loss. If I could have one wish in the whole world it would be to rewind time and to ask them how I could have helped. To hear what their heart cry was. To be there for them and with them in the Dark Places. But that was not my place, or my time. My place and time is here, with others who have their own Dark Places. So I will be here, and now, listening and asking.

Things That Get You

I feel like I am caught up in this cruel joke. Once it was distant and unrelatable, like starving children in China who wanted my leftover Goulash. Then it became a more Clear and Present Danger as the joke grew ominously closer. Suddenly, without warning, in my early 30s, I realized the joke was fully upon me. My metabolism came to a screeching halt one day and I began fantasizing about things like Naps. And Reasonable Bedtimes. Now I am 40 and getting old isn't funny any more. It's hip surgeries and stool softeners and waking up at 3:50 AM for No Good Reason.

What happened to me, and how? I feel like yesterday it was nothing to stay up until 2AM talking and laughing and solving all the world's problems with my friends. Now the thought of bedtime that breeches the sanctity of 10PM is enough to move me to tears. The scariest part is that I am actually getting used to the early mornings. Mornings so early that my stomach hasn't woken up and it's trying to convince me that I have the flu so I should go back to bed, but my brain is all ramming-speed into a list that I won't get halfway through before I need a mid-afternoon nap.

Old age is a rip off. Everything aches and hurts and I can't decide if I need ice or heat or both and whiskey, or which over-the-counter drug will do the least long term damage taken at maximum doses over extended periods of time. Last night I tried to scare Aspen into staying in shape her Whole Life long by whimpering a lot and making her get me a heating pad for my stupid arthritic shoulder. I hope it works. I wish I had tried harder when I was young. I wish I understood what I had to lose. I just thought that OLD didn't really apply to me, like it would never come, and yet, here I am, with the healing rate of a slug in January.

The worst part is that in my head, I am still 17 1/2, ready to go play soccer barefoot in the snow or pull an all-nighter with a best friend and a Box of Chicken-n-Biscuits just to see the sunrise and then sleep til 10 AM. In my heart I can feel the energy to do the things that my body just won't agree with. It's like that dream where you're running but you aren't going anyplace, or you're screaming but nobody hears you. That's what getting old is like. I am finally smart enough to do some awesome things, but I am way too tired and it's way too hard. Seems like the harder I try to push through, the more I just hurt myself for reals.

I have a 1/2 cup full of horse sized vitamins I take every day, for muscles and joints and brain and heart and good digestion and better sleep and more energy and higher metabolism... and while my stomach thinks it's been at a rave all night after taking them, the rest of me isn't feeling much benefit. When do they release the vitamin that sends me back in time to when I could be strong and young and not hurting and not taking it for granted?

Ugh. Don't get old. It's a cruel trick. You think it's all about Lucky Charms whenever you want and sleeping til noon, but it's really about mortgages and arthritis and paying bills at 3:30 AM, and retirement plans that you couldn't ever imagine actually needing.

I guess now that I've been up for two hours I can go take a nap. It's what old people do, I think.

Things That Stretch

He bought a shelf. That probably seems like no big deal, but for Somebody who has a System, buying a shelf that alters the System is a big deal. The shelf is so I can have some stuff in his bathroom instead of spilling in my duffel bag, which is where it has lived for the last 11 months, pretty happily, except when that menthol infused arnica oil spilled into all my clothes for the week and left big oil spots that smelled like a sore shoulder. But now my spilly things can live on a shelf, and his System will be changed. This is a big deal because it's about stretching, and growing, and doing the things that aren't as comfortable as sitting on your couch under a woobie and pretending nothing ever changes.

Stretching is painful. Like skinny jeans when you first put them on out of the dryer and haven't done any squats in them yet. It's hard. You're not always certain you'll get up out of that first squat or if the skinny jeans will throw you down on your ass and laugh at you for forgetting to not dry them. Stretching is awkward and embarrassing and uncomfortable.

So he's stretching with shelves and I'm stretching with words like "mortgage" and "budget" and "amortization" and the worst of all: "spreadsheet." It's not comfortable. I want to crawl head first under the woobie and die a thousand deaths before I go meet a realtor today and make an offer on a house. But I will keep stretching. If he can get a shelf, I can spreadsheet. I even asked my mom how to quit making all of the cells say the same thing. It wasn't as hard as I thought it was, when I stopped doing it wrong. That's the other thing about stretching, it's way more painful when you're not doing it the right way. Or if you're doing it too much, which I have done and why I need hip surgery. Well, too much stretching and also too much couch/woobie time.

Wrong stretching is things like biting off more than you can chew or more than you can pay for, or more than you can live with, and instead of a shelf, trying to get a whole new life. Wrong stretching is not just skinny jeans out of the dryer, it's high waisted skinny jeans out of the dryer that are too small and push all of your love handles into your lungspace and make you want to pass out.

My whole life seems like stretching right now. All the people I know are stretching. My kids are stretching as they put up with my stretching and not being there for some of the Big Things, like the last day of volleyball districts or Fall Sports Awards, which are important, but happen to fall on a day that I have been scheduled for a project for work weeks ahead of time. So they'll stretch, and I'll stretch, and there will be more awards banquets, like the ones that I have been to in the past.

My kids have pretty much been stretching with me their whole lives, as I rush from job to job and thing to thing and keep seeking for the Right Place at the Right Time with the Right People, trying to Pay the Bills and Do the Things and not make anybody mad, missing the boat pretty often but always with the best intention of catching it along the way somewhere.

But all the stretching makes us stronger, better and more interesting people. I can wear the sweatpants all day long, but if I want to make my mark outside of WalMart, I gotta keep working on the skinny jeans. The stretching makes us able to bend without breaking when the waves of bad things happen, and also the good things. Because I am learning lately even too many good things is a lot of stress and it's had me bent pretty hard. Good things like All the Jobs, Money to Budget, Smart Kids to Help, Him, Skinny Jeans, and growing, learning, stretching.

Things About Being Enough

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I even tried getting back in bed again for a do-over, to see if it would help, but it didn't. Part of the problem was that I was online before 6AM googling things like "What is an IRA" and "What's the difference between a Roth IRA and an SEP IRA" and after a slightly entertaining rabbit trail about the history of the Irish Republican Army, I got back on track and became thoroughly confused, POST HASTE. 

See, after all these years doing things "my way", a la Frank Sinatra, a la seat-of-the-pants, a la rolling-ball-of-chaos, I find myself at 40 years old without a plan for when I am 59 1/2. I don't think I have ever even imagined being 59 1/2, which, as I was gently reminded by Someone Who Cares, is only 19 1/2 years away. Here I am, all proud of myself for the first time in my 40 years for having an actual savings account with actual money in it and it's almost like it's just a brightly shining reminder of all the other money I don't have. 

No retirement fund. No investments. No properties. Just an overabundance of shoes, an orange truck, two dogs and four relatively functional children to show for the last 40 years. It would be easy to wonder what I have been doing with my time, having nothing to show for it, except I keenly remember every hour of the billions that I have worked at hundreds of jobs over the last 3.5 decades. 

This is where the being enough comes in, because the thing is, I never am. There's never enough me to do all of the things. To cover all of the bases. Do all of the volunteering. Show up to all of the games. Ace all of the classes. Drive all of the kids. Chaperone all of the dances. Pay all of the bills. Feed all of the people. Give all of the presents. Work all of the jobs. Make all the people happy. 

Then a downward spiral of not-enough-me turns darkly into a I'm-not-enough tailspin. I am not good enough. I am not rich enough. I am not pretty enough. I am not thin enough. I am not kind enough. I am not smart enough. I am not tough enough. I am not selfless enough. I am not enough. It's in these dim moments that it becomes profoundly clear that the only thing I am good at is getting fat and growing giant pimples on my chin. Oh, and tearing various and assorted connective tissues. 

It's all epically timed since I just got Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly, in the mail and right after researching IRAs sent me into a mood nosedive I opened it up to the first chapter wherein she perkily delves into the realm of scarcity. If you haven't read it, I basically outlined it in the previous paragraph. It's almost like she was yelling at me. 

“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make. Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.” -Brene Brown

Needless to say I tossed the book across the couch in fit of mild disgust and went back to sulking about my imperfections and the impossibility of my situation. 

I am 40 years old. Well on my way to 59 1/2. If I haven't figured out how to be enough by now, then I probably won't ever. Which means I have to figure out a way to turn what I do have into enough for me and to make it start working. Because it really is about me. It's me that I am not enough for. It's not my kids or the critics I fantasize about outside of myself. It's me. Ok, and maybe a few select others. Regardless, the torture is more in my own head than any outside force operating on me. 

"There are more things likely to frighten us than there are to crush us"

In addition to avoiding Brene Brown's words of wisdom, I've been reading some stuff by an old Roman dude named Seneca. I feel like I'd like to go have beers with Seneca sometime, because he speaks not only to the uselessness of worry and self-doubt, but also he reminds me that maybe I do have something to show for the last 40 years, even if it's not in a Roth IRA, earning 3% interest (is that what they do? I don't even know). And yes, I am scared to death of savings accounts that can't be touched and working my ass off for money that disappears into one of those big sneaky bank things that have only ever done me wrong. But I have to start somewhere. 

"...the only contestant who can confidently enter the lists is the man who has seen his own blood, who has felt his teeth rattle beneath his opponent’s fist, who has been tripped and felt the full force of his adversary’s charge, who has been downed in body but not in spirit, one who, as often as he falls, rises again with greater defiance than ever." - also Seneca

Also, I still have time. Time to find out how to be enough for myself. Time to imagine what I want 59 1/2 to look like. Time to learn about IRAs and SEPs and Roth thingys. I might be behind the curve, but I am picking up speed and my drag is getting a little less every day. And that is enough. (PS, I am accepting free financial advice from anyone that has more money than me. Which is to say, everyone, including two of my daughters.)

Things That Are Invisible

I learned in EMT class that explosion injuries happen in three phases. The first, initial, or primary impact is direct, impaled shrapnel, burned flesh - the most visible wounds. Then the secondary impact when the force of the blast moves a body physically and slams down or throws it traumatic distances across space. The tertiary, or third impact is the hardest to see, it’s on the inside, when the internal organs of the victim are slammed against each other and against the skeletal structure and damage occurs. These injuries can be the most dangerous because they aren’t readily visible or easily identified. Care providers can be distracted by a bleeding wound when a vital organ on the inside has ruptured and irreparable damage is happening quietly, out of sight.

My heart has been breaking over the last week after the news of the Las Vegas shooting broke. We’ve recently lost guys from the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan, and Green Berets in Niger, and people I care about are losing battles with their own demons. It makes me think about these tertiary wounds. My veteran friends who grapple with the invisible killer of PTSD are now joined by once care-free civilians who held loved ones in their arms as they died outside of the Mandalay Bay Casino. The long term damage that happened when those bullets impacted the victims of the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting is something that most of us cannot comprehend. But some of us can. There were combat veterans in that crowd in Vegas, and we saw them.

We saw them loading bleeding victims into the backs of random pickups. We saw them lay their bodies across strangers to shield them from the shooter. We saw them plugging bullet holes with their bare hands with no thought for personal safety. It wasn’t just the combat vets that were heroes that day, but they were there. And they get the battle with the ghosts better than the rest of us. They get the rest-of-your-life impact of the bullet that didn’t hit you, but the 20 year old girl next to you. They get the survivor’s guilt. They get these things that people who have never enlisted also never expected to suffer. And now some of us, some regular people who lost loved ones, who witnessed the senseless loss, maybe some of us get them a little bit better too.

Country artists are singing about who lives and who dies and who chooses, a heart-cry that soldiers have sought answers to for generations. The cracking pop of a gunshot means something different to more than 20,000 people now - it means the same thing that it has to combat vets for a long time. It means the possibility of death, or even worse, the possibility of survival when someone else dies. It’s a reminder of the wife that you did CPR on while she lay bleeding on the warm Vegas pavement. It’s the nightmare when you can’t find the friend who was standing, running, screaming next to you, only moments ago, down a sidewalk on The Strip or a dirt road in Iraq.  

The battle that all of the victims of the Route 91 shooting face, more than 20,000 of them, is a real one. It’s just as real as the one our combat vets have been fighting for years, and now it’s hit a little closer to home. Las Vegas is a far cry from Afghanistan, and while most of these 20,000+ never signed up for combat, they’ve seen violence mow down the innocent indiscriminately.

It’s a good time to reach out to the vets and victims that are near us, and they are everywhere - it’s time to try to see the invisible wounds, the tertiary ones. It’s time to stop turning a blind eye or a deaf ear and it’s time to seek to understand the pain of watching destiny determined by a force of evil. It’s time to know that the hearts bleeding out invisibly are just as deadly as the shots that tore through that crowd, as vicious as the IEDs that rob of us our sons and daughters on a daily basis overseas. 22 vets a day prove this. Suicides spikes across every demographic scream it out.

Listen. Hold them. Be there. Look for the signs. As these events become more commonplace in our society, the population density of victims grow, and not just the ones who have been buried. They are all around us, next door, at school, at church, in an airplane seat. It’s a good time to start living with compassion for the people all around us, victims of domestic terror, gang violence, combat veterans, and the ones who have faced trauma that we will never hear about and can’t imagine. Trust me, they’re standing right in front of you. Just have eyes to see.

Veteran’s day is coming up. Don’t just thank them for their service. Acknowledge their loss, even as they live good, all-American lives next door to you. Accept their grief. Embrace their pain. Commit to their healing. It’s a good time to stop pretending that we don’t know how to help. It’s a good time to stop pretending it’s all good when it isn’t. We know how to be human, we know guilt, we know pain. We know joy and we can bring it back, but to bring light to the dark places we have to find them first. Find the bleeding hearts. Let’s start looking.

Things About Right Now

My baby turned 14 yesterday. This morning as I hugged her goodbye when she went to school, I was in the middle of writing a story about the shooting in Las Vegas. How many parents hugged their kids goodbye that day - how many husbands kissed their wives... how many friends texted TTYL for the last time that day? More than 59, at least. Each person who stood in front of that stage represented the lives of so many more. Each life lost was an echo of their parents, friends, children... everyone they loved and everyone that loved them. None of them knew it was the last time. None of them had anything in mind except a good time. None of them went to downtown Las Vegas knowing they would die, or knowing they would be asked to act heroically in the face of unimaginable danger.

My Facebook feed is fraught with adamant proponents of gun control and staunch defenders of the second amendment right now, and on both sides of the fence, they are right. It IS time to talk about the issues that are plaguing us as a nation. It is ALWAYS the right time to tackle these things. Take my damn guns away from me if you must, if you think it will solve All Of The Problems, but then can we please, please focus on the hearts and minds of our families and communities? Can we look at how we have moved away from taking care of our own and knowing when something is not right with the person next to us?

We are so interconnected on a global scale that we have forgotten how to connect with the human next to us on a bus, on the playground, at the store, at a concert. We are so good at killing things virtually, and we enjoy the rush so thoroughly, that killing them in real life has lost it's meaning for us. Remove all of the weapons and see how much change we experience. Cain killed Abel with a rock. Men murder their wives with bare hands every day. The tools of our violence are not the problem. The violence of our hearts is the problem. I will hand my guns right over if you will then stop and look at what we have accepted as a culture is "normal."

Murder and mayhem have become our entertainment. We delight in the gruesome and binge on horror as if these things have no effect on us, and even worse, the young minds absorbing everything around them. We are too consumed with the drama of people who have no bearing on real life that we miss the real life drama unfolding next door. Reality TV has replaced reality. We have become content to be observers instead of actors. This is our life. That shooter was our brother, our neighbor. Maybe he went to our church. The victims are all of us.

People have been killing each other since the dawn of time. Until we figured out how to trot from one side of the globe to the other, all of our mass killings took place in tribal genocide. Then we got bigger and better at war and found more intricate ways to justify our violence. Now we don't have the tribes to protect us because we're all so well off that we don't need each other.

Then suddenly we don't know where the shots are coming from, and we don't know who and we don't know why. In that moment, everyone around me becomes either my tribe or my enemy. I will protect, I will defend, I will sacrifice or I will claw my way to the top of the pile in self-preservation. But it's a faceless, causeless war that we fight here in the United States. It is a storm of terrorism with no predictable landfall. It is unmitigated anger, pain and hopelessness. We face the ever-morphing enemies of mental illness, racism, and religious extremism. The ones who take the brunt of this onslaught, we fault for their flawed reactions. We attack our officers and authorities for overreacting while we turn a blind eye to the neighbor or family member who began crying for help long ago. We protest violently against people doing their job who had no part in making the laws that we do or do not want. We're fighting each other - it's the perfect set up.

Half of my friends say removing guns will help. Half of my friends say defending our rights is the only solution. I cannot abide the offering up of more innocent Americans as the divided baby that is King Solomon's solution to an impasse. If giving up my rights creates a pathway to a productive conversation, I would gladly do so, but do we have ears to hear the truth, or more importantly, humility to admit that our shallow entitlement has led us here? Do we have the courage to tackle it one step at a time in our communities and homes and neighborhoods? Are we brave enough to teach our children that actions have consequences and that we are ALL responsible, or will the baby be split in half in spite of my sacrifice?

I do not have answers. I do not have the specific directions that tell us each as individuals which steps to take toward healing. But I do have hope. I have hope in the good people that are there, covering other bodies with their own in a hail of gunfire. People who run into the fray as others are running out. People who value the whole over self. People who do not see in sweeping generalizations. We are not a country of haters. We are a country with a few hateful people. But we are a country rich with good people who have looked away for too long. Good People who have turned to their televisions for answers and only found division. Good People who are growing weary of the endless blur that they are fed. Quit sheltering. Quit Avoiding. Quit denying and protesting vainly and taking your issues out on the only people who are out there holding the lines of order and morality and responsibility. Be the Good People. I believe in the Good People. I hope to God I am one of them.

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