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.

Things About This Place

A few weeks ago, in a 30 second news clip on the radio, the newscaster actually spent more seconds recounting what Melania Trump was wearing (or more appropriately, NOT wearing [i.e. stilettos]) on her visit to Houston than he did on the catastrophic recovery Houston was facing. While I am so relieved that our First Lady learned her lesson about the propriety of looking better than everyone else when visiting a disaster zone, can we please just get real as a nation for four seconds? Can we focus on the Good Guys doing the right things and the things that make us different and beautiful and strong?

I am so grateful to live in a country where we have so much liberty. I am grateful that football players have the right to take a knee during the National Anthem and I am equally grateful that the various and assorted teams of the NFL have the right to fire them if they so choose. I would be even more grateful to quit hearing about it, largely because disrespect of our National Symbols is something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I know that these protests mean something different to the ones engaging in them.

I am thankful to live in a country where every redneck will drag his fishing boat across state after state to jump into chest-high murky water and pull out somebody that probably would have called him a racist any other time. It’s a timely coincidence that the rescue of Texas happened in close proximity to Labor Day weekend, which was originally established to celebrate the hardworking Americans that have built the strength and prosperity of our nation - you know, the ones driving semis full of supplies down to victims of Harvey, and opening their furniture stores to refugees. The legal immigrants who are a vital part of our colorful culture and dynamic infrastructure. The die-hard patriots who have memorized every word of the Constitution as if it were God-breathed. And guys like “Mattress Mack.” I firmly believe, deep down, the majority of Americans are, at their core, the Good Guys.

I am happy to live in a country where we don’t have to go to jail if we question the social value of old statues, and we don’t have to go to jail if we think those old statues tell us where we’ve come from and should remain standing. I am happy that we can ask questions, we can examine the past, and the future, and most importantly the present, to determine what we are doing wrong and how we can fix it. I am happy that we can think thoughts independent of each other, different from the people next door and down the street and across the country from us, but we can all be Americans, and even friends.

I hope to always live in a country where people go to jail for hurting others and violating their rights, not for fighting to protect them. I wish I could live in a country where every cop was good, racism was dead, religious leaders were trustworthy, no Muslims (or Christians) were radical extremists, and our political leaders were more Statesmen than politicians, but I live in a country of humans, so this will never be.

I don’t really like politics, or arguments, which might be two different words for the same thing, but I do like thinking and opinions and, like most people, I consider myself pretty good at both of those, and I am thankful that I can do them without fear. There are many, many things about our country that need to change, and things that are changing, however painful and slow the process seems to be, but I am grateful to live in a place where change is possible.

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