Archive for the ‘Life-Passages’ Category

42. How You See It

December 7, 2018

When you try to do something and you fail, that seems to suggest that you can’t do it. Suggest, but not prove. This is where you have to decide, and choose between letting it go, or trying harder. If you try again and fail again, the suggestion gets stronger, so the determination must get stronger too, or else, there is the option to let go of that endeavor, and move on. Does that make you a quitter? Or a failure? This is your choice too. Giving up too soon or too often is not a strength, though it’s not a disgrace either. But the price you pay is, you never give yourself a fighting chance.

Everything that happens in life is open to interpretation, and ultimately the only interpretation/ opinion/ belief that matters is yours, because that is the only one that actually has any actual true power or influence on your life.

The children’s rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” is not quite true. Words can hurt, a lot, but can not conquer you, unless you choose to let them. You always have a choice. Are you going to let somebody else “out there” set your course in life? Will you choose to let their opinion change your inner knowing that you are more than they can see? Are you doing that now? Why?

Once in a conversation, a firefighter friend told me “You can do it if you set your mind to it.” I wanted to be a firefighter but as a woman, at five-foot- six and 112 pounds, the odds against it were enormous. Three years of hard work pumping iron, running bleachers with a backpack full of sand, 40-mile bike rides, and several failed firefighter-physical-agility tests later, one day I didn’t fail. I passed that one, and then I passed some more, and eventually  did I became firefighte then an officer. Though I started out late, I served eight years of active duty first-response Fire and EMS, with a remarkable performance record. It turned out my friend was right. Since then, whenever I’ve had to set a difficult goal for myself, my mantra has been: “I can, and I will.”

Here’s a truth: It’s possible to learn more from failing than succeeding. If you start out not strong enough, you have to learn how to get strong, and then that learning and confidence will be there for you in everything else you do. The experience of failure is painful and humbling, but it is the ultimate challenge to inner strength. It can develop character and courage, depending on how you see it. Failure is one experience that can come between you and success, one rock in the road.  Everything depends on how you choose to see it. Life is open to an unlimited number of interpretations. The only one that matters, is yours.

Ravi Shankar said this: Life is like a river. The river does not stop because there is  stone”

38. Grace, The Gift Unasked For

May 29, 2018

Sometimes we’re given an unexpected unearned unasked-for gift that is God’s Grace. For me, more than once it has come in the darkest hour, to rescue me when I could not help myself. Sometimes I’ve been blessed by Grace thru unknowing angels. Like the cold bright almost-spring day in Minneapolis when a young couple, strangers, passed me on the sidewalk They were striding along with their arms around each other’s waist, obviously in love. It was a time when my life was broken. I was just-divorced, lost and confused, and the loneliest I had ever been in my life. The hopes I’d had for that love, and for the career I had sacrificed for it, both now were nothing but cold ashes.

As the two young people swung along down the city sidewalk, they  both glanced at me at the same moment, and smiled. Their small gift lifted my heart profoundly, and that moment completely transcended the deep sorrow I was carrying.

My heart lifted like a small sparrow into flight, just for that moment, and I was changed. Somehow, I knew that life had not forsaken me entirely. There would be another day for me, and although I can’t say how, I felt it to the marrow of my bones.

They had no way of knowing it, but they had lifted me out of my deep sense of hopelessness with this simple openhearted act of spontaneously sharing with me, just for a moment in time, the love they felt for each other.

In the recession of the 1980s, I went through a time when my life was financially, physically, and spiritually at rock-bottom. I was on my own, out of work or working temporary part-time jobs, struggling just to survive. I lived on oatmeal, boiled cabbage, and brown rice, I was in danger of losing my apartment for overdue rent, and I wore my coat indoors because the cost of heat was a luxury I simply could not afford. I had been desperate for more than a year and I felt helpless, alone, and devastated. I couldn’t see any way out, no matter how hard I tried.

Tears stung my face as I walked home from the bus stop on a bitter-cold November day, after applying for another job that I knew I would not get. It would have been a steady job in a doctor’s office, a new field, a new start – too good to be true, but I didn’t have any experience. I was thinking about my life, and about Life “with a capital L” and I was unable to hide the tears of hopelessness tracking down my face. A car drove by. I glanced up and saw its bumper sticker that said “Expect Miracles.”

There are lots of those bumper stickers around now, but at the time, I had never seen that phrase before. It struck me like a bolt of lightning, and in an instant I knew that this simple message was intended for me, exactly at this moment in time, when I needed it most. It was not “by chance” and somehow I knew it. I was already at the bottom of my hope, and I just let go of it all. I felt a strange moment of peace, and a sense of release. I decided  to trust God for whatever came. A few days later, I did get that job, I began a new career, and my life would never be the same.

Coincidence? The book “A Course in Miracles” says “There are no accidents, and no coincidences.”  I had been given a little glimmer of Grace, through a stranger who never even saw me. He never knew that a mundane thing like his license plate had been used by God to bless someone crying in the dark, and to promise a beginning that would change my life.

Grace is the gift unasked for, and even undared to hope for. Grace is the often undeserved, but deeply needed and longed-for reprieve. Grace is the unexplainable moving of God to bless us in spite of ourselves. Grace is when God cheats a little, to help us pass the test, lifts us out of the quicksand we have blundered into, and sets us on a higher ground where we can have a better place to begin again.

37. Query Letters and Cowboy Boots

May 7, 2018

As I write my book, I’m putting together the necessary query letter for potential agents and publishers– the first level of approach and sales-pitch to get published. I scribble bits of ideas that come to me at odd times. Today sitting in my little neighborhood church in Oakland, I was not thinking about the book and certainly not the query letter, when a new segment of “my readership” suggested itself: gay men. And everyone else who has a sensibility that’s gentle and vulnerable, who probably has had to be on guard for most of their lives, even ashamed, lest that gentleness at their center might be found out, rejected, shamed, or abused.

Though this will likely be catalogued as a “women’s” book,  the fact of the matter is, all of us struggle to fit Who We Are  into What The World Expects and usually demands from us. That’s one of the themes of the book, and truth be told, we all spend most of our lives trying to understand who we are, and then find the courage to dare to be that. The hardest obstacles are the deeply-embedded untruths we were taught about ourselves when we were children, either by people who should have loved us but didn’t, or more often by people who did, but lied because they loved us, and thought they were protecting us from life.

My book is about a skinny little girl who runs through the neighborhoods and climbs trees and loves horses and fire engines. She gets repeatedly told by the big people “You can’t do that, you can’t have that, you can’t BE that” (almost all of the things she loves) because you’re a girl. And what’s worse, there is the powerful unspoken mandate: “You shouldn’t want those things.” 

“Who says?!” She demands, to no avail. Again and again she asks, “Why not?” and gets no reasonable answer. “Those things are for boys,” they say. What she hears clearly is: What you want and who you are is not okay.

It’s a big fat lie, and somewhere in every child’s heart we know this, but what can we do? We’re just a kid. Some of the same lies are passed along for generations.

When we’re young and vulnerable and trusting, just-learning about what life’s supposed to be, most of us get informed, either by words or actions, “You shouldn’t be who you are, you should be something else.” Or something better, smarter, prettier stronger, whatever. If you’re a boy, you’ve got to like guns and baseball, not art or music or poetry. If you’re a girl, you must like dolls and dresses and tea-sets, not mud and horses and fire engines.

I remember with crystal clarity the day my brother got cowboy boots. Daddy brought them home for him one day. I was crazy about horses, boots and spurs, and cowboy stuff, so I got all excited and asked, “Ooooh! Do I get some cowboy boots too?” My parents laughed and said, “Oh no honey, cowboy boots are for boys. You can have some pretty ballet slippers…”

I think I was three years old. “Ballet slippers?! WHO wants THAT?!” I begged for cowboy boots too. It didn’t do any good. Even now I can still feel the ache and sting of being so terribly wronged and cheated. I pleaded in my own defense, “I couldn’t help it I was born a girl! I didn’t get to choose.!”

I became a closet-tomboy, sneaking out to climb trees and roofs and fire-escapes and run around the city imagining myself as a fast beautiful racehorse. Eventually I grew up and turned out straight, which made things easier in Texas in the 1950’s. Had I been born gay, everything would have been much harder. I learned to “act like a lady” and obey the rules. I grew up and got married and worked two jobs, the telephone company and a department store, to put my young husband through graduate school. I was a good wife. He never noticed. I spent the 4 1/2 loneliest years of my life like that, until finally I realized that I had no Life, and I had no Self. I was living in his shadow, and whoever I was before had gotten sacrificed, lost somewhere. It was not his fault. We both played the roles we were brought up to play. That works sometimes for some people. Not this time, and not for me.

Leaving was hard, shattering. It was not just a failure, it was a death. The end of a life that failed. The end of the lie.

But I knew it had to happen. I left. I stepped off the precipice into a blind freefall into the unknown. I got a divorce. I took my life back. I bought myself a pair of cowboy boots.

36. Believe Anyway

April 6, 2018

Even though it’s true that every life will have some stumbling places, dark passages, and challenges to grow through, the most powerful factor and the most profoundly hard-to-believe truth is that Life responds to our held-beliefs. That’s the catch-22 that our parents never taught us, because they didn’t know.

Most of my adult life, I’ve never asked for what I really wanted because I believed I didn’t deserve it. If I prayed for it, I did so as a meek unworthy supplicant, not as a fully entitled child of the Most High, my Father God. I think that one reason why our prayers for other people often are more successful than prayers for ourselves, is that we dare to ask earnestly for their sake, in trust and faith, believing that they deserve it.

Jesus the Christ said,”Whatsoever you ask, believe you have received it, and it shall be yours.” The catch is, you’ve got to somehow dare to believe you deserve it, even if you don’t. He tells us to believe that even before you ask, the gift is already set up, ready to go, with your name on it. In this physical world, that seems absurdly unrealistic. You have to hold your secret wish in your heart with all your strength, and yet release it, toss it into to Life/ God/ the Universe, then relax and trust that “it’s on the way – no problem.”

But wait a minute – If “The Force” is always with you, why don’t you always get what you want? Because God/ Life/ The Universal Consciousness/ etc. always works to bring about what you are actually believing, and is not fooled at all by what you’re sayng.

This process is real, eternally active, and it’s a gift to you, a life-law that you can use, then you’re free to choose the life you really want. By all means, do whatever you have to do to believe in it as being rightly yours, begin to live as if it were so.

Whatever you hold in habitual belief, life will habitually deliver to you. But be careful of what you are believing unaware, in the dark corners of your mind, for it is not harmless. All lies, when you believe them, are as powerful as the truth, because you are holding them as your truth.

Faith works. What we believe, we will receive. We often fail to have faith in the best things of life is because there’s always so much ugly “physical evidence” to the contrary on the 10 o’clock news. These are real people’s lives, yes, but if you find yourself more blessed, don’t feel guilty, feel grateful. Do what you can to help where you are, but make your choices different from the individuals on the news. It’s that simple, and that profound.

Search out, shore up, and call forth the hidden strength that’s in you. Have the courage to believe in your own life, and in your Self, no matter what the odds are, and no matter what other people’s lives are. You’ve got to be willing to believe that God thinks you’re good enough, even if you’re pretty sure you’re not. You’ve got to make up your mind, and then, as stubbornly determined as a four-year-old, Believe Anyway.

31. How To Learn How

December 30, 2017

When I was much younger than I am now, I wanted to become a firefighter.* Never mind why; it’s a long story. I was small compared to the male firefighter Wanna-Bes I was competing with. I went to the gym and pumped a whole lot of iron and didn’t get much bigger but I did get hecka-strong. (It took a while.) I applied at every fire department hiring opportunity that came up and took the tests. First is the written – easy enough if you study hard. (You should study really hard.) Next, if you pass the written, you get to take the physical agility test.

I failed the physical agility tests of the first three departments I tried for, at first by a mile, and then by inches, and finally by 2/10 of a second. I went back to the gym. I put in an application at another fire department, and took another test. I failed another one. Maybe two. I forget now, because  once I passed, It didn’t matter, I would pass some more…

I had to fail, to learn how. I had never encountered those kinds of challenges, or even those kinds of objects, lifting and carrying heavy rolls of fire-hose, climbing the 100-foot aerial ladder, dragging the 160-pound dummy through the tunnel. (In the beginning, I only weighed 112 pounds myself.) Very early I learned two Essential Truths, and I’ll share them with you in a minute.

There are wonderful things you can learn from books, that’s one of the reasons I love them so much. But there are some things you cannot learn that way. You can’t learn how to play home-run baseball… out of a book. You can’t learn how to downhill ski… out of a book. And you can’t learn how to be a firefighter and perform the skills a firefighter must do extremely well, very quickly, and absolutely reliably… out of a book. Here comes one of those Essential Truths I mentioned:

Essential Truth #1: The only way to learn how to do it is to do it.

Take downhill skiing, for example. The first day when you go out to the bunny hill with big awkward boots and slats for feet, what’s going to happen? Right! You fall on your butt. Not once, but many times. There will be people around who will see you fall on your butt. Little kids will laugh. Some adults will smile smugly. Others will be annoyed because you’re messing up the good snow with your sit-splats, and getting in everybody’s way. “She shouldn’t even be here! She doesn’t know how to ski at all.”

The next day, you will again fall on your butt in front of everybody. A lot. But probably you will be doing a little bit better, and there will be thrilling moments when just for short distances, you get it, and miraculously, it works. It feels like flying! Your heart, for sure, is flying. Now when you fall, you get up quicker, you want some more of that good feeling.

By the third or fourth day,  your spirits soar. You get that feeling more times, for longer moments, right before each time you crash clumsily again. But now you will be up more of the time than down, and though not exactly smoothly or elegantly, you are skiing!

And pretty much like that, in spite of a very steep learning curve, I had to learn how to be a firefighter by doing the things a firefighter does. There was no other way. That meant falling on my butt in front of people a lot, and getting up again.

We who aspire to be writers, like anyone learning any skill, must expect the same process.  In the beginning, it’s the beginning. While the first levels of success in skiing may take a few days, writing more likely will take a few years. We’re learning how to express our gift. For every great writer, there was a beginning. Thus, Essential Truth #1 about writing: The only way you can learn how to do it is to do it. But don’t take my word for it, try it yourself. Oh, and the skiing is fun too.

Essential Truth #2: Failure is a necessary part of success.

Falling down is one of the first things we all do in life. For a new-born person, this is necessary, inherent, and totally valuable. Failure is how we learn what to do and what not to do. There is no other way. 

We never learn as much from success as we do from failure. Therefore, allow yourself this part of the path. Expect to not be brilliant at anything right away. Expect a cartload of disappointments and possibly humiliations along the way. These do not prove you are un-brilliant. They only mark your serious commitment to the truest and best expression of whatever is your unique personal gift. It may be different from most people. Many people live their whole lives without expressing their truth, not because they don’t have any gifts, but because they don’t have the enormous courage it takes to do it.

Don’t be one of those. Fly down the snowtrails, again and again. Fall on your butt with joy if possible, or with determination if not, and then with embarrassed, wounded, but unconquerable pride, Get up.  Fall down, get up, keep going. Fall down, get up, keep going. Fall down, get up, keep going. You can do this,  if you want it bad enough. Because if it truly is your path, you will do it.
__________________________________________________

*I did become a firefighter and served eight years with Alameda County OES Fire Department as a line firefighter and officer.
ofcr me w2w