Why I Believe In Santa …

I read the news; I’ve studied history. I see everywhere all the terrible ways people treat one another … how they’ve always treated one another. It’s in our nature as predators to kill the things that scare us. It’s in our nature to be violent. But no other predator questions its own actions and inclinations the way humans do. No other animal works so diligently to become something different from its earliest design. When the holiday season rolls around, people of many different faiths work extra special hard to spread love, kindness and understanding. We consider our good fortune, and give willingly of ourselves with no thought of recompense. We become better people, if only for a month, or a week, or a day. We become the sort of people we envision … a vision of goodness promoted by no other creature.

I don’t know how such a species, with its vicious nature and dark potential, could become so wondrous … unless there really were magical beings like Santa – magical beings who show us how it COULD be, how we CAN do it, who we CAN be.

Most animals don’t acknowledge themselves in a mirror … but humans do. We look at ourselves, and evaluate, and struggle to do and be “better” than our natures made us. I don’t think we would do that without the help of magic.

So I believe in Santa. And I hope you do too.

Happy holidays, and peace to you and yours.

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Bit O’ Blog

“Little”

If you’re like me, you have a lot of “Saras” in your life. When you talk about them, you might ascribe adjectives to them to differentiate them one from the other – especially if many of the work-related ones have never revealed their surnames to you. Usually these adjectives are positive, or at worst, banal – Red-haired Sara, Financial-Department Sara, upstairs-Sara, Blue-car-Sara, Joe’s-Sara. Two of the Saras in my life were close friends who were always together, and so they became Big-Sara (she was quite tall) and Little-Sara (she was not as tall).

Big-Sara eventually drifted out of our group of friends, but Little-Sara stayed. It came to our attention that she did not particularly care to be called “Little”, and we have all tried very hard to call her simply Sara. We all understand, after all, that the word “little” has such a negative connotation.

It can make people think of children, or insignificance, or of things that are inconsequential, or invisible, or weak. It can connote that somehow the person so named is not as valid, or legitimate, or real as someone not so named. It can mean that the person is small, not in a physical way, in comparison to some big or tall person, but in a metaphysical way – that a “little” Sara just isn’t as impressive as a bigger one.

Of course, Little-Sara had no reason to think any of us thought any of those things – we all hold her in the highest regard. We could well understand that negative connotation, however, and she is just-Sara to us now. Mostly. Habits are so hard to break.

But in honour of her birthday, I wanted to offer a different connotation.

When I was in middle school, I adopted a nickname for myself, and I go by that name almost exclusively. But, even though I have been using it for some thirty years now, I know deep inside that it is only a nickname (rather than a “real” name), and so I’m not sure how much I identify with it. Yet my “real” name – the one on my birth certificate – just didn’t feel like my name; that was why I had changed it in the first place. It’s a nice enough name, but it just didn’t seem to be … “me”. So I don’t really identify with that name either. When I got married, I took my husband’s last name, and when we got divorced, I didn’t change it back. I don’t know if that means it’s “my” name or not.

I only identify with one name, and that’s the name my dad always calls me. I’m “Little One”. My sister is “Blondie”, my other sister is “Puff”. I believe my brother is something outside-the-box like “Boy”. And I’m “Little One”.

I connote this name with belonging to a group, with being loved and cared for, with being safe. I connote it with being singled out in a positive way, accepted for things that made me unique from my siblings and from anyone else. I associate it with my father, whom I am very much like – he is “One”, and I am “Little One”, a tiny-little-division of something important, which meant that I was important too. And now, when he calls me that, I know it is my name, and that I am the one being seen, and known, and talked to. It isn’t about a word written on paper or spoken aloud; it’s like a true name – the one that speaks to the part of me that is more than this material world, spoken by the part of someone else that is also more than this material world. It’s a name that speaks from his heart to my heart. That’s what “Little” means to me.

So I hope, when I accidentally call Sara “Little-Sara”, that she can hear what I really mean.

I hope she knows that we are all speaking to her from our hearts to hers, that we are all speaking to the real her, whatever she may be called.

Happy Birthday, Sara.

Bit O’Blog

Crying

My father had what could be described as a rough childhood – if you’re incredibly understating what could arguably be one of the worst childhoods imaginable. He doesn’t really talk about it, but what little he has mentioned is truly horrifying to me; I don’t even want to imagine what he’s leaving out.

He is currently a good man with a big heart, who has nothing but love for his children and his grandchildren. He is a testament to the fact that we are not proscribed by our history, and that our circumstances do not define us.

He has taught me a great deal: how to drive, how to swear at something until it works, how to treat animals and other defenseless creatures (like really, really deserving royalty in the service of whom you and I have all been created), how to be patient with the truly stupid and how to be impatient with those who just aren’t paying attention. He taught me how to feel about money – I don’t know if he even ever had any money in his wallet (my mom handled the budget, I believe), but he had a six-foot accordion in there of pictures of all of his kids, including the dog. He taught me that “Can’t died in a ditch,” that “All you have to do is die,” and that I shouldn’t depend on someone else to take care of me – I should get an education and a job and know how to take care of myself. He taught me that kids need to eat – in part because of his own beginning, my father would probably be ecstatic to see children everywhere being rolled around by Oompa-Loompas because they have had SO MUCH TO EAT that they are now PERFECTLY ROUND. He taught me that everyone has equal value … unless you have hurt someone he loves, in which case you are now worth less than worm-excrement.

My father taught me that you should put your energy behind your strengths instead of wasting your time and everyone else’s by struggling to be something you’re not. He (and my mom) also taught me that I could be anything I wanted. And, even though I spent more time with my stay-at-home mom (and learned a great deal from her too), I am more like my father in temperament – except in one important thing, the one thing he couldn’t teach me anything about at all.

I cry.

My father was not allowed to cry. He could not afford to cry. I don’t even know if he knows how to cry. I have seen him standing over the sink drinking right from the Maalox bottle because his stomach hurt so bad, but I have never seen his eyes so much as glisten. For reasons that are, sadly, not about the stereotypical macho-man stuff, my father does. not. cry.

So I do.

I cry at movies. I cry at TV shows. I cry at commercials. I cry at things that were supposed to be funny, but I was overcome with the awesome metaphor or something, so I tear up. I cry when I see how cute my kids are. I cry when I see they’re not kids anymore. I cry at weddings. I cry at baptisms. I cry at graduation ceremonies. I cry for myself. I cry for others. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. When I’m angry. When I’m scared. When other people are hurt. When I have a good dream or a bad dream. When I have my friend Candice’s French Silk pie (it’s really that good). Sometimes I just cry for no particularly good reason.

My character is not a maudlin one; in fact, sometimes I feel a little heartless because others seem so much more affected by something than I am inclined to be. I tend to see life as a game; I am fairly cool in a crisis, and I laugh at almost every single thing – even bad stuff. Bad stuff needs the most laughter, so that it can be not-bad again.

Did I mention I cry when I’m laughing? Especially if it’s really, really funny.

I cry for the childhood my dad should have had and the scars he shouldn’t have. I gladly take his place in all the things he might otherwise have cried about, and I cry my little heart out on his behalf. I cry because he won’t. I cry because he can’t. I cry for my dad the way you might fill in for a co-worker who called in sick.

I cry for my dad, and I’m happy to do it.

Bit O’ Blog

Pinky Promises

Two weeks ago, I made a pinky-promise with a friend at work.  She and I had each just started a new work-out regimen, and we were facing the weeks of being sore and tired and not seeing results as quickly as the contestants on reality shows.  Those weeks can be so demoralizing; it’s so easy to say, “Well, I did some stuff yesterday.  Today I’ll give it a miss.”  But I didn’t want to do that.  I’ve been in shape before, and I knew that I could do it again – I just needed the motivation to get through those first six weeks.  I just needed a way to stick with it until it gets easier.

Since my coworker felt the same about her regimen, she was happy to enter into an agreement in which we would each do daily whatever our individual regimen told us to do (barring illness or injury).  We have insufficient funds to attach any kind monetary punishment – or inducement – to our agreement, so we decided to proceed on the honour system, and to reward our efforts in six weeks with a posh-coffee-drink.  We sealed the deal with a pinky-promise.  We promised.

I diligently kept my promise, motivated each morning and evening by the fact that I had told a third party I would do something.  I was sore, but of course I survived that.  I was tired, but I’ve been tired before.  It was like other attempts at getting in shape, except that, even in just two weeks, I have actually been getting in shape.  I’ve been ecstatic as my clothes started fitting better, and my muscles began doing things they used to do long ago.  It’s been easier to get up early, and to keep the energy going for the after-work sessions.  This promise thing was actually working, way better than I had anticipated it would.

So why was I feeling so down?

At first, I thought it was just the off-shoot of being tired and sore.  I thought it might be some branch of laziness that resented my motivation, or some out-of-shape demon that didn’t want to be exorcised (get it? Exorcise/exercise … never mind).  Then I thought about other possibilities – has it been difficult at work?  No.  troubles with any relationships?  No.  Feeling overwhelmed or sick?  Not at all.  In fact, life has never been better.  So what was going on?

I finally realized that I was not “down”.  I was “serious”.

This pinky-promise thing was a word I had given to a third party, and, for whatever reason, my mind and body were taking it far more seriously than promises I’ve made to myself.  When I promise myself, well, it’s just easy to make excuses, to tell myself that it’s too hard, to think that I’m “nurturing” myself by giving myself repeated breaks and easements.  When I promise myself, I think I’m not letting anyone down if I break that promise.  When I promise someone else, though, I don’t do that.  I do the thing I said I would do – all that hard work.

I’ve been feeling serious, not because anything was wrong at all, but because I was actually taking it seriously.

And the only sad thing about that is, why didn’t I ever make this pinky-promise to myself?  Why wasn’t I important enough to me to keep the promises I made to me?  Maybe my friend and I can make another agreement – to see ourselves the way we see others, to think we’re as important as others are.  That would be an excellent six-week goal.

I’ll start right now.

Bit O’Blog

Revisiting The Road

If you watch The Road … well, you might cry a lot.  You might walk away sad or uplifted or both.  If you have children, you may feel differently about it than if you don’t have children.  You may feel strongly about The Road’s message, or you may not be able to relate to it at all – it may seem too farfetched to get emotionally involved. It’s an intricate piece, with a wide range of messages and meanings to offer.  But at the end of it, as I posted a couple of weeks ago, The Road doesn’t seem to be about the post-apocalypse at all.  It’s about a father and his son, and the passing of the world from the older generation to the younger one.

When the Dad gets angry – understandably – at the man who steals their food, the Boy argues with him, as he had once before about the old man with whom the Boy wanted to share their dinner.  The Dad has reason to be wary of strangers – it’s not that his advice isn’t spot-on – but in each situation where the Boy argues with his Dad, it turns out the Boy is right.  The Dad is always in charge and the Boy always respects him, but when the Boy argues with him about these ethical matters, the Dad relents.

So what’s the point?  Well, weirdly, I don’t think it’s particularly about the ethical matters.  The Boy is justified in trusting people who have done him no harm, and in forgiving people whose reasons for stealing from him he readily understands.  He’s justified in thinking that “the good guys” do good things.  The Dad is justified, though, too, in setting boundaries and in keeping his son safe from harm based on his greater experience.  He’s justified in his anger at thieves, and his mistrust of strangers in such a harsh world.  Both make compelling arguments, and the Dad prevails in some things while the Boy prevails in others.  Just like, you know, real parenting and real growing up.

Is the point that the Dad learns from his Boy? – that he learns something about faith, and forgiveness, and compassion from this little kid?  That’s an excellent point, to be sure, and I have learned more from my children than I can say.  Of course the Dad learns from his Boy, because he’s a good Dad and is willing to listen to his Boy … and in the real world, that happens all the time.

In the literary context, though, I think it’s not so much about learning as it is about realizing.  The Dad realizes that his son is making his own decisions about people, about danger, about the rules – not because he’s growing up, but because it’s the Boy’s world to make decisions about.  From the Dad’s perspective, everything he knew is gone, but from the Boy’s point of view, it’s just the world, and the things in it are the things in it.  It’s the Boy’s world, and he prevails in all the arguments that revolve around defining that world, until finally the Dad sees that the world he knew is in the past, and that the future belongs to the next generation.

It doesn’t matter if our world is getting better or worse, or if it’s changing or staying the same.  What matters is that we grow old and die, and new people come to replace us, and it will be their time just like it was ours – they have to build it, and, while we can guide them with a few overarching principals – the “good guy” stuff – it’s really not something we have any say in.

The Dad realizes that, whatever their post-apocalyptic world will become, it is the Boy’s world to shape and define.  When the Dad accepts that he has given what he can, and that the rest is up to the Boy, he is able to find some faith, some trust, some future for his son.  He’s able, in that moment, to put down a great burden.  I think that’s what parenting is all about, and what society is all about, and what The Road is really all about.

Bit o’ Blog

The Love We’re All Looking For

 We think we know what kind of love we’re all looking for – or rather, we think we’re looking for that love.  You know the kind I’m talking about:  the kind that lasts forever, the kind where, whatever befalls it, it becomes stronger, the kind where the other person treats us like a queen/king and supports us and nurtures us.  The kind where we are free to be exactly ourselves, and where we become better people.  The kind with flowers and chocolates and poems and love-songs; the kind where someone looks at you and you just know – you know – that he or she loves you for who you really are, and always will.

But as much as we all want a love like that, it’s not the lack of finding it that keeps us from it.  It’s that we’re often unable to receive it or recognize it or trust it … because the thing that we’re actually looking for is the deserving of it.

We want to be the sort of people who deserve that kind of love.

We want to be someone who should be treated like a king or queen, who are perfect and good and beautiful enough to be worthy of flowers and poems and love.

We want to be beautiful and good and perfect so that we can earn that kind of love.

We want to be perfect … and we know we are not.

So we can’t imagine ourselves deserving “that kind of love.”  We can’t imagine anyone actually wanting us the way we are.  We tell ourselves it’s because other people are not capable of giving that love – that people are selfish, or shallow, or greedy, or dishonest.  There certainly are enough people like that to convince us we’re right.  So we tell ourselves that it’s the world that doesn’t love us, and we chide ourselves for believing in “that kind of love” and for looking for love as though it were real.

Maybe this Valentine’s Day, we could accept the gift we really want – to know that we deserve.  We don’t have to be perfect.  We don’t have to be any certain kind of beauty.  We don’t have to be better than anyone else.  We deserve that kind of love by being just who we are.

And if you’re saying to me, “Well, that’s stupid!  I’m not deserving!” then I say, give yourself the gift you say you want – a “love like that”.  Give that unconditional love and acceptance to yourself, and watch how quickly – how suddenly – you become deserving.  Give it to yourself, and watch how quickly you become able to give it to another – and to receive it from another.

Give it to yourself, so that when someone else gives it to you, you’ll know that it’s real.

And you’ll know it’s for you.

Bit o’ Blog

A Reason To Get Up In The Morning:

I’ve watched the news these past few days – it’s distressing, to say the least.  But the “big” things – gun control, mental illness, security, the future of humanity – these may be important, but they’re not what’s on my mind.  I’ve been thinking with heavy sadness and bewilderment about the one thing that terrifies me more than any other: how does a parent who has lost a child get out of bed the next morning?  How does she (or he) go on with life as though it had any meaning or value?

The thought of losing my children paralyzes me with fear.  I don’t want even to contemplate how I would go about “getting past it”, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to.  I feel as though the only thing that would convince me to stay on this planet without one of my little guys (I say “little” – the oldest is 22) would be the need to stay here for the other little guy.

In my life, I’ve gone through the normal stuff – the adolescent self-loathing that rubs off on everything, giving teenagers the deep-seated belief that not only should they hate themselves, but everyone else must hate them too.  I’ve struggled with mistakes and faults that have made me wonder if I’m worth the paper I’m printed on (so to speak).  And I’ve gone through the obligatory growing-up phases of knowing, on the one hand, that my parents were completely ridiculous and possibly deranged (like all of your parents too, I’m sure), and on the other hand, that my parents must hate me, completely and utterly.  Why else would they always be telling me what to do? – telling me the difference between right and wrong, making me come in at a certain time and eat my vegetables.  Obviously they despised me, especially when I was such a freakish adolescent worm.

Of course, after adolescence I figured out the truth – that I didn’t need to hate myself, and that my parents weren’t mentally deficient individuals who had it out for me.  But it wasn’t just the new perspective of mostly-adulthood that showed me my value to my parents – it was having a child of my own.

You might be thinking, “Well, of course!  Having a child of your own gave you a view of things from your own parents’ side, and now you understand.”  That is certainly true enough.  But in fact it was the horrifying thought of somehow losing my child that made me see something in my parents I had never really thought about before.

My parents lost a child – a little boy whose brain did not form properly.  His name is Robert Michael, and he would be two years younger than me.  My mom does not mind talking about Robert Michael (whose name is always both words), but I have never spoken to my dad about him, or really asked what effect it had on my parents’ relationship.  They both went on with their lives, having more children and grandchildren, and it was a long time before I realized:  maybe I was the reason they got up the next morning.

I was already there, needing them.  I was already there for them to love and to care about.  They had to get up and tend to me.  They had to feed me and clothe me and hold me.  So they did.

When you realize that maybe you’re the reason someone else was able to get past such a horrible tragedy, you can’t think so badly of yourself anymore.  You can’t think that you have no value, or that you don’t deserve love.  Was that my only purpose on this planet? – to be that for them?  I don’t know; maybe it was, and the rest of my time here is just icing on life’s cake.

I don’t ever want to face what my parents faced; I don’t want to be that brave.  But realizing that I was a part of such a difficult healing process – that I made something that bad seem even a little bit better – makes it a little easier to tell my inner critic exactly where to go.  It doesn’t help me feel better about the tragedies in the world, but it helps me feel that maybe I can be a part of repairing them.  It certainly has made me feel differently about my relationship with my parents, and it’s shown me something about them that is ordinarily hidden from sight.

I still don’t know how to process the loss of a child.  But if I have anything that can help ease the suffering – whoever you are – just take it.  Take it all.