Taking Out the Trash

It is everywhere.

You don’t have to go looking for it.

Turn on the news; it doesn’t matter what channel. You’ll find it there.

Scroll through social media; any platform will do. You’ll find it there too; permeating the atmosphere like the stench of rotting garbage.

Anger. Hatred. Violence; the by-products of fear.

There is one very real thing about the stench of over-ripe garbage, and that is that no matter how much deodorizing spray you squirt, no matter how much lemon-scented soap you use, you can’t truly get rid of the smell unless you take out the trash.

Now before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, I’m not talking about voting one political party or another in, or out of office. It doesn’t matter WHO gets in. In truth, unless we deal with the underlying fear, it doesn’t matter who wins, WE LOSE. Why? Because we haven’t taken out the garbage. We haven’t dealt with the fear.

Until we deal with the fear, the stench will remain; a constant reminder of the rottenness at the core.

You have heard it said that people fear what they don’t understand.

This is true of EVERYONE who gets angry for a cause.

In the current political climate you have one side you have where individuals’ fears stem from the changes that they see as coming with a progressive platform (they want to take away our guns / kill our unborn babies/ turn everyone gay / give our hard-earned money away to freeloaders/open our boarders up to violent criminals etc.).

On another you have those who’s fears come from the contemplation of a world where conservative views impinge on the inroads progressive platforms have made in the last hundred years (they want to take away our social security/steal our medicare/deny us the right to marry who we want/keep us from affordable health care/deny us the right to love who we want/ attempt to control our bodies / punish us because we are a different skin color or religion etc.).

I’m not saying that the fears on either side are not justified. There are plenty of those on BOTH sides who can give convincing arguments as to why they are right and why everyone else is wrong. But at the end of the day those that act out of fear, even if it is for a “just” cause, have more in common with their opponents than they would like to think.

Why? Because the anger and the hatred and the need to justify one’s position or view point or ideology ALL STEM FROM FEAR.

I’m not saying that the issues being argued are not important. They ARE important, extremely so. This is a pivotal moment for our country and I am not saying that we should sit back and do nothing. I am merely pointing out that no matter what side you take, no matter what your personal views on a subject may be and no matter how justified you may think those views are, if you are acting from a place of fear, you lose.

What I am saying is that we ALL lose if we do not address the fear that lies behind all of the anger and hatred.

Confronting one’s fears is never an easy thing to do. Most people avoid it like the plague.

It is not done by forcing political, social or religious views on those who disagree with you whether by posting angry memes or passing legislature designed to suppress the opposing side.

It is not done by arguing and getting defensive every time someone disagrees with you.

And it is certainly not done by picking up a handy weapon and killing those that you fear.

Fear is not always loud and obnoxious and obvious. It can be insidious. It is pervasive. It hides in just causes and in thinking you have the high moral or intellectual ground in a situation.

In fact, there is only one thing in this world powerful enough to counter fear, and that is love

Yes, love.

Stop wincing, I’m not talking about new age cosmic love; all glitter and unicorns and “good thoughts”. I’m not talking about the kind of love that features in pop songs and teen magazines or indeed romantic love at all.

The kind of love I’m talking about does not look at one’s outward appearance or bank account or position or political ideology, or how many time’s one meditates a week or national identity or religious affiliation or sexual orientation to deem another worthy of being loved.

I’m talking about the kind of love that empowers another to be their best self by believing in their worth as a human being.

I’m talking about the kind of love that fills up your heart and heals you from the inside out.

A person with that kind of love in their heart simply loves. Everyone. Without reservation or judgement.

I’m talking about unconditional love.

To come from a place of unconditional love in every decision that we make as individuals, as communities, and as a country is the only way to counter the fear. And it is the only way to undo the damage that millennia of living from fear has caused.

By living from love we don’t just take out the garbage of our own fears and the innate fears that come from being human, we transform them. We turn those fears into compost; fertilizer that feeds the soul and strengthens the human spirit.

Unconditional love is real.

Living from a place of unconditional love is possible.

It is as simple as choosing in each moment to ask yourself “what would love do?”

And then go out and do it.

-Just Steph. October 30 2018

An Honest Father’s Day Post

Dear Dad,

You  may not have been there for me while I was growing up.  Other parents manage to be around for their kid even if their marriage falls apart.  But I know now, that is not how you work.  You had to get away.  Start a new life.  I get it.

You may not have been an active part of my life as a child and teenager, but you always sent me birthday cards, usually with some money, and it was always appreciated. I’d buy myself fun things.  Pretty things, and pretend that my dad had picked them out for me.

You may not have been there to help with homework and to put the fear of father into my boyfriends, but you always sent christmas cards with more money, and sometimes you’d call.

And once every couple years you’d have me come to stay with you and your new family.  That gave me the opportunity to see you being a father to other children.  I would have felt jealous except that it never lasted long, and then you’d leave them too and start the process all over again.

You came to my high school graduation.  You came to my wedding, so I can’t complain.  But it was the birth of your oldest granddaughter that (I thought) finally caught your heart. 

From the time my oldest daughter was born I saw more of you than I had put together in the rest of my life.  Then the second granddaughter came and you fell even deeper.  You came to their recitals. You came to their functions.  You didnt just send cards you brought them gifts.  We shared holidays and you had us down for afternoons at your house or out on your boat. We went on cruises together, all of us, and over the years you became an integral part of your granddaughters lives.

I’ll grant you, seeing them so involved in their lives could sting a bit as I watched you interact with them in a way I never got to experience.  What a cool dad you would have been!

Of course you left again.  That was, as I understand it now, inevitable.  This time you didn’t leave just one little girl.  You  left me AND my daughters.  You left after they had come to think that they could depend on you to always be there for them.  You left after I thought you would always be there for me. 
You left yet another awesome woman who had devoted her life to being there for you. 

I could be hurt.  I should be hurt.  I would be justified in hating you.  But you know what?  I don’t hate you.  I cant.  I understand now that it isnt about me.  It isnt even about your grandaughters.  It isnt even about your relationships with women.  Its YOU. 

There is something deep inside of you that doesnt allow you to get too close to anyone on an emotional level. Something that doesnt allow you to form any sort of attachment that could hold you back or pin you down.

And this fathers day, I want you to know that in spite of everything, I love you.  You gave me life.  Because of you I get to see the wonders of life and explore the mysteries of love.  You made it possible for my awesome daughters to come into existence.  And for this, I thank you.

You have your own demons to battle with and are doing that as best you know how.  And for that I applaud you.

And even though the chances of your ever seeing this are slim to none, know that no matter where you go, no matter what you do, you are my father and I love you.  I may not be happy with the choices you’ve made, but they were your choices, not mine.

I choose to be here for you if you ever need me.  I choose to stay in contact with you no matter how far away you run.

I choose to love you.  For always.

Happy Father’s Day.

Tectonically Divergent

divergentSuddenly thrown together; violently torn apart; slow and steady buildup of grown and strength or a steady movement away from each other; a study of planetary plate tectonics is like viewing the development and decline of personal relationships only on a global scale.

Most people are introduced to the concept of tectonic plates in grade school. I can remember learning about how the plates moved and how two plates meeting head on caused folds in the land that we know as mountain ranges and how the sudden shifting apart of two plates could cause rifts and canyons in the earth’s crust; how two plates moving in opposite directions can cause earthquakes or trigger volcanos.

It was a fascinating subject, and I remember spending hours on my own reading about how the plates interacted with each other; about which continents rode on which plates and in which direction they were (slowly) moving, and about the currents of the magma underneath the plates that is thought to contribute to the continental shifts. Of course I got sidetracked by geysers and earthquakes and volcanoes and Yellowstone National Park basically being one giant Caldara. But it was the discovery that plate motions vary from 10-40 mm per year (or about as fast as fingernails grow) at the Atlantic Ridge to 160 mm per year (about as fast as hair grows) at the Nazca Plate that really got me thinking about the similarities between planetary tectonics and the human subconscious and its influence on the development and decline of personal relationships.

While each human person on this planet belongs to one species (just as the tectonic plates travel over and around the one core of the planet) each individual (plate) stands alone and moves in its own direction, intent on its own growth and development.

But, just like the tectonic plates, individuals come in contact with and interact with each other on a regular basis. Some merely pass by each other smoothly and with absolutely no friction or move together in the same direction, taking comfort from knowing that they are not alone, while others meet each other head on, neither one giving an inch and causing the upheaval of everything and everyone around them. Some people come together and meld in spite of the fact that they are moving in opposite directions, and when they finally move far enough apart everything around them comes tumbling down or an eruption occurs that burns down everything they had worked to build together. And some people – some people travel together for a long time, but unbeknownst to either, they are moving in opposite directions and it isn’t until the rift or ridge between them is too big to be spanned or climbed do they have to acknowledge that their time together is over.

I suppose that I am lucky.   Unlike so many marriages that mimic a Convergent plate boundary (meeting head on and causing huge upheavals) or a Transform plate boundary (the kind that result in frictional shift with resultant earthquakes and destruction of everything the couple has built) my marriage is ending as a Divergent plate boundary – the kind where two plates keep drifting away from each other forming a rift or ridge between them.

After 25 years my husband and I have finally acknowledged that the rift between us is too deep and too wide to be spanned. For years we simply ignored it, felling trees to serve as foot bridges, building rope bridges when the trees were no longer large enough, constructing steel and cable monstrosities when the ropes finally unraveled and at long last sending mule trains across when even the longest bridge could no longer hold up.

Mind you it wasn’t easy for either of us to acknowledge that it was over. There have been lots of tears (on my side) and plenty of defensiveness as both of us try to justify how we got here and who is to blame for the huge canyon between us that we finally had to acknowledge as existing when even the mules bogged down in the mire, dug in their heels, and refused to move another inch.

They say that hindsight is 20/20. And now that we are here; now that it is over; it is clear that had we acknowledged the rift when it first occurred; the first cracks in seemingly stable land, we could have halted the divergence in its tracks, for there is one major difference between plate tectonics and human relationships, and that is choice.

While the plates move together and tear apart in seemingly random dances of creation and destruction, humans can choose to move together; to mend the rifts; to quench the volcanos; to anchor themselves to something far deeper and stronger than themselves; to anchor themselves to their choice to be united and to stand together and to grow and change in tandem; a choice that prevents the random and chaotic upheavals that unanchored relationships encounter.

We did not.

Perhaps we were anchored once. But slowly, day by day, year by year, the resolve to stand together dissolved and we were left to drift apart on separate unseen currents tethered to each other only by our love and concern for our two beautiful daughters and our desire to make sure that they grew up with the love and attention of both parents on a 24/7 basis; a tether that, with our youngest turning 18 and graduating from high school has finally snapped, leaving us each standing on opposite sides of a grand canyon of disbelief and holding the frayed end of what was once a strong and beautiful relationship.

The good thing about a divergent breakup is that there has been only a minimum of drama; no histrionics or flung accusations or eruptions of long vented anger and frustration, only the relatively calm acceptance of where we are now and of what comes next and the mutual agreement that our daughters will continue to be our priority and that even though we will no longer be living together, we agree to be there for them when they need us; putting aside our own differences in order to support them in whatever they decide to do and in any kind of life events that come their way.

So here we are, saying goodbye to a marriage that lasted a quarter of a century but somehow emerging with a level of mutual regard, of shared responsibility and goodwill for each other intact; something that defies the conventional concept of breakups and leaves us staring at each other with a sheepish smile and a half-hearted shrug. It may not be how things usually end, but this is where we are. Each of us staring into the canyon between us, seeing the layers of strata that have been revealed by the pulling apart of these two plates; the shared experiences and colorful memories and moments of a shared life and down; far down at the bottom of the canyon we can just glimpse the river of what once was; a river that continues to flow in spite of the towering canyon walls, and always will.

 

~SSHenry, July 2014

 

How to Heal a Broken Heart

broken heart“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” ~Alexander Graham Bell

My heart was broken long ago.  The details don’t matter.  What matters is that instead of admitting that my heart was broken; instead of admitting that I was in pain and dealing with the trauma right then and there, I made a series of decisions that threw my world into chaos and that impacted my life for a very long time.

Mind you, the decisions that I made (one in particular) in response to the heartbreak were a way of protecting my heart from further injury; of insulating it against the pain that I had incurred.  But what I didn’t realize is that by denying the pain; by choosing to delude myself into thinking that I was all right, I was ignoring an injury which, when left untreated, never healed.  In fact, it began to fester, poisoning everything else I did.

And so to escape the pain of infection I wrapped myself in layers upon layers of mundane is-ness; sinking into a depression so complete that I was not even aware that I was.  I only knew that there was something wrong; something that continued to eat at me and that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

As crazy as it may seem, six months ago, just as I was ready to give up altogether, it was the very one who inflicted the original injury that pulled me out of my despondency; enabling me to see exactly what I had allowed my life to become due to the choices that I had made and gave me the courage to acknowledge what I had done, accept where I am, and  to face the future without fear of what it might bring.

Knowing what might have been – what I have lost – what I will never have because of the choices that I have made – makes my heart ache as it has never ached before.  It is like peeling off the scab to clean out an infected wound; a throbbing ache that reaches right down to my soul.

Accepting that I will never have what might have been; accepting where I am and who I have become because of the path I chose to follow stings like alcohol poured into a cut; intensifying the pain to the point that it doesn’t feel as if I can take it for even one more second.  But it also kills the bacteria of despair and despondence and is the first step to healing.

Acceptance leads to an understanding of why I made those choices.  And understanding is like a soothing balm; a balm and a soft cotton bandage that covers the cleaned wound, protecting it from further damage.

But knowing and accepting and understanding is not enough.  I must also have wisdom; wisdom and courage to prevent any more trauma to my heart; not by burying it where it cannot be touched, but by leaving it exposed and choosing instead to make those decisions that will strengthen it.

I must have the wisdom to learn from my experiences and the courage to listen to my heart and, from now on, to make each decision based on what feels right to my heart – to my soul –not based on my fears; not as a reaction to pain that threatens to tear me apart, or in response to the pressures and influences of what those around me expect from me.  And once I have made the decision, the courage to move forward without fear, knowing that if I am acting from my heart – and for my heart – that I will be making the decision that is best for me and that will help me to become who and what I was meant to be.

~SSHenry~ March 2, 2014.

Excuse Me, My Life is Waiting

walk“Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

 

Does purposefully surrounding yourself with people who will lift you higher; people who encourage you and strengthen you sound like a selfish thing to do?  Can you imagine the alternative?

No, most of us don’t have to imagine the alternative, because most of us live it.  I know I do.  Or, rather, up until now, I have.

When I was little it was family members who would discourage me from my dreams, telling me that I really didn’t have the talent or skill for this or that endeavor, or that what I was attempting was not something that a “good Christian girl” would do.  If I pursued my activities I would then have to put up with the disappointment of those same family members and see the hurt and pain in their eyes that I wasn’t living up to their expectations.  And so I would sigh and tuck away my dreams.

When I was older it was my teachers, friends or boyfriends that would discourage me from attempting what they saw as ill-conceived or inadvisable options.  And what did I do?  I would go ahead with them anyway, until of course someone looked at me again with that pain in their eyes, and then I would crumble. OK, ok.  I’ll fold.  Just stop looking at me like that.  I want you to LIKE me, to LOVE me, not to be disappointed by me. And then I got married and the whole process started over again. 

So why am I speaking in the past tense?  Because I have decided that I am finished with the negativity.  I have to be.

You see, the negativity of those who discourage, demean or belittle me and my desire to become the truest version of myself are not serving me.  And there – right there – is where I usually get a twinge of guilt.  The very term “not serving me” just reeks of self-centeredness, doesn’t it?

But there comes a point in your life where you realize that as much as you care about the people in your life; and as much as you want them to be happy, there is something that is more important, and that is that you be true to your real self no matter how others feel about it.

This isn’t selfishness; at least it isn’t selfishness in the traditional definition of the word.  No, this is taking care of what you need in order to learn and grow and become, and let’s face it, without growth things tend to stagnate and grow stale. That includes everything from your personal life to your relationships with others, so no matter what, there really is no point in spending your energy trying to maintain the status quo.

Of course those negative individuals in your life who encourage you NOT to change would be glad of change IF (and only if) you were to change in the direction that they wish to see you go.  What scares them is that you are changing in ways that make them uncomfortable, which is why they fight against it so hard. But a moment of reflection should show you that change to make someone else happy is actually counterproductive.  Yes, the other person may rest easier knowing that you will not break out in ways that they cannot or will not allow themselves to understand.  But you will be just as unhappy having changed into something that you are NOT as you were unhappy to remain in a stagnant or stale situation.

Actually, you will be unhappier having changed in a direction that is at odds with your soul purpose; even unhappier than you would be simply staying put and resisting the urge to become who and what you really are.

No.  The truth of the matter is that you HAVE to follow your instincts and intuition if you are going to truly live your life and not simply treat it as some sort of spectator sport.

At the risk of sounding cliché, you have to follow your heart.  If it leads you in a direction that others find uncomfortable enough, they will move on or move out of your life to a place where they feel more comfortable and where the people and things live up to their expectations.

So when I talk about surrounding yourself with those who will lift you up (and not pull you down) I’m not talking about walking away from people or situations that do not serve you.  Instead, what I am saying is that you need to stop giving those people and situations that you find energy draining or negative to the point of depression, your attention.

Just stop.  They are not worth the effort of either fighting their negativity or the effort of changing yourself in order to please them.  They do not serve you.

So focus on what does serve you; on those things that bring you joy and that fill your life with the wonder and mystery that feeds your soul.  Focus on those things that encourage you to grow and become who and what you truly are, and watch your life as it changes for the better.

All it Takes is Gratitude

 “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ~Melody Beattie

It has been said that gratitude is the real bread of life; that without it life becomes bleak and bare and lacking in so many different ways.  And yet, how many times do we actually stop to express our gratitude for what we have been given?

I’m not talking about common courtesy; saying thank you when someone does something for you and things of that ilk.  No, I’m talking about real gratitude.  I’m talking about a heartfelt appreciation for everything that you have in your life, no matter how small or insignificant you may consider it to be.

Believe it or not, even the poorest of those who will read this are better off than half the world’s population.  For starters, you have the free time to be able to get onto a computer and surf the internet, not to mention that you have access to a computer. You probably have a roof over your head, clothes in your closet and food on your table as well.  You have access to health care (or at least to an emergency room) and have more likely than not received some sort of an education and are able to read and write.

And these are just the fundamental basics! So many people don’t have even this, but that doesn’t stop them from being grateful!  And so many of us have so much more than the basics and yet we are always looking for more.

But what about the intangible things?

What about those things that can’t be touted up on an accounting sheet or listed on a home inventory list?

What about friendship and love?  What about caring and commitment?  What about courage and integrity and creativity?  Do we ever stop long enough in our headlong rush to be grateful for those things that lend the fabric of our lives such rich texture?

In spite of everything that we have; in spite of everything that we have been given, it is so very easy to take what you have for granted – until it isn’t there anymore.  And then, once it’s gone; once it is gone and you can never get it back again, you feel like kicking yourself at every moment that you wasted; every opportunity that passed you by without your noticing.

Most times it is easy to be grateful.  Indeed, when you have everything that you need; when life is sweet and full of interesting people and experiences, gratitude seems to come as naturally as breathing.  We don’t even think about it.  It is simply there.

And yet, there are times when being grateful is the last thing on your mind; when the pain is so deep and the darkness and despair so dark and suffocating that it seems that there is no way that you can ever find your way out.  At these moments gratitude can seem as far away as the surface of the moon, and just about as helpful.

But what if I were to tell you that that is when you need it the most?

Because if you can’t remember the good things in your life, if you can’t bring to mind the bright moments of laughter and life and love that make everything worthwhile, those dark and depressing times can suck you down so far that you may never get out.

This is why it is so very important to practice daily gratitude.

I don’t care how you do it.  Buy a journal, start a blog, post it on Facebook, Tweet it to all of your friends, send out a text message – whatever!  But start today.  List all the things that you are grateful for.  Don’t just do this one time, do it every day.

In fact, make it a habit to find at LEAST five things to be grateful for every day.

On an awesome day you may take up pages listing all the things you are grateful for.  On bad days you may only be able to list a handful.  But believe it or not, this handful can make all of the difference.

You see, there may come a particularly bad day when those things that you have listed are the only things that keep you from giving up altogether; when one or two of the items on that list are all that keep you tethered to life. Those things will become your focus; your reason for living.

And believe it or not, if you can make it through the day; if you can focus on that handful of things that you DO have instead of those things that you do NOT have, eventually it will get better.  In time the good things will begin to multiply again until once more you find your life to be overflowing with life and love, friendship and good fortune and once more life will be worth living.

All it takes is gratitude.

Personal Note:  For me 2012 ended on a tragic note when I found that a close friend had killed themselves just after Christmas.  I cherished every moment that we spent together and even though I had given them all the support and advice that I could – it wasn’t enough.  In the end the pain and sadness that they felt overwhelmed them. They simply couldn’t find a reason to keep living.  This is why this message is so important to me.  Life is fragile and far, far too short; don’t let a moment of it go by unappreciated. 

And please – PLEASE – if one of the things you are grateful for today is someone else; a friend or family member, let them know!  Don’t assume that they already know.  Just tell them.  One day you will be glad that you did.

Boiling Frogs

“A Miracle is a highly improbably or extraordinary event, development or accomplishment (usually welcome and highly valued) which is not entirely explicable by natural laws. Some people attribute these to divine intervention. Others simply say that they are the result of natural laws which we simply don’t understand yet. One thing is for certain – sometimes it takes a miracle to make you believe in the possibility of them occurring no matter what their origin.” ~ SSHenry

I never used to believe in miracles; not even the kind that can be explained by as-yet unknown natural laws.  I always used to think that either something was possible – or it was not.  Oh I’d heard of miracles, certainly.  But even things like spontaneous cancer remissions could, in my mind, be categorized in the “as-yet unknown natural law” category.  But there is nothing like actually experiencing a miracle to understand its true power.

I can’t go into details; the events that led up to this particular incident are still too raw and close to my heart to share openly.  Suffice it to say that I had found myself in a situation that had become intolerable.  It was like the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water.

You know the story; a frog is placed in a pot of tepid water on top of a stove burner.  It doesn’t resist being put in the water because the temperature is comfortable.  Then slowly, bit by bit, the temperature of the water is turned up until the frog quietly boils to death; never complaining or attempting to escape because it acclimates to each miniscule change in the water’s temperature.

I was the frog.  I had, over the years, allowed my life to reach a temperature just short of the boiling point.  Yes, it was a bit uncomfortable, but I simply thought that was the way things were supposed to be.  I didn’t fight it.  But then, rather abruptly, someone pulled the lid off the pot and prodded me into leaving the pot, and I’ll tell you right now, the change in temperature nearly blew my mind, as did the realization of just what I had allowed my life to become as well as what I had been living without; things that were my right; things that no one should have to live without. Then someone tried to put me back into the pot of near-boiling water.

Well, you can imagine what happened; water everywhere; the pot caroming off of cupboards and bouncing around on the floor like an ill-tempered poodle that has been ignored for too long. No, I did not go gentle into that good night.  In fact, I refused to go at all.  In the process of refusing to simply slip back into the boiling water I made a mess of everything around me and scalded those around me in the process.

It wasn’t pretty, and I’m not proud of the mess I made or the pain that I inflicted, but there is something good that came out of it.  No, there is something miraculous that came out of it; not only did I realize just what my life had become and refuse to be prodded into an acceptance of the way things had been, one of those I scalded – in spite of being in intense pain and extremely angry at me for upsetting the pot, was shocked into the realization of just what had been happening, of the pain and discomfort they had been inflicting as well by turning up the temperature (though it wasn’t a calculated infliction of pain). In fact, they were so startled when they realized what had been happening that they tossed out the pot as well as the stove and replaced them with a pond replete with lily pads and soothing reeds and lots of bugs where we can both kick back and relax and forget about things like stoves and pots and even kitchens.

The long and the short of it is that the atmosphere has completely changed.  I didn’t think it was possible.  I regret that it took such an upset and that people got hurt in the process, but the change is, not to put too fine of a point on it, miraculous.

Will it last?  I don’t know. I’d like to think so. But in the meantime, I am definitely going to enjoy the pond and being with someone who appreciates me and is willing to share this lily pad with me in spite of the burns I inflicted; burns that have to hurt like the very devil when immersed in the pond water but which will eventually heal when exposed to the warmth of the sun.