Turning 50: A New Beginning

So, I am coming upon a new milestone in the middle of this week. I officially reach mid-life (Since my maternal grandmother lived to be 100 I can say this.).

 

Thanks to the magic of social media I have been observing many of the “kids” I grew up with, and went to school with, turning 50. Many of them, except for their online presence, I’ve not seen since high school. Many of them have grandchildren now, as do I. Time really does fly.

 

When I was in school the “oldies” were the songs of my parent’s generation. Now the term includes the music of my childhood and early adult years, and even beyond.  And, just as I could never see my parents as anything but old, I am looked at by my son and students as an “old guy”.

 

Physically, I get a few more aches and pains now. I have to live within my limits. And, occasionally, I am reminded of them clearly.

 

As I’ve approached this marker (over the past few years, actually) I’ve taken some steps to slow down (if not reverse) the aging process. I’ve made diet changes, and added some physical and mental exercise to my routines. I play word and math games, and read, to keep my mind as sharp as possible. As an aside, I should add Facebook debates, but I’m trying to lay off of them. (They’re usually pretty fruitless.) And I take walks in the neighborhood (which has both physical and mental benefits).

 

Yesterday, as I have been doing for a couple of weeks now, since letting my gym membership lapse, I was working with a set of weights that my son got at a garage sale a couple of years ago. It’s not a lot of weight, but it’s sufficient for a decent workout. (This is about being healthy, not body-building). Anyway, after doing a few sets of squats, and some core and upper-body lifts, I was feeling pretty good. Then I set the weights aside, and thought I would do some exercises that I remembered from PE classes as a kid. Remember the windmill? That’s the one where you stand with your feet spread apart, and from a standing position, you bend your waist and reach for your left foot with your right hand, then stand back up. Then repeat with your left hand to your right foot. Yes, that one. That’s when I threw my back out. No weights involved – just my muscles, joints, and gravity. I’ve spent the better part of today on an icepack. I did go to a movie this afternoon with some friends. When I got up to leave the theater after the movie was over, I felt like the tinman from the Wizard of Oz, in need of an oil can.

 

My eyes, though, have been diminishing now for just over 10 years. I couldn’t type this without my reading glasses. It was hard for me to accept the weakening of my eyesight. My eyes were great till a month or so before I turned 40. I can’t pick out as much detail anymore. And I really dislike fine print and product labels.

 

I’ve always enjoyed a strong sense of hearing also. Yet I can’t always discern pitch as well these days. On a good note, I think my singing is getting better!

 

I also have found in the last few years that I have a more difficult time controlling my tears. And I feel things very deeply. Even today at the movies, they showed a trailer for the upcoming movie “Interstellar”. I don’t know if it will be a good movie, or not, but the trailer made me cry. Movies, music, pictures, acts of kindness – they all carry the possibility of bringing tears.

 

But despite what seems like negatives of aging, there are some definite benefits.

 

As I’ve learned that I cannot always trust my eyes to accurately report my surroundings, so that serves to remind me that we don’t always see things the same way. And that doesn’t necessarily make either of us wrong (or right, for that matter). Just as I sometimes have to hand something to someone else and ask, “What does this say?”, so I inquire of others, “How do you see this issue, and why?”. I believe that we all have limited vision, but collectively we can see so much more.

 

The loss of pitch discernment causes me to listen more intently. I have to work harder to clear my head of the noise of my own agenda to clearly hear what you are saying. I have learned that everyone is capable of contributing something beautiful to the conversation. I think one of the greatest compliments I ever receive is to be quoted (in context, in an affirming way). I think we miss out on many pearls of wisdom because we are formulating and rehearsing our response rather than truly hearing the other side of a conversation.

 

My physical limitations cause me to be still just a little more. To rest. Breathe deeply. Take better care of my body and soul.

 

My tears? I don’t apologize for them. They come from a life of feeling, connecting, pursuing goodness, and realizing my own imperfections. They express both grief and joy, anger and love. They come when I see the world at it’s worst, and at it’s finest. To feel deeply is not a weakness. And to express those feelings is to be authentic. Neuropathy is a danger of many diseases. It causes you to lose feeling in your extremities, most especially your feet. Without the nerves firing as they are designed we don’t always know when we are wounded. We are more susceptible to burns and cuts because we lose the reflex action to draw back from heat or something sharp. Untreated wounds can get infected. Tears are proof that we can still feel. Pain and longing are better than numbness, because they drive us to change.

 

As I turn 50 this week, I know that I’ll never have the body of a 20- or 30-year-old again. I accept that. But I also know this: I’ll have 50 years of experience being human; I have had many successes and failures (and I’ll make more of each); I have made and lost friends (And I have a few that are more valuable to me than all the riches of the world.) and; I have brought happiness and sadness to others. There are things that I would go back and change if given the chance, and things I would never change (even painful experiences, because they helped shape me). I regret the times that I have caused others pain, or disappointed people I care for. But, with all said and done, I like who I am.

 

I am not perfect by any stretch.

 

But I like me.

 

My next 50 years, I’ll use the lessons I’ve learned over the last 50, to try to do more good than harm, to see more clearly, to listen more carefully, to experience all of life more fully, to love more completely. And to do all these more grace-fully. I am beginning a new chapter. Clean page. Fresh pen. I am HOPEful, and have much more story to write.

 

 

Wait Training: Examining the Virtue of Patience

Over the last holiday breaks, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I saw more movies than I had in more than a year before that. I enjoy seeing movies on the big screen. But it’s not quite as enjoyable when I go to the movies by myself. So, when I had a movie buddy to join me, I took advantage of the situation. And I like to get to the theater early, about 30 minutes before the scheduled start time, so we can visit, and so I can see all the trailers for the upcoming movies. I discovered that I would become interested in some movies that I normally wouldn’t, because the trailer made my friend laugh. I enjoyed the sound of her laugh. I remember seeing the trailer for “Anchorman 2” and thinking it was utterly ridiculous. But she laughed. And it was a genuine, childlike kind of laugh. It infected me. The next time I saw that same trailer, I saw it through her eyes. And I actually saw the humor in it.

One of the trailers that we saw on a couple of occasions, was “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. This is not a movie that interested me at all. I’m not really a big Ben Stiller fan anyway, and the trailer didn’t hook me. I’d never really read the story, and it looked like a story of a guy who just had a rich fantasy life. No thanks. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t watch it if I was asked to, but I wasn’t planning to.

Then Two very good friends of mine, Bryan and Shanna (a couple whose wedding I had the very good pleasure of officiating in 2008), had gone to see this very movie. And Shanna told me that she thought that I would like it. Now, Shanna knows me very well. She not only knows me…she gets me. She knows the movie scenes, songs, books, that will move me. She knows the very moment in a story where I’ll choke up and reach to dry my eyes. So when she tells me that I would like a movie, I can take her at her word.

A few days later, Rhonda, my movie buddy, told me that whenever she saw the trailer for Walter Mitty, it reminded her of me. A little puzzled by the connection, I asked her why. She said that it was because I waited till later in life to start living. Ouch. But that observation actually came from conversations we had shared. After Rhonda moved away to continue her education, I went to see the movie. And I found it poignant.

I have to admit that waiting is one skill at which I had become quite adept. As a very reflective person for all (or at least most) of my life, I wrestled with knowing when to wait, and when to act. I heard people that I respected say to pray, and wait. To trust God to act. I thought, if I acted, I was being impatient or impulsive. But, if I waited, I might be seen as lazy or disobedient.  So I waited for insight and direction. And I dealt with the internal dialogue that kept asking me if I was waiting, or simply procrastinating.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary says that to wait means:

to stay in a place until an expected event happens, until someone arrives, until it is your turn to do something, etc.; to not do something until something else happens; or to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon.

And to procrastinate means:

to be slow or late about doing something that should be done : to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it, because you are lazy, etc.

I have probably earned a gold medal, trophy, or at least a merit badge by now for both of these. I have developed a great deal of patience in waiting. But, I often procrastinate doing what I THINK I’m supposed to do, because I could be wrong, and may act because I have just grown tired of waiting. Not everyone will appreciate this dilemma. But some will understand full well. Am I exercising patience, faith, trust? Or am I being lazy, disobedient, avoiding responsibility, afraid to disturb the cat? Since patience is seen as a virtue, and procrastination is seen as…well, NOT at all virtuous, it would seem a good idea to get a firm grasp on the difference between the two – if a firm grasp is possible.

I probably come about my aptness for waiting somewhat naturally. My mother has always shown great patience (Well, ALMOST always – she did raise 3 kids, and spent many years keeping others in the church nursery). But I think waiting was a skill that was honed for me by circumstance. I was a middle child. Quiet. Unassuming. Often seemingly invisible. I would often sit for long stretches in the living room of our home as a child, watching a program on the television that I had little or no interest in, waiting for a commercial to come on so I could ask my father for permission to do something. Then, I often waited much longer for an answer. I learned early to believe that the wait was worth it if it ended with the desired answer. Though it more often did not. Sometimes the wait was just a waste of time.

The difference between a worthwhile wait, and a waste of time, is the result. And the results are rarely something that one can be sure of. There is a marked difference between waiting for a paycheck, that has been earned, and waiting for the results of a game you’ve bet on, or an investment you’ve made. One you have reasonable assurance that it will happen because you’ve earned it. The other, you simply hope you’ve made the right decision and it pays off.

There is waiting that causes anticipation and excitement. And waiting that causes anxiety. Some brings both. There is waiting for which you know the outcome, and waiting for which you don’t.

I have spent enough time waiting in my life that I just accept it as part of being human. From lines at the DMV to renew a driver’s license, to holiday shopping lines, to hurricane evacuations that move at a snail’s pace. From waiting in line outside a concert venue or eagerly anticipated movie sequel, to taking a child or grandchild to see the friendly white-bearded man at the mall, to waiting for a text, email, letter, or phone call, from that special someone. Waiting is just part of the journey. You just have to learn to deal with the inconvenience of waiting when necessary, circumvent the lines that bring the least reward if at all possible (I would much rather make purchases online than fight Black Friday madness, for example.), and make good use of the time spent waiting.

I have learned (and am still learning) that there is a difference between passive and active waiting. Passive waiting waits for life to happen to you. It’s praying that God will act, and then sitting back to watch the show. Let go, and let God, as some say. You may argue that prayer is not passive. And I would agree. However, I don’t think we should limit our responsibility to that of praying only. At least, in my experience, I was too often still on my knees when I should have been moving my feet. I spent too much time distrusting the inner voice, and waiting for a neon sign to point the way. I was waiting for the world to change around me, rather than to get up and be an agent of change myself. I was waiting on God to DO SOMETHING! And now…I think God was waiting on me. And despite a few of my friends who want to remind me that my heart is “desperately wicked” and can’t be trusted, I think God is whispering to me that He has placed His heart inside of me, and I should trust it.

So I actively wait for the world to change (I expectantly wait for the world to change.). I pray for wisdom and direction, pausing at times for clarity because of the weight of my decision, and then act upon my understanding. Perhaps it is because I most likely have fewer days on the horizon than in the rear-view (although my grandmother lived to be 100, and I am not quite 50) but I just don’t want to waste time. I’d rather spend it well. I’d rather spend my energy, time, and HOPE, on the things I value most. It may be necessary to first reassess the world through a different set of eyes. Then, perhaps, just as it was true for Walter Mitty, great adventures await me (and you) in the second half of life.

Losing Hope to Find It: Pruning Life for New Growth

It’s nice when we can become known for something positive rather than negative, for a good character trait rather than a flaw, for success rather than failure, as someone who brings a smile and comfort and not disdain and disappointment. Truth is, I’ve been (and am) known for all those things, good and bad. I have decided though, (and have to remind myself often) that I want to be better known for the positive side of those things. For this reason, it makes my soul smile when someone tells me that when they see a post, or sign, about HOPE, they think of me. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right – like I’m spreading antibodies to help build immunity against despair.

But what is HOPE? Is it seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty? Well, that’s a start. But HOPE is much more than that. To me, HOPE is a posture. It is a feeling and belief (faith) that allows me to endure pain, sadness, and trials of all kinds, because I am confident that there is a purpose for it all – something that gives it all meaning – or something better on the other side of my struggle if I can endure it.

My love affair with HOPE may have started as a defense mechanism (or morphed into one) that allowed me to deal with unpleasant or difficult things in my life that I felt I had no power, or right, to change. I would set my sight (vision) on a point ahead in the road, and tell myself that if I can just push through till I reach that point, things would be much better. Then the pain will end (or at least lessen). Or I will be given some insight that will help me understand where my trials are producing worthwhile benefits, for myself or someone else.

When I get finished with school…
When I get this debt paid…
When this business makes a profit…
When we get moved…
When I get that job…

I tried to set my sights on goals that I was quite sure would eventually happen, instead of something that might or might not (although sometimes they were quite improbable). If it did not come to fruition, I would set a new goal. The most difficult thing was when I reached each successive point that I had fixed my sights on, without the pain and trials lessening. And all that seemed to be changing were the pages on the calendar, the wrinkles and gray hairs looking back from the mirror, and the weakening of the eyes and body. Time became my enemy when I once thought it my ally.

The blessing and the curse of mid-life is a change of perspective. Not only do you continue to look forward down the road and reset your sights, but you look back on the tracks left by the journey so far, and you ask yourself what the road ahead looks like based on the history of the road already traveled.

A friend of mine recommended a book, based on a vague status update that I had put on Facebook when I was feeling a little less HOPEful than normal. It was a book called “Necessary Endings”, by Dr. Henry Cloud. I ordered a copy based on her recommendation (She has a counseling practice, though she is a friend and not my therapist.). I read it in one or two days. I was amazed at the relevancy this book had to my life. And strangely, my friend didn’t know the particulars of my struggles, and she hadn’t read very far into the book herself at the time that she recommended it.

I had learned to tie a rope on HOPE and hold on with all my might. To just DEAL with it. HOPE was as necessary for my life as oxygen. And Dr. Cloud affirmed how important HOPE was for life. But…imagine my shock when he proposed that my pain was not likely to end until I GIVE UP hope. He said that I have to give up hope in something for which hope was unreasonable.

“It is imperative that you give up hope if your hope is not a hope at all but just an empty wish. But how do we know the difference between wishing and hoping? When most people talk about tomorrow and wanting something in their lives to be different or to get better, they use the word hope. Dictionary definitions of hope contain two elements. The first is a ‘desire or expectation’ for something in the future to occur. ‘I hope this thing turns around.’ The second is usually ‘grounds for believing’ that something in the future will occur. ‘She sees some hope because of next year’s product line.’ The real problem is when we have one without the other: a desire without any grounds. That is hope based not on reality but on our desires, our wishes.”

Sometimes (and this is exceedingly difficult, and even unnatural, for me to do) it is necessary to give up hope in something that is expending your energies and time, and has already shown (through sufficient investment) that it is to no avail, in order to continue to embrace a more reasonable HOPE.

It has been said that change will not occur until the pain of remaining the same becomes greater than the pain of the change.

If a hamster is going to run, do you suppose he would rather run through tubes or mazes that bring some reward, than on a wheel that leaves him tired and dizzy, getting nowhere? Perhaps it is a blessing that the hamster may not live long enough to despair, when he sees how pointless his efforts are.

I think the big fear is (I know it is for me) that we may give up hope too soon. It’s like tunneling for gold for years deep into a mountain, never reaching it. You come to the point of exhaustion and despair, feeling that you have wasted your life away. You want to give up. But you don’t know whether you may strike the mother-lode with another day’s digging, or eventually die having never realized your hopes. If you give up hope and turn back, you’ll never know for sure. To continue, or to give up; either is a risk. Either can lead to bitterness and despair, or freedom from your tyranny, and renewed HOPE or reward. The decision is necessarily painful and sobering. This is not a time for flipping a coin, especially if it involves other people’s lives. And most decisions do.

This isn’t just a matter of finding happiness or contentment. I’m talking about purpose. I’m talking about being the best version of yourself, and using your unique gifts to make the world better for your having done so. Are you putting hopes in things that threaten the HOPE that gives your life its meaning? If you want to hold onto HOPE, you may have to give up hope in something – whether it be a job (or career), a belief, a stance, a relationship, an obligation – that is keeping you from it (and I’m not talking about something that is just making it more of a challenge to achieve, but is prohibiting your success). I think it is interesting to note that the Greek word that is translated as perfect, or complete, in the Christian New Testament, has the connotation of having reached one’s purpose. Such as when Paul said that he had finished the race (2 Tim 4:7).

If the hamster spends his days and his energy, running…and ends up lying dead beside the wheel where he gave it his all, only inches from where he began, will we say that he finished the race? I guess it’s possible, if you think that a hamster’s purpose is only to provide his captors with amusement.

As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews has said, we must throw off every weight that hinders us and trips us up, so that we are able to run the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). An ill-placed hope can become an anchor or a stumbling block if it keeps us from fulfilling our own unique calling. And this is coming from one who HOPEs, and finds it heart-breaking to give up on anything or anyone. But I have found it to be more heart-breaking for a person to have gained the world and lost himself in the process.

Insanity has been defined as continually doing the same things and expecting different results. Sometimes we need to realize that it is insane to keep hoping that something or someone is going to change, if the record clearly shows otherwise. But you have to decide for yourself when that is. You will have to deal with the consequences whatever you decide.

I just cut my rose bushes back, as I do every February. Some people would  think that I’d killed them. They definitely look that way. But soon, if you visit me, you’ll see lots of beauty emerging from those now-dead-looking plants. I still have to wait for the new growth. But the pruning was necessary first. A necessary ending.  And now the nurturing. Then the beauty. Ahhh, HOPE!

Waiting on Superman: In the Deli

Yesterday evening, I got hungry (as I often do) and, to be honest, in need of company (as I often am). I went to my usual “Cheers” (You know – the place you want to go because “everybody knows your name”). For me, that place is my local McAlister’s Deli. I eat there quite often, for many reasons. I first started going there for their amazing sweet tea (I AM a southern boy.) I like many things on their menu, but honestly it’s their tea that kept me coming back. But, besides their tea, it’s the people they hire that make me like to hang out there. It’s like a second home and they make me feel like a part of the family. Anybody who has been working there for any length of time knows me. When I go to one of the Subway’s that I often visit, I hear, “Welcome to Subway!” And that’s nice. But when I enter MY McAlister’s, I usually hear, “Hey Mr. Bruce!”

So I went to dinner there yesterday. I sat in one of my usual spots. On this occasion it was the table on the end, against the windows in the front, where I always sit facing the entrance, and past that, the front counter where you place your order. Amber brought me my food. She has been one of the assistant managers there for a couple of years, I guess. It’s hard for me to judge time sometimes because it has begun to move so quickly for me. She asked me how I was doing, and said, “Hey, I like your shirt.” I was wearing a black t-shirt with a modern Superman emblem across the chest, under a dark blue, unzipped hoody. I thanked her, and kind of laughed. I told her that I had two t-shirts with the same emblem on each (The other one was dark blue, rather than black.) and that, of all the shirts in my closet, those two shirts get the most compliments. I almost never get complimented for any other shirt. But total strangers will tell me that they like my shirt when I am wearing the “S”. Why is that?

Then Amber and I had a deeply intellectual conversation about our need for, and connection with, superheroes. And I shared my dismay about the upcoming “Batman vs. Superman” movie because I didn’t care for the concept of pitting superheroes against each other. And she shared with me her dismay for the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman.

We seem to have a need for superheroes. I think we need to believe that someone will come along and save us, and set things right. We need to believe in the power of good to overcome that which is not.

I guess it was a couple months ago (remember what I said about judging time). I was in my office/classroom at school. Size-wise it’s kind of between the two. I have a teacher’s desk, file cabinets and bookcases, and a row of tables against the wall opposite of my desk with five student computers on them. Students work with their backs to me so that I can see all of the monitors. Anyway…despite an effort to maintain professional decorum, teachers sometime slip and call each other by first name. When a teacher came into my office, and addressed me as Bruce, one of my students, with an over-developed sense of selective hearing, started to refer to me as Bruce Wayne from that moment on.

I have to admit, I kind of like the idea of being equated with someone with a secret passion to right wrongs and to protect the weak. It got me thinking about other Bruce’s of superherodom. Bruce Wayne, the Dark Knight, or Batman. Bruce Banner as the Hulk. Bruce Lee was…well, Bruce Lee. You can’t tell me he doesn’t fit in this list. I mean, the man had some REAL super powers. I mean, if Bruce Lee were still alive today, do you think that people would be telling Chuck Norris jokes? But, I digress. Then of course, Bruce Springsteen, the Boss; and Bruce Almighty. I further digress.

Batman, however, is a little dark for me. A big part of what drives him is a desire for revenge. Maybe that’s why, if I’m to be equated with a superhero, I’d rather it be Superman. Superman, though he deals with very human things, like a desire to love and be loved, sacrifices his own desires for the sake of others. His goals seem bent toward justice for all. He’s more relatable for me. Even the part about the Kryptonite weakness.

I may not be a real superhero. But if I were, I think I know what my superpower would be. Accommodation. Accommodation is the ability to be flexible in a situation, and to opt for the comfort of others (like my cat, Abby, in my first blog entry, “Why Disturb the Cat?”).

Being a special education teacher, it is a big part of what I do. I accommodate a student by compensating for their disabilities. An accommodation can be as simple as a pencil grip to compensate for a lack of fine motor control or muscle weakness, or special tinted overlays to reduce glare and make it easier for a student with vision problems to focus and read. Or, in some cases accommodations can be much grander. We are all accommodated much more than we think. That’s what customer service is, after all. I guess it makes sense that I would end up in a career field that uses my superpower.

However, my superpower is often also my undoing – my Kryptonite so to speak. I may exercise my power by choosing to accommodate your wants or needs. You, however, may view it as a weakness that you can manipulate and use in your favor. What I do as an expression of love, becomes what is simply expected. The gift is not received with gratitude, but is taken with contempt. “Why didn’t you do more?” “Why did you pick that color?” What took you so long?” “But I was expecting…”. True givers often are treated as, and perceived as, doormats. But accommodation is a power exercised from the heart (The Bible teaches us that Jesus “laid down his life” willingly). And, when treated as anything other, it feels like rejection and an act of futility. If you want to see how much power accommodation has to change the world, simply be grateful (at least once in a while). Accept it as a gift willingly given. Keep your Kryptonite encased in lead (and buried). Maybe more superheroes will emerge.

As I got up from my table on the end last night, I made my usual pass by the front counter on my way out the door, stopping for one last refill of sweet tea. As Amber turned her back to me to fill my cup from the dispenser, Eric (the other assistant manager at my McAlister’s) who was behind the counter to my right, said, “Hey Bruce! How you doin’ tonight? Hey, I like that shirt!”

In case you didn’t catch the wordplay in my use of the now-familiar title “Waiting on Superman”…I was at a deli, wearing a Superman shirt…and, though they don’t really have waiters there in the truest sense, Amber did bring me my food and refill my tea…thus, she was waiting…well you understand.

Winter Storm Leon: The Paralyzing of the South

Mission Log: January 28, 2014

As darkness sets on day one of the devastating ice storm that has paralyzed the South, I am glad to report that we are doing well. Our dwelling has retained it’s strength under the weight of the icycles, and has so far been able to hold in warmth, and keep frostbite at bay.

Since the South was closed today, I was able to stay nestled under blankets till at least 8:00 AM.

I was able to make contact with both people who were suffering through the same trials as I, and those on the outside. The situation was dire. Bridges were being closed all over the city. People had to use the more primitive feeder roads for travel. People were encouraged to stay off the roads if travel was not required. My transportation was encased in a thick layer of frozen moisture that I had no desire to chip away at. I thought best to follow their pleas.

I tried to lose myself, if but for a short time, in the recorded travels and thoughts of a fellow adventurer. His stories gave me renewed hope in the goodness of people.

After a short time, my need for physical nourishment, as well as my felt responsibility for my shelter mate, kicked in. I had to hunt and gather for sustenance. I was able to scrounge enough, using only the ingredients that I purchased yesterday from my neighborhood Kroger, and the rudimentary pots, pans, and utensils that I was able to locate in my kitchen cabinets and drawers, to prepare a goodly portion of chili, sufficient for 2 people to survive a couple of days.

Having filled our bellies sufficiently, I sat down for a cup of coffee and to catch up on the happenings outside of the frozen tundra in which we now found ourselves. More road closures. And the announcement that most of the South would remain closed for another day. We’ll have to ration what is left of the chili, and the PB&J.

I ventured outside of the shelter as it began to get dark this evening, to see if what they say is really true, that, “neither rain nor snow…nor gloom of night…”. I tread slowly, testing to see where the ice might pose a walking hazard. I ventured the distance of the drive without incident and opened the correspondence receptacle, removing it’s contents to see what matter of life I may have missed since the beginning of this great storm. I gathered also the contents of another box to hand deliver it to it’s owners who were hold up inside their own shelter from the storm. As I walked the distance back to my shelter, I sifted through my box’s contents that I now carried. A 15% off discount from Kohl’s. If only I could get there. And a $10.00 off card, as well. Such cruelty of the universe to deposit this in my box on the very day that the South is closed for business. And what is this? A birthday gift from Victoria’s Secret. Really? Oh, never mind, that’s not my name on the envelope.

Having arrived safely back inside my still-warm abode, I put away the dishes from our meal, kicked off my shoes, and decided to journal my survival to this point in case I don’t make it out alive. The temperature has already dropped back down to 33 degrees. This could be bad.

 

Please note that this blog entry was done in fun and out of boredom, and just to break the drought of writing. It’s actually kind of humorous how a little ice can close our city down. We’re just not equipped to keep all our bridges and overpasses de-iced, and our citizens have so little experience driving in ice. It’s better to stay safe. It won’t last long, after all.

Breaking Resistance at Barnes & Noble

So…it’s been a while. Remember me?

It’s the afternoon before Thanksgiving. I’ve been off of work since about 1:45 on Friday afternoon, and I’ve accomplished very few of the things that I’d intended to get done this week. I HAVE gotten some personal banking work done, some bills paid, laundry done. I’ve gotten some house-cleaning done, a little reading, and time on Facebook (I won’t say how much). I’ve even gotten a little extra sleep for the last couple of days, and been to the gym a couple of times. But I haven’t yet been back up to the school to work on filing and stuff that I need to get caught up on. And, until this moment, I haven’t worked on my blog.

It took a lot for me to start this blog in the first place. It would never have happened if a friend hadn’t expressed belief that I had a talent for writing. I’ve never been overly confident in my abilities, and it (at least in the past) didn’t take much criticism (or even lack of affirmation) to make me give up trying anything. I’ve had to learn to be my own cheerleader. But I’m clumsy, and feel awkward with pom poms. I AM grateful for a few good friends (I’ve learned to value quality over quantity) who know how to affirm me in ways that make me believe them.

I did have a few hurdles to get over. I have perfectionist tendencies. And my work is NEVER perfect, and rarely good enough to share. I’ve reserved at least 3 blogs before this one. I could never decide on a title that I thought was catchy and ME. I wanted a name that would follow a theme. But I wanted to be able to be random in my writings. This stretched over months and years. I finally settled on Disturbing the Cat, because it was a good metaphor that I had mentioned to some friends to describe my life. THEN I had to decide on a look, a picture to describe it, a bio, yada yada yada. Then I decided to do the only thing that I can count on to work for me…I told some people what I was planning to do, and that I was going to start it before the summer break was up. I even told my friend who had given me the belief in my writing abilities in the first place. Now I had to do it, or risk letting people down.

I reserved the title, and solicited some friends for input on the look. This still took way too long, so I decided on a very simple look that could be changed at a later date. I asked for some pictures of cats that would fit my theme. The winner came from my friend Lance (who is also one of my chief goaders). My friend MaryEllen took the profile pic for the bio, and things were starting to come together. I even bought the domain disturbingthecat.com because I hate to waste money. I figured if I spent a little money, I would have to publish.

My first post was reasonably easy because it just explained the metaphor. However, it took me a while because I had to get it perfect first. Then I accepted the fact that that moment would never come. I had my friend Kathy check it for grammar and readability, and I published. And I am thankful for a few who read it and gave positive feedback.

But that was in August…

It is now November (and barely still that)…

When school began again in August, things just got really busy. Much of my job is spent in front of a computer. I worked an hour from home for the first 3 weeks of school, before transferring to a school in my hometown. I never seemed to be caught up, so it was hard to find time for writing. But when I started my blog, I asked a few friends to provide a little goading; to remind me to write. I need that accountability. And some have been very faithful to do so.

Why am I writing now?

1. I told a friend that I planned on writing during my break from school;

2. One of my solicited goaders gave me permission, via a quote from Joseph Campbell, to “…be reckless when writing. Be as crazy as your conscience allows.” (I’m fighting my perfectionist tendencies.);

3. And Donald Miller called me out. (Actually, Don doesn’t know me from Adam. But he said on his FB page earlier this week, “Hack writers write when they’re in the mood. PROFESSIONAL writers write whether they feel like it or not.”) Of course I can’t consider myself a professional writer (yet), but I’d like to be a serious writer, at least.

So…this is my reintroduction. My name is Bruce, and I am a blogger. Expect me to write more often. My entries may often be short, and seem pretty random. But, hey, I’m just trying to establish a new habit.

Now to show that I aim to conquer my perfectionism, I have written this blog in the course of a few minutes at a table in Barnes & Noble. I have not had anyone look at it for errors (and I am quite sure there are several) and I am launching it out into cyberspace.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all! I am grateful for all of you!

Why Disturb the Cat?

I’m an animal lover. Really, I am. Not the kind that has a houseful of pets that resembles a small zoo (that would be next door), but the kind that respects, and tries to treat all living beings with kindness. Did I say ALL living beings? Okay, I’m still working on “all.” I will catch lizards and moths that get into my house, and gently release them back into their elements. I’ve done this with field mice and grass snakes as well. But I’m not quite there when it comes to flies, mosquitoes, roaches, or spiders in my home.

The fact is, I don’t even have a pet in my home at this time. Again, I love animals. And when I’m around them, many of them (the smaller variety, anyway) find their way into my lap. I choose not to “own” a pet because of the great responsibility in caring for them. I hate to know they are all alone when I am not at home. And I’m not crazy about having to find something to do with them when I need to be gone for an extended time (like vacations – I’ve heard rumors of such a thing). But there is another reason as well. I am a recovering people-pleaser. And, in the past more so than the present, even the smallest of creatures have been able to usurp my will with something as simple as a purr or a nuzzle or a whimper.

When I was in college, a very young, married man, I was a full-time student with two very full part-time jobs. When I would get home at the end, or middle of the day (I had some night classes too) I would almost pass out from exhaustion. To be honest, I often fought sleep in class as well. We had adopted (or bought, from one of my wife’s co-workers) a Chinchilla Persian cat. She was a beautiful cat that seemed content to live her own life, mostly. That is, until I would stretch out to catch a little nap before my next responsibility. It was then that she would come out from hiding. I would be lying face-down across my bed, with my lower legs hanging off the side, when I would feel Abby (the cat) jump up on the bed and make her way to my lower back and knead herself a nice little nest. It never failed that she would get all cozy and content just in time for me to grow increasingly uncomfortable. I needed to turn over, or otherwise reposition myself. But I couldn’t. At least not without disturbing the cat. So I would just lie there, exhausted, uncomfortable, badly needing some quality rest. Time seemed to move slowly. My legs were going to sleep. For as long as I possibly could, I would endure the pain and discomfort. Then – when I just couldn’t stand the pain any longer – I would gently roll over, dislodging the cat from her comfy perch, and forcing her to go find another place to rest.

I noticed much later in life that I had done this with people too. I would let others’ comfort be an excuse for my lack of movement. I think the mistake was innocent enough. I’ve always believed that truly loving someone is to put that person’s needs ahead of one’s own, to put his/her comfort first. Love means sacrificial living. It is caring more for you than me. It is showing deference for another. All of this is well and good (and scriptural) and I think this world would be a much better place if we could learn to live this way. However, I have found that this posture can easily open a person up to much manipulation and abuse, if we do not learn and practice keeping proper boundaries.

Now first of all, let’s face it: to love is to risk. There is no way to truly love another being without putting yourself at risk. Love is not always returned. Neither is respect, concern, compassion, grace, kindness. You get the idea. What I’ve learned is this, though:  We are supposed to love our neighbor AS ourselves. The implication is that we should show love, respect, concern, compassion, grace, kindness, etc., to ourselves as well. It is not wrong to care for ourselves, just wrong to put our needs first.

It is kind to give up dessert, or a second helping, so that someone else can have it. It is NOT kind to yourself to give up eating, (even if this benefits others) for you must eat to live. It is caring to let someone else decide the movie to see, the restaurant to go out to, the channel to watch, or the vacation destination. It is quite another thing to give up the things that actually make you you. Or to let someone else define you.

It’s the age-old story of the parents who want their child to be a doctor, or a quarterback, but he or she really wants to paint or sing. To truly love someone (including one’s self) you must allow them to fully become themselves, and not who you want them to be.

Now I’m not talking about drop-kicking the cat out of the house. I’m not even talking about denying the cat her food and water, shelter, or even some tender petting. What I am saying is that you should not allow your life’s calling to be derailed simply because every time the opportunity to exercise your own unique blend of giftedness (the things that make you feel alive, like you make a difference) comes along, you have to say, “I can’t now because the cat is comfortable. Maybe later.”  Just remember that sooner or later those acts of selfless love can become seeds of bitterness if they are allowed to keep you from the things that you feel you were designed for.

You’re not resigning your cat to a life of outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. You are merely saying, “You’re making me uncomfortable,” or “I have something I need to do right now. You need to find another place to get comfortable.”  Sound cruel? I don’t think so. And, what if the cat would benefit as well from who you could become (and what you could do) if you weren’t the sole source of comfort for her?

I want to be thought of as a genuinely loving and kind person  – to both people and animals. But I will have failed at the greater things of life if it is said of me, at the end of my life: “Well, he never disturbed the cat.”