Mistakes Will Be Made

While waiting for a friend today, I scrolled to an interview with a high-profile and internationally known celebrity. She described a recent ‘health scare’ she’d had, amplified by the failure of her doctors to correctly diagnose her issues. Which caused her to believe she was seriously ill, when she actually wasn’t. It’s comforting to believe that medical professionals have super-powers; I fell into that habit for decades. It took the pressure off of having to be accountable for reading, learning, and studying up on my own body. But, as this very famous, extremely wealthy woman (who could obviously consult only the best physicians) discovered, even the most intelligent and well-educated professionals can get it wrong. In reality, smart, sensitive, aware and responsible people get it wrong all the time. It just doesn’t feel good for anyone, giving or receiving, to admit that.

It’s for sure that, as we enter the adult realm, others begin holding us to higher standards of knowledge and behavior. How many times over the years have I heard “You should have known!” Buying a particular car; moving to a new city; taking a certain job; entering into a doomed relationship. The less-than-stellar choices I’d made meant, in the opinion of others, I’d ignored The Signs.

And how many times have I rolled my own eyes, when a friend tells her story about putting a loving heart (as well as years of commitment, not to mention tangible assets) into the hands of a liar and a cheat? Someone who had raised Red Flags all over the place, multiple times. How did she did not see them?

There are two key Truths that I stumbled onto, just through the act of living, with the only ‘toolkit’ I was born with, and with the best intentions for myself and those around me. The first is that Life itself is a Progress Toward Perfection in our minds only. Mistakes are not only bound to happen, they’re completely acceptable and even necessary. ‘Failure’ is not supposed to feel, or become, fatal:  we only experience it in that way, in our darker moments. Repeated mistakes (“I always choose the wrong people to fall in love with”) are important lessons that are – sad to say – going to continue until and unless personal work (inquiry) happens, and the ‘message’ comes through in a way that just can’t be side-stepped.

Despite our best efforts to ignore it – or to put the responsibility onto to someone (a messed-up parent) or something (bad luck, or fate) — each one of us has to ‘deal’ with our own stuff. The second Truth I stumbled onto (after getting knocked on the head with repeated ‘learning opportunities’) is that telling  someone “You should have known” is not helpful. Not even a little bit. People are much smarter than we give them credit for. Most of the time, S/he did, actually ‘know’,  but chose to look the other way, as disaster of some kind was oncoming.

If, to me, another’s miscalculation feels like a “Well, duh!”, there are a few things I can say, but How Could You Not See This Coming ?! shouldn’t be one of them. As part of my own process here on Planet Earth, I have to assume that most everyone (I concede that there are exceptions) is doing the best that they can, with the ‘toolkits’ they have. No one needs to hear my criticism, in order to live bravely; but I’ll definitely share my mistakes as I continue to make them, which is going to be a lifelong gig.

Lessons in Survival

britannica.com

Lily was almost 100 years old when she left this world, very peacefully. I hadn’t yet reached my 20’s, so she was like, (channeling my former self), this other-worldly relic of times that I struggled to imagine. Small, under five feet tall; pure white hair that looked like spun sugar, always worn in a topknot on her head (people said she stopped cutting it when her husband died 20 years earlier); a pink-cheeked Apple Doll face that spoke, “I’ve just seen stuff, alright? You don’t even want to know”. Except that, like many really old people, Lily loved to talk about her younger life and had an amazing – almost unbelievable– recollection of her teenage years. Her story began right after she was married at age 16. Traveling West, to California, in a Conestoga Wagon. Shot in the leg by friendly-fire, as the wagon train defended itself from prairie pirates (Lily claimed a hostile tribe of indigenous people, but lots of predators were out and about, during the American Westward Movement). There was a doctor in the wagon train, but he declined to operate on Lily. The bullet traveled down her leg and lodged in her foot, where it was eventually removed, in California. That she survived the wound, and potential blood poisoning, was incredible, so the operating doctor said.

Annie Oakley, the Female
Spirit of the American West

Lily’s travails put my teenaged view of my family-issues into perspective. Like a lot of people, my biological tribe was a mixed bag of “Stable”, and, “Not so much”.  After my mother’s (self-inflicted) death when I was 11 years old, my college-professor father married one of his students (that’s an entire story unto itself). Lily was my new step-mother’s grandmother. So, my step-great-grandmother? Although she wasn’t in my life all that long, Lily had an impact. Even as an impatient, erratic and impulsive teenager, I instantly grasped the meaning and importance of Elder:  a sometimes tedious blend of stories, neverending advice, a few lectures (rare, with Lily), and comfort. This woman had been married at 16 (not uncommon back then) and “rifle-shot”, at the age of 17, for God’s sake. How bad could my life be, so far? It felt pretty ‘cushy’, back then.

One of the major adjustments, moving on down the road in Life, is the way in which your Elders begin falling away. (I know, important people can leave at any time, but the ones with a little extra life-experience to share seem to leave the biggest holes in our lives). And as they fall away, you suddenly realize that – for a growing number of people in your life – you are now The Elder. If you’ve had a ‘Lily’ in your life, you wonder about the quality of your own wisdom. Do your stories carry the same value (not to mention, ‘shock and awe’)?

Thankfully, with age also comes perspective, which just might be the greatest gift of living. While I may not have survived the Westward Movement experience and lived to tell the tale of Homesteading as a 16 year old bride, I do know a thing or two about ‘grit’. Most importantly, that it’s pretty much ‘relative’. Life is Good, from all appearances, until it’s not. Rare is the person who hasn’t experienced some degree of tragedy. And if it hasn’t happened yet, it just might. Even those in the Spotlight, those we worship and envy for their ‘perfect’ lives, have things going on that are messy and painful.

‘Grit’ is also called resilience, which is so much more than just ‘persevering’. I’ll confess that I’ve become a little bored with hearing about it :  the result of the hundreds of TedTalks, books, articles and Agony Aunt columns on the topic. Nonetheless, I know that it’s essential to living bravely and just can’t be praised enough. If we’re lucky, we have an Elder or two in our lives that have flourished, despite tough odds. But hearing a gritty story’s not the same as living-through and triumphing over whatever bad times or mental demons threaten us. That courage, bravery and resilience come from the heart. Even deeper. It’s the sheer, tough, Will to Survive.  It can’t be taught; it has to be lived.

I’m feeling a little lost, without a compass, now that so many of my Wise Elders have transitioned to wherever spirit energy goes. On the other hand, I continue to measure my own responses to Life against things like the perilous Westward Movement, the Great Depression and World War II. I try not to minimize my own progress, by comparing it to these ordeals. After all, each beating heart faces unique trials. They may be external, and historic; but very often they’re very personal, and of our own making. With, or without voices and memories to guide us and reassure us, we struggle and manage to find our way through dark times. If we’re lucky, we live to tell some precocious young person about our survival. They won’t really listen, or hear, of course. But, they will somehow remember.

“Your Request Could Not Be Processed”

If you follow astrology – even in a discreet way, so as not to appear foolish to yourself or others – you know that each and every planet in our solar system (including our Sun) has meaning, purpose and influence in our daily lives. While I’m actually more interested in the science of things, I have to admit that this month (November), what astrologers have to say about the ‘retrograde’ planet of communication (and technology), tiny, fast-moving Mercury, feels mighty convincing. A retrograde planet, according to astrology, weakens or dilutes whatever the planet ‘rules’.

For me it started towards the very end of October (I can feel the group nod of those who ‘get’ what I’m talking about), about 3 days before the retrograde. I wasn’t even thinking about it – after all, I was with someone I’d known for decades. We’d gone to see a really good film and were de-briefing on the walk back to our hotel. Suddenly, a comment I’d made about the lead character in the story was interpreted as a declaration of verbal warfare. My companion reacted swiftly and negatively, having inferred that my intention was to insult him. I was shocked by his reaction and back-pedaled quickly, apologizing (for what? I was clueless) for any harm. But I could see by the set of his jaw and the stare straight ahead that my explanations were not making things better.

A quote that’s been attributed to Oscar Wilde, but I’m not at all sure it was he who said it, says this about a perceived insult:  “Go ahead and take it personally – it saves time”. Wilde was well-known for his wit and scathing verbal swordsmanship. I’m much more of a peace-maker and harmony-seeker in all of my relationships; even with total strangers who feel abrasive from the get-go. I want to see and feel their ‘side’ of things; understand their viewpoints; untangle any misunderstandings I may have caused.

Since this month, so far, has been rife with misunderstandings and miscommunications, my patience and tolerance are really being put to the test. I mean, I know I have an appointment with your office next Tuesday; I responded to your text confirming it. So why do I continue to get text-reminders at least once a day? Check your messaging system, for God’s sake; am I the only one reporting this? ( I did actually speak with a human about the issue, in much kinder terms. She was unaware of the glitch. Apparently we’re all so used to annoying texts, that they just merge in our minds with all of the other goofy things our phones do). And speaking of texts:  the same day I received one from an out-of-state phone number that I didn’t recognize. The message was simply “NO”. I tried not to take it personally.

Communication, for people like me who pride themselves on being tolerant of human and  technology mishaps, is a Big Deal. When it’s muddled and confused, I immediately ‘check’ my own words, verbal or written. I try to re-state what’s obviously been unclear, and maybe landed badly. But sometimes, especially lately, my struggle to make sure I’m being clear makes me realize that I might actually need to “just shut-up already!” In the personal relationship arena, clarifying talk definitely has a sell-by date. I need to recognize when the other person has stopped listening – for whatever reason – and just let it go. Accept that there’s a communication breakdown but the moment will pass, the relationship will survive (or not).

With work, it’s a different matter:  I actually  need you to understand and to comply with instructions, so that your product will turn out the way you want it to. Sometimes, however, it seems that the client just hears blah-blah-blah and continues on their path, oblivious. What to do?

Whether a retrograde Mercury is in fact involved is debatable. But what I know for sure is that, when I experience a steady stream of misunderstandings, miscommunications, and resulting frustration, it’s time to stop talking, stop writing, stop trying so hard to bring clarity out of what feels like a super-dense fog or mist that’s settled-in. Communication is more than talking, verbally or non-  (of course); there’s active listening involved, and engagement. I can’t make that happen. Some days it really does feel like something to do with the stars…a reminder that my own timelines and expectations are just that – my own.

Taking, Not Taking the Blame

A million years ago I was an English Lit major and still have a passion for it. Yesterday morning I listened to a scholar discussing the origins of the facts/myths about The Whipping Boy, connecting this historical reference to present-day politicians. The backstory — acted out in The Prince and the Pauper, by the way– of the W.B. is that a princeling who’d misbehaved and deserved the punishment du jour – a whipping – was spared. Another young man in the court was forced to take the beating for him. The belief was, royal blood could not be spilt; royal tears could not be shed. “Noblesse Oblige”.

Later on in this same day, I heard from another woman – a healing practitioner this time –about the same theme (this is how The Universe’s ‘downloads’ come to me:  taps on the head on the same topic):  whipping boys, scapegoats, “being thrown under the bus” by a co-worker. Taking a ‘whipping’ of some kind, because someone else needs to avoid blame for a bad situation or outcome. Not only ‘taking’ it, but allowing it.

About this point in my day, I had an uneasy epiphany. When we start digging-around, searching for reasons why things ‘happen’ to us, we’re faced with an uncomfortable truth. Sometimes we’re betrayed, totally blindsided by a friend, a spouse, a colleague or family member who’s pointing the finger of blame in our direction, without real cause (other than avoidance and denial).

But too often we allow others to use us as their personal scapegoats, for whatever’s gone wrong. We let ourselves be victimized; we suffer in silence and in guilt; our sense of self-sacrifice is hyper-inflated. To explain-away what, deep down we know is ‘off’, we think of this sacrifice as ‘love’, ‘commitment’, ‘duty’. Our adult children can really do a ‘number’ on us; so can our spouses and other family members. For many years, my ex-husband blamed me for his ‘anger issues’. True to my nature of being compliant (at that time, anyway), I not only allowed it, but internalized the gaslighting. My ‘ex’ eventually ‘owned’ his problems, but I’d already taken-on a boatload of bad feelings about myself.

theguardian.com

Any well-lived life has periods of heartache and trouble. I understand and accept that it’s a natural human instinct to want to avoid – at all costs -appearing responsible for any wrong-doing, or short-comings. But as I grow older and wiser, I’m becoming more discerning and proactive, when certain people in my life actively seek a scapegoat and are looking in my direction. I’m shedding my tendency toward too much self-sacrifice in my roles — especially easy to do with people I love — and definitely watching for big, fast-moving buses.

The Black Dog

Depression is sometimes referred to as “the common cold” of mental illness, due to its prevalence in the United States. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is constantly tracking data on people 12 years and older, relative to such things as doctor and ER visits, prescribed medications, racial disparities, vulnerable groups, and depression that leads to death by suicide.

sheffield.co.uk
enwikipedia.org

Britain’s former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill suffered from it profoundly. He called it The Black Dog: a dark shadow that slipped into his mind quietly, without being summoned, or welcomed. According to historical records, the prime minister made no secret of his depression, which would sometimes last for days. “Taking the Black Dog” is still a familiar expresson for depression’s symptoms, and an important mental health facility in Sydney, Australia uses the phrase in its name.

With stats reflecting that depression is not an insignificant problem in the U.S., it continues to amaze me that it’s still so hard to talk about. Even in family situations, where a young person is involved, an inability to share ‘just how bad it is’ is common. I know that I could easily extend that statement to mental illness in general. But even though psychological disorders have been “outed” in the media, making it seem as though depression is akin to the common cold, we see it, but we don’t really understand it. I suspect, too, that often we’re reluctant to accept it as a valid, potentially serious illness.

Recently I provided some direction and encouragement to a young adult who’s roughly halfway through her doctoral studies. She described an array of personal concerns that, to me, sounded like a version of depression (defintely not diagnosing, here). She linked her feelings about work, school, and her parents (still living at home) to her general aimlessness, lack of focus and energy. But she also referred to her emotions as ‘fake’ because, as she put it, “There’s just no logical reason for me to feel this way. Life isn’t that hard.” Or is it? Can depression be misinterpreted as mere self-indulgence? My parents looked at it that way, with disastrous consequences for my mother.

Churchill, annamasonart.com

For years after Churchill left public service, a debate raged about whether or not his darkest Black Dog moments allowed the prime minister to perceive Hitler’s threat more acutely than allied politicians. Regardless of the help or hindrance, Churchill was never accused of malingering or being too morose; rather, he’s remembered to this day as courageously fighting his own inner demons by acknowledging them publicly: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in…” Far from ignoring his problem, this man wove his depression into his life as a strength: paradoxically, a reason to persevere. I aspire to such Bravery.

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