A Prayer for Martyrs

Sometimes we’re living in a space between unhappy and fulfilled, and that space can be worse than miserable.

Nothing is what you really want. And nothing is so bad that you feel justified in seeking or accepting help. It’s an insincere space because you’re not living your life the way you’d wish to live it.

For many loyal, giving, and dedicated parents and professionals I know, these periods of inauthenticity can overtake us when we prioritize others’ needs (or perceived needs) over our own emotional, spiritual, creative – or whatever fundamental needs – are at our core.

Life is full of compromises based on open communication and mutual respect. That’s a good thing.

What isn’t: a willful denial of one’s own happiness on the notion that someone else’s is more important. Especially – especially – when your assumptions about what would make others happy are wrong. (What if they just want you to be happy and you’re denying them that, ironically in the interest of their happiness? I have friends whose parents waited until they were grown before they got divorced. This paradox is the reason why, and it wasn’t good for anyone in the family, including the kids. Similarly I’ve worked with people who worked all hours of day and night. They did this for their teammates, but their teammates resented their workaholism because it made them feel less dedicated.)

A trite but helpful metaphor someone shared with me when I said my own happiness would have to wait because my daughter’s was more important: When the cabin pressure drops, the flight attendant tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you try to assist someone else. Why? Because you can’t adequately assist another person if you yourself are in need of assistance.

Think about the people who are the most sincerely generous – i.e. generous without strings attached – in your life. I bet they are the most personally fulfilled. It’s nice to think their lives are whole because they are giving. But I have to admit that in my own life, anyway, it has been the inverse.

A hope for the selfless and yet unfulfilled people I love is that they come to know this: Once we stop living for other people, we begin to truly love them.

It’s been a tough lesson for me to learn, but it’s been the most important.

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Mother-Daughter Day of Spontaneous Fun

Things I remember doing with my mom, when I was more or less my daughter’s age:

– Browsing books and eating quiche at Davis-Kidd bookstore when it was still at Grace’s Plaza, before it moved to Green Hills mall and then closed.

– Buying gifts for her students at the Parent Teacher Store. She taught sixth grade and rewarded her kids with cool pencils, stickers and other supplies.

– Singing somewhat obscure old camp songs in the car on road trips to my grandparents’ house.

Interspersed throughout the shopping, browsing, driving, lunching and singing, there was a great deal of Mom getting to know what was happening in my life outside of hers, and of me getting to understand Mom’s values in life.

I hope that’s the sort of thing my Lily takes from today – when she and I spent a mutual day off exploring a part of town my friend Andrew calls SoBroLoCo (for South of Broadway / Lower Convention Center) – and not just “dang, so that’s what a record looks like.”

Here is what we did on our outing: Continue reading

What Helps Us Hold On

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I have never been more focused on the future than when I have needed time to pass.

Ten more minutes until I’m done with this run.
Two more hours and we’ll be out of the car.
Four days and these cold sores will be gone.
Three weeks and this report will be filed.
When fall arrives, the house will have sold.
When spring is here, my heart will be healing.
Next Christmas, I will have found someone to love.

In times of pain, fatigue, anxiety, mourning and longing, a knowingness that time will pass – that circumstances will change – has buoyed me. I’m an optimistic person, though, with plenty of reasons to believe that if life isn’t so great right this second, it will be momentarily.

I have very generous and supportive parents.
I live in a place with plenty of resources and access to them.
I am healthy.
And I have thoughtful, creative and fiercely loyal friends who – for the most part – also have good families, good health, and live in strong communities.

What if I didn’t?
Continue reading