Lesson Number 4 – Tender Plants

Everyone knows one of these people. These are the folks who take offense at the slightest infraction – usually unintended. She’s the one who gets her feelings hurt because you compliment someone else on their appearance, but not hers. She’s the one who sulks and pouts if her family and friends don’t fall all over themselves congratulating her for the outstanding quality of her every deed. “Not to take anything away from your efforts,” she’ll say at the workplace, “But the original idea for this project came from moi.” And then she’s the quick to intone, “I told you that would never work,” at the first sign of a failure. These are the people I call “Energy Vampires.” They are extremely high maintenance, and as such will drain every living being within an arm’s reach of every ounce of their Life Force, leaving them exhausted. My message to them? Get over yourself. There are lots of us here, and we’re all doing the best we can. My message to the rest of the world? Run, don’t walk, away from this type of person. You’ll live longer and be happier.

Life Lesson No. 3: Builder vs. Destroyer

One of my favorite authors Louis L’Amour often said there are two kinds of people – Builders and Destroyers. In my experience, every human falls into one category or the other – some more blatantly than others.

I’ve learned to seek out the Builders. Their energies are focused on either creating things or making them better. They’re the folks who cheer when others make an effort, even if it doesn’t result in the best possible outcome. They consistently look for the good in their contemporaries.

Beware the Destroyers. Their sole raison d’etre is to criticize and tear down. Most likely driven by some psychological need to feel superior because they are consumed with feelings of inferiority, they hardly ever say anything good about anyone. This is the person who calls attention to everyone’s less-than-stellar workplace efforts, piano recital, or vocal performance. The one who can be relied upon to point out another’s physical deficits or anomalies. The person who can’t say anything good about anyone – as if the gift of a compliment would somehow cost them something.

My advice? If you feel you cannot be whole as a human unless you have a Destroyer as a friend (and that in itself is grounds for seeking professional help), ask them to stop that behavior – at least in your presence. Otherwise, stay as far away from them as possible. Research indicates negativism is contagious.

Lesson Number 2

Never write anything you don’t want the whole world to read – including your parents – because someone somewhere will think it ever so clever to pass it along to anyone who can read, or read it aloud to anyone who can’t. Examples of the wisdom behind this lesson are found throughout history. Stuff like love letters from public figures to non-spouse recipients, and political secrets that get leaked and not only destroy careers, but wreak havoc with national security (think Emails, Tweets, etc.). Bottom line? If you wouldn’t want to see it in headlines, find a different way to express it.

Life Lessons Learned the Hard Way: A Serialized Chronology of Ignorance and Naiveté Over 64 years of Hard Living

Lesson Number 1 – Learned in first grade: Never, never tell an embarrassing secret to someone you think is your friend and then expect her to keep it quiet.

Never. No matter how badly you want to talk about it, and no matter how many times your friend promises “not to tell another living soul.” I’m no research scientist, but it seems to me there’s a direct correlation between the number of times they promise not to tell and the number of people they then rush out to tell. If the six degrees of separation theory holds any water, within a few hours the whole world will know who you have a crush on, that you are developing hemorrhoids, or that it was you who farted in the library instead of Paul Scrawberry.

The Truth about Ecstasy

I recently ran across a book in the “Self Help” section at Barnes and Noble that caught my attention. As usual, the cover boasts the benefits the Reader will accrue by purchasing and reading it. Screaming bullet points on the back include the statement that humans have the right to a life filled with ecstasy – that if we live even one day in something other than ecstatic happiness, it’s our own fault. She (the author) is willing to share her secrets as to how to move our life into that continual state of bliss. What an incredible claim, I thought, expecting a Dali Lama- or Mahatma Gandhi-esque offering. So I thumbed through the book.

Lots of instruction to let go of friendships that are less than perfect (including any friends who have been the victim of misfortune – gee, that’s just about everyone I know), a command to meditate at least fifteen minutes per day, and even daily platitudes to commit to memory that can be pulled up at a moment’s notice to convince yourself what you’re experiencing is indeed ecstasy.

My thoughts? It’s a bunch of hooey. Because the truth is life experiences, even the bizarre or horrifying, when repeated over time become the norm. We humans are amazingly adept at adapting. And, of course, the norm grows boring.

I for one don’t want to be under the pressure to perform ecstatically every day. Besides, one of the realities of life is that it often sucks . . . and it’s supposed to. It’s through challenges that we grow our coping muscles and learn wisdom. It’s the yin and yang of life – the light and dark. I cannot imagine anything more irritating than to have someone command me to “be happy, it’s all good” in the face of tragedy or loss.

My life has included a few mountain top highs. I treasure the memories. But one reason I can describe those times as mountain top is because there are also valleys against which to compare them.

Final word? Grow up, Lady Author (who appears in her photo to be about fourteen). And after you’ve gone through the pain life inflicts on every participant, write something worth the paper it’s printed on. Then I’ll take you seriously.

Bad Things to Good People

Why do bad things happen to good people? After visiting with one of my sons this past week, I have had to revisit that age-old question – for the thousandth time. Like a scab regularly ripped from a wound that’s never allowed to completely heal, I’ve still not found a satisfactory answer.

My middle son was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic several years ago. His is one of the relatively rare cases that was both late onset and not caused by drug use during his youth. In fact, during his growing-up years he never touched alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs at all. He was, evidently, born with this predisposition, which then fulfilled its horrible potential, according to his doctor, as the result of long term, intense stress.

When the seed of this disease blossomed into full-blown schizophrenia, he lost everything: his family, his job, all his possessions. This young man was a kind, gentle, dedicated, Christian seeker after spiritual things. Yet he has been allowed to go through unbelievable hardship, and is even now fighting to maintain contact with reality.

He has to take injections – the sites of which get very sore so must be moved around his body. He also takes medications orally every day that make him lethargic and numb his mind. His memory is shot, and he shuffles when he walks. Sometimes his speech is slurred, and he has developed twitching and jerking muscle episodes. But the most devastating aspect of this neurological brain-destroying disease is that he’s still quite intelligent. He knows what’s happening to him, and struggles with depression.

Make no mistake, I know that millions of parents lose their children. Parents who must stand by and impotently watch as their children suffer and die from horrible illnesses, or who are abducted and never found. I hurt for those parents, and I pray for their peace. But that knowledge does nothing to lessen the pain I feel for my son.

He’s made a bit of progress. He has learned to recognize the symptoms that tell him he’s having delusions – most of the time. When he sees a person he suspects is a hallucination, he tries to shake his hand. At that point, the hallucination usually disappears. My son shakes a lot of hands.

But he also suffers from aural and olfactory hallucinations. He says he deals with them by “testing them out.” But he can’t make them leave him alone. He says it’s a lot like having a radio inside his head that he can never turn off.

His struggle is not about me, of course. But I’m his mom. I’m supposed to be able to make things better. And I can’t do one thing in the face of this monstrous, brain and body destroying disease. And that eats at me.

Meanwhile, I have lots of angry conversations with God. And I pray for my son.

Roll On, River of Life

I recently read that people who say they are hopeful that life will get better do not report themselves as being as happy as people who know it will get worse. Because when it gets worse, and it does, in fact, get worse – if only once in a while – their expectations are shattered. Shattered or unfulfilled expectations are the cause of unhappiness.

The article made me do some introspection. I’m one of those who know life will get worse, and I’ve been proven right time after time. Like my mom once said after I refused to let her take my picture (always hated having my photo taken), “You might as well let me take your picture. You’ll never look this good again.” Words of wisdom from an unexpected source. Life will never again be as sweet as it is today.

It seems the most unhappy people I’ve ever known are those constantly searching for the next “high.” Those folks who won’t go to a funeral because it makes them sad. The ones who demand everything be roses all the time, no quiet moments of introspection and no darkness allowed. Feeling down? Take a pill. Know someone who’s going through hard times? Spout some absurd platitude at them. Better yet, avoid them altogether.

Although I know bad stuff happens to good people, I’m also hopeful that there will always be good times. Because the ebb and flow of life describes a Sine Wave – up, down, up, down. It’s only realistic, in my opinion, to understand that there will be downs. But it’s also hopeful realism to know those downs are not permanent. Even the darkness of a terminal illness will eventually be replaced with rest.

It’s the pattern of life. Day follows night; rest follows work; up follows down. And it’s okay by me.

In Praise of Inconsistency

One of my mom’s most often repeated sayings was, “If a task is once begun, never leave it ‘til it’s done. If the task is great or small, do it well or not at all.” The explicit message of finishing what you start hit home with me. I’m incapable of multi-tasking. Gotta finish one thing before I can move on. But the implicit message to be consistent, I’m pleased to say, fell on rocky soil.

Yes, pleased. Here’s why.

Of the sixty-three years of my life, sixty of them have been spent struggling with my weight. As a teen in the 1960s I persuaded my mom to buy a six pack of some gosh-awful liquid diet drink. I drank two of them before throwing the rest out. They were later removed from store shelves under a dark cloud. A few years later, a powdered meal replacement diet became the fad. I bought a huge, cylindrical container of the stuff, mixed up one or two “meals” and then stopped. Within a few weeks a warning came out that a couple of women had died following its continued use. Same thing a few years later with Fen Fen – women had heart attacks. Same thing with other diet pills and supplements.

I’ve no doubt that if I ever get to the point that my life depends upon taking a daily medication, I’ll follow the doc’s orders. After all, I’m merely unreliable, not stupid.

But for now, I like to keep my options open.

It Isn’t Only London Bridge That’s Falling Down

A close friend of ours just returned from military duty in Afghanistan. He was so glad to be home, said we have such a good life in the U.S. So much great stuff. But he also said something that disturbed me – he said the people of that country hate us and want us gone. Not just dislike us, they hate us.

I understand we’re in the process of leaving, of pulling our young men and women out of that place. But the thought that someone I’ve never met hates me and my loved ones just because of who we are is hard to fathom. It brings to mind Rodney King’s plaint: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

According to several polls, we Americans neither like nor trust our politicians – at least, most of them. And we certainly don’t like or trust our Congress. What a sad state of affairs. When did things begin to fall apart?

Don’t get me wrong – I love this country. My folks loved it. Many of my ancestors fought and died in its service. There’s no place else on earth I’d rather live. I just wish we could all get along.

Just One Memory

I just got off Facebook after spending nearly an hour “catching up” with family and friends. Seeing photos of the families of my grown sons dredged up all sorts of memories of my own children’s early years. But one memory flew through my mind that nearly had me on the floor laughing:

One son comes rolling into the house from a couple of hours of hard play outside with his two brothers. A thoughtful expression on his face, he finds me in the kitchen preparing lunch.

“Mom,” he says, “do hummingbirds fart?”

A firm believer in the old adage that there is no such thing as a bad question, and not wanting to squelch the little guy’s curiosity, I say, “Hmm, not sure about that. Maybe we should go to the library this afternoon and see if we can find an answer.”

Little Man cocks his head to the side and looks up earnestly into my face. “Well,” he says, “I’ll bet if they did, it would smell like flowers.”