Don’t (Con)Tempt Me

“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.” — Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

I recently had an, ahem, “conversation” with a well-loved young person in my life about appreciation and gratefulness. Or the lack thereof. (If you have teenagers, you’ve probably had some version of this same conversation.)

I had built a marvelous head of steam. “It’s not only that you don’t recognize my ongoing efforts to love and support you, it’s also that you actually seem to hold these things, and me, in contempt”. (Melodrama, party of one? That’s fine. I own it.)

I expected an eyeroll in response, but instead I got a puzzled look. “I literally have no idea what you’re saying. I don’t even know what that means”.

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The Bright Side

“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better”. – Dalai Lama XIV

Would you call yourself an optimist?

For years, I would have answered this question with a no… I preferred to think of myself as a realist, with a bent toward cynicism and pessimism. I didn’t hold with the idea of pretending that everything was wonderful when it clearly wasn’t.

I also prided myself on recognizing that some things simply couldn’t be changed and didn’t waste my time trying to remake bad situations. I tried, instead, to accept them for what they were. The smart money wasn’t in a Pollyanna approach to the world; there were just too many difficult things in life. I couldn’t possibly be an optimist, because I was a realist.

Why was it so hard for me to walk on the brighter side of life? The crux of the issue, for me, was ego. I wanted to be taken seriously, and I thought that pointing out and dissecting problems meant I was thinking more deeply about life.

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Profit & Loss

Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. – William Wordsworth

It seems that when your mind is on a certain topic, you can see connections to the idea everywhere. Lately, life seems to be presenting the subject of love… and what is gained, and lost, by its presence.

About 6 weeks ago, our very old dog passed away. We had known for some time that she was coming to the end, but that didn’t make things any easier when she finally died. I cried on and off for days, partly from my own sadness, and partly from watching my family suffer through losing her. I still tear up over it at times.

There are people who would scoff at that level of grief over a dog, but I know I’m not alone. I’ve since spoken to one friend that said it took her over a year to get over the loss of a dog, and another who said she’ll never have another dog after having lost one several years ago.

I’m not saying all love, or loss, is the same. Those things vary by degrees, but sorrow seems to be an inevitable consequence of caring, and that’s what’s difficult about love. We must hold the things we love very gently- not to keep them from breaking or ending, but because we know that eventually, they will.

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Lock and Key

“Communication sometimes is not what you first hear, listen not just to the words, but listen for the reason.” – Catherine Pulsifer

I recently read a book lent to me by a friend, which is always an interesting proposition, because I find that when someone tells me “you’ll love it!”, I frequently don’t.

She made no such claim, only suggested I read it, and while I can’t say I loved it, the story did interest me enough to read all the way through. It follows two young people who move through their high school and college years in an on-again/off-again relationship of sorts that can never seem to find solid footing.

I say a relationship “of sorts”, because they had a very odd dynamic- neither seemed to be able to fully invest in the relationship, but neither would walk away. Their connection was made of misunderstandings, and it seemed that both were purposely obtuse during critical emotional tipping points.

It was so aggravating.

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Between the Cracks

Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.”
― John Green

The Japanese have some really lovely concepts, and one of my favorites (it doesn’t really translate in Western culture) is wabi-sabi, which teaches that there is beauty in imperfection, and that we should place a high value on authenticity.

The idea of wabi-sabi began in the Zen Buddhism tea ceremony, where the most prized bowls were handmade, and thereby unevenly shaped, with flawed glaze and cracked surfaces. These imperfections made them unique, and therefore precious.

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Safe Harbor

Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words. – George Eliot

How does a friendship start? Do you remember meeting the people who are now your closest friends? I almost always do, because those people play such a vital role in my life.

I met my oldest friend on the school playground, in third grade. She approached me because her mother had advised her to “look for someone who’s alone” to make new friends. I was indeed alone- very alone, in fact, since I’d just moved cross-country, didn’t know a soul, and was facing long, solitary days ahead. We’ve lived thousands of miles apart for many more years than we were ever close together, but even when I’ve been lonely, this lifelong friendship has meant I’ve never been alone. (Undying thanks for that super-timely advice, friend’s mom.)

I connected with another friend due to her son’s thoughtful act; he spoke to my son, a stranger, at the park (Is there a playground theme happening here?), providing words of encouragement that made him feel better in a moment of sadness. When my son told me what had happened, I had to express my appreciation for his kindness- and that conversation served as the beginning of one of my most precious friendships.

I could go on- I find there’s something memorable about how all my close friendships began. (Sometimes, it’s not the first meeting, but a moment when a casual acquaintance clicked over into true friendship.)

What sets these two particular friendships apart is that I have the benefit of being able to actually look at a history of communications with both of them, and it’s very telling.

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Won’t Power

The beginning is the most important part of the work. – Plato

Generally speaking, I’m not a procrastinator, and tend to live by the philosophy that it’s easier to keep up than to catch up. If anything, I am a precrastinator, doing things before they strictly need to be done. It’s not due to any particularly admirable trait, it’s more of a stress-aversion technique. If I don’t have to worry about disorder, deadlines and uncertainty, I have more peace of mind and am better able to sleep at night. At this stage of life, sleep is in short supply, so I do what I can to help out.

I do, however, occasionally procrastinate. In fact, this week has been a prime example.

Several weeks ago, I read about a concept developed by Greek philosophers called akrasia, which is the state of acting against your better judgment. It’s a fascinating idea that people know that they should do one thing but choose to do another. Akrasia has a couple of different translations, but one interpretation is… procrastination.

I find this to be a thought-provoking topic. And yet, I’ve been messing around all week, feeding myself some line about “considering the concept” as I came up with about a thousand different things to do instead of writing a blog…about procrastination. Oh, the irony.

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