Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Tale of Two Butterflies

It's a hot summer day. The temperature is close to 100 degrees without any promise of rain. There's no small gathering of clouds that could intermittently shield out the sun's burning rays either. The good thing is that it's a dry heat and people like me, who have lived under heat and humidity's double whammy, still find weather like this bearable. Dogs, on the other hand, shouldn't be out in it for too long, so "Scruffy" and I took an abbreviated version of his afternoon walk.

The first butterfly flew out from the leaves of a tree at the end of our street; the place where Mr. Scruff always decides he wants to take me. It was a bright yellow-orange with black spots on its wings. The manner in which it was riding so carefree on the afternoon's dry hot breeze was almost too "Zippedeedodah." Nonetheless, its colors were a striking contrast against the green and I smiled at its beauty as it fluttered its way to the buildings on the other side of the road. I like butterflies. One of the things they represent is reinvention.

We continued our "walk," Mr. Scruff and I, to the other end of the street where our townhome sits. I was anxious to get back inside to the air conditioning and slip into something more cool and comfortable. There's a big tree in our front yard. Don't ask me to tell you what kind it is, because I'm no botanist, but it's inviting to look at. As we approached it, another butterfly flew out from its shade. The same color: bright yellow-orange with black spots, with the same air of carefree flight from one side of the road to the other. I smiled again as I watched it come out of nowhere and then dance its way on to its next destination.

I thought, what is the chance of that? Two identical butterflies in the same scene? Hmmm.

But then I remembered that we all have a mirror out there somewhere. Who's to say that butterflies don't also?

Sometimes those mirrors or "soul guides" are with us in this lifetime, even if it's at a distance. Sometimes we're lucky to cross paths with them more than once. Connected by synchronicity, they appear when we are ready to see the reflection we need to learn from. They can be quite adept at throwing your words and thoughts back in your face, as if to remind you of the answer that you're still searching for.

Reflections reveal the truth. They reveal what's inside, but what we're sometimes blind to or what we've tricked ourselves into pretending isn't there. We can get so caught up in the masquerade that we eventually get lost in it. But, a mirror doesn't lie and it has a startling way of jolting our head out of the clouds. It shows exactly who you are beneath the game of silent pretend.

Reflections are meant to be helpful. They push us towards our destinies, help us grow, support us, show us who we're supposed to be and inspire us. They also comfort us when life gets to be too much or when we need a reminder of the dreams we've kept hidden. There's no walls, never a "we're closed" sign hanging on the door. They're always there and they always will be.

Yeah, I've got one. A reflection. An earthly "soul guide," so to speak. The pieces didn't come together until recently, but that doesn't matter. Time only reveals what it wants to when it's ready or when it's time for the light to start reflecting from both sides of the mirror.

Still, it's no mistake that I saw those two butterflies today. Identical, yet separate journeys, playing out in the same scene. Two reinventions revealing the same inner truth. An inner truth that is now set free.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Savoring My Key Lime Pie

I just pulled a key lime pie out of my freezer. Well, the closest thing to key lime pie money can buy in Colorado. You really can't get the true, authentic thing anywhere but Florida. Here's a hint: if it's green it isn't real. One of my managers at Disney turned me on to the stuff. One taste of that smooth sugary virgin margarita across my twenty-two year old tongue and I was hooked.

I shouldn't like key lime pie. In fact, I should be revolted by it. Why? Because the sugar daddy boyfriend, the one I held onto for ten years for some god awful reason, used to buy one from Publix for me whenever he came over. Maybe it was his way of trying to seduce me, but I would've preferred something that didn't go straight to the hips (or the behind). And then of course there's all the times he would order it for me when we went out on the town. Oh well, he knew it was my new favorite and I suppose it was just another way for him to show his appreciation. I didn't argue because for that first year he drove all the way to Orlando to see me, even after midnight.

So now we're single and I'm still eating the stuff. Tomorrow I'll be working it off on the treadmill and the elliptical for two hours, but I'm not letting the fool pop into my head while I'm trying to enjoy it. Well, ok, he still pops into my head. I wonder if he's ok. I wonder what he might be doing. I still worry about his youngest daughter, the one that got pregnant at 16 and has been raising her child by herself for the past nine years. The four "B's" still cross my mind and I miss hearing about how they are doing. At times I miss hearing his voice and the way it would comfort me when I couldn't sleep.

I miss the butterflies that I'd get when I would look at my phone and see that he'd called-sometimes three times a day just to chat and to plan what we'd do the next time I could get away. I miss the candlelit dinners in the Greek restaurants along Gulf Boulevard in St. Pete. I miss the way we used to argue over how he wanted to go to Gator's instead of the Italian place and I'd give in so he could watch his Devil Rays. And I miss the closeness, being with him, seeing his face in the morning, and watching the sunset at the beach. Yeah I even miss how he'd get a little arrogant when he had too much to drink.

But ten years is too long to say goodbye to someone who can no longer give you what you want. That's the whole point of a relationship-it's a discovery, a journey. You find out things about yourself that were hidden and you help the other shed light on what they may have hidden. That's a process and a gift you shouldn't regret, even if it ends badly or more easily than you thought it would. That process may in fact be opening the door to something (or someone) you'll end up cherishing more someday.

Reminders of it, like key lime pie, shouldn’t be automatically abandoned either. After all, a taste that good only comes around once in a lifetime. Offers from potential Sugar Daddies, on the other hand, seem to drop in daily.

Perhaps it's time to "force myself" into Cougarville. I've already spotted a prime candidate.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Deciding We're Worth It

Sometimes life hands us things we don't want to face. Sometimes we never truly get over a choice that someone important to us made that ends up affecting us for the rest of our existence. Sometimes we make choices for ourselves that we instinctively know aren't right, but we do it anyway because we don't feel that it's possible to have what we really want.

My biological father, "M" was abusive to me and my mother. I was told he was sick-schizophrenia paranoia, whatever that meant. At four, five or six years old it doesn't mean anything more than fear and darkness. My mother told me she married him because her high school sweetheart, who was also named "M," left her for her best friend and she never got over it. I was watched like a hawk for most of my life "just in case" I developed the same sickness. It's one of the reasons why I never thought I was ok to have kids. It's one of the reasons why I will probably never have them, at least biologically.

I remember a tall man, serious, sometimes with glasses, sometimes without. Hazel eyes with dark, thick wavy hair like mine. He used to bring home homemade french fries on Fridays. He taught me how to swing, chased a squirrel away when I was scared of it, took me to many movies, fixed our grandfather clock when it wouldn't work right, gave me piggy-back rides on his shoulders and picked me up from school once. The other stuff my mind has either erased or blocked because it knows I can't handle it. Bits and pieces here and there. Enough to know that something went wrong, but not enough to truly move past it.

During the divorce, he surprised my mom and I in the cold, windy parking lot of Jewels. I was scared and trembling and my mom held onto my hand tight, warning me not to go to him. Now I know that he was trying to take me because they were fighting over custody. But back then, all I knew was a mixture of fear and guilt. Fear because I was told he was dangerous, guilt because he was my father-I was supposed to love him and somehow this might be my fault. It's the reason why my mom picked up and moved to Colorado after the divorce went through, she got custody and he still made threats. Perhaps it's the reason why she married my adoptive father also-to have some sense of security and protection. I'll never really know. We don't talk about it.

After the divorce and the move he still sent me letters. I threw them away and never wrote him back. A seemingly cruel thing for a six year old to do, but I didn't know what to say. Somewhere inside I had programmed my heart not to love him and not to think of him as my father. He was known as "M" and nothing more.

I was told that he had looked up our CO address in the Post Office's computer system, where he was working and had disappeared. His apartment was found torn apart, his car parked by Lake Michigan full of random belongings. My Uncle J had to go down to i.d. bodies that they pulled from the lake to see if they were him. But they never were. To this day the case is cold and he hasn't been found. I was told that he probably committed suicide and that it was just another example of how "sick" he was. My undeveloped mind automatically thought that I must be that "sick" too, by association. After all, I was his daughter and he was a part of me.

So I go through life thinking that I'm "untouchable," "unlovable," and incapable of loving back or having a "normal" family. It's the main reason why I turned down many dates, was turned off by any advances and still cringe at the thought of a lasting relationship. It's the reason what my adoptive brother's wife said when I was twelve years old came true. She said "Helen's gonna break a lot of hearts. Girl, love 'em and leave 'em." She meant it as a compliment, of course, but it was eerily predictive.

The only thing we can do is try to accept the choices that someone else made, even if they were somehow harmful and damaging to us. It had nothing to do with us, it was about them. No, it doesn't erase the hurt, the pain or the damage. But, we can try to recognize when we are making choices out of fear or lack of self-validation. We can stop ourselves by saying "I deserve more." Sometimes that means incubating for awhile and sometimes it means forcing ourselves to try something that doesn't fit the same destructive pattern. The new associations will take work and time, but anyone who deserves your attention will be patient, understanding and willing to help.

The past choices can't be erased, but they can be learned from and changed when we stop blaming ourselves. But, first and foremost we must make the decision that we are worth it and that we won't accept anything less than what we truly wish for.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Somewhere Down the Road

"Somewhere down the road there'll be answers to the questions, though we cannot see it now."

Such a lovely excerpt from one of my favorite songs written and performed by someone I've been listening to since I can remember. I haven't bought one of her cd's in years, but the recent discovery of a beautiful song made me say "I gotta have this one." The new stuff on this album is beautiful and poignant, but I was surprised and delighted to find "Somewhere Down the Road" among the new treasures. I suppose it's another one of those forgotten messages I have stored away on an old piece of media in a box somewhere that I need to be reminded of.

To me the message contained in the lyrics of that song is that suffering doesn't usually make sense when we're experiencing it, but somewhere along the path of our journey we find out why we needed that lesson. I suppose in a way it's cause and effect's way of giving us a kick in the pants. Absolutely predetermined and predestined? No, of course not. Even so-called psychic visions and premonitions of the future are just that-a vision of what could be if no change occurs.

And of course there is the saying (and the book, too) "everything happens for a reason." Certainly, I've made my laundry list of the major traumatic and not so great moments of my thirty-three years that I can recall and have checked it twice. We won't divulge all the ugly details here though. There's a time and a Jerry Springer show for that. The point is that while suffering is going to make us bitchy, want to scream, cry, run, give up in exasperation and crawl into a fetal position and hide, we should remember that it's temporary and there's a lesson to be learned if we'll listen.

I know, I know, easier said than done. Especially when you're lucky to have $100 left over in your checking account, you're floating checks in order to pay for the repairs on the car that you need to get to the job that pays you a measly $10 an hour, the sugar daddy boyfriend is no help because his second car is being used by one of his kids and you're wondering if you'll have enough to buy quarters to do your laundry in an actual machine this week. Yep, I've been there and worse. And believe me, trying to air dry your clothes in Florida's humidity is almost as bad as trying to get a flying cockroach to die.

But then you decide that the stress is enough. You've had enough and you start reading books on how to budget, how to work with what you've got, how to focus on paying off debt and how to appreciate what you do have. Then one day when you have that job that pays you more money than you know what to do with, you realize that you didn't have it back then because you would've squandered it in a heartbeat. You learn to appreciate not what money can buy, but what it can't.

You learn to appreciate even the necessities and realize that giving back is more important. You never forget where you were, how far you came and that you could just as easily go back. You learn that money, like most things we chase after in life, doesn't really matter in the end. It is nothing more than a made up notion of value that can give you temporary access to transitory images.

Finally, you learn that it's the everyday contributions that we make, the hearts we touch, the simple happiness we create for ourselves and the experience of living that is more valuable. Without that, your eyes no longer shine and your soul becomes a ghost of what could be. You realize the lesson that you sometimes wish you could tell your former self so that she would stop her crying and panic attacks.

But, if you had a way to do that, there would be no joy in finding the answers to the questions that would never have gotten asked in the first place.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Yes, I'm a Little Sensitive

"You need to not be so sensitive...."

On Monday I heard those words used in a sentence during the long overdue meeting that was scheduled between Regional HR, myself and a member of our local management team as a result of my former, recently terminated boss throwing around false accusations. Yes, another stark reminder of who I am and why I don't fit in with a warrior type, extremely competitive, money hungry, treat your people as numbers organization. This time I didn't blink an eye or feel inadequate inside; I just gave a slight smile mixed with feelings of recognition and self-acceptance.

Really? I'm too sensitive because I reacted negatively to the wording of a process that you admit and recognize needs to be changed so that reactions like mine can be avoided? Words that have the potential to result in gross misunderstanding if not explained properly, making the receiving end feel as though they are somehow at fault for something out of their control? Words that have the power to alienate good people and drive talent away from your organization?

No, we shouldn't use the term "corrective action" to describe an investigative process surrounding work related accidents and injuries. No, you shouldn't be made to feel as though you are being disciplined and no, this paperwork shouldn't have been handed to you with no explanation. Yes, we were surprised when these allegations came up due to your good performance history. And the pictures you took of your market to "cya" yourself, well, they were so good we could have sent them to the corporate office in Dallas. "The good thing is that no real corrective action came out of this."

Yet, I still had to endure a "slap on the wrist" talk with the Zone Sales Leader about how my market supposedly looked like crap because someone who decided to get retaliatory said so? I had to once again feel like I was worthless, unappreciated and devalued because you couldn't go out there and conduct a proper investigation yourself?

But who really cares right? As long as no one says anything we can go on pretending that everything is ok and that the feelings of resentment and inadequacy that we're instilling in those we count on to make a difference aren't valid enough to change things. It's amazing to me that organizations like this continue to get away with stealing pieces of human dignity and respect. Yes, HR gets it; management still doesn't. Yes, they have plans to change the wording, the procedure and the manner in which the process is communicated. No, it was not my intent to get my former boss canned, although I'm sure my little "incident" was just icing on the cake. It's too bad another female employee had to get wrongly terminated before he decided to mess with the wrong subordinate.

No, I'm not bitter. Really. Not anymore. Amazingly, I'm appreciative and grateful. I look at it this way-years after I'm gone my mark will still be there because this isn't the only thing about this company I've tried to change. Playing a part in laying this foundation hasn't been easy, but I've learned so much about myself in the process that I wouldn't take any of it back. Not a single bit. I only hope that those who choose to stay there will continue to try to make a difference, destroy the foundations that need to be changed and continue to lay new, more humanistic, constructive ones in their place.

My customers are the ones who always tell me what my company's leaders should, but don't. One tells me "You're awesome, don't ever go on vacation again." Another says "I appreciate everything you do for me, even if no one else tells you that." And my mom and pop mountain town grocery store manager who's leaving at the end of the week to start a new life with her love in Laguna Beach tells me "You're one of a kind; a gem. I hope that everyone realizes what they have in you."

Those are the only words I need to hear (and listen to). It's the qualitative difference that my sensitivity strives to make. And it's the only difference that truly matters or gets remembered beneath the everyday routine.

Perhaps one day the rest of the world will learn that they need people who are a little sensitive. And that they themselves need to not be so callous and unappreciative.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

We're Not Made of Glass

Years ago I heard a set of lines spoken by a fictional someone, created by a group of writers who probably didn't realize the far-reaching affects they would have. That's the funny thing about creating something. You think you're merely exposing a piece of yourself or communicating some source of inward inspiration, when what you're really doing is opening up a portal of sorts that has the capacity to give someone else the knowledge, vision, or helpful guidance that they need. Those set of words flashed through my thoughts this evening, in the midst of tears that welled up in my eyes as the result of receiving what I'll call an indirect confirmation; a piece of advice.

Those words I heard years ago went something like this: "We're not made of glass, you and I. We're not going to break." Somewhere on an old VHS tape that's stored away in the dusty back corner of my entertainment center, I probably could still listen to the audible version of those words if I wanted. I could, perhaps, if I'm lucky enough to find that VHS tape still intact or a clip of the scene that someone else more fanatic than myself uploaded on YouTube. These words, after all, were broadcast long before the days of TiVo and DVR's. Nonetheless, they're still imprinted on my heart and serve as a powerful reminder to not only myself, but to anyone who's in the midst of uncertainty or about to be.

You see uncertainty isn't really what we're afraid of. What we really fear is what will happen to us. We get anxiety over the possibility of no longer being who we thought we were, of getting hurt, damaged, or even shattered into a million pieces beyond recognition. We're afraid of falling so hard and so fast that no amount of glue or precision can restore us back to what we were. But focusing on that gets us nowhere and ignores the fact that deep inside we're unbreakable. It doesn't matter if we fall or how hard or fast we do it. We're probably bound to at least once or twice. But no matter how many times we may find ourselves staring at the ground, we still find a way to dust off the debris, attend to the wounds until they heal and place ourselves back upright.

Humanity is amazingly resilient in that sense. What we choose may be uncertain. The path we think we're taking may lead us somewhere unintentional and quite different from where we originally wanted to go. We may get hurt; we may endure hardship and suffering. Lessons and growth aren't meant to be easy. However, we'll still be who we are-intact, only stronger.

Breaking the intangible spirit is impossible, even when it thinks it is lost and forgotten.