Friday, May 21, 2010

That's Life!

On November 7, 2005, I got up early and created a blog post. The picture that accompanied that post was a big question mark, and the title was "Who will it be?" Our daughter Rachel was in the hospital that day preparing for a repeat C-section to deliver our second grandchild. The new baby already had an older sister in the family, and we knew Caroline well, so we thought there would probably be similarities in whatever sibling joined the family. Only....that morning, we didn't know the gender or anything about what the new baby would look like. Rachel and her husband had chosen to be surprised, so, of course, we all were! We didn't know this information beforehand, but we did know the date and approximate time, since repeat C-sections are scheduled. Some things we knew; some things were a total surprise!

Now we're in the same ocean in a different boat. In this boat are our son and daughter-in-law, expecting their first child. However, this time, we know the gender - a boy - who will be named Joshua. We can even see in this ultrasound a pretty good preview of what he will look like! But....we don't know the date or time of labor or delivery, and we certainly don't have a sibling to wonder about similarities. Some things we know; some things will be a total surprise!

I have always said that life is never boring for me. Most people assume that is because I have so many hobbies - quilting, sewing, cross-stitching, singing, piano, harp, making greeting cards, photography, etc. Even my medical transcription career is usually challenging and exciting. But there is another reason I'm never bored - life itself. There are always surprises, one can never assume, and the very scenario you create for yourself frequently changes before your eyes - ultimately full of mystery and amazement. What wants to get up every morning and know exactly what the day will bring? A major hotel chain used to tout the fact that they had "no surprises." In other words, you could be assured that every time you stayed in that hotel, every room would be exactly the same, no matter where in the world you were. I guess to some, that was comfortable familiarity, but to me, that was not a selling point in their favor! Around the same time, fast food chains were making sure that one of their burgers in Arkansas tasted exactly the same as one of their burgers in Alaska. Again, familiarity, no surprises, but something in their favor? Not for me, thanks. I remember when my sister visited Maine a few years ago. We were planning to eat breakfast out, and there was a Denny's nearby, inexpensive and convenient, same everywhere. But she was adamant: "I didn't come all the way to Maine to eat at Denny's!" How true - so we ended up with delicious blueberry pancakes with real Maine maple syrup at a locally owned diner.

Of course, with surprises, there are always pleasant ones and unwelcome ones. As the old song says about love and marriage..."you can't have one without the other." In my experience, though, I firmly believe that I have had many, many, many more happy surprises and blessings than the other way around. I have fortunately had the wherewithal to deal with the setbacks as well as the ability to appreciate and enjoy life's unexpected enchanting moments.

At Caroline's recent 7th birthday party, her other grandmother was telling me a cute true story about surprises. A mother asked her little girl what she wanted to be when she grew up. The girl thought a minute, then said, "A doctor..." With this answer, the mother beamed. She thought how smart her kid was, how proud she would be of her chosen profession. Then in the next breath, the little girl, still deep in thought and unfinished in her reply, said, "....or a pumpkin."

Just when you think it's over, there's always something else to hear - or create, or manage, or learn, or reconsider, or work on, or be astonished by... Hey, that sounds familiar! That sounds like life! And in two months or so, a little baby named Joshua will be entering this crazy world and discovering what all the fuss is about. I can hardly wait!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


One of my coworkers was complaining last week that she needed yet another new set of tires, because her tires seemed to give out every 19,000 miles. She was bemoaning the inconvenience, the expense, and especially the problem of no guarantee on the particular tires she had been purchasing.

I buy products all the time that disillusion me. After I get one home and unpack it from its box or impenetrable plastic shrink wrap, I note in the accompanying brochure that there is a guarantee of ONE YEAR. Instead of being reassured, I am frustrated. One year? This product that the company is advertising as reliant, safe, exceptionally well made, is so bad that they can only guarantee that it will work for ONE YEAR? That's a guarantee? Sounds like a warning to me!

I've always been a guarantee-desiring person. Back in college, I wanted to join the show choir. However, you couldn't just join - you had to audition, the process of which was frightening to me. My professor, Dr. Fleming, director of show choir (I was a music major) asked me to try out. I told him I was too scared because I thought I wouldn't make it. He persisted and did everything in his power to persuade me to audition - everything, of course, except guarantee my acceptance, which would not have been an ethical move. My fear of failure, minuscule as it was, won the day, and I never did try out. Of course, today I can look back and realize that I am sure I would have been chosen, and I also realize my professor had the confidence that I wouldn't have a problem - but my fearful nature got the best of me.

Although I've done my share of stupid things in my life, I don't consider myself a huge risk-taker. Without a guarantee of safety and/or success, I just get intimidated. That is one of the most challenging life lessons I have had to learn. Life has no guarantees. You aren't guaranteed you're marrying the right person, aren't guaranteed your children will be healthy and intelligent, aren't guaranteed your pet will live a long life free from problems, aren't guaranteed you will always have your job, your house, or your health. You aren't guaranteed that if you perform in public, you won't mess up. You aren't guaranteed that your book you submit will be published (well, unless you're Stephen King, and then in the beginning he was rejected too). You aren't guaranteed a new diet will work or the new haircut will be what you envisioned. You aren't guaranteed that you'll see whales on a whale watch or moose on a drive through northern Maine. You aren't guaranteed that during the simplification process, that book or coat you are giving away is not something you may need a few months down the road. You aren't guaranteed that the dress you are sewing will look like the picture on the pattern. You can't even start a quilt and be guaranteed that all the seams will match up perfectly. (Well, on that latter one, you can pretty well be guaranteed that they won't match up perfectly.) Some of these things we have more control of than others, but despite our best efforts, there still is no guarantee of a favorable outcome.

The key to all this is to know that every choice in life has risks, some big, some small, and when the time comes that the end result is failure or humiliation or just frustrating inconvenience, we pick ourselves up and move on. Really, life would be boring if we had a guarantee of success in everything we attempted. At least that's what I keep saying to myself when things don't work out as planned.

Meanwhile, I thank Dr. Fleming for not guaranteeing me a spot in the show choir. Maybe it helped me grow up a little. I've had to spend the rest of my life working on my fears, and I know fear of failure has been a big one. That was a good first step to my realizing I had a problem.

Now on to my halfway-finished highly imperfect crib quilt I'm making for my grandson due to be born in July. The seams are not all ideally matched, but something tells me he really won't care.

Friday, May 07, 2010

It's all inside

How much is too much? How much is not enough? Was a man who has a net worth of 500 million dollars for some reason not satisfied when he reached 300 million dollars? How much is too much food? Too many clothes? Too much TV or computer time? Too many errors in a report? Too long a wait for an impossible dream? Too much sleep, or not enough? Too much job stress and not enough job satisfaction? Too much wasted time? Too many notes? (Mozart actually had criticism of his music!)

The thing about the "terrible toos" is that the answers have to be considered by individuals and generally not collectively. What may be sufficient food for one person 6 feet tall may be way too much food for me at a little over 5 feet.

Ed and I were talking about corporate and personal greed this morning. How do we monitor our needs and wants? How do we control our wants of "more" while we meet our needs? How would my life be different if I could have an abundance of the good habits and cut back on the bad ones? I mentioned seeing one of those inspirational signs to stick up on your mirror that said, "At this moment have everything I need." I said that sounded so calming to me. Ed was not so sure. He said, "That sounds all New Age and everything, but it's not necessarily true. Not in real life." I thought for a minute. Yes, I suppose he's right. Everyone has unmet needs, whether it's money to pay the oil bill or some other kind of need, maybe emotional, that is not being met. When you are dependent on circumstances or other people to meet your needs, there will always be holes.

However, the more I thought about that little sign, the more I decided there was truth in there. So in my head, I changed that little sign to read, "At this moment I have everything I need inside myself." That puts the emphasis not on outside forces, but on inside powers. Untapped oil reserves? How about untapped powers within each of us? It's the one thing we can control, and it's right here, right now.

As Dorothy found out, she had the power to leave Oz and go home at any time, but just didn't realize it, I have so much more potential already present in me that I just either am not aware of or try to ignore. Maybe it's the fact that with power comes responsibility, and we don't feel ready. It's like being handed a winning lottery ticket, thinking it's just a scrap piece of paper, or sitting on the treasure chest filled with gold, thinking it's just an old bench. The power cannot be accessed until we are aware of its existence.

One of my favorite shows is the reality TV show "The Biggest Loser." These contestants ostensibly use the competition to see who can lose the most weight, but the transformation that usually takes place is as psychological as it is physical. At some moment in the show, most of the players finally realize that they had this mental strength inside them all along, but didn't know it until they were forced beyond their "comfort zone" and challenged to do more and be more. "I didn't know I had it in me!"

So I have to daily remind myself that, yes, I have the energy inside me to do this hour of exercise, I have the skill inside me to transcribe this grueling report, I have the wisdom inside me to make this difficult decision, I have the courage inside me to respond to this challenge, I have the generosity inside me to sacrifice for the greater good, I have the determination inside me to get this task done, I have the patience inside me to be calm in the face of stress, I have the flexibility to adapt to change, I have the intelligence to learn this new software, I have the assurance inside me that I am ready for whatever the future holds, and I have the loving nature inside me that can forgive and move on. All I need to do is be conscious of the presence of these qualities, then reach in and grab them.

That's what introspection does. It's finding out how strong you really are inside, and acting accordingly. You can find the questions above anywhere, discussed on TV, in the newspaper, at the book club meeting or at the family dinner table. The questions are easy. It's the answers that are hard. But asking the questions is a good place to start. "I knew I had it in me!"