Day 15: Definitely a kindred sister

Today, my sister moved. Again. I thought I moved a lot, but she has me beat. I loved her previous home, so I wasn’t too excited about this move, but by the time the movers had everything moved over today, I could¬†see that she is going to be really happy in this new place. It’s cozy, and it fits her personality. And besides, they’re 4 miles closer. ūüôā

I went to help and spent the whole time cleaning the bathroom. The first day of any move, you should at least have a bed to sleep in, a clean place to take a shower and brush teeth, and enough space in the kitchen to make breakfast.

While I was working away, I heard the doorbell ring. It was a little weird because just about every door in the place was wide open, but then I heard someone chatting with her. It was a neighbor who had come over to welcome her to the neighborhood. Connection. It seems a little old fashioned in today’s world, but I was so happy to see that she had neighbors who would reach out.

Welcoming a new neighbor is priceless; stepping out of a comfort zone to say “let me know if I can help in any way” is getting to be a rarity. And there I was, hanging over a dirty toilet, and my heart smiled.

DAY 15 HOMEWORK: What comfort zone can you break out of today? Make someone feel welcome…you never know when someone else may be hanging over a toilet and needs a smile.


Day 14: Stop and smell the roses

Nearly 30 years ago, I studied literature. My favorite era was American Lit from 1865-1900 with all the local color…a time when authors really began to write in the dialects of their subjects. I’ve always been drawn to purist reality. Language as it really is rather than as we think it should be or as we think others want to hear.

But, there was also a piece of me that loved that language that was difficult to understand but which sounded so romantic. Maybe that was inspired by my grandmother who taught me how to play Authors, a card game sort of like Go Fish, that matched book titles to their authors. One of the poems she introduced to me as a child sticks with me to this day. It’s a¬†17th-century poem ¬†by Robert Herrick which begins like this:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is quickly flying;
And this same flower which smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

It was a poem that always reminded me to take advantage of what is around me at the moment, rather than waiting to enjoy it later. I use my china every day. I have lace that I love on display. I don’t wait for special days to celebrate with my favorite food. If there are flowers, I’ll stop to smell them and admire their uniqueness. Have you noticed what (or who) is around you?

DAY 14 HOMEWORK: Apply this principle to people. Take advantage of the beauty around you while you’ve got it. Tomorrow’s not promised.

Day 13: Long, long day

It’s been one of those days. You know the kind. You’d rather stay in bed, but you drag yourself out from under the covers. You grab something quick to eat and get on¬†the road. Traffic slows you down, but you find a work-around, and then at work, you hit the ground running.¬†There¬†was fun mixed in, but barely a break to breathe in for a few minutes.

That was my day today. I worked late and then dragged home. All I really wanted to do was vegetate and go inside a cocoon. Instead, we started talking and talking, and we didn’t vegetate at all. You know what? I’m not as tired as I normally get when I just vegetate. Very interesting.¬†That’s the human connection.

People who exercise regularly say the same thing. You might be dead tired, but once you start exercising, you gain energy. It’s a law of contrary…you think one thing, but it turns out to be the opposite. We just have to train our minds to get over the desire to vegetate and we’ll have a much more rewarding result.

DAY 13 HOMEWORK: Don’t think you can’t ever vegetate; you can. Sometimes. But try to practice the law of contrary. When you are exhausted, don’t slip towards what’s easiest. Resist and practice¬†the human connection.

Day 12: Connect and Reconnect

I have a friend who¬†I’ve known for the last 25 years. I met her and her husband when I was quite pregnant, and ever since, we’ve spent many-a-day laughing together, at one another and with one another. We’ve been there for each other through many of life’s most disappointing moments, and we’ve gone long periods of time without talking, but through it all, we still are kindreds.

She and her husband and my husband and I have spent lots of time together. We’ve¬†cruised to Alaska together. We’ve eaten pounds of food together, and schemed together for moments of surprise. They were there the year I miscarried. They were there the night my mom died. They bought a trunk-load of food when we were on our last buck. She, in particular, sent a timely email¬†on many-a-lonely-day when I lived on the other side of the world and felt all alone. And I’ve reciprocated, but I wonder if it’s been¬†to the level she deserves. Through our ups and downs, we’ve prayed together and for one another, listened to one another,¬†supported one another. Even in the moments when we drifted apart for a while, we reconciled based on truth and love.

Our friendship is a good example of this journey we’re on. We can go some time without connecting, and then reconnect without feeling slighted. We can pick up the phone at any moment and we know the other would be there. When we chat, we can laugh over old times or new gaffes and we can understand each other even when we don’t make sense. This type of kindred is priceless.

DAY 12 HOMEWORK: If you have a kindred like this, take a minute to connect (or reconnect). You may shock someone you’ve not spoken to in a while, but either way, a true kindred will be left with a smile on the heart.

Day 11: Autopilot

I think I ran a red light today. I’m not sure. As the hurricane from Mexico’s way poured rain over the mid south, I was trying to figure out how to turn on the defroster to clear some of the fog from the windshield. I saw a green light and took off, but no other cars beside me came along. As I looked in my rearview mirror, those from the turning lanes were moving. I shook my head and could have sworn my light was green. I’m sure those at the light were doing more than shaking their heads. Thankfully, I was driving around Paducah and not Nashville today, so the traffic was much more laid back. Not only was I safe, I didn’t even get an angry horn!

As I thought about that, it reminded me of how easily we fall into the routine. We put our lives¬†on automatic, and get easily distracted by little things. When we look up, we think we see something, but what we’re seeing may not be reality. And that can get really dangerous.

Do you do that? With your job? Go to work like every other day, say hi to the same people in the hallways …¬†With your family? Run your kids¬†to some after school activity, run home, make dinner… How about with your friends? Shoot them an IM or tag them on Facebook, make plans to get together “sometime” … What ruts have you fallen into lately? When you look up, it seems like everyone else is “having a life,” but is that reality? It can discourage us, but instead of going through something that isn’t necessarily real and putting yourself in an emotional danger zone, stop and focus. See what you can do right there in that moment to connect in a new and different way so you can begin “having your own life.” You’ll be happy that you did, and so will those around you.

DAY 11 HOMEWORK: Stop. Focus. What’s around you right now in this moment? If you’re near people, how can you connect? If you’re not around people, what’s your next step to getting connected? Don’t get distracted; be proactive!

Day 10: Give yourself some slack

A bit of a gaffe today to share with you. Actually, I made¬†a couple of¬†blunders¬†at work today which could cripple a perfectionist like me, but I’ve learned to forgive myself. And growth comes from admitting you’re not perfect. News flash: none of us are.

I guess you first need to know that I work for a barge company. A great portion of our associates live and work on the river, and so we’ve always had a bit of a conundrum trying to communicate effectively with them, even in this day of mobility and connectivity. A towboat is somewhat like an RV floating down the river. Depending on where the cell towers are, those on the vessel¬†may or may not have a signal at any given time. Besides the connectivity issue, we also had licensing issues for associates who most often work 28-days on and 28-days off. In essence, they work six months out of a year, and with such a fluctuating workforce, the IT group took some time¬†to figure out how to best solve our puzzle.

So, this summer, we started¬†working on a new email system for those¬†1700 associates. Of course, some would be on a vessel and some would be at home, and then they would switch so it would take a while to get them ¬†all activated. Four months into the project, we still have about 500 people left to get on the system but the reporting mechanism to say who activated their email is broken, so¬†I thought I’d be smart and send out an email to the list of 500 names remaining. I opened what looked like¬†the latest spreadsheet with the email addresses on it, copied the addresses and sent a quick email asking for any of that group who had activated their email to send me back a response. Maybe¬†30 or 40 emails¬†would narrow the list down a bit.

Much to my chagrin, I had actually copied a list from mid-August with almost 1300 names on it. At a minimum, 700 of those people have activated their addresses since August. I immediately started getting emails from the crew members, confirming they had been activated. I could have been mad, frustrated, or a bunch of other negative emotions, but instead, I started chatting with various people as they jabbed at me, knowing that I had sent out a crazy amount of emails. We laughed and had a moment of connection.

A few hours later, I can still hear my phone blowing up with email and it reminds me that I may have a bunch of work ahead of me, but it’s going to be ok.

DAY 10 HOMEWORK: Today’s homework is pretty simple, and may be most difficult…give yourself some slack. Have¬†you done something lately that was silly, or even more grave? Forgive yourself. Give yourself permission to laugh at yourself, to say you’re not perfect. Breathe in deeply, and go on. It’s going to be ok.

Day 9: Returning to the List

We’ve spent some days exercising our comfort zone. Today, let’s go back to a bit of introspection. Remember the list? Why are those people on your list? What makes them kindred spirits? What makes others fall off the list? To understand, sometimes it’s helpful to recap your friendship history.

I’ll tell you a little of mine so that you can see what it looks like. My¬†family is large. Someone was always around. I love a large family, but often wonder if my need to get off by myself came primarily from always having people around. To make it more interesting, my parents were foster parents. Over my growing years, we had over 100 kids pass through our home. Today, some of those kids are still family; others were adopted; most¬†others disappeared back into the system. Being a foster sister shaped my personality, perhaps more than anything else in my life.

I became a mediator, the one to listen to the pain. I was counselor and peacemaker, the fixer of problems. My empathy gene is off the charts, both a blessing and a curse. It was difficult to feel bad for myself when others living with me had it so much worse than I ever would. Despite my care of others, I yearned for attention too.

Of course, friendships change over a lifetime. And most¬†of those who are kindreds are friends I met when I had grown. But especially through my college years and into young adulthood, I chose “friends” based on who I thought I could fix. It was a way to get the attention I wanted. I liked everybody – but had nobody. Those people who could have or should have been my kindreds, I pushed away in order to fix those I saw in need of fixing. These people I thought were in need of fixing could hurt me, and did hurt me, because they weren’t true friends.

I’ve learned over time that I don’t need to fix anybody…indeed, I CAN’T¬†fix anybody. When I learned that lesson, it was way too late for some of my friendships, but thankfully, it wasn’t too late for all friendship! There’s more of the story to tell, but it can wait for another day.

DAY 9 HOMEWORK: Start your friendship history. Go back as far as you can remember and think about the social issues you had, the hurts, the family background that shaped you. Just that is enough for today. We’ll keep building on our list as we go along.