Monthly Archives: September 2011

Letting Go Miyagi-Style

            The
guy who beeps at you in traffic when there’s clearly nowhere for you to
go.  The older relative who uses
her senility as an excuse to make comments on your weight, or your haircut, or
the fact you’re still single.  The
co-worker who’s a little too blunt to be considered polite.  We all have people in our lives who say
things–deserved, honest, well-intentioned, or not–that bother us.  I admire those people who have the
strength and wherewithal in the moment to confront the person whose comment
they found hurtful or offensive.  I
am not one of those people.  Sure,
I’ll flip off the stranger in traffic; I was born and raised in Massachusetts,
after all.  But face-to-face I lose
the nerve.  Instead I’ll lie awake
at night and let the comment eat away at me while I fantasize about how I
should have responded.  My
fantasized responses are always so piercingly witty as to leave my opponent in
a stunned state of shame.  In reality
my response is usually a simpering nervous laugh, which hides the silent string
of four-letter words that run through my mind.  Clearly, this is not the best strategy for dealing with
difficult people.  So what is?  I’d like to think as an adult I could
calmly and clearly convey to another person what I found hurtful or offensive
in his comments.  I’d like to think
the adult I was speaking to could objectively listen and would attempt to
adjust his behavior.  I’d like to
think Santa is real and the housing market will make a full recovery sometime
before I retire and can no longer hobble up the stairs to my condo.  But in some areas of life I feel the
need to be a realist.  I’m a
female, Irish-Catholic Pisces; the chances of me not letting my emotions get
in the way are about as good as the Sox not blowing the post-season (assuming
they get that far).  And since I
struggle to listen to criticism or take correction without becoming highly
defensive, it’d just be hypocritical of me to expect such behaviors from
others.  Confrontation will never
be my style.  I’m stuck with my
“go-stuff-it” smile, a strategy that would be just fine if I could
master step two: letting go.

            Occasionally
during karate my Sempai would go a little Mr. Miyagi on us and try to balance
nut-crunching front kicks with deep philosophical advice.  I remember one day, during a lecture on
focus, being asked to perform a visualization technique.  We were supposed to take all the things
in life we had no control over, things that had already passed, conversations
we had already had, and visualize them as ropes holding us back.  One by one we were supposed to cut the
ropes, to let it all go, to live in the moment.  It’s a beautiful image, a super concept–if only it worked.  I might have managed to untangle the
ropes from around my neck, but I’m pretty sure they still hung there like a
loose noose.  I wasn’t making some
morbid fashion statement; I just sucked at letting things go.  Lucky for me and unfortunately for my
sparring partners, I was at least good at those front kicks.

            Twelve
years later I still keep my ears open for good advice on letting go.  This weekend, probably channeling more
Sam Adams than Mr. Miyagi, my brother espoused a fine piece of wisdom
concerning the topic: People can only bother you if you let them.  Once again, I liked the concept.  I liked it even better than my Sempai’s
advice because it came while I was lounging on the couch with a glass of wine
rather than kneeling on hardwood floors that smelled of stale sweat.  Then the wine-mind cleared, and I
realized there was a hitch: this assumes your emotional reaction to something
is a choice.  Granted, I may choose
to allow myself to cry every time I hear that damn “Christmas Shoes”
song the entire month of December. 
(Crying over fiction is the best type of crying, and it’s
cathartic.)  For the most part, however,
I can’t turn on and off my emotions like a light on The Clapper commercials.  Yesterday, as I felt my blood pressure
rising while watching a bunch of grossly overpaid, overgrown boys mangle the
game of football, I considered calling my brother to see if he was able to
remain “unbothered” any better than I was.  Knowing the answer, and realizing it was just obnoxious of me
to want it confirmed, I left the phone on the hook.

            Truth
is, letting go is a life lesson, and life lessons are so-named because, for
most of us, they take a lifetime to master.  Letting go involves forgiving the person who hurt you (even
if it was you who hurt you), appreciating your strengths well-enough to
not be overly bothered when someone throws a short-coming in your face, and
allowing yourself to feel your emotions just long enough to recognize they’re
often irrational and rarely serve a purpose.  Mr. Miyagi would probably say much more simply, “Wax on,” but then
“wax off,” so you can move on. 
And for the rare moment when some jerk really crosses the line, it’s not a bad idea to practice those front kicks.

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Heroes of All Ages


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            I
worked hard for something witty to write about this week, but after watching
the last few hours of news broadcasts remembering 9/11, I knew this week wasn’t
the time for witty.  With that
said, I shared my feelings about this tragic event earlier this year in another
post (Here’s to Hoping, 5/2/11) and just can’t wrap my head and heart around it again.  Today, though, is a celebration of
heroes and survivors, as it should be, and that I can tackle, because two of my
heroes, women who have survived a great deal in their lives, are also meant to
be celebrated today.

            Today
is National Grandparents’ Day, a fact I’m sure most of us will overlook this
year, like most years.  I can’t
once remember celebrating Grandparents’ Day since those days in elementary
school when our music teacher, who loved any excuse for a concert, invited in
our grandparents for music, cookies, and coffee.  And shame on me, because with two working parents it was
often only my grandparents who could make it for those half dozen concerts,
parties, and assemblies throughout the year.  I doubt in all my years of elementary school if Gramma G
ever missed one.  I remember
frantically searching the other lined faces for the one familiar one that would
smile back, no matter how poorly I sang, or acted, or played the recorder.  Then there were the countless soccer
games both my grandmothers sat through, huddled on the sidelines in late fall,
warming their hands in the car at half-time, hoping they’d see me score a goal
or make a big save.  I played on
the C team, which was pathetic when you consider our town didn’t have
a B team.  If you weren’t good
enough to make the A team, you were thrown in with the other pathetic riffraff
and scheduled to play every surrounding towns’ group of Bad News Bears. 
We didn’t win a game in all of middle
school, but my grandparents didn’t care.

Even when I was old enough that I shouldn’t have needed a cheering
squad, they were there.  Gramma and
Grandpa G made it to my first college rugby game (the only game I ever played
on the A team!).  They watched as
their “little girl” got pummeled by girls three times her size, but
seeing my enjoyment, never once told me I shouldn’t play.  And Gramma B was the only relative who
didn’t have travel plans the Columbus Day weekend of my black-belt
ceremony.  
So despite never having
stepped foot in a dojo before, she sat through the strange Japanese ceremony
filled with chants and bows that must have looked to her like some strange cult
following, politely snacked on the food at the party afterward (avoiding the
sushi, if I remember correctly), and in her typical upbeat fashion walked out
with me and said, “That was lovely!”

            My
grandparents had lived through a lot of history before I showed up, and they
were willing to share with me everything they learned from it.  My grandfather taught me to be proud of
working hard and not to fear a little dirt or grease under my fingernails.  He never threw me out of the garage
when he was working on cars. 
Instead he’d tell me some silly joke from under a junker he was
restoring.  I still equate the
smell of oil, gasoline, and that funny gritty soap to everything Grandpa.  Gramma B models the “glass
half-full” philosophy I try to emulate.  Every tragedy tied her tighter to her family, so that truly,
as long as she’s surrounded by us, everything is always
“lovely.”  And Gramma G
taught me to judge nothing except a person’s heart.  You can say the wrong thing, in the wrong way, at the wrong
time, in a volume way too loud and still be right, if the meaning behind it is
full of love and humor.  My
grandparents were and are always full of love and humor.

            It’s
sad that Grandparents’ Day and 9/11 share the same day this year, but its also
fitting in a way.  Our grandparents
were the first generation of heroes to survive an attack on our country.  They recall Pearl Harbor and too many
other national and world-wide tragedies with the same acuity we remember
9/11.  They also united and sprung
to action; the men enlisted, while the women stayed behind to raise families
and work in the factories.  Those
years of sacrifice and trial defined them, the way 9/11 and the months and
years surrounding it have come to define many of our generation.  It made them strong and proud (ornery
is how it occasionally comes across in their old-age).  It also made them appreciate freedom
and country and family: a valuable lesson to be reminded of today or any day.

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Zen There Was None


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            As
I intimated last week, last year was not my best. (Remember, teacher-years run
September through June.  July and
August are just bonus months, which we use to blur out the ten months in
between.)  So this year I was
determined to rediscover my happy place and live there with my rainbows and
unicorns as often as possible. 
Hell, I even wrote an entire blog post to psych myself up for new
beginnings and fresh starts.  I did
a pretty good job convincing myself, too, so much so I was almost bummed when I
received the call Sunday night to say that the first day of school had been
delayed…almost bummed.  But then I
awoke to sunny skies and realized, hey, this bonus day was just one more
opportunity to prepare for a Zenful beginning.  So Monday night I rolled out the serene green mat, cued my
a.m. yoga video, and went to bed thinking happy thoughts…An hour of worrying
about everything I had to do and two Tylenol p.m. later, I fell into a
medicated coma sometimes considered sleep and dreamt happy, though seriously
weird dreams.

            Ready
to start the year off in a state of serenity, I left the snooze button
untouched the next morning and stumbled into the living room ready to downward
dog my way to peace.  Okay, so the
buff half-naked hippie on the video may have been a stronger lure, but whatever
works.  At least while I was trying
to contort myself into a shrub or a snake I was not stressing about school or
students.  I was wondering why I hadn’t more seriously considered
dating a yogi, but that’s a topic for another day.  Only twenty minutes later I had achieved Zen.  I was focused, relaxed, and ready.  And then the cat threw up.  And I yelled–very unZen-like.  So she ran, puking, across fifteen feet
of carpet.  Namaste turned nasty real
quick.

            So
I arrived at school with a knot in my neck (Why must my chiropractor be the one
to remind me inversions and neck problems don’t mix?) and smelling of Resolve,
which I suppose was better than smelling like hucked-up Friskies, but not by
much.  But, really, I told myself,
worse things could have happened. 
I was determined not to be evicted from my happy place before even
getting to unpack.  But the
morning’s events reminded me, no matter how hard I worked to relax, stress
would happen.  I needed a back-up.  Not a problem.  I had a few secret weapons in my
arsenal, and I wasn’t afraid to use them. 
It was time to pull out the big guns.  Shoot me; I sound like Heston.  Wait, he might take that
literally.  Let’s clarify: no real
guns are allowed in my happy place, just metaphorical ones, in this case an
end-of-week message, a new sushi place, and a bottle of liquid Zen (I.e. red
Zinfandel, which you’ll need to pry from my cold dead hands).  A little internet surfing, a phone
call, and a trip to package store, and it was set.  No matter how the week went, it would end perfectly.

            Ah,
but the best laid plans of mice and men often hit the fan.  Okay, I’m taking liberties with the
expression, but when Friday rolled around, that was precisely what happened.  Remember me telling myself, worse
things could happen?  Well, they
did.  Or at least my family and I
was led to believe they did, long enough for me to panic and cancel all
plans.  As it turned out,
thankfully, the family emergency was actually just further confirmation that
even when nature and nurture remain fixed, the outcomes can be very
different.  So instead of heading
to the spa in search of Zen, I was heading home hoping to provide it to my
father, who both needed and deserved it more than I did.

            So
yoga turned yucky, and pampering my body turned into a fried food splurge with
Dad, and I literally spent Sunday trying to escape civilization by hiking alone
through the back woods of the boondocks. 
But wouldn’t you know cleaning cat bile, scarfing junk food, and
sweating through three applications of DEET, I found my happy place.   I should say I rediscovered my
happy places.  I’ve always found
comfort in my feline companions (even the evil ones).  They’re soft, cuddly, and I’ve never seen one roll their
eyes.  I’ve always been Daddy’s
girl and cherished even the mundane moments together, like dump runs or trips
to the grocery store.  My dad’s a
guy who understands ice-cream therapy and agrees with my philosophy that you’re
never too old to take the free cookies at the bakery.  And I’ve always felt calmer being outside–in the woods, by
the ocean, or just sitting on my sorry excuse for a deck.  I don’t think of myself as
granola-crunchy, but I do love me some sun, sand, dirt, and trees.  Basically, I know the people,
creatures, and places that make me happy. 
If I can only remember that they are what really matter in life, I don’t
need expensive pampering in candle-lit rooms or insanely flexible men in tight
clothing to find peace…but, every once in awhile, they can’t hurt.

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