Tag Archives: gratitude

Just One

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

When I was young, the expectation was that there’d be a singular answer: doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, policeman or fireman.  Pick one.  No Career Day speaker ever told us little tykes that we might have a first career that would pay off the student loans and build the down payment for the starter home, before transitioning to work that we find ourselves more suited for as we age and change – to say nothing of a possible third gig that supplements the social security in retirement years.  That would have been too much information for little kiddies at Career Day.  That scenario also may not have been as common in the 1970s and 80s as it is in this new millennium.  So it’s no surprise we were conditioned to believe that one is supposed to do one something with his or her life not many.  But I knew before I hit middle school that such would not be the case for me.

At five, I had a role in my school’s performance of The Little Prince.  So in first grade, I wanted to be an actor when I grew up.  Several years later, I sat down at the plastic typewriter my mother gave me and banged out what I thought was a tortured but eloquent memoir.  It was five sentences long.  Suddenly I wanted to be a writer.  Somewhere along the line, struggling working class parents made clear in not-so-subtle ways that the two things I wanted to be might make paying the bills harder than it had to be.  So I added a licensed profession to the list of future jobs.

Flash forward several decades, and here I sit, having enjoyed a successful and fulfilling first career in journalism, a short stint in the law that made me miserable, and several soul-smiling years (and counting) teaching Kung Fu, awaiting news of whether a potential investor in my food company will become an actual one.   While weighing the possibility the investment will fall by the wayside, I’ve been forced to envision a return to career number one or two.  The first thing that came to mind was: “I can’t switch again; that’ll make me look crazy, like a person who never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up!”  Gratefully, it took only a moment to toss that thought into the mental trash can.

My problem, for those who would call it one, has never been career confusion.  It’s been sincerely wanting to do them all – and not caring that I was expected to pick just one.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Little did I know at age five, eight, 12 or 17 that the singular answer wasn’t a career at all.  The answer was and is that I want to be master of a destiny as full as my interests, skills and time will allow, with a minimal fear of being broke and a maximum disregard for the scoffing of others.

On most days, for more than a decade now, I’ve been exactly what I wanted to be.  That makes gratitude easy, even in tough times.  It also makes me glad I never thought to stick with just one!

Advertisements

Cookies and Curses

It finally happened.  My family and my clothes arrived at a destination on time, but my long staff did not.  It makes sense that it would happen in Orlando.  As good at their game as Southwest is, they still have no control over how long it takes TSA to inspect a plethora of oversized baggage coming into one of the tourist meccas of the country.

I’m deducing that that’s why my staff didn’t come in on my flight.  But it also didn’t come in on the next flight from Baltimore.  I know because I was still in the airport when the next flight arrived.  I was told to get out of line at the lost baggage office and go look for it in the next drop of Baltimore luggage.  So I had to spend another half hour in the airport when it didn’t come on the second flight, and I still needed to report it.

The night felt ungodly at times.  It included: landing in a thunderstorm with my stomach in my throat; temporarily losing my beloved staff (it arrived this morning); experiencing one of the longest car rental processes ever; having the GPS on my phone insist that my motel was thirty-two minutes away when I knew it should be less than ten; having the front desk man be nowhere near the office and having to track him down by website and phone in order to check in; and, finally, having a cut-rate bar as the only open source of food at midnight that didn’t come in a cellophane bag.

What saved the night and my sanity was an adolescent daughter who’s as impatient and demanding as I am – only she doesn’t have the necessary filter we adults all know we’re supposed to act like we have.  At one point in the airport, after the second flight didn’t deliver my staff, she looked at my dejected face and just silently reached out and bear hugged me.  I thanked her and told her she was being great, even though I knew she was hungry.  With a grin and in a why-are-you-surprised tone of voice, she said, “That’s because you gave me cookies.”  Bringing cookies for the flight may have been my smartest decision in a long time.

IMG_20140607_182847

Later in the rental car, sitting in darkness by the side of a highway ramp trying to figure out what was wrong with my GPS, the hungry girl I would have expected to finally be flipping out through no fault of her own just looked out the window and said: “It’s like we’re cursed or something.”  Her delivery was priceless.  I had to laugh.  And with tension relieved by laughter, I cleared out the address, re-entered it for the third time, and for reasons only God understands, it finally gave me a route that was seven minutes away, not thirty-two.

It was remarkable.  I remembered the cookies, but she remembered that sometimes I need her, too – to do the best she can not to add to a problem.  She remembered, and she came through.  What a blessing on a cursed night of travel.


The Inventory on the Shelf

Over the weekend I was subjected to folks offering an enthusiastic assessment of what they consider to be my flaws.  It was not a pleasant experience, but truth be told, it’s an exercise I used to be painfully good at.  In one of the circles I run in, we call it taking somebody’s inventory – a fancy way of saying being openly judgmental for little reason other than that we can.  For years I was told that’s something we humans are not supposed to do.  But my experience this weekend reminded me of the importance of inventory taking and the ground rules it should carry.

When I look back twenty-five years on the know-it-all, loud mouth I was, I cringe deeply and for a good minute or so.  I was the worst kind of inventory taker: I gave opinions without being asked, and I wasn’t the least bit mindful of whether I was hurting someone.  It took a few years in the real world to figure out that people didn’t care what I thought about anything and expressing my opinion made me very easy to dislike.  Once I got that lesson, though, I made the mistake that many converts make: I went too far the other direction.  I started feeling like I needed to find a confessional every time I had a less-than-flattering thought about the words or actions of others.

Then I made the very fortunate move of mentioning my guilt over continuing to be judgmental to an older and wiser friend.  She set me straight once and for all.

“People have to take each other’s inventory,” she began.  “How else are we going to know whether a person is a healthy, positive addition to our lives or someone that we should keep our distance from?  To be completely accepting of what people do and say is just not very smart.  Taking somebody’s inventory isn’t wrong, but sharing that inventory with them is!”

I’m grateful to have that fifteen-year-old mini-lecture to remember and hold onto.  It empowered me this weekend to politely point out to the person judging me that I hadn’t asked for her opinion.  It also empowers me daily to hold my emotional distance from folks with behavior on their storeroom shelves that can be damaging to me.


Rescue & Reunion

I’m uncomfortable asking people if I can take a picture of them for my blog.  This is why I usually just take candid shots of folks in action. Most at the guan are accustomed to having their pictures plastered across the web, either on the school’s website or on its Facebook page.  So they simply raise an eyebrow at me and go about their business.  That’s how I got this one of “Pooh”…

IMG_20140426_113603

 

…and this one of Siheng Steve.

 

IMG_20140419_114217

But what to do about the ones who deserve to be commemorated that I would have to ask?

“Larry!” I said Thursday morning, mustering the right balance between middle-aged composure and the teenaged enthusiasm I felt.  He raised his hand high in the air and swooped it down to dramatically grab mine and shake it.  “Congratulations on baby number three,” I added.  “How old now?”

He answered eight months, confirming that it had been more than a year since I’d last seen him.  The shots I was given over the winter for my lower back problems eliminated any need to see my orthopedist and the physician assistant of hers who practically took my hand off saying hello.  So Larry and I had a lot to of catching up to do.

As he checked out the shoulder pain from my staff practice that’s impeding my sleep, we chatted about his kids, my new kung fu forms, his new house, my old job, the abandonment of his training as a runner, where I am in my kung fu teaching life, and so on.  By the time my x-rays returned to tell us that nothing’s broken or floating around in my socket, I felt like I’d been out to lunch with a college roommate instead of freezing my buns off in a doctor’s office.

I had once been near tears in his examination room, less than a month after my fifth knee scope, listening to him tell me that his boss, my surgeon, was not likely to authorize any additional cortisone shots to the knee (I’d already had my two for the year).  I knew that I probably couldn’t tough it through the end of black sash testing without mitigating the pain for my battered, arthritic, reconstructed joints. He knew it, too.  And he rescued me.

He chose the replacement synthetic cartilage shot that would get me to and through the final test, when the regular one suddenly stopped working.   To complete test number three with a little less angst and a little more skill, he squeezed me into his schedule on a day that the waiting room was overrun and extracted excess fluid from a swollen knee that was almost incapacitating.  Each of the three times I saw him from the last surgery to the award of my sash, he asked for the date of my final black sash test.  And after doing the math for the countdown, he told himself aloud how many more weeks he needed to keep my legs working, then reaffirmed to me that he’d do his best to get me to the finish line.

I love Larry.  I couldn’t thank him fast enough after it was all over.  One of these days, I’m going to have to get a picture of him.


Not Enough

A meeting is set for next week to finalize plans for the children’s kung fu class at the gym.  My excitement grows as the days pass.  But joy is a bit muted today on this Good Friday, because I miss my mother.

Mom was raised a Fundamentalist Baptist, but by the time she died, she’d probably attended a service of every Christian denomination in North America.   Though she wasn’t loyal to the Fundamentalists (I can’t help but be a bit grateful for that), she was a church-going woman who consciously strove to be a good Christian until the day they wheeled her into the hospice center for the final day of her life.  So, from as far back as I can remember, Easter was a big deal in our household.  And though I’m not a church-going woman, it’s still a big deal to me today.

Ironically, the part of the holiday that makes me wistful for my mother’s presence is the pagan ritual.  Easter egg hunts in her yard are some of the fondest memories I have of the extended family.  And her final Easter, three months before her death, was the last time my children saw her still looking like herself, still acting like Nana.

I wish I could personally thank her for the many wonderful Easter weekends of my life – before and after my children came along.  I did so while she was living, but not nearly enough.

Family1


Mental Notes

It was my first Wednesday in forever without a trip to the guan, and it was noteworthy for its lessons:

– Retail space in my popular neighborhood is expensive; retail space with high ceilings is very very expensive.  A school of my own would have to be in another neighborhood.

– Well-established gyms that don’t offer a martial arts class have program personnel who aren’t interested in martial arts.  I shouldn’t spend too much time trying to make them interested before offering my skills elsewhere.

– Training for five successive days is debilitating to the knees, no matter how much massage and ointment are applied to them.  Just because I have the space to practice every day doesn’t mean that I should.

– The method of delivering a message is as important as the message itself.  Don’t put anybody on the defensive, especially if I want them to hear what I’m saying.

– Anger is empowering but destructive.  Put my energy into forgiveness or detachment… or both.

Valuable food for thought acquired this Wednesday.  More and more to be said for time outside the guan.


Square One

“And I’m going to need some space outside of classes.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, with images of accosting him on the street popping into my head.  “I don’t understand.”

He smiled broadly and just stared at me a moment before continuing. I thought that if a total stranger to both of us had been passing us at that moment, they might have thought my boyfriend was breaking up with me or something.  It struck me as that strange a thing to say.

“Don’t email me anymore.  I don’t want any more explanations or apologies,” he clarified, still smiling.

At that point, I stifled a chuckle, understanding the richness of the irony.  The previous moment’s exchange was almost the quintessential example of our difficulties with each other: Sifu’s tendency to hint at what he wants me to do, expecting me to intuit his meaning, and my tendency to ask for explicit clarification, instead of risking misinterpretation of what had already been said.

We had each done what we do, engaged in one of the acts that most baffles the other.  Only this time, he didn’t make a second cryptic statement to follow the first or simply leave my question completely unaddressed.  He directly told me what he didn’t want me to do, rather than leave me to make a future error unaware.  It felt like a gift – an expensive and well-wrapped one at that.  And that wasn’t even the best part of the conversation.

The prohibition against cyberspace communication was a result of my having emailed him Friday afternoon to extend a second apology.  I wanted him to know that I’d had the cultural error of my ways spelled out to me.  But he opened today’s conversation by pulling me aside at the conclusion of two and half hours of training and announcing: “I didn’t actually read your email yesterday; I started to but decided to stop.  I want to just start things over between you and me.  As of right now, we just begin again from here.”

“I’d love that,” I answered, wondering if some kind of epiphany had occurred since he’d dressed me down – and without him even reading the apology I’d offered with a humble mea culpa.

Did he come to see my point of view?  Did he notice the dirt on his own side of the street?  Did the reason for the overture matter at all?

It certainly could if I let it.  But what good could possibly come from that?


The Sum Total

Our contender is exhausted and wishing that his trials to make the national team were over already.  My son has strained or torn his glute and can’t jump or kick without pain.  (This is a teenager with a tornado kick that looks like he’s flying, and now he can’t jump without pain!)  Our guan is in serious disrepair.  Some would say there are spots that are a health hazard if not a safety one, but we don’t yet have somewhere else to go.  My second shot into the base of my spine was more painful than the first, but at least tonight, it was working pretty well.  After more than an hour of teaching and another hour or so of personal practice consisting mostly of sweeps, tornado kicks and kicking combinations, I’m able to walk up and down the stairs in my house like a normal person, instead of taking them one at a time.  That’s the sum total of my martial arts experience and concerns this evening, and I have no desire to go into further detail about any of the items above.  I just want to sit with it all, the good and the bad, and be grateful.

I have a high class of problems, if you can even call them that: commuter trains that are never on time and make me late for kung fu classes that I’m supposed to be teaching; authors who are boring, bland and vanilla that I’m ordered to feature on one of my television  shows because they have a big name or they fit a needed political perspective; not having the food in the house that I had no way of knowing I’d be craving after an evening in a leaky school with fantastic young men giving it their all through fatigue and pain. These are today’s problems.  They’re indicative of a full and satisfying life.

I can always worry tomorrow about how long the latest shot will last, if it will in fact eliminate my need for arthritis medication or anti-inflammatories, as I deeply hope it will.  Tomorrow I will continue my prayers for the means to send my currently-injured, kindred martial arts soul to the college of his choice.  I will get through the morning editorial meeting without showing my annoyance at matters above my pay grade that shouldn’t be. Etcetera.

Lastly, I will do all I can to remember and hang on to how it feels right now to be simultaneously happy, miffed, concerned, a touch sad – but somehow, above all, grateful.


Pondering Gratitude

I have an employer that offers a stellar comprehensive insurance plan at a reasonable cost to me.  Far too many people are not as lucky.  I’m very grateful. Were it not for my employer’s generosity, I probably couldn’t have stayed with kung fu long enough to become maniacally crazy about it.  The cost of patching up my legs three times would have been too high.

This is what I was thinking at eight o’clock in the morning, as I sat in the waiting room of the doctor my internist sent me to in the hopes he could do something about the lower back pain and sporadic sciatica that my orthopedist doesn’t treat.  I had a considerable amount of time to ponder my gratitude – an hour to be exact – because the woman who signed in five seconds before me, with an appointment time thirty minutes after mine, was erroneously seen first.  I couldn’t help but ask the receptionist: “Then what’s the point of having appointments if you just have to walk in first?”  I received neither a response nor an apology. That seriously muted my gratitude.  But I digress.

The flip side of appreciating the quality medical care I receive (and believe all should have) is anxiety.  What happens to my kung fu life if I lose this level of care?  It most likely goes away.

I realize that’s an upper Northwest kind of problem, as a D.C. native would say (i.e. high class), particularly when the question for many others is: what happens to life itself without healthcare?  But it would most definitely be a problem, on so many levels, were it to happen.  So chronic pain and long waits aside, I remain indisputably grateful that I continue to be patched up… and that the price of the patching is one I can still afford.