I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Pull up a chair. Let's talk.
Tag Archives: communication
The Title Lesson
July 21, 2013Posted by on
One of the struggles with this book was keeping the title intact. Once I came up with what is discussed below, I knew the title had to be Weed Therapy. Unfortunately, that title evokes other, unrelated ideas in people. No, it’s not a book about pot, mary jane, reefer, ganja … you get the idea. The only mind-altering substance that makes an appearance in Weed Therapy is Tecate. And, maybe a little religion as well, depending on how you want to read things. That religion plays such a role will probably be a shock to those who know me.
So, with that said …
The old priest was in his church, kneeling at the altar with his head bowed so low it was a wonder he hadn’t fallen forward onto the cool stone surface that spread out between him and the display at the front of the church. A single candle burned on the ground before him. I leaned against the door frame and waited for Father Santos to finish his prayers. His mutters and whispers reached me through the still of the morning. Every once in a while he crossed himself and looked up at the figure of Jesus on the cross. He would bow his head again and resume his pleas to his god. For a man who claimed not to be a real priest, he seemed to be playing the role rather well.
Just as my stomach rumbled for the first time, the old priest rose from his knees. His voice rose slightly with a sharp word or two, no doubt brought about by the pain in his joints. I could hear the creaks and cracks all the way at the back of the church. He stood for a few more seconds with his head bowed, crossed himself one more time, and turned to walk down the small aisle between the pews.
“Ah, Señor Rockwell.” He smiled and walked past me on his way out the door. Before he got too far, he turned back and looked again at me. “Do you need to pray?”
“Uh. No. No, that’s okay.”
“Bueno. The church is always open for your prayers.” He turned back and walked towards the little house behind the church. When he opened the door, he made a show of sniffing the air. “Isabella must have come, no?”
“A woman brought a plate of food.”
“Was she beautiful?”
“Well,” I hesitated. Here was a priest, real or not, discussing the looks of a woman who was many, many years younger than him.
“It is okay. I am still a man,” he chuckled.
“Yes. She was beautiful.”
“Then it was Isabella. In little Santo Cielo, there is no other like her.” I could definitely agree with Father Santos that Isabella was beautiful.
“Come. Let us eat, if you have not already done so,” Father Santos said, crossing the threshold into his home. Father Santos sat at the table and lifted the towel. “Ah, you have much more patience than I.” On the tray were two plates piled with scrambled eggs and bacon. Another towel-wrapped bundle no doubt held more of Isabella’s tortillas. In a bowl in the center was a diced orange fruit.
“Please. Sit.” As I did so, Father Santos bowed his head. “Something I should have done last night, but I manage to forget now and then,” he said with a grin. Another stream of quiet Spanish followed as he clasped his hands together. With a clap of his hands, he finished and ordered, “Eat.”
We were silent while we ate, except when I asked Father Santos what the fruit was. “It is mamey sapote.
“It’s very good.” It tasted almost like pumpkin but was very sweet. “I’ve never had it before.”
“Mamey sapote is native to this land. Maybe, tomorrow, you will try sapodilla or cherimoya. They are sweet like nothing you have ever had before. Better than candy.”
We ate in silence for a few more moments. A silence broken only by the old man’s lips smacking together as he ate and the scrape of our forks on the cheap ceramic plates. Once our plates were clear — I used the last tortilla to wipe everything off my plate to make sure I got it all — Father Santos piled the plates on the tray and put it by the door.
“Come,” he said. I followed him out the door. From the side of the house, he took a pail and handed it to me. “The garden needs to be weeded.” I looked at the flowers that nestled up against the house and could see barely a sign of a weed. I looked at Father Santos questioningly.
“Por favor, look. There are weeds. Debe desherbar su jardin cada dia.” He returned my gaze and placed a fist to his forehead. “Señor, you must weed your garden every day, so that what weeds there are do not have a chance to spread.” I bent down and could see, in a few places, small shoots of green just beginning to break the surface of the dirt. “Otherwise, your garden will not grow as it should. The flowers will not be as beautiful.”
Later on Kelvin has an opportunity to describe what this lesson really means in the context of his life and frustrations. I’ll let you read the book to learn Kelvin’s explanation. For me, it’s as simple as this.
Leaving a note behind for your loved one. A note that says something as simple as “I Love You” or “I Want You.”
Touching your significant other. Physicallly, emotionally, intellectually, intimately. (I’ll come back to that in a moment.)
Sharing your worst fears and greatest hopes.
And listening when those you love share theirs. With an open heart and an open mind.
It’s daily gestures. Yes. Daily. Small and large. Daily. It’s telling your significant other you love him or her. Not in that passing way, almost like a throw away line. No, it’s stopping her, holding him, looking into her eyes, and saying, “I love you, I really do.”
It’s this … just like a garden is dirty … getting down in the dirt and muck of the relationship and cleaning it out. Every single relationship has it. Dirt and muck. Digging at the weeds, pulling them out by the roots and discarding them so they can’t fester and grow, spreading their roots under the surface to pop up later on, farther down the garden. The only time I’ve experienced true, unconditional love, meaning a relationship without the muck, was when my children were born. For those first few years with each of them, I loved them. It made no difference what they did or didn’t do, I loved them and I would do anything and everything I could for them. To keep them safe.
But let’s be serious, eventually every single relationship we have develops weeds. The question is what you’re doing to do to keep the weeds at bay. Small gestures can do wonders. But to me it comes back to engaging in the intimate aspects of the human existence. And, here’s where women everywhere are probably saying … yeah, figures, he’s talking about sex. No, actually, I’m not (although making love to and with your spouse — not having sex — can be a huge gesture). I’m talking about those quiet moments when two people who claim to love each other share things they don’t share with anybody else. Go back to the list above. Leaving a note with words that you could only share with that one person. Touching in a way that is reserved for your significant other. Trusting like no other to hear and understand and help resolve those fears and dreams. And doing the same in return.
I have often described a marriage as a relationship like no other in a person’s existence. Why? Because it is the only relationship where you choose somebody, another adult, to be a part of you and your life supposedly for the rest of your existence. You make a promise of something. And that promise should mean something. It also means that there should be something different between the two of you. Different than every other relationship you have. As a result, there are words and touches and thoughts and experiences and efforts that should be reserved for that person.
You weed the garden of your marriage, you keep it bright and colorful, by remembering that. Always remembering that. You made a choice that this person was the one. Act like it. Keep the weeds away.
What do you think?
A Necessary Ramble
January 17, 2013Posted by on
Somewhere around eighteen years ago, around the birth of the most Senior Junior Midget (and, yes, for those who have known me all these years, the little zygote will be turning eighteen in just eleven very short days), I commented to my siblings and parents that I thought it would be a good idea if we could write down stories of relatives past and present so that the next generation would know more about their ancestors and where they came from.
I was thinking about this: the story about my great uncle who died when somebody stuck an axe in his back.
Or this: how my grandmother was told by the town witch (in Rottenturm, Switzerland) she would marry a boy who rode by on a bicycle and a few years later, after WW I ended and my grandmother immigrated to America … and married the boy on that bicycle.
Or this: how my grandfather died in a construction accident when my mother was young and her mother was pregnant with my uncle.
Or … all these stories lost in the memories of people who grow old and forget the details.
For the most part, although my family wholeheartedly agreed with the idea, nothing came of it. My mother produced a few pages of memories. Then, a year later, my mother called me one afternoon to ask if she and my father could come over. “There’s something we want to give you,” she said, cryptically.
They arrived and my father, who is a writer, handed me, in approximately 130 single spaced pages, the story of his life. It was, possibly, the greatest gift he could have given me. After they left, I read it and completed it the next night and cried when I was done. The reasons why are a story for another day.
But, if my memory is correct, in the introduction to the volume he handed me he acknowledged that my idea contributed to his work and stated that I was thoughtful, not in the sense that I was thoughtful of others (although I’d like to think I have that quality as well), but in the sense that I was “full of thoughts.”
I read that and thought what an incredible compliment he had paid me.
A couple of years later, the less Senior, more Junior Junior Midget entered my life.
I was a father of two boys. Life took a serious turn. I had responsibilities.
For years I have defined myself as a father and believed, and acted, as though there was nothing more important than my role as my kids’ dad. I wanted kids, and in the having of them, I committed to a sacrifice of myself. There was a good that was greater than the selfishness of me that was my goal.
Here’s where I interrupt this and acknowledge that, along the way over the last eighteen years, I have certainly engaged in my own pursuits. It is not like I have devoted every waking moment to the feeding of my children. I took up golf, I took up writing, I tried to learn the guitar and the saxophone, took up running, and more or less never stopped finding little things to feed myself as well. For, as I have told people more than was necessary, I have always believed that, to be the best father I could possibly be, I also had to take care of myself.
However, there have been opportunities I have had to change the course of my life that I rejected in the name of “I have to finish my job as a father.” I had these two little boys who meant more to me than my own life. My success or failure as a human being would be measured by how I did in raising them. Nothing else mattered other than how I did with them.
My role was to teach them about life. How to live it. How to treat others. How to achieve. How to deal with success and failure. I was responsible for teaching them life lessons. Like this – no matter how much your former coaches may have wanted you playing goalie, your new coaches have never seen you play before and you have to prove yourself to them. Or, this. No matter how much you want to play soccer, wanting to doesn’t get you there, if you really want it, you actually have to work hard towards that goal.
What ended up happening along the way was that I began to care so much about everything and anything that I lost sight of a few basic truths. Now that my boys are reaching the age where they need me less and want me even less, where they are ready to spread their wings and leave the nest, to be the people they are meant to be, I realize it’s time to make an adjustment. I can no longer care quite the way I have over the last eighteen years.
A few years ago I acquired a friend. We would talk about other people in our lives and marvel at how they seemed to “float” through life without really seeming to care. We wished we could be the same way, but we felt bound by the idea that life was worth caring about. The good. The bad. The painful stuff, and the hard things. That to really live life meant that you have to experience it all and worry about it all and, well, actually talk and feel and think about everything. You know, be full of thoughts. But, not just thoughts, but emotions and effort, as well.
That’s how I believe I’ve lived my life for the past eighteen years. I’ve cared. Maybe too much. A few years ago, I wrote the following to my youngest. I no longer remember the exact reason, but based on the content, it was probably prompted by a moment when I got on him about something that I didn’t believe he was doing well enough.
Why do I care so much?
Because I have no choice. This is my one and only life. I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I don’t believe in an afterlife or reincarnation. This is my one life. My only shot. I have to get it right.
The longer I live the more I realize how valuable relationships are. Friends. Those who you care about and who care about you. That’s why I care about you.
Why do I care? Because this is my only life and I have to get it right. That means choosing to do things that mean something to me, choosing to spend my time with people who matter to me, and trying to do everything I do as best as I can. I, unfortunately, seek perfection. As a result, I can’t ever stop caring. If I stop caring, my quest ends and there’s no point in continuing.
I have yet to live a perfect day, a perfect week, or a perfect year. So, I keep caring. I keep trying. I keep moving forward in search of that perfect day. I actually hope I never reach it because, if I did, I’d have an excuse to stop caring. And, I don’t ever want to not care. It’s through caring that my life improves, that my relationships improve, who I am improves.
Every day I fail. I’m not the best father I could be. I’m not the best husband I could be. I’m not the best friend I could be. I’m not the best attorney I could be. I’m not the best person I could be. So, I keep caring. I keep trying.
It’s why I push my kids to choose things they enjoy and then to care enough about those things to be the very best they can at them. To not just go through the motions, and do the minimum, but to actually do those things the correct way. The right way. The best way.
Why do I care so much? Because I have no choice.
I wrote recently about how my youngest voluntarily, without prompting, joined me in helping a friend move. I asked him at one point that day why he did so. He told me it was because of what I wrote above. So, this is groundbreaking to me. If I were to ask such a question of my oldest, he would shrug his shoulders and mumble “because” or something like that. But, my youngest had a reason and tried to express it. He told me it had something to do with what I wrote about the importance of friends and that if helping this particular friend was important to me, he wanted be a part of it and help as well. Every time I think about this, I tear up just a bit, as I did when we were done helping my friend and his girlfriend and she gave him such an incredibly authentic thank you hug.
The problem is I realize how much I got wrong in what I wrote. This is the epiphany that has slowly grown in me over the last couple of months. It’s why the bear is waking up. It’s why …
A couple of co-workers started talking a few weeks ago about providing a mood wheel to hang on my door. As they described it, it would have pictures of Eeyore and nothing more. What another co-worker produced instead was a mood wheel that included Eeyore, Tigger, an M & M, and something else which escapes me at the moment. This week has been all about Tigger. Every day. Tigger and more Tigger.
Why? What was it that I figured out?
It goes back to something basic. The same friend with whom I puzzled over how people we know could take life so lightly, told me something critical a couple of months ago. As I’ve shared on this blog, I’ve been monumentally frustrated by my inability to kick my latest Pepsi habit. One day, my friend and I were talking about it and she said something that resonated with me, something along the lines of “stop beating yourself up over the fact that you drink Pepsi every day. You’re making yourself feel worse because you can’t do it than what the Pepsi is actually doing to you.” Or something like that.
I began to evolve that day. Yes, I was kicking myself in the ass every single day for something that just shouldn’t have been that big of a deal.
Other things came along the way. Reading Mindfulness Yoga and its description of meditation, opened my mind to something else. The author describes why so many people “fail” at meditation and explains how to succeed instead. Basically, anybody who tries to meditate, will grow frustrated by the thoughts and sounds that creep in and believe they have “failed.” What the author explained was that, as you sit there, in the quiet, focusing on your breathing and clearing your mind, if a thought creeps in, look at it, consider it, recognize for what it is, and then … let it go. Same thing, if a sound from outside pierces your meditative state, consider it, recognize and … let it go. There’s no sense in getting frustrated or angry about what has crept in.
Although I’ve only meditated a few times since reading about the above, it’s a concept I’ve taken to heart. I want to continue caring as much as I described to my son, but I no longer want to, in the process of caring, allow the things that don’t go my way control me through the frustration and anger that results. Instead, what I need to do, what I’m working on doing, what I am doing right now, is acknowledging the interruptions, recognizing them for what they are, and … I’m trying to let go. I’m trying to accept more and resist less. This doesn’t mean that I have accepted, or will accept, the inevitability of things in my life. Instead, it means that, in this very moment, I can’t get frustrated, I can’t care so much that I become incapacitated while also continuing to move forward on my life’s path.
Over the years, I’ve had a number of conversations with friends about the cycle of emotions I live in. There are the high times, the “in the middle” times, and there are those days, weeks and months when I feel like I’m buried at the bottom. I realized today that every time I have that conversation I’m at the bottom of the emotional cycle. I never talk about being at the top of the cycle. I want to talk about being at the top now. I want to stop wallowing. I want to stop feeling the pain and enjoy the good.
I wrote at the beginning of the year that my word for 2013 would be consistency. Here’s my further statement regarding that. My objective is that my cycle ends. That I spend each day thinking about something that is good in my life. That I embrace those things and, while I will still care about everything just as I always have, I will no longer focus on the failings, but instead focus on the successes. This week is not the only week that will be entirely about being Tigger. This year and the years that follow will be about being Tigger every moment I can, in a caring, loving, embracing way.
It’s Rather Simple … or is it?
November 28, 2012Posted by on
We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end.
— Benjamin Disraeli
I have this fascinating combination of an email conversation with a friend of 25 years and conversations with a co-worker and friend that has led to one of my epiphanies.
My long-time friend when I met her was married. Her marriage lasted eleven years. There was plenty of blame to go around as to why their marriage failed. Let’s just say it did. But, an unusual thing happened in the failing of their marriage. They remained friends. They maintained a connection. Years later, my friend remarried to a man I met through her.
In our email exchange, she shared that her current husband knew that she was still in a “relationship” with her former husband. That marrying her meant that he would also be asked to be a part of her former husband’s life. That they still had that connection and there was nothing he could do about it.
Fifteen years after their divorce, my friend’s former husband died of cancer. She spent the last few months of his life helping take care of him. Half of her time, in those final months, was spent at his side. During all of that time, they began to perform what she referred to as an autopsy of their marriage.
For the first time, they began to sharing their feelings from that time. She told him what she did wrong. He told her what he did wrong. She told him what she thought he did wrong. He told her what he thought she had done wrong. They had this incredibly profound conversation as his days dwindled — talking about where they were way back when, the assumptions and false beliefs they had about each other. Things they had never talked about before. It wasn’t easy. They probably ripped a few holes in each other.
But … well … wow. Why does it take somebody being on their death bed to have that kind of conversation? Why are afraid to confront our loved ones pains and fears and help them heal? Why aren’t we capable of bearing our soul to our loved ones?
Monday, I had lunch with a friend. She’s much younger than I, but she’s at a place in her life where she’s ready get married. She wants to get married. She wants to find the love of her life and be happy forever. As the days go by and that doesn’t happen, she worries more.
So, I talk to her about my theories. To me, it’s rather simple … be yourself, do the things you want to do, and you’ll find him. Just be who you are and it’ll happen. You can’t make it happen. It has to be a natural thing.
We talk, too, about what she should do once she finds that guy and her happiness. Monday, I mentioned the email exchange I had with my other friend (I think) and I talked about how there are all these things we describe as “working” on your relationship or your marriage. And I said to her, it’s not supposed to be work. If you’re with somebody where there is a real and mutual love, it’s not work. It comes naturally. If it doesn’t come naturally, well, why the hell not? Why marry somebody with whom you have to actually work at it.
No, here’s the deal. You marry somebody because you choose to. Why choose to marry somebody with whom you have to work at it? You marry the person for whom those things and feelings are effortless.
Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m an idealist and a romantic. I can’t argue that good, strong relationships do take effort. And work.
But, it should be pleasurable work … like, well, for me, making a pizza or writing a story. It’s work that you get something out of.
I told my friend that if you really love somebody and they love you, there should be something every day that’s done to show it. You can’t ever assume it (see above with my other friend). You have to show it, express it, share it, live it. I told her that every day there should be a conversation. It could last two minutes, or fifteen, or maybe sometimes for three hours. And it begins with this … what’s going on with you? No, not “how was work today?” Not “How are you?” No. No. No. It’s sitting down next to your loved on, holding on to their hand or wrapping your foot around their ankle and asking, “What’s going on with you? Tell me.” And, then being open to whatever that answer is. Share the happiness and the pain.
I came up with a different daily question this morning … what do you need from me today? You love this person, this is the person you chose to live the rest of your life with. THE ONLY PERSON FOR WHOM YOU MAKE THAT CHOICE. Who most people then spend years taking for granted. Sacrifice a little, give a bit, share the hurt, grow together. Every day. Just that little bit of you. Give it up.
Is this unreasonable? Am I totally whacked? Why is this so difficult? Why do we end so many relationships in anger and confusion? Why do we so frequently look back after somebody has left us and say, I wish I had said …? Say it now while you have the chance.
Thank you for reading my ramble … please go back to your regularly scheduled programming.
November 23, 2012Posted by on
A friend recommended to me, and then purchased as a gift for me, Replay by Ken Grimwood. It’s about a man who dies and goes back to a time 25 years earlier and replays his life, fully aware that he had already died. I won’t say more than that in case you decide to read it yourself. It’s a very interesting read.
What I wanted to share is this … the first two pages of the book (probably infringing on copyright, left and right, but what the heck, maybe it’ll get him some books sold) …
Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.
“We need –” she’d said, and he never heard her say just what it was they needed, because something heavy seemed to slam against his chest, crushing his breath out of him. The phone fell from his hand and cracked the glass paperweight on his desk.
Just the week before, she’d said something similar, had said, “Do you know what we need, Jeff?” and there’s been a pause — not infinite, not final, like this mortal pause, but a palpable interim nonetheless. He’d been sitting at the kitchen table, in what Linda liked to call the “breakfast nook,” although it wasn’t really a separate space at all, just a little formica table with two chairs placed awkwardly between the left side of the refrigerator and the front of the clothes drier. Linda had been chopping onions at the counter when she said it, and maybe the tears at the corner of her eyes were what had set him thinking, had lent her question more import than she’d intended.
“Do you what we need, Jeff?”
And he was supposed to say, “What’s that, hon?” was supposed to say it distractedly and without interest as he read Hugh Sidey’s column about the presidency in Time. But Jeff wasn’t distracted; he didn’t give a damn about Sidey’s ramblings. He was in fact more focused and aware than he had been in a long, long time. So he didn’t say anything at all for several moments; he just stared at the false tears in Linda’s eyes and thought about the things they needed, he and she.
They needed to get away, for starters, needed to get on a plane going somewhere warm and lush — Jamaica, perhaps, or Barbados. They hadn’t had a real vacation since that long-planned but somehow disappointing tour of Europe five years ago. Jeff didn’t count their annual Florida trips to see his parents in Orlando and Linda’s family in Boca Raton; those were visits to an ever-receding past, nothing more. No, what they needed was a week, a month, on some decadently foreign island; making love on endless empty beaches, and at night the sound of reggae music in the air like the small of hot read flowers.
A decent house would be nice, too, maybe one of those stately old homes on Upper Mountain Road in Montclair that they’d driven past so many wistful Sundays. Or a place in White Plains, a twelve room Tudor on Ridgeway Avenue near the golf courses. Not that he’d want to take up golf; it just seemed that all those lazy expanses of green, with names like Maple Moor and Westchester Hills, would make for more pleasant surroundings than did the on ramps to the Boorklyn-Queens Expressway and the glide path into LaGuardia.
They also needed a child, though Linda probably felt that lack more urgently than he. Jeff always pictured their never-born child as being eight years old, having skipped all the demands of infancy and not yet having reached the torments of puberty. A good kid, not overly cute and precocious. Boy, girl, it didn’t matter; just a child, her child and his, who’d ask funny questions and sit too close to the TV set and show the spark of his or her own developing individually.
There’d be no child, though; they’d known that was impossible for years, since Linda had gone through the ectopic pregnancy in 1975. And there wouldn’t be any house in Montclair or White Plains, either; Jeff’s position as news director of New York’s WFYI all-news radio sounded more prestigious, more lucrative, than it actually was. Maybe he’d still make the jump to television; but at forty-three, that was growing increasingly unlikely.
We need, we need … to talk, he thought. To look each other straight in the eye and just say: it didn’t work. None of it, not the romance or the passion or the glorious plans. It all went flat, and there’s nobody to blame. That’s simply the way it happened.
But of course they’d never do that. That was the main part of the failure, the fact that they seldom spoke of deeper needs, never broached the tearing sense of incompletion that stood always between them.
Linda wiped a meaningless, onion-induced tear away with the back of her hand. “Did you hear me, Jeff?”
“Yes. I heard you.”
“What we need,” she said, looking in his direction but not quite at him, “is a new shower curtain.”
In all likelihood, that was the level of need she’d been about to express over the phone before he began to die. “–a dozen eggs,” her sentence probably would have ended, or “–a box of coffee filters.”
Which is a lot of words to say this … don’t ever let it go flat with nobody to blame.