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.