queen of sheba

We live in a shiny world.

There’s a whole lot of bling and bright lights and stages and soap-boxes. There are folks that everybody knows and whose voices are louder and whose connections are deeper and who wind up all superfabulous in the spotlight. There are people who get a lot of love for something wonderful they’ve accomplished or for their brilliant ideas or for their athletic talent. In some cases, this is good stuff; I’m all about sending emotional bling to the Desmond Tutus of the world! (In some cases, this is not so good; I mean, really, why so much attention for the Kardashian sisters?)

It’s easy to admire those that have light shining on them.

Today, however, is all about sending a shout-out to all the people in the world who do amazing things, every single day, and never get the shine.

It’s about spreading a little bit of that light to the custodian at school whose day begins as mine is ending, who cleans up after hundreds of teenagers with a wide grin on his face and remembers everyone’s birthday. To the security guard in my building who works two jobs to pay for his wife’s medical bills and gives me a hard time about basketball. To my student who, even though the spotlight tries to shine on him, finds ways to focus the light on his teammates. To my dear friend who left a comfortable job to take on a crazy challenge at a new school with no resources, who is making significant change in the lives of the kids she is working with and still manages to go home and be a mom to three little hooligans all while going to school at night. To my dad who is simply kind, all of the time, to everyone he meets.

These people don’t do what they do because they want to be acknowledged. They are rocking out and changing the world with their integrity because it’s just who they are. That doesn’t mean that they don’t need to be acknowledged; some recognition might feel good and encourage them to be even kinder, even more industrious, even more real. And how great would the world be if the great ones became even greater?!

Part of what makes them so great is that they don’t realize how great they really are.

Shiny bling is cool! But all of the humble-rockstars in the shadows? Now, they are the truly fabulous and spotlight-worthy.

Today, remember to snuggle the people who do it all for the love.

sweet judy

Today my friend Judy died.

She was a giver. A first-order, drop-everything, be there with a smile on her face, lend a hand, giver.

Judy was full of laughter. She was kind. She was funny. She was feisty. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She spent her days at work helping people out and her time out of work helping people out. And it was never a strain; this was just who she was, a giver.

This completely unfair life left Judy with a brain tumor just weeks after she retired; she spent the remainder of her retirement fighting for her life until today when she passed on while surrounded by her beloved husband, children and others in their family.

When I think of Judy, she’s making a cheeky comment and cracking up. She’s finding the good in the most ordinary of moments.

So life isn’t fair. But it sure is full of amazing people.

I want to make sure that I make the most of every ordinary moment I have with the amazing people in my life.

Sometimes that’s doing something incredible together. Sometimes it’s a quick phone call or a check-in email. Sometimes it’s a full-on snugglefest complete with Thai food or movies or TV reruns of cop shows. Sometimes it’s a yoga date or a group at dinner or just sitting together in silence. Sometimes it’s boisterous laughter or planning a trip or taking a long walk at the reservoir. Sometimes it’s hijacking someone from their regular routine for a glass of wine on the couch while ignoring the kids or driving to Ikea or sitting together knitting. Sometimes it’s doing a whole lot of nothing but being happy with the people that I love.

Our time here is precious and it is not promised to us.

Life is better when you give. It’s better when you laugh. It’s better when you live it up and when you surround yourself with amazing people.

And most of all, life is better when you love with your whole heart.

Rock on, Judy. xoxo

stress pudding

Yesterday I almost drowned in a sea of paper.

I was at my desk plodding through mounds of work when, all of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe. Literally. I was struck breathless by stress.

You have to know that I’ve been floating along this year on a calm sea of cold-chilling, chocolate-pudding happiness. Even in the moments that I knew the water beneath me was deep, I was blissfully swimming along, making progress while ignoring the circling sharks.

And then, yesterday, I got caught in some weird undertow and was suddenly swallowing gallons of water, spitting and spurting, my eyeballs bulging, arms flailing all in the name of stress.

Everyone knows that flailing when you are drowning just makes things worse. But when you’re drowning, you bug out; all rational thought goes out the window.

Yesterday, I was flailing. I sat at my desk, rummaging aimlessly through piles of paper, talking to myself, gasping for air. Until I finally admitted to myself that I was overwhelmed.

As soon as I confessed to myself that I was, indeed, stressed, a life-raft arrived.

My friends.

Friends who just listened. Friends who gave me long hugs. Friends who reminded me that I dont have to do everything myself. Friends who told me to go home and take a nap.

I count on my friends all of the time to help me put things into perspective. They help me remember how to swim around sharks and to stop every now and then for a breather.

I am no good to anyone when I’m drowning. So that pile of papers? A great reminder that I need to nurture myself. I need to do right by my self. I need to listen to my body when it tells me it’s tired, listen to my soul. I need to care for my self with the same gusto with which I care for others.

Yesterday was a bummer.

Today?

Today I took the time to thank each of the friends that helped me through yesterday. Spending that moment with each of them made my today even better. Today I put music on in my office and rocked out while I made my way through the piles. I asked for help with what felt like too much and let go of everything having to be just so. I laughed. A lot.

I talked about what was contributing to my stress and the processing with friends helped me move through the muck back into a space of calm.

Today, thanks to my friends, I was swimming in the chocolate pudding with long, even strokes.

Mmmmmmmm chocolate pudding.

l*ve, h@pe and other four letter words

I swear like a sailor.

Despite my mother’s attempts to instill in me a fabulous vocabulary with which to express myself in times of strife, I have been known to curse like a truck-driver who’s stuck in traffic with an empty tank of gas.

It feels good! It’s verbal release! And in those moments when I struggle to be brave enough to articulate how I really feel, swearing does the job. I’m pretty good at censoring myself, I do work with kids all day, so I’ve gotten pretty good at leaving out the ugliness. I do not insert bleeps, I just find more appropriate words to express myself. But there’s just something about the throwing down a curse that provides emphasis like no other word; it’s an exclamation point!

The first time I ever got caught swearing I was 8 years old. I had good reason, I was being dragged by the rope-tow up a mountain. One ski was left ten feet behind me, the other was twisting my leg into some inhumane position. I’d taken my mittens off at the bottom as I was sweating from being nervous; I now had the beginnings of rope burn on my palms and still had half the hill left to be dragged up.

I didn’t say it loudly. Just above my breath. But WOW. It felt good. It felt daring. It also was louder than I thought because my mother, who was standing in front of me, heard it pop out. She whipped around and grabbed me by my rope-burned hand, pulled me off of the rope tow and proceeded to lecture me about my language right there on the bunny hill. Embarrassing yes, but enough to scare the swears right out of me, no.

So when a dear friend sent an update a while back about the status of her husband’s cancer, I responded to her email with the classic F-bomb. That was just how I felt. I didn’t really give it much thought.

It didn’t do anything, my swear-word. It didn’t help. No relief; not for me, not for my friend, not for her amazing husband. It just sat there like an undetonated grenade.

My friend gracefully responded that they had surely uttered their fair-share of F-bombs but, given their circumstances, had decided that there were much better four-letter words for them to focus on.

I don’t recall much of what my mom said on the bunny hill that day, just that as she turned to ski away, she looked me dead in the eye and proclaimed, “So Negative!” and left me sitting there, unable to move, in the snow.

So while saying certain words does give release, relief, or even invoke a response, it doesn’t change anything. Negativity doesn’t provide a solution. As Martin Luther King, Jr. so beautifully said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The light I intended to shine that day for my friend was lost in dark words. What I meant to say was, “I love you. I wish I had something magical to help you through this challenge. I am in awe of you and your strength, your optimism, your ability to still be there for others when you are going through so much.” I meant to say, “Thank you. Thank you for reminding me about what is important.”

So today, I’m moving forward with the intention to choose my four-letter words with more wisdom. Today, to my friends, I say LOVE, HOPE, PRAY, WISH, SING, KISS, REST and STAR-WARS (okay, it’s hyphenated, so what!?).

Words have power.

Choose wisely.

release of the resolutions

I rang in 2012 with my family.

There was no wild party, no hats or noisemakers. There was a dance party, but it ended at 8:00 when the 6-year old and 4-year old went to bed. My night was mellow and just what I needed, my brother and his wife, my niece and myself snuggled up in blankets hanging out.

And, we played a silly game.

We ditched the game-board and went low-maintenance; I read cards full of seemingly random collections of words for everyone else to decipher, kind of like that short-lived game show, Bumper Stumpers where people decoded vanity license plates for loads of cash. We got super hung up on Run Hazel Wig Here.  My brother, Justin, must have said those words 3,000 times, emphasizing different syllables, using different accents, different intonations, different paces until finally we solved the puzzle, tears streaming down our faces from laughing so hard.

Over and over in my head I could hear my brother’s voice saying those ridiculous words and then the word RESOLUTION popped into my head (it was New Year’s Eve after all).  I could hear it all slow-mo-style like when we used to click records down to the 16 setting on Dad’s record player.   My 6-year old niece had just proclaimed that she had three resolutions and I thought, whoah, if she’s got three and she’s only six… I should have 18.5 resolutions going into 2012. The pressure was on.

The truth is I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions.

Not just because it feels cliche to all of a sudden determine that I will lose weight, stop eating out, floss daily, vacuum more, not wait until my laundry bin has exploded in my closet to actually do the wash, work less, relax more, pay off my credit card, swear less or quit drinking coffee just because the calendar is turning from 12/31 to 1/1.

Resolutions make me feel like I’m ending the year focusing on something about myself that just isn’t good enough. Ugh, what a way to break up a good party snugglefest: deliberating over problems. These resolutions I’d been making seemed to be just that: REsolutions…attempt after attempt after attempt to fix what was wrong with me.  What a rotten way to start a new year.

Enough of that craziness!  Resolutions are soooo 2011!

Last January a group of amazing people gathered in my home for a pot-luck dinner. I have the great fortune to have found a small extended family in a group of former students and we gather, along with a teacher/friend, each year over Winter break and Summer break to share time with each other. Last year we took a quiet moment in each other’s company to set an intention for ourselves for the upcoming year; something that we wanted to hope into our lives or into the lives of someone else. Some of us shared with the group, some of us kept our hopes in our own hearts.

My intention was two simple words: grounded growth.

In that moment, I was setting an intention to grow, to expand, to reach out from a place of strength and stability. It had nothing to do with starting a blog. In fact, it wasn’t until that slow-motion resolution word kept echoing in my ears, that moment when I resolved to let go of resolutions and focus, instead, on being at peace with myself and all of my imperfections, that I remembered that scrap of paper.

I wrote those words in a room full of friends. In a safe space amongst people with whom I feel beloved for sharing my quirky-random-imperfect self.  I had no idea that those words would lead me to start this little adventure of writing and sharing and connecting! I ended 2011 feeling like I had accomplished something that I hadn’t even realized I had set out to do; full of hope and excitement and a feeling that I am enough just as I am.

It’s 2012. This year feels special.

It’s the year that many of the students from the group I mentioned before will graduate from college. I cannot begin to express how proud I am to bear witness to their growth. It is the year that my current group of kids at school will graduate from high school; I’m not quite sure what I will do without them when they move on! It is the year of my 20th high school reunion.

2012 is the year of all sorts of beginnings and endings and milestones and changes and wonderful moments and adventures and little fabulous gifts that have yet to reveal themselves.

This year starts not with problem-focused craziness, but with a quiet thought on all that I would like to bring more of into my life.

It’s going to be good. I can feel it.

caught in my tin can

I got caught singing in my car today.

I was in full-on concert mode; not pretending to be Adele, but pretending that her song was my song and I was on stage fully bringing it to my adoring audience.  The crowd was vast, waving their iphones with the candle-app; I think I was even doing the closed-eye thing singers do when they are really feeling the groove.

Just as I hit the chorus, I got completely snagged. I was doing a little hand motion thing, fist clenched with passionate intensity, when I felt eyes on me. Not the eyes of my adoring imaginary audience, but real eyes from the car speeding up next to mine. My heart beat out of my chest.  I had that horribly mortified feeling like I just stepped out of the shower and dropped my towel accidentally in front of a crowd.

As I was cruising along in my little tin can on the highway, I forgot, in that private moment, that I was, in fact, out in public.

We all do things we wouldn’t do if we knew someone else was watching. We all do things in front of some people that we might not do in front of others. In so many instances, we put away pieces of ourselves for others. We have our “at home” self and our “in public” self.  We are careful about what we say. We rein ourselves in. As we were taught as kids, we demonstrate self-control.  We diligently protect ourselves. We carefully protect others from ourselves.

I don’t mean to imply that not putting oneself completely out there is bad. The world would be pretty nuts if we all just said and did exactly what we were thinking all of the time; I mean, there’s something to be said for a little bit of decorum!  But as we tuck pieces of ourselves away, out of fear or shame or insecurity, we risk losing what is most wonderful about each of us.

So where is the line? When does putting away who we are when no one is looking to be who we are in front of others become a compromise of our own integrity? How far do we let the fear of not being accepted take us?

Teenagers are in the thick of this. I see it every day as I witness their wade through the deep waters of figuring themselves out.  While they are rolling in the deep, the older I get the more I feel like I just take the occasional plunge. I thought for sure I would wake up one magical day and not care one bit what anyone else thought of me.  Do I dare admit that I sometimes care? And if I admit that I care, do I somehow compromise my own character?

With each day I grow more comfortable with the fact that I do care, that I do censor myself to a degree.  Each day I grow more at ease with admitting that rather than trying to hide yet another piece of myself by pretending that I don’t.  For me, that’s as authentic as I can be right now.

There are people in this crazy world with whom I don’t have to put any pieces of myself away.  With each day, I realize the incredible value of spending my time with those people.

And so there I was, wanting to just speed away from whoever was in the next lane over without ever looking at them.  Just as I was about to accelerate away from the embarrassing confrontation, something in the air made me duct-tape the mouth of my innerjudge.  I faced my fear, and there in the next lane, in the car with all of the eyes, was my dear friend B with her husband and their three kids; all of whom I love.  They were all frantically waving and laughing and giddy at seeing me in concert.

I laughed and waved back, still singing.

inhale peace, exhale stress

Last year I cried in yoga class.

Sixty plus people packed into a room to salute the sun and stretch away their stress and I was that girl who fell to the floor in a puddle of tears.

I walked in to the practice that night wound up tight. A parent at school was upset with me and I took her words to heart instead of considering that they came from a place of difficulty in her own life. I had taken on too much at work, wasn’t making enough time for myself or the people that I love and my body was carrying all of the garbage that comes with stress. I was unbalanced.

So there I was flowing along, telling myself that with each breath I inhaled peace, exhaled stress; with each new pose I was releasing the tension that had wound me up so tight I couldn’t see straight.

And then we did Goddess pose; known in Susannah-land as make-yourself-as-vulnerable-as-possible pose.

As I stood there, open, exposed, surrounded by strangers, open, tears began to stream down my face.  Just as I began to cry, my instructor stood face to face with me.  She looked me in the eyes. She mirrored my pose and said, “Be a goddess.” I nodded, still in my pose,  thinking, “yup, right, I am so NOT a goddess right now.” I mean, how could I be a goddess with snot dripping down my lip?

She didn’t blink. She didn’t move and said again, “BE A GODDESS.”

And then the floodgates. In that quiet room with all of those people whose feet were planted so solidly on the ground, I fell to the floor and sobbed.

I sobbed for a long time. And no one came over to ask me if I was okay. Or told me it would be alright. No one assured me that if I just stopped crying I would feel better. I just sobbed, curled in a ball on my yoga mat with the quiet hand of my instructor on the center of my back.  It was the first time in a long time that I could just let go.  I could just feel how I felt without having to explain it to anyone. Without having to apologize to anyone. Without having to feel badly that I was making anyone else feel uncomfortable or put out by my feelings.

Everyone in the room just carried on. And the world didn’t fall apart. And neither did I.

Ah, sweet relief.  Sweet release.

This goddess gathered herself up and joined in for Tree pose; her balance had never been better.

shine on, john travolta!

I saw John Travolta. Yup, I did.

He was strolling down 5th Avenue, checking out the elaborate Christmas windows at Bergdorfs on a Friday night just like some sort of normal guy in New York in December. It was chilly, the crowds had thinned enough that my mom and I could really see the windows up close and then, BAM! There he was, John Travolta, walking down the street, carrying a baby, laughing with his family.

He was glowing.

Really, he actually had a bright light shining around him. Oozing out of him. Even his baby was glowing (probably why Mom completely missed JT as she goggled over the lit-up baby). The Travoltas: magical beings carousing on 5th Avenue; beamed down to Earth to spread their light and bring joy to the masses.

And joy they brought! I was star struck. I whipped out my phone to text Kate that I’d spotted the real Urban Cowboy, the better-with-age Vinny Barberino, our god-in-the-flesh Tony Manero in all of his one-piece-jumpsuit glory. I told everyone who’d listen about my special moment. My 3 second brush with celebrity gave me a weird rush; as if being in the mere vicinity of JT’s fabulousness somehow made me fabulous, too!

His glow made me glow.

On the train down to the city I got a phone call from one of my students letting me know that she’d been accepted Early Decision to an incredibly competitive college. I cried. And then I giggled uncontrollably. The woman one seat over gave me a funny look, not knowing that the stifled weird squeaking noise was my version of holding back from jumping up and down and yelling to the whole train about my student’s amazing news. While I was giggling a giant spotlight seemed to shine on me with that loud Thunk! you hear in the movies when the stage is dark and then it isn’t.  I’m sure the entire train was looking at me; like that scene in “The Lonely Guy” when Steve Martin goes out to dinner alone. Only they weren’t looking at me because I was awkward; they were looking at me because I was experiencing the fabulousness of someone else’s magical moment.  I was glowing.

Celebrities are cool. But they’re only cool because of us. Not to discredit JT. He’s pretty amazingly cool.

But, so are we!

My friends shine light like there’s no tomorrow. And my students, my students are stars. My nieces and nephew, beaming. My brother, on fire. My parents and the rest of my family are all kinds of lit up with coolness.  And, on a good day, when I’m surrounded by all of the energy and light of the amazing people in my life, I am a firework.

That’s UBUNTU. You glow, I glow, We glow.

There’s enough light to go around. Shine some. It’s fun.

 

 

 

more clapping, more growth!

I have a love/hate relationship with milestones.

When I was little, milestones were pretty much the most spectacular thing on the planet.  Before I even knew what I was doing, people were celebrating my accomplishments. I crawled! I cut a tooth! I pooped on the potty! All pretty phenomenal stuff, I know, but none of which I can really take credit for. It was all stuff that just happened as a matter of course, but man, people were clapping for me and giving me stickers and making me feel like I was the greatest thing on earth for tying my own shoes!

I suppose there’s so much fanfare because each of these moments is an indicator of growth and the acknowledgement of progress encourages more.

Rites of passage, the crossing of thresholds, the reaching of milestones… when we are little, these all just sort of happen to us and then one day we wake up and, all of a sudden, no one is celebrating every little thing that we do. Spotlight off, curtain drawn.

Unless it’s your wedding day, or a graduation, the ribbon-cutting for your own business, or the birth of your baby, there’s not a whole lot of clapping going on once you become an adult. And, sure, for some of us, our progress is less visible the older we get. It’s no surprise that I hear no one cheering for my gray hair. Or that no one’s throwing a party for their best friend’s ability to balance a full-time job, 3 kids, graduate school and a giant house or calling all their friends to crow about their son’s decision to quit the job that is making him miserable or sending out a happy newsletter about their own divorce. For the most part, except for on your birthday, the applause have stopped.

I get that. It would be weird and contrived and kind of annoying if we all ran around with pompoms to cheer each other on through all of life’s challenges.  But if we are so game to celebrate the reaching of milestones, why are we equally game to question and judge and doubt each other and ourselves for not reaching them?

I’ve avoided a few of the milestones deemed important in our culture. I haven’t gotten married.  I’m pushing 40 and don’t have any children. I traded in the gift registry for questions about why? why not? when? who? how come? I ask myself those questions, too. Why haven’t I? What does it all mean? If I never reach these milestones is that the equivalent, now, of never having learned to poop on the potty? Have I somehow missed the boat? Or, worse yet…failed?

I’m sure each of us has lingering questions about the choices we make in our lives… am I doing the right thing? am I making a mistake? will I regret this? am I going to be a big, fat loser and die lonely?

Perhaps the most difficult thresholds to cross are the choices that we make every single day about how we will live our lives. It is these choices that are the proof of our growth. Our conscious, well-thought out, intentional decisions are the proof that we are growing and questioning and changing and challenging ourselves; that we are making progress.

And even though we make these choices for ourselves and our growth may not mean anything to anyone else and we don’t need a pat on the back for everything that we do….

It feels damn good to be celebrated. It feels amazing to be validated. I know because I got celebrated this week by my family and friends and I feel like I could conquer the world right now.

And it feels great to validate and celebrate others. I know because I have the great fortune to get to do this every single day in my work and it makes me happy.

I’m pretty sure it feels incredible to celebrate oneself. I’m still figuring that one out…

Maybe that will be my next milestone.

jumping in

It takes me a long time to make a big decision.

I am not rash, I don’t leap without looking; in fact, I deliberated over what car to buy for a year before I finally took the plunge.  I say this with a mix of pride and shame. On the one hand, I honor the side of myself that thinks things through, that weighs the pros and cons.  On the other, I have always envied those lucky folks who can just choose, on the spot, without guilt or shame or remorse.

Don’t get me wrong, I take risks. I just take them with a whole lot of analyzing beforehand:

How will this feel?  What will it be like?  What are the consequences?  Who might I disappoint? Why?  How?  When? What if I fail?

There always comes a time in my thought process when I realize that these questions are really not about me; they are all about others; that looming fear that somehow my decisions will not be good enough, wise enough, practical enough, cool enough, smart enough, well executed enough in the eyes of someone else.

Judgement is uncomfortable, so I tend to try to avoid it.  The truth is, I can’t. No one can. Someone will always have something to say, good or bad or otherwise.

When I let that go and decide that the feedback from others only carries whatever weight I choose to give it, when I finally pull the trigger and make a decision, I feel an amazing weight lifted from my shoulders.  All of the questions I’d been carrying around become answers, all of the doubts I’d been holding become possibilities.

The decision to share thoughts on a blog is a weird one.  All of those scary questions come up for me: who cares what I have to say? What if I embarrass myself? What if no one reads it? What if? What if? What if?

My innerjudge pulls out the gavel with both hands and warns me to keep my thoughts to myself!

My innerwisdom has a louder voice today, it’s asking me, Why not?

And as my innerwisdom tends to be my greatest guide,  I am jumping in.

I am choosing courage over comfort.

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