Courage

So I have this co-worker. She drives me nuts but she does have some good qualities. I’m resisting the urge to just unload about all of the things I cannot stand about her because this message isn’t actually about her. She just happened to utter some words that made me think.

This co-worker loves to come in to my office, sit down, and tell me all about her love life. Please note that I have not once asked her about any of it. She says that she loves how she can trust that I will always be honest with her, even if the truth isn’t something she wants to hear.

So she tells me all about this guy she has known for quite some time. She said he is her booty call and has been for a while. She said that she enjoys that there are no strings attached and it’s not complicated at all. She mentioned that the last time they were together, though, it was different. She said that he wanted to talk and even asked her to stay.

She was clearly uncomfortable. She did not want a “relationship” with him. She said she didn’t know what to do. And she wanted my opinion. So I gave it.

“Well, you could talk with him about it; let him know where you stand,” I advised.

“I’ll probably just not call him back and not return his texts,” she replied.

“Well, that’s not very courageous,” I said.

“We’re not all trying to be courageous, Melissa.”

It was her last statement that has stuck with me.

Why not?

Why aren’t we all trying to be courageous?

What’s wrong with being courageous? Is it too hard? Maybe we just don’t know what it means.

So I decided to look up the definition of courage. As I looked through the various sources, I realized that there is not one definition of courage but many. They all have the same general concept: a quality or state of mind or spirit that enables one to stand in the face of danger. Some say “without fear” or “without showing fear” but I disagree with that. Without fear, it’s not really courage at all. It’s just action.

The definition I like the most was from the Macmillan Dictionary (www.macmillandictionary.com)

Courage – noun – the ability to do something that you know is right or good, even though it is dangerous, frightening, or very difficult.

I think without that element of “right or good” you just have daring and not really courage.  But I digress.

“We’re not all trying to be courageous, Melissa.”

Well, I am.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Ever since I first read those words, I have tried to incorporate it into my life. And I would like to see more courage in our world. And I would like to see more kindness. And I would like to see more compassion.  And I would like to see more honesty.

And I would like to see less of that co-worker…if I’m being honest…

The Fountain

I love fountains.  I find the sounds of the water to be soothing, which I am aware is very strange for someone with a very strong fear of water.

I have fountains all over the house. I love all different types of fountains and am always looking for a good deal on one. So occasionally look on Craig’s List to see what is out there. What I find is usually either super high end (and quite expensive) or the super low end which is less expensive but also has quality issues.

So I was quite surprised when I came across this one really cool fountain not too long ago. I’d seen it before in catalogs and online and it is a higher quality fountain than the ones I’m used to getting. Thus it was always out of my price range. But there it was on Craig’s List and the list price was really inexpensive. I read and reread the listing looking for the flaw that must be there for such a great fountain to be listed so reasonably. Yet no mention of  water spraying straight up in the air or an unusually loud motor was made.

So I emailed my inquiry and received a response promptly.  Then life happened for a while and I forgot about this amazing find until I was cleaning out my inbox. At that point life had slowed down – I mean, I was cleaning out my inbox after all – so I sent the fountain lady another email asking if she still had the fountain. A few days later, she responded that she did have it. I happened to get that email on my birthday so I responded that since it was my birthday I wanted to get the fountain as a gift for myself.

So we set it up. I was to pick it up later in the week after work.

I arrived at her house and she invited me in. I heard a large dog in another room and saw a young girl head up the stairs to a loft area where she promptly started playing with some dolls. There was no tv on in the house (that I could hear, at least), there was a fire burning in the fireplace, and there was a beautiful Christmas tree in the corner.

The fountain lady walked over to the fountain, which was much larger than I had anticipated. It was beautiful. The copper had beautiful patina and the slate was in really good shape.  She mentioned she had considered having it running for me to see that it worked and how it looked when it was going but had opted against it because she didn’t think I would want a wet fountain in my car.

I told her it was beautiful and I started to get the money from my purse. She told me that she wanted me to take it as a birthday gift. I must have looked as puzzled as I felt. That’s when she told me that her daughter had wanted to “move” upstairs so she had needed to clear out the things that she had stored up there. And she kept going through things she had that she didn’t use or need any more. She mentioned that the only reason that she listed the fountain on Craig’s List because “what would a shelter do with something like this?” She continued on to say that it would make her heart feel good if I took the fountain.

I thanked her repeatedly and left. I decided immediately that the money I was going to pay her for the fountain, I was instead going to donate to a shelter (actually, I was going to double the amount because she was asking so little for the fountain in the first place). I mean, she would have given them the fountain if they could use it but they couldn’t. But they can use money, even if only a little.

On my drive home, I cried. I was moved. While, yes, she was sweet for giving me the fountain, that’s not what touched me.

She was a giving person, a truly generous person. She gave the things she didn’t need to shelters that do need them. And she said that as though she didn’t even know of another option.

And I had merely stumbled upon the chance to meet her.

Gratitude washed over me like…well…water in a fountain.

The flimsy door

“By choosing healthy over skinny you are choosing self-love over self-judgment. You are beautiful!”
~ Steve Maraboli

I saw this on Pinterest and, while I understand and appreciate the purpose of the article, I am disgusted by the photograph chosen to represent the “problem area.” If that represents fat in our society, then God help us all. Please stop contributing to the all too common body dysmorphia in our society. Glamorize health, not weight.

“Weight loss is not the key to your dreams. The truth is there is no lock and the door is flimsy.”
~ Golda Poretsky

The Chair

In 2008 I bought several pieces of antique furniture. Some of the pieces needed some cleaning up. I started doing little things here and there to clean up the decades’ worth of stuff that had accumulated over the years. And then a little more. And then even more.

As it turns out that kind of detail work is a lot of fun for someone who has a touch of OCD. (Ok, less like a touch and more like a slap but I digress.) I was good at it and it was fun to me.

And at that time, my social anxiety was so severe that I rarely left the house so I had plenty of time to work obsessively on little crevices that had become the home to grime over time. Q-tips and toothpicks and time. It was the beginning of a perfect hobby.

And then I had a stroke. I couldn’t pick up a toothpick much less use it to delicately coerce gunk to get off of my furniture. And it was pretty low on my list of priorities.

Over the past 4 or so years, most of the furniture has been sold or given away. Except the chair.

An old Gunlocke desk chair was listed on Craig’s List for $25. It was in overall good condition. Except for this one thing. It’s a reclining chair and you should be able to adjust how far back it goes by turning a knob under the chair that adjusts the tension in the springs under the chair.

However, that was not the case. Turning the knob did nothing at all so when you sat in the chair it instantly reclined to its fullest extent. And this scared the shit out of people. It scared the shit out of me.

But more importantly it challenged me. I had a problem to fix. I played with it a little. I took it apart, inspected the parts, and put it back together again. I couldn’t see the fix to the problem. So the chair got pushed to the backburner as I worked on a Duncan Phyffe dining table and chairs. I made some progress. And then I stopped working on everything.

Circumstances in my life after the stroke required me to move a few times. And that broken chair moved with me. And I kept saying to myself and others that I would get to it. But the truth is I had no desire to pick up a screwdriver and see my hand fail to be able to control it. And the chair would remind me every time I saw it that I couldn’t do what I used to do, that I wasn’t who I used to be.

Finally, I was able to build up the courage to try. My hand gripped the screwdriver and my wrist turned. It felt so good to see and feel my body doing what it used to do. There were some limitations, of course, but nothing so big that I couldn’t work around it. It was good. I was good.

However, I was still posed with the reclining problem. So I took it apart and put it back together several times. I won’t dive in to the details but will just say that there was this metal plate that seemed to be the problem. I just couldn’t figure out how.

Until a few weeks ago. I finally figured out the puzzle that had been plaguing me for over 4 years. It would have been a “break out the champagne” moment except for one thing. The solution that would fix the problem required welding. Sure it was a tiny bit of welding but any bit is a problem when you don’t know any welders or where to find any welders.

So the chair sat in two pieces in the spare bedroom for a few more weeks as Paige checked with a few people she knew. I was about to give up and post on Facebook a request for anyone who could or knew someone who could fix this chair for me.

Before I did, though, Paige asked her brother who recommended this little business in Fort Worth. We pulled up to a metal building and saw one man working inside. He said that he could do what was needed and it would only cost a little bit. I didn’t have any cash so Paige drove me to a little gas station with an ATM and I pulled out the cash.

By the time we got back, he had already fixed it. I was giddy. So we went home and the only thing left to do was reassemble the chair and see if it worked. I went to work. I’ll admit that I struggled with it a little but did what I could. Paige was kind enough to help me with a few things that required two people.

Then we flipped it over and Paige tried it out. Success! A few minor adjustments were needed but it worked the way it was supposed to.  I was so excited! I had figured it out and it felt so good to know that I still had the ability to figure things like that out.

This chair has so much more meaning to me than just a project. It is my 360°. This piece of my puzzle journeyed with me from my life before the stroke to my life afterwards. It is a reminder of what I lost and what I reclaimed. I love this chair.

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In the path of the tornado

Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies. It is one of few that I can watch over and over and never tire of seeing.

Like any great movie, it takes you through a wide spectrum of emotions and has characters that you can like and/or relate to. And when this movie was cast, superb choices were made. Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins brilliantly created their characters, Red and Andy Dufresne.

I’ve often identified with Andy Dufresne on many levels. Like Andy I spend more time in my head than I do with other people. I try to listen intently when people are talking to me so that I can fully comprehend everything they are telling to me. And I am certainly the type of person that would use a rock hammer to shape little rocks.

Andy says at one point in the movie that his wife told him that he was a hard man to know. I’ve heard that same sentiment expressed to me all of my life in many different ways. You can know every detail about my life and still never know me. I suppose that is true of anyone though, isn’t it?

But recently I was able to relate to Andy in a new way. [WARNING: SPOILER ALERT] A big part of the movie is when the young inmate Tommy tells Andy that he knows who really murdered Andy’s wife, the crime for which Andy is doing time. The warden does not want Andy to pursue the matter because he is afraid his illegal activities will be brought to light. So he silences Tommy.

You can see the hope fade from Andy’s face when he finds out. He is broken and hopeless and beaten. And that, my friends, is exactly how I felt recently at work.

I’ve been at my job for 3 years now. My bosses are abusive and almost impossible to work for. Of the 20 people that worked there when I started, only 3 are still there. The average range of employment seems to run between 2 – 6 months. Rarely are resignations given. Usually people quit by slamming the door behind them on the way out.

The company has been growing and we’ve been hiring a lot of new people, one of which was someone to fill a project coordinator position. She was clearly a bright woman but her background was in HR not project coordination. I am guessing that because she was clearly bright, the thought was that she would be able to pick it up fairly quickly. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

In her defense, I don’t believe anyone spent any time training her. I asked repeatedly for her to be able to sit with me so that I could walk her through everything. And permission was granted each time but when the time came, they needed her to do this or that instead. Oh and it was decided that she was going to be doing the HR related tasks.

Well, finally she was able to keep one of the times that we set up. It was to go over our employee leave record. She sat down slightly behind me and I begin explaining how it works. I explained how we accrue paid leave, how we track it, etc. I admitted my ignorance in how and when they decided to deduct the unpaid leave from the paychecks because it definitely is not within the same pay period as the time used. And I told her that several times last year I just wasn’t issued a paycheck with the reason given that I had used that much time off that they had paid me for.

I looked back to make sure that she hadn’t fallen asleep. Her mouth was hanging open. She proceeded to tell me how illegal that is and that if someone reported them, they would certainly be in a lot of trouble. Just to be sure she had understood me, I repeated it all again and offered up the bosses’ explanation for how this was ok. Again, she reiterated that no matter how you dress it up, it is still illegal.

A number of emotions washed over me. I was angry that I had let them take advantage of me like that, that I had just accepted it just like I accept the abuse they dump on me day after day. I also felt validated; I’d known something was off about it but didn’t want to invite more abuse or, worse yet, an invitation to leave by bringing it up. And these guys see every employee as disposable so there is no such thing as job security. But mostly I felt hopeful. I felt hopeful that we had someone on staff who knew the labor laws and who would hopefully get them to make some changes that would help us.

I went home that night feeling pretty good. Sure there was the occasional feeling of anger every now and then but mostly pretty good.

The next day at work one of the bosses stopped in the doorway to my office, checked to see if anyone was close enough to hear, and then proceeded to tell me that we would be letting the new girl go today. He said we were eliminating the position so it would technically be a layoff. He said to get the paperwork ready.

And suddenly I was Andy Dufresne.

Hopeless, beaten, broken Andy Dufresne.

Guess it’s time to break out the rock hammer.

 

“I was in the path of the tornado… I just didn’t expect the storm would last as long as it has.” – Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption

 

Things That Amaze Me

In our world with all of the information to which we have access few things are left to amaze people.  Frequently I fall in to the group of people who is not often awestruck. I have seen technology advance at extraordinary rates and doubt that it will do anything but continue to do so.

Yet with all that I see, I’m actually a little surprised when things do truly amaze me. And this little list doesn’t even begin to cover every one of those things but it is a start.

1. The human body – who couldn’t be amazed by the human body or the body of any living creature, actually. We start with one cell. That cell multiplies (or divides – I never was that good with math) to create more cells and those create more cells and so on. Those cells become different types of cells that create different systems within the body. All of the systems work with the others. The nervous system, the circulatory system, the digestive system, the immune system, the endocrine system, the reproductive system, the respiratory system, the muscular system and the others I’m sure I’m forgetting. I know so little about how it all works and there is so much to know! Every minute of every day there are a million little processes going on inside of us. I’m amazed at how complicated it all is. I’m amazed at how it all works.

And on a personal note, I’m amazed at how resilient it is. I am amazed that the stroke deadened a part of my brain. It took away my ability to speak. It took away the use of my right arm (and if you know my left arm, you know that that pretty much left me with no arms). It took away my ability to walk well. And those are just the physical effects. We won’t dive into the ocean of psychological effects. But here we are 3 years later and people are often surprised when I tell them I had a stroke. So what died in the part of the brain has been redirected and relearned by a different part. How freaking amazing is that? It’s like telling the carpenter, “Hey, I need you to go and learn to be an accountant now. Quick.”

2. FedEx – I know this probably seems silly but I am truly amazed by FedEx. When I think about the fact that something that I held in my hands yesterday is now in the hands of someone in Maryland this morning, I am awestruck. I mean think of how information was transported in the past. From being delivered via horseback and stagecoach to train to automobile to airplane, mail has continued to be delivered. And of course when we throw in radios, telephones, televisions, fax machines and email, we have even more ways that information is being delivered. But to sign your name on something at 6 pm on Wednesday and for that signature to be in the hands of another person all the way across the country on Thursday by 10 am or even earlier, well it’s just amazing to me. How far we’ve come from the Pony Express.

3. Everything is made – Ok this one is not so much a thing as a realization I had. I was on a plane stuck between two business men flying to wherever. They were talking to one another despite this little lady between them (I was a bit more little at the time). And I’ve realized that business people will be salesmen anywhere and are always looking to build their network. Except with therapists. Thus my conversations with strangers on planes are often pretty short. Never has anyone asked me for my card from a plane conversation and I’ve never parted ways with anyone saying to them, “So the next time you’re in Dallas and mentally ill, go ahead and give me a call.” This is only true for planes, however. Everywhere else is a different story entirely. People in grocery stores, department stores, people doing repairs on my home, car, or dog, and especially people in bars feel that any of those settings is the appropriate place to tell me all of their issues and struggles. It’s rather bizarre actually but wow how I have digressed.

These two businessmen were talking about what they do. And the gentleman on my left said, “My company makes the bleachers in Texas. Chances are if you’re sitting on bleachers in Texas, my company made them.” I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation, partially by choice but mostly because my mind jumped in to this realization. I’ve sat on bleachers. Many times. And never had it crossed my mind that someone made them, that there is a company out there that manufactures these things that I rest on. I started looking around the plane. Someone had made the seat I was sitting on. Someone had made the little tray on the seat back. Someone made my carry-on bag that had inevitably shifted in flight. Someone had made the plane, lots of somebodies. These things were all somebody’s job. Everywhere we look, we will see something that somebody made. It is somewhat overwhelming if you spend a lot of time thinking about it. Every now and again the realization hits me again. And it amazes me every time.

4. Cameras – How can something capture an image that I see and store it in a little box? How does it see what I see? I know that I could easily look up how they work. And if you know, please don’t share the knowledge with me. As hungry as I am to know things, I prefer to stay ignorant on this. It feels like magic and I like having a little magic in my world.