Saturday, December 8, 2018

All I Want for Christmas...Is for Everyone to Calm Down

Let’s all ho-ho-hold on a minute and calm way down.

If you haven’t heard, it’s 2018, which means we all get in an uproar over any and everything. The latest thing we’ve gotten our knickers in a twist over is the beloved Christmas song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Apparently, the #metoo movement and all easily-offended people have decided that this is the year we start banning holiday songs that disagree with our sense of right and wrong. Is it a strange song? Yes. Does it evoke images of Bill Cosby with lines such as “hey, what’s in this drink?” You bet your puddin’ pops. But should we be able to look the other way and just enjoy the classic? One would hope but who knows?

We aren’t supposed to listen to “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” anymore as it promotes bullying. And “White Christmas” is harboring white supremacist notions. Hearing this makes me wonder what else we might have been turning a blind eye to.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” probably isn’t sensitive to the homeless.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” excludes the overweight population.

“Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” simply mocks the global warming enthusiasts.

“Santa Baby” is downright mysogynist and doesn’t empower women to make their own way, instead forcing them to rely on a man (in a red suit).

Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” is exclusionary of the other colors. And don’t even get me started on the offensive nature of the Porky Pig version.

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree…” where do I begin. Offensive to other genres of music and other holiday decorations.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?” Offensive to the other 364 days.

“Last Christmas” is offensive to this Christmas.

"Jingle Bells" single-handedly diminishes two-or-more-horse AND closed-style sleighs.

“Little Drummer Boy” could hurt the feelings of a Large Violin-Playing Gal.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” is just asking for lawsuits from the hearing- and visually-impaired community.

“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is offensive to all other animals and is especially hurtful to crocodiles and rhinosauruses.

I wonder what would happen if we, instead of being offended at every possible turn, looked for the positive, the good? Instead of pointing fingers, what if we gave high fives? Instead of scrutinizing, what about celebrating? And instead of being hyper-sensitive, what if we were hyper-positive and kind. In an effort to not exclude anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings, this behavior has the opposite effect. While we’re all busy tip-toeing around on egg shells, terrified of a misstep that will set off a land mine of accusations and insensitivity, we’re creating a culture of less

When I check out at a store, the clerk isn’t allowed to bestow a holiday greeting on me and, in turn, I don’t extend a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Holiday” for fear of offending them. So I wind up muttering “thank you” and going about my way. And it’s here where less isn’t more, but just, well, less.

All year long, I look forward to the few weeks at the end of the year when people are a little bit nicer, a little kinder. I like the acts of giving and receiving. I enjoy seeing my neighbors’ decorations and putting up my own. I take delight in both sending and receiving cards. And the music? Well, it’s as much a soundtrack of my life as it is my holiday. When I hear the old classics, I’m immediately taken back to my childhood, lying on my stomach on the living room floor, staring up at the Christmas tree. The laughter of souls long since departed wafts through the air, mingling with the scents of home cooking. I see prettily-wrapped gifts and remember a kinder, gentler time. There’s music playing. Wonderful, magical music. And all I think is I couldn’t love these people, these memories, or this time of year more. Let’s get back to this level of sensibility where the only snowflakes are the ones on our noses and eyelashes.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Art of Quitting

Whether its from a job, a marriage, a friendship, or an obligation, the act of walking away is an art form.

A friend of mine recently shared that, after a few years of participation, her child was choosing to leave a sport in which she had been very active. Although not solicited or warranted, there was an unspoken sense of apology, embarrassment and the need to explain in the air. I assured my friend that I, too, had walked this path with my own child, that it happens, its fairly commonplace these days, and there was no need for shame or explanation. It got me thinking, though, about our children, the busy lives they lead, and the oppressive pressure we, as a society, place on them to commit and then follow through. How many times did you hear quitters never win” as a child? How many times have we forced our child to see a sport or activity they didnt like through to the end? When I look at my own track record, I cant help but feel just the slightest bit of hypocrisy.

Take, for instance, the time I considered quitting my job to work from home, making, selling and delivering gift baskets. That was two different quits at stake there and a whole lot of poor planning. Theres the time I signed up for three sessions of kick boxing and thought I might want to get certified and become an instructor. I completed one class. Thinking further back, I remember wanting to set up a lemonade stand. It was a hot summer day and I decided to try my hand at entrepreneurship. I set up a shaky card table at the end of our driveway and a metal lawn chair with some very questionable webbing. We didnt actually have any lemonade but I found a packet of Kool-Aid and promised my mother I would return her prized Tupperware pitcher. With a roll of quarters, a stack of cups, a poster announcing my venture, and the equivalent of hummingbird food, I took off for my corner office beside our mailbox. And I waited. And I waited. The relentless sun beat down on my head as the realization that we lived on a cul-de-sac and traffic was all but non-existent sank in. I put up a good fight as I sat there and sipped more than half of my inventory, but after eight or nine minutes, I cut my losses, packed up my shop and headed back inside. Maybe my first foray into giving up was offset by my self-induced sugar high, but I feel like I was able to shake it off fairly easily. No one berated me or lectured me about following through. Maybe they should have.

During my school years, I added to my resignation resume with abbreviated turns with dance, baby sitting, and an ill-fated stint with a local Jazzercise group. By college, I was a semi-pro. Didnt like a class or a professor? Drop it like its hot. Dont like a boss or a co-worker or the hours at a job? Another minimum-wage shift awaited just around the corner. Reading a book thats slow and seemingly going nowhere? Return that sucker to the library and check out two others in its place. Boy trouble? Dont get me started.

Is there value in seeing something through to its end? Of course. In fact, I think its one of the cornerstones of our society and civilization as we know it. State what youre going to do and then do it. Plain and simple. If you sign up to volunteer at the bake sale, youd better darn well run through the grocery on your way there, replate those cookies on your own platter and walk into school with your head held high. If your child decides after two games that soccer isnt their sport and they dont want to go back, I think the response is, hey, buddy, I hear what youre saying. Ive tried activities before that I didnt enjoy once I got started, too. Heres what we need to do, though. I need you to finish the season out. Your coach and the other players need you. If you still dont like it at the end of the season, well take all of your equipment to the second-hand sports equipment store and get pennies on the dollar for what I paid for all of this and well move on to the next venture. And, if you decide you actually like it, then its a win-win.” Lets be honest. When we sign our littles up for all these teams, are we truly thinking theyre going to be the next Serena, LeBron, or Tiger or are we wanting them to make friends, be active and learn to work with others? If they cant end the season with a college scholarship, maybe they can walk away with the pride of accomplishment and the value that seeing something through to its end brings.

Throughout my life, one of my guiding principles, one of my North stars when faced with the dilemma of cutting bait or seeing something through is taking Kenny Rogers’ advice. The art of knowing when to fold them, hold them, walk away or run is just that — an art form. There is a time and place for everything. Mid-July at the end of a cul-de-sac will never be either of those things. Now, excuse me while I enjoy a nice glass of Kool-Aid.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

When the One You Called Mom and the One Who Calls You Mom Never Met: Reflections on Living the In-Between

My mother passed away 14 years ago, roughly two weeks before my only child entered this world. Was it rotten timing? Yes, it's never fun running around trying to find something to wear to a funeral at the last minute, especially when you're relegated to maternity clothes and are roughly the size of your first car. At eight and a half months into my gestation, I faced the very real possibility that my water would break as I stood in front of everyone I'd ever known and a handful of strangers. I stood on swollen ankles shoved into pumps like fence posts, praying the eulogy would be the only thing I delivered that day. 

Funerals make well-meaning people say the craziest things. 

"She looks so peaceful."
(She looks embalmed.)
"You're so brave."
(Brave is jumping out of an airplane; I was pushed.)
"Well, this was just a terrible time for her to pass."
(Yes, you're right. Why couldn't she have held on until Christmas?)

The recurring comment I received that blistering week in August, and continue to receive to this day, is lament over my unborn child not having the chance to know my mother. Although they've never met in the flesh, rest assured my daughter knows my mother. 

If the physical and personality attributes they share aren't enough, my sweet girl has been regaled with stories of her grandmother throughout her life that have left a lasting imprint upon her. Despite them passing in the revolving door of this hotel we call life, I've taken every opportunity to share stories, anecdotes, words of wisdom and a few tall tales about the woman we call "Grandmama." Ask my daughter from where she got her quick temper, her dimples or her love of sweets, and she'll proudly say "Grandmama." Ask her why we have cookbooks taking up space in our kitchen cabinet in the age of Pinterest and iPads and she'll tell you, "because those were Grandmama's." And, if you catch her on the right day, she might even wink and point out the irony since "Grandmama wasn't even that good of a cook."

Keeping family histories alive, even as cast members leave us, is critical to subsequent generations knowing who they are. Helping connect the dots from past to present ensures the future's tapestry will be tightly and beautifully woven. Passing along pearls of wisdom, insight and memories is a gift that, literally, keeps on giving and is the responsibility of those of us here in the "in between." I've done my best to make sure that just because these two ladies never met doesn't mean they don't know each other. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Training Day

My dog, Bailey, and I did some training yesterday. She taught me a pretty good lesson.

Bailey is your run-of-the-mill pound puppy, no one, discernible breed and full of street smarts and wariness.  We have no idea how old she is -- just how long we've had her. And in the five years she's lived with us, we've taught each other a lot of good lessons. For instance, we've taught her that humans can be kind, that she'll always have enough food and doesn't have to fight for it, and that cats aren't an indoor type of squirrel. She has shown us gratitude for second chances, unconditional love, and how to lick our feet.

When she first came to us, we spent money hiring a professional dog trainer to try to acclimate her to the real our world and she was taught basic commands such as "come," "sit," "stay" and "down." All of these are fine and dandy but I guess we needed a more advanced class for her with commands such as "don't bark relentlessly when someone is at the door and that someone lives here" and "just pee because every time we let you outside, we don't have 20 minutes for you to sniff every bush, plant, and blade of grass."

One command I've taught her over the years that I'm pretty proud of is "car." Here's how it works:  it starts with me parking in the driveway instead of the garage. I'd like to tell you it's because I had just unloaded a bunch of groceries or I had the wherewithal to park by the door in preparation for my imminent departure. The truth is sometimes I'm lazy and don't want to ascend the 17 steps from the garage into the house, so "car" is handy when I've done this and she gets to go for a ride. When it works well -- and it has -- I say "car," open the front door, she walks out and stands by the car waiting for me to open the door and she hops in. As we drive off, I pat myself on the back for being able to wrangle this wild creature's innate desire to run all over God's creation.

Then there are times it doesn't work as well. I say "car," open the front door, and she's run around the house and in the back yard or is two neighbors over or no where in sight. Then I have to walk all around the house and sometimes the neighborhood looking for her, calling for her, getting sweaty and getting mad.

Yesterday was going to be one of these type of days. The door opened and she was off like a flash, as if I hadn't said "car" at all. I debated what to do. I considered briefly just leaving. I was that mad. Then I decided, "no, I'll find her and take her back in the house and she won't get to go. That'll show her." Then I realized she probably doesn't have the capacity to understand bitter punishment, so I did something more rational.

I hopped in the car, drove around back, saw her head pop up out of a tuft of ornamental grass, lost all my senses, sat on the horn, then got out yelling like a banshee. "GETINTHECARWHATISTHEMATTERWITHYOUGETINTHECAR!!!!!!!"

Tail tucked, head down, she slunk back towards the car. As she neared, I made a grand gesture with my arm for her to "getinthecaryesthiscarwhatisthematterwithyou" and I grazed the door frame with my hand. We drove off with me steaming, my knuckle hurting, and her pouting in the passenger seat. When I examined my hand to see if I had, in fact, broken my finger in this episode, I saw a tiny cut and a stream of blood trickling its way down my hand.

At the first stop sign, I added some additional thoughts. "Every time the door opens, doesn't mean it's hunting season. Sometimes it just means it's time to go."

"You need to listen."

"You shouldn't run off like that."

She listened obediently.

By the first red light, she got an ear rub. By the third red light, she was sitting full upright, ears back in their normal "one up one down" position, and she was smiling.

And then I wondered to myself, "why was I so mad? She's a dog and she was just doing what dog's do -- running, sniffing, and whatever she does to my hostas." It was then that I realized just how silly my whole reaction and tirade had been. I pictured her scolding me for doing things that come naturally to me. "Why are you napping? Are those Oreos? Again? Seriously?"

Lesson learned.  Good girl.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Atlanta: Day 3

This being our last day here, we took on the day and the city with an energy and fervor that would have shamed Sherman. The day started at Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta's famed resting place of many famous sons and daughters and thousands of not-so-famous. Now serving a dual role of burial grounds and city park, it is a rich dichotomy of the living and dead. There are beautiful horticulture displays, gardens, and large, ancient trees that were there long before any of the residents were born and will be there long after those residents' descendants  join them. There are people jogging and walking dogs and strolling the grounds. The city is just a few blocks away so you hear the cars and the trains and the din of people.

We opted for a walking tour which was supposed to be about an hour but was more like an hour and a half. Our tour guide, Marvin, was as much an enigma as the place itself. His crisp Magellan fishing shirt and friendly, robust knowledge of the cemetery, its occupants, and the city in which they all reside lay in contrast to his self-described Atlanta roots and his Southern drawl. When he pronounced "history" with two syllables, I felt like we were in good hands. 

Next on the agenda was the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. Jimmy may have been a proponent for peace and civil rights, but I'd have liked him to push for better signage at his library. We finally made our way in and began the tour. As with many of these type establishments, the tour began with a short film.  But this one wasn't narrated by just anyone.  No, it was narrated by someone who thinks he was president, Martin Sheen. 

Look, most of you know where I fall on the political spectrum. There's left wing and yellow dog and middle-of-the-road (aka, "undecided") on one side and on the other, there's right wing, tea party, far right and then far Valerie. Until the last little bit (the last 10-18 years, give or take), Carter typically made the list of "not the greatest Presidents." But no one can argue that he seems like a genuinely nice person.  A good guy. If anything, I would say that he was too nice to be a politician, let alone leader of the free world. 

Exhausted and needing to eat (President Carter, if you read this by some small chance, I'd like to suggest some directional signs on the campus of your library to indictate where one should park and extend the on-site cafe's hours so it can be open on the weekend), we headed home for a late lunch and a long, spring's nap (second only to its cousin in the winter). 

Dinner tonight was at The Southern Gentleman. I wanted to like it. I really did. It was in a high-end retail district, flanked by Hermes, Jimmy Choo, Louboutin and Tom Ford, I thought we might dine with the rich and famous. Instead, we dined with the overserved and disengaged. Some of our fellow guests talked too much and laughed too loudly. And the staff, from hostess to server, were just a bit standoffish  and distant. The food was fine but this diner thinks it could have been finer. 

The bookend of our day was a short drive out of the city to a community theatre for a live stage production of Godspell. As we planned this trip and researched events and happenings that would happen during our stay, I came across this option. Intrigued, I tried my darndest to find out what exactly Godspell was. Fearing it had the sacrilegious blasphemy associated with "Jesus Christ Superstar," I went into it with more than one serving of trepidation, yet something pushed me forward. It was delightful. If you get the chance to see it, go. It's a depiction of several parables (mostly from the book of Matthew), set in current day and to modern music with lyrics from well-known hymns, it was beautifully done and truly a religious experience. Here's to the weekend of trying new things and getting outside of my incredibly small comfort zone. 

We head home tomorrow. It's been great fun, but I miss my dog, my people, and my bed. Oh, I suppose I'm supposed to say "in no particular order." There.  I said it. ;)

Friday, April 27, 2018

Atlanta: Day 2

Other than college, I've not lived in an apartment and this Air BnB has opened my eyes to just how good I have things, all snuggled in my suburbanian hideaway. For instance, as I lay in bed around midnight last night, missing my dog and tossing aimlessly, I began to hear horns honking from the parking garage. It was the millennials' way of saying, "honey, I'm home" as they returned from their Thursday night revelry. Remember when Thursday night was just "pregame" for the weekend? Then I heard someone walking their dog outside, which included some yip-yapping followed by someone whisper-screaming, "shush!" Finally, you have the doors slamming and the walls rattling and what I can only assume is an apartment of Sumo wrestlers upstairs breaking in new shoes. This cacophony of sounds makes me long for the familiar sounds of home: distant lawn mowers, the AC running, the sound of Amazon backing out of my driveway...oh, wait. My husband may read this.

Today, we started by meeting a high school friend who calls ATL home for breakfast. She suggested a placed called the Flying Biscuit and I thought something with such a whimsical name had to be good. Then I checked out their menu online and was sold when I came across an item near and dear to this Southern girl's heart (and waist and hips):  creamy, dreamy grits. That wasn't just me waxing poetic. That's the actual menu item-- creamy dreamy grits. And to quote the old lady from Titanic, "it was. It truly was." We had great fun catching up and visiting. There's something special about a friend who has known you most of your life. And there's something extra special when months and sometimes years go by in between visits and you're still able to sit down and jump right back in. 

Our next stop was a tour of the CNN Studios. This behind-the-scenes tour took us backstage and gave us an up close view of the control center, the newsroom, the various anchor desks and explained the process of how a tip or idea makes its way onto the air. As a bonus, we rode the world's tallest free-standing escalator up eight stories to begin the tour and our descent down through various stops and studios. 

Lunch at Corner Bakery was followed by afternoon siesta time.

Dinner tonight was at Twelve Eighty. This establishment is on the site of and across a courtyard from Atlanta's Symphony and the High Museum. This was perfect since we had tickets for a show after dinner. From the outside and even from just inside the door, it looked pretty unassuming. If you've ever in desperation utilized the on-site cafe at an art museum, picture that. But our meal was delicious and cooked perfectly and it was a surprisingly fine-dining experience so I was pleasantly surprised. 

Following dinner, we made our way across the plaza to see Rob Lowe. Yes, Rob Lowe as in the Outsiders and West Wing and the weird cable or Verizon commercials and Parks and Recreation and Brothers and Sisters. He stood on stage for 55 minutes, telling stories that can only be described as enthralling. I can't do them justice but I can point you here where you can buy his book and probably read an excerpt. This was followed by 20 minutes of Q&A, which was equally entertaining and interesting. 

This morning on the way to breakfast, we saw a homeless woman near a bus stop, bending over and picking up cigarette butts, collecting them in a cupped hand. While waiting at a red light, I watched her and thought, "I guess she's going to try to smoke whatever is left on each of these." But then something surprising and totally unexpected happened: when her hand was full, she walked over to an adjacent trash can and threw them away, shaking her head in disgust at people's laziness and disregard.

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:18

Atlanta: Day 1

Well, my bestie, Alison, and I are off on another adventure.  If you missed the last one, you can visit here to see how we took on the nation's capital. 2018 finds us in Atlanta and we're excited to share the trip with you.

Being one of the most change-averse people I know, I made a vow to be open-minded (take deep breath) and try new things (easy, girl) outside of my comfort zone (ok, here's a lunch sack...). The first exercise was in our lodging. Rather than find a comfy/cozy Westin, we opted to both experience Air BnB for the first time. After hours of searches and asking various hosts a litany of questions ("the front door doesn't appear to have a lock. Does it lock?"), we selected an apartment in Buckhead, Atlanta's way of saying, "I got ya, girl."

When we arrived in ATL, our first stop was lunch at The Varsity. It's unassuming in a "we've been open for 90 years and for 24 hours/day" kind of way. The prices were reasonable and the food was good and utterly unhealthy.

As we headed south today, it was with some lingering trepidation that I took off, still wary that this whole Air BnB thing is just a front for human organ trafficking.  The "check in" process did nothing to alleviate my fears as we met our host in a parking lot, he handed me the key and gate clicker to our place, and then instructed me to follow him as we drove to the apartment. Reluctantly, I followed the order, wondering to myself what was it I read recently about how to call 9-1-1 from your cell on the sly.  Was it press and hold the start button? No, I think it was press the start button like five times. Oh, who am I kidding? I've never done anything sly in my life and in the unlikely event that I would actually need to try to execute this maneuver, I'd more than likely snap a pic of my feet, then the last words I'd hear would be Siri saying, "I'm sorry. I didn't understand your request."

We parked.  He led us inside the building and to our door and motioned for me to use the key. As I was thinking, "well, here it goes. This is it.  I hope my family knows I loved them," he watched me open the door and said, "well, ok, then. Have a nice visit." Non-event.

After counting our organs and being grateful that we still had all that we came with, we made a Target run. Forgetting we weren't in Nashville anymore, Toto, we marveled at the two-story Target and enjoyed the process of navigating the two floors with our carts.

For dinner tonight, we tried Bistro Niko, a wonderful place that Zagat calls "a casual but upscale 'hot place' that makes you feel like you're sitting in a cafe in Paris." Indeed.

Alison and I have been friends since we were in kindergarten. As far as I know, we've never liked the same boy and never voted the same way. But it's these differences that make our friendship all the more unique and rewarding.

Editor's note:  Alison would like you to know that we have voted the same in at least two presidential elections.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Not Seeing is Believing

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
John 20:29

Of the four Gospels' accounts of the Easter story as we know it (accounts detailing Jesus' final hours on earth from His arrest and crucifixion to His burial, resurrection, and ascension), each offer their own unique take and perspective. 

There's Matthew 26:28. Matthew is very detail-oriented, which I commend. I don't want to just hear that Jesus broke bread with the disciples. I want to know what kind of bread, what color the napkins were, and if someone knocked over their goblet while telling a story. Matthew offers some rich detail in his account. His observance and recording is appreciated. In this Gospel, we're blessed with this final promise:

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Matthew 28:20

For those of you who don't care about the china pattern or what sandals the disciples were wearing, there's Mark's account. Straightforward and concise, Mark 15-16 offers more of a bulleted list and timeline of the events.  We're told as a footnote that earlier texts and versions of Mark's account are even shorter. It is suggested that the original version only included the first half of chapter 16, making it roughly 25% less than what we have today. 

Luke, a physician by trade, offers another detailed account. If Matthew was observant of people and places, Luke 22-24 provides more detail on the process, the how and why. One of the themes that I've always found interesting is the mild chaos that surrounded Jesus' final hours on earth. I'd like to think if I was about to undergo great suffering and humiliation and untold pain and fear, that at the very least, I would be surrounded by those closest to me, and that they would keep it together. I know this is a lot to ask and so did Jesus, I suspect. When the guards come for him in the garden, one of his disciples decides to go all tough guy and swings a sword, cutting off one of the guards' ears. We're told in all of the accounts that Jesus says, "aww, now look what you've done!," (I'm paraphrasing) but Dr. Luke goes on to tell us what happened next:

49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him."
Luke 22:49-51
I can only imagine how this would have been noteworthy to a physician.

In the final Gospel, John 17-20, we have my (as well as many others') favorite account. John is a wordsmith so, as someone who enjoys playing with written text myself, I appreciate his woven tapestry. He was the only one present with Jesus in the garden, overhearing and poignantly capturing His prayer for all ages. It's a fairly detailed accounting in its own right, however, like any author worth his salt, John teases us with a hint that there's even more to be said:

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
John 20:30-31

Now the mention that Jesus performed many other signs that were not recorded by John here is intriguing enough, but the other sandal drops at the end of the next chapter.  Buckle up:

25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written."

John 21:25

[mic drop]

So, as you celebrate this Holy weekend, I hope you are blessed by God's unending and unwavering love and that you find hope and peace in the promises made and fulfilled by Jesus' love and sacrifice for us. Here's to new beginnings, rebirth, 2.0, and new chapters.  Just remember when you write yours, I want details. All of them. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Living with Excess

We just returned from a trip to Florida's Gulf Coast for our spring break. Our go-to spot is in Rosemary Beach, nestled among about 20 different little mini-cities on beautiful 30A. Back in the late 80s when I went on my first spring break that I remember, this area was no more than a fishing village that happened to have yet-undiscovered clear water and sugar white sand. Destin was where people started going and, over the last 30 years, the scene has spread westward away from what is now the hustling tourist trap that Destin proper has become. If you just travel 20 minutes or so to the right, you'll encounter places with names such as "Watercolor," "Alys," "Inlet Beach," and "Rosemary." Here, you'll find a lot of new money, multi-million dollar homes and multi-billion dollar developments, shops with over-priced fare and restaurants boasting a who's who of up and coming chefs.

The real allure for me, though, is the sincerity of the place. A lot of the locals are just that -- locals. Born and bred, if not right there, then close by. They have a vested interest in the area's success. And a tangible pride for how well it's doing. There's a chill vibe that is simply contagious. No one is in a hurry. There are more bikes than cars on the road at any given time. The people are friendly. It seems like a close-knit community, despite the fact that from March-September, a good majority of folks are just there for a week before returning to their real lives.

Although it's steeped in and replete with wealth, a modest Average Joe, middle-incomer can feel at home. Well, that is until you're reminded of your place on the "haves or have not" scale. This happened to me on our second beach day. We had rented beach chairs for our stay that came with two wooden chairs, a small table, and an umbrella, all lovingly set up prior to our arrival each day by a young, tanned, and seemingly higher-than-the-proverbial-kite dude. These set-ups are spaced maybe three feet apart so you have the opportunity to get to know your neighbors, either outright by speaking and being friendly or, as I prefer, indirectly by slyly spying and observing.

On this day, I noticed my neighbors on either side were displaying extravagant, outward signs of their prosperity. To my left, a young couple, early 30s, enjoyed a day at the beach with their two kids, approximate ages three years and five months old, and their nanny, a young girl in the 18-22 years old category. To my right, an older couple, late 40s-early 50s, with the woman carrying an $1,800 Louis Vuitton purse. On the beach.

I took some time from enjoying watching my child play at the beach to study these two case studies on either side. I made up detailed and interesting back stories for both. I imagined the Nanny family was happy to be on vacation after a long winter of being pregnant and then stuck indoors with a toddler and a newborn. I conjured images of Purse sending their youngest off to college in the fall and settling into their new "empty nest" chapter.

But then my thoughts turned dark. I wondered what Nanny's man did for a living, assuming the wife didn't work if she couldn't be bothered with watching her children while on vacation. I wondered how many other $1k+ purses Purse Lady must have and how this one became the "I don't care - I'm just going to the beach" one.

As I sat there acting as judge and jury on these two parties, it occurred to me I was living a life of excess, too, and I didn't like it. Here I was, seemingly getting away from it all, and I was plagued by envy, an abundance of negative thoughts and opinions, and judgement that surpassed Wopner, Judy and God Almighty. "Who am I," I wondered? "Where do I get off?" And "what business is it of mine what anyone else does?"

No one.
You don't.

And then the real judgement began. "Why aren't you in better shape?" "Why aren't you more tan?" "Why did you choose family over career?" "Why is your hair not pulled back in a sleek pony with an Hermes scarf?"

There it was. An almost unbearable amount of self-doubt. It's a wonder I made it down all those stairs with a load like this. But here's the great thing about a day at the beach: your problems, in whatever form they may come, are absolutely dwarfed by the sea. The ocean is known for its many healing properties, the least of which isn't its ability to remind you how small you, and every woe, is. There's a vast body of water out there that connects to every other body of water on this blue marble on which we live and it was all created by an even bigger God. That's reassuring. There's peace in that. A tangible, soothing peace.

And just like that, I felt my cares lifted, my soul unburdened. And I thought, "Nanny, Purse...we're going to have a good day because, ultimately, we're sisters all formed from the same Father. And we're good enough."