Shaken, but Stirred

canstockphoto27374822I’m the overly cautious driver who slowly backs out in a parking lot. Most commercial parking lots have the functionality of a demolition derby – narrow spaces despite the ginormous size of some vehicles, blind spots, limited turning space, cart racks askew. Add to that the tank-driving, texting mentality of some license owners (you’ll move, right?) and yesterday happened for me.

Backing carefully out, looking both ways, I nearly get rear-ended by a minivan rounding the corner at 30 mph. She honks loudly at me as I slam on the brakes and then speeds away. As is often the case when something like this happens, I think, I hate people and I need to go home.

Anxiety has been rather high this week. I have some weird medical shit happening to my body and have to go to the doctor. I haven’t been for several years except for flu shots, because I’m of the mentality that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Every time I’ve ever gone to the doctor, I’ve gone in feeling fine and I leave with some syndrome or abnormality that hey, I can either take a bunch of drugs for or I can wait and see. I usually take door #2 and that has kept me upright and functioning for a good 48 years.

canstockphoto5050400Cue middle age. My body has become a three-ring circus. Hairs sprout in places that were previously erogenous zones. My eyes sink into my head – those luminous blues squint through progressive lenses and folds of saggy eyelids. I remember how my grandma always insisted on full makeup before she went anywhere. Now I think it was so she’d look like she had eyeballs.

Medical maladies, thanks to the internet, are either minor irritations or a death knell. Things I could ignore before, now keep me awake at night, as I think up game plans for every possibility. I try to keep myself on routine, make myself go through the motions of working out, but I’m tired and I feel weak. I feel vulnerable.

canstockphoto23413180Politics, guns and religion are making me anxious. Following the coverage of the Iowa caucus, I see people cheering for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz and I want to weep. It’s not the politics, it’s the way they have taken the stereotype of the Ugly American one step further – bullish stupidity and crass hatred. I don’t know why people think this will serve us well.

If we’re going to turn this country into a reality show, I’d like to vote some people off the island. And most of them are citizens.

Much of the public display of religion has become devoid of ethics. It is being used to justify repressing others and it all gets packaged up in an American flag, a cross, guns and a whole lot of whiteness. I believe that we should have the freedom to believe what we choose, up until the point where you’re in my government, in my bedroom or at my child’s school. Or showing up at my Target with an AR-15, when I’m just trying to buy toilet paper.

This is a whole lot of anxiety. It could be this way the rest of my life – just trying to get out of parking lots without getting hit. Hoping that each medical malady is just a bump and not a catastrophe. Trying to remind myself that the social and political cycles of my country ebb and flow.

I could sit in my little puddle of worry and fear, as my world and my worldview get smaller and smaller. I could learn to see the world in us and them terms and dogmatically embrace stereotypes as truth. I could become so blinded by the bad news that I believe the apocalyptic pronouncements spewed by religious and political leaders. We’re all going to hell in a hand basket.

But then there’s life. My daughter came home in tears because she had forgotten to do an assignment and then promptly lost the worksheet she needed to do it. Harshly, I said, “Stop crying about it and figure out a solution.” The forgetfulness and disorganization of a 6th grader was nothing new, but I heard myself. I heard the edge, the anxiety, the anger. This is what happens when anxiety takes over.

I slowed my breathing and asked her what she was supposed to learn from the assignment. She was supposed to compare and contrast Mohandas Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi. Wow. I suggested she write an essay doing that. She would turn it into her teacher with the understanding that she might get a zero on the assignment. She worked for two hours and with a measure of pride, asked me to read it.

How easy it is to forget the butterfly effect. Hers and mine. Gandhi’s and Aung San Suu Kyi’s. How easy it is to forget that an individual can make a difference in the world around them – that we do not need to rely on the loudest among us to lead the way. How easy to forget that being afraid does not abnegate responsibility to be kind, to be peaceful, to be compassionate. If everything in the world is going wrong, I’d rather err on the side of loving kindness.

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We have a choice when we are frightened, when politicians feed us doomsday scenarios, as we age or when we simply have a bad day. I hugged my daughter and told her that I was proud that she worked so hard to fix a mistake. And now, I must work to fix my own.

 Some Soothing Reading:

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön

Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

63 Comments on “Shaken, but Stirred

  1. Love the writing, sister. Some great lines with perfect timing: “I hate people and I need to go home.” I’m right with you on religion. The whole business of Trump and/or Cruz resonating with people who claim to be “of faith” is an embarrassment. Peace for you . . . in surplus. John

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    • Thanks, John. I read a comment on a news story from someone who seems as baffled as I. He said it used to be that people kept their religion and politics to themselves, that they were personal and meant to be handled with dignity. Now it’s just everyone trying to shout each other down.
      I could write so much more, but it boils down to the fact that we can’t afford cynicism – we’re drowning in it. Thanks for the wishes of peace. I wish the same for you.

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    • Thanks. Aging really has been in the forefront of my mind. I spend a lot of time at a nursing home these days and see the path before me. I remind myself that really the only thing within our control is how we react to it. Thus far, I’m not reacting well!

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  2. Beautifully stated. I’m terribly impressed that your daughter is writing a comparative paper on examples of peaceful world leadership. Perhaps her teacher is hoping to impart a little thoughtful awareness instead of blind obedience to dogma and rhetoric? What a heretical notion.

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  3. What’s going on in U.S. politics is enough to “shake” anyone — even a Canadian, like me, who really has no business sticking her nose into it. I’ve actually had to stop watching it all unfold on TV which is hard for me to do because I’m a political junkie. The whole world is in such disarray these days I’m just trying hard to spend my time thinking (and trying to correct) only the things I can control. And the rest of the time I try to think happy thoughts, look for the good and remember to be grateful. I feel a whole lot better. Don’t get me started on the “hairs that sprout up.” I keep telling myself the wisdom that comes with aging is worth the goatee I have to keep waxing, the sagging, the wrinkles, the stiffness and sore everything. Some days it’s a really tough sell 🙂

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    • I think what my daughter reminded me of, with her report, is that there are people in the world who are doing great good. They’re just not as loud as the blowhards – they’re too busy working to mug for a camera or produce a sound bite.
      But you’re right, when the world seems to be going askew, focusing on what you can control is a good approach. I remind myself, though, that it includes my attitude. And yes, many days that’s a tough order!

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      • There ARE people in the world doing great things and sadly they DO get drowned out. I admire your daughter’s teacher for making her students aware of it. That’s one lesson you’re never too young — or too old — to learn.

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  4. The local news recently had a segment on how it’s much safer to back in to a parking spot instead of pulling in forward. I used to never back in because I sucked at it. I’m thankful that I got comfortable with it.

    The thought of going out where people will be, kind of gives me anxiety. Sometimes I think of the potential of an altercation or even just an uncomfortable situation and it makes me entertain the idea of being a recluse forever.

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    • I’ll back in on occasion. It just depends if there are cars behind me. I find driving and parking in a metro area to be exhausting, though.

      Often, after I’ve been alone for awhile, I’ll go out and I find encounters with other humans completely unsettling. If I did not have a family, I think I would very much be a recluse.

      I tend to visualize dangerous situations when I’m out in public. I’ll look for exits, items that can be used for weapons, and I’ll watch people for suspicious activity. Modern living has made me uber-weird.

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  5. I agree with all that you’ve said here. I try to not hate people but they make it difficult to do. While I’d enjoy curling up in our closet and never talking with anyone again, my practical nature slaps me upside the head and tells me to keep going. I want to be one of the kind people, not the narcissistic sheeple that seem to be multiplying everywhere I look.

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    • I think the greater challenge for me is to look at those people who seem so repulsive and try to see them as people. It seems like it would be returning some humanity to the situation, despite what they are doing.

      Ah well, I’m not going for sainthood, just trying to get through the day without feeling so damned anxious all the time. Raising a kid raises the stakes for me to not hide under the covers, I suppose.

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  6. How delightful to read this today.

    + you really hit a nerve when you talked about the magnification of the ugly American into reality show, which is a very scary thought. What I don’t understand about Americans in general, is a certain laziness of thought. Don’t my fellow or gal citizens remember who was our last president before Obama?

    Exam the national debt before & after Bush, Jr.then recall he lied to Congress and got us into an illegal war in Iraq?

    We could look at the destabilization of the entire Middle East as being a brainchild of George W. Bush or at least the two evil men behind him.
    I think that the 4 million Iraq citizens who fled Iraq before President GW Bush’s oil war would have very interesting things to say about all our policies in the Middle East.

    I like your bravery and I like the way you pull your blog post together is such a personal and touching way. Keep on writing.

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    • I try to stay away from discussion of actual politics, since most people are fairly intransigent in their beliefs. The nature of the dialogue these days is what I find most discouraging – that people so easily regard those with differing beliefs as “others”, resorting to name-calling and stereotypes.

      I have to fight that inclination in myself. That we demonize entire swaths of human beings out of fear is a trend that I do find truly frightening. And it’s not reasoned, critical thinking. Sometimes, this is where my daughter teaches me – when I have to explain something and have it make sense.

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      • Thanks for you thoughtful reply. I understand wanting to stay away from politics on your site.

        I do think we need to remember and discus history so we don’t keep repeating mistakes.

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        • I don’t go out of my way to avoid politics, but so often we’re polarized in our beliefs that it can become a shouting match. I absolutely believe in studying history and putting current events into context.
          What I have found, though, reading political and news blogs, is that the discussion and comments that follow are rarely informative and are usually filled with the same rants. I’m sure there are better forums out there for reasoned discussion, but I haven’t found them.

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  7. Beautifully written…I feel every word. It’s such a strange time to be in the world; to have little ones in the world. Just had the same discussion with our two girls over dinner when we discussed voting, Trump, etc…Thanks for reminding us all we can make a difference. #humanitymatters

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    • I think, too, even if one doesn’t make some world-changing difference, that it’s simply a better way to be. My daughter is an amazing idealist and it reminds me that seeing the world through a cynical squint doesn’t do me or anyone around me any good.

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  8. I really like your post. I feel the same with you, the dreadful tiredness that seeps in every time I open the newspaper or check feeds. Whether the world always full of madness like this or this is recent, I haven’t had a clue. But even though we can’t affect the entire universe (save all the elephants, for example), but we can make small differences that hopefully will lead to big differences one day.

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    • I think along with the anxiety, there is a sense of powerlessness. I try to remind myself that these are the same emotions that feed militias and gangs and that my choice must be different – that empowerment does not need to come at the expense of others. We can choose, instead, to save one elephant at a time.
      The other thing your comment reminded me of, is that I’ve learned that I must take breaks from news consumption. They have an agenda as well and it’s not to put us in a meditative state! Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

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      • “that empowerment does not need to come at the expense of others”
        This is the best thing I read today. You are absolutely right. We need to always remember this so that we won’t fall into the ‘charm’ of the extremists.

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        • I think it’s probably easier to believe this from the comfort of my middle class life in suburbia than in other scenarios. It seems that the very least I could do is not trespass on or denigrate the rights of others.

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  9. Wow! Thank you for sharing this with us. At 57 years old and counting I share so many of the same concerns and frustrations. And it is so easy to get caught up in the bad news and sensationalism of our crazy political cycle. Sometimes I find myself feeling exactly the same way–hating people and wanting to go home and be left alone. It’s hard not to get crabby. I so appreciate the honesty of your writing…and the subtle humor. Another great post!

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    • Thank you. Being an introvert makes it even worse – I have to fight my tendencies to hole up on a regular basis. Sometimes, after I get caught up in the news and I’m feeling anxious, I make myself really take stock of where I am in the moment.
      How can all this anxiety be happening, when at the moment, I’m drinking a cup of coffee in my warm house, my family is healthy and the sun is streaming through the study window? I think it’s good to have moments like that to counterbalance the constant stream of worry running through our brains, like a news ticker tape.

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      • I think as we get older we feel more vulnerable because we are more aware of what’s going on in the world around us, as opposed to being self focused, which is hopefully something we get over as we grow up. We realize that the world is dangerous and life is unpredictable because we’ve lived it. I find the writings of Terry Tempest Williams are very soothing, as is her beautiful voice and countenance. She is one of my favorites. And there is always Anne Lamott to take me from crying to laughing in the blink of an eye. Focusing on gratitude helps me stay grounded too.Thanks again.

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        • I enjoy some of Anne Lamott’s work as well. In regards to getting older, I have been thinking about what happens to people as they age, not just physically. And you’re right, recognizing one’s vulnerability and the fragility of life around you is an adjustment. Our culture is so focused on youth, that few of us are taught how to age well.

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  10. I truly enjoy reading your blog, I can relate to the anxiety and the worry thank you for writing it. It makes me feel not alone with my struggles !! Amy

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    • Thank you. I think it’s pretty easy to be overwhelmed these days. I try to remind myself that my anxiety doesn’t change anything except to make me miserable (of course, that’s like trying to reason with a cat). All we can do is breathe and remember that despite what is going on in the world, it’s okay to take a moment to let it all go and just be.

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  11. “If everything in the world is going wrong, I’d rather err on the side of loving kindness.” So so true, but so hard to remember in the midst of frustration and anger. Thanks for this message.

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    • It is hard to remember. I run through all the worst-case scenarios – the possible outcomes for all the things I’m anxious about and I still land on that idea. Implementing it is much tougher, but it’s a good place to start and we have some great examples of humans who have done it well.

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  12. I used to hate getting old-er, but with almost everyday, now I am handed a gift of insight into this limitless, cycle of Life.

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    • I don’t know if I hate getting older, but some things do take getting used to. I can also see where fear can be a fork in the road – you can let it imprison you or you can decide that if you have control over nothing else, you can control how you react. There is some freedom to be found in that.

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  13. Thanks for a calming and yet thought provoking post. I am going to read those books you listed at the end of the post. Lori

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  14. It’s always so nice to come over and find all my fears and opinions laid out in order. I dunno–gives me a warm feeling all over.
    I think we all have someone, something, that can wake us up in the midst of our spinning–if we’re open to it. And, of course, that’s the rub. I’m so grateful your daughter gave you that opportunity. And that you were willing to go there.

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    • It is amazing what keeping one’s eyes open can do – both for opportunities to grow and to new ideas that can enhance our lives. I think it’s human nature to pull ourselves into a tight little ball when we’re frightened and it takes wisdom and foresight to resist that.

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  15. “If we’re going to turn this country into a reality show, I’d like to vote some people off the island. And most of them are citizens.”

    Thanks for the LOL moment 😀

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  16. I blogged a piece about driving too. And am tackling similar issues about the social, political and economic issues in India today. Having said that, we’re fortunate to have the experience, and kids, that help put in perspective the wisdom to differentiate between what we can and cannot change and the serenity to accept the things we just can’t. Not to take away from the courage we need to change the things we can. This is a paraphrase of a quote I read everyday!
    Great writing!

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    • For me, it’s trying to shake off a sense of complacency about things and that is where having a child has helped me focus. Someday, we’re going to have to answer the question “when things were going to hell, what did you do?” I want to be able to have a decent answer that doesn’t entail apathy or hopelessness. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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  17. It is definitely overwhelming! So much wrong on the big stage of life. Where to start and what to do to make a difference? I try to fully enjoy the small joys and moments of life as these are the gifts that make life worth living!

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  18. Full makeup vs No eyeballs. The struggle is real! Right there with you in the trenches. Also loved that you stopped in your tracks and redirected with your daughter. So hard to do. So life giving. You go mom! 🙂

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    • Ha! I don’t wear makeup, so my plan is apparently to devolve into an eyeless pumpkin.
      Redirecting is tough in any scenario, but parenting has forced me to do it over and over again, so I’m getting better at it. I feel lucky that she gives me so many learning opportunities!

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  19. “He said it used to be that people kept their religion and politics to themselves, that they were personal and meant to be handled with dignity. Now it’s just everyone trying to shout each other down.”

    It used to be that people kept their loud voices and music to themselves–wouldn’t consider yelling a friend’s name across a store as if in an open field, or consider it the responsibility if unwilling listeners to protect themselves.
    It used to be people kept their small children to themselves, and wouldn’t let them run unattended in stores.

    You don’t even have to leave your home these days to feel assaulted by me-first aggression. Reminders like yours are important. At the same time, I am conflicted. I will no longer ever again hold my say, nor avoid calling someone on bullsh#t, but also recognize that my judgement is made unsteady by my ugly past and my reactivity may be hypersensitive.

    Ultimately, we all must try to do the best we can do to be the best we can be, starting each day with a fresh slate, forgiving ourselves for our failures of the day before.

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    • You make a good point about being aware of your own fallibility. Mine, of course, is that I missed this comment, so apologies for the late response.

      I think that understanding one’s triggers and knee-jerk reaction is a skill much needed by modern humans. This blurting out and whiplash reaction time in social media is unsettling and I think it is starting leak into offline life as well.

      I would never suggest staying quiet in the face of wrongs or injustice or unchallenged arguments. But I try to remind myself to pick my battles, to take a moment before speaking and to examine my own motivation before starting a search and destroy mission.

      Thanks for your perspective and input – always valued!

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  20. I totally get and endorse the need to understand, and if I may say, tame triggers that set us off. Social media oftentimes goes over the top. Counting till ten wasn’t such a bad thing. It’s just that 10 doesn’t seem to be a good enough number anymore. So count till 20. And think when you should, or should not, be counting at all. Some battles are worth fighting for. Some not. And figuring out which ones are is what makes the difference. Great conversations. Thanks for the trigger!

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