The Exhaustion of Reacting

Let me describe the scene:

I’ve just read something controversial on the web. It may be a blog, a news article, an editorial – whatever, the point is it bothers me.  I believe it’s wrong or ignorant or ill-informed or many other adjectives. I begin to read the comments. There are strong reactions on both sides. With each comment I’m either vigorously nodding my head with a silent “yes! exactly!” or shaking it emphatically with a “are you kidding me? are you an idiot?”.

And of course, I have to add my comment, my voice …..so important it is, so compelling, so necessary.

And then there’s a link – to someone else who’s reacted. And I go to that link and read another article and the same thing happens. Whether it’s a link to a good source of information or a not so good source doesn’t matter – what matters is that the link draws me in and now I am fully a part of this viral reaction.

And I know I should get back to work, I know this is a terrible use of time, I know that the “Whatsoever is good, lovely, excellent, pure” thoughts left the first time I called someone an idiot for disagreeing. But no matter – because I am locked into this cycle and I need to see it through.

And see it through I do – to the end of the day and on into the night. Each link a little more compelling, each opinion putting its hooks into my mind.

I’m swept along in this swiftly rushing river of comments and reactions and I can’t find my way to the edge. I don’t realize that I’m heading straight towards a steep waterfall – and when I get there, I will go over the edge. I’ll be beyond saving. 

And night-fall comes and I lay down in bed and I am exhausted – exhausted because all day long I’ve been silently reacting. I’ve wasted valuable time and energy on reacting. I’ve been unfaithful to myself and my God because of reacting.

When is it time to stop the madness, to draw the line and say “No more”.

No more because time is a gift, and I’m wasting it. No more because my reacting is affecting no one but myself. My voice is lost and I’ve read so much I don’t even know what I think anymore – I just react.

This reacting on the internet is our modern-day mob mentality. While we look in horror at televised scenes of the Middle East and other parts of the world where mobs take over and terrible things happen, the same thing is taking place all around us. Seemingly the results aren’t as harmful but they are. Through our reacting, reputations are ruined, friendships broken, and minds made more ignorant.

I want to live above this reacting but it will take discipline and living counter-culture; it will take humility and realizing that my voice isn’t that important. It will take courage and help.

How about you? Are you exhausted from reacting and want to live above the fray? Or is this not your struggle? Let’s talk about this! 

http://xkcd.com/386/

Happily Non-essential!

Hurricane Sandy has taken the news captive. Judging by the amount of attention and panic this hurricane has caused I’m waiting for it to be called either a right or a left wing conspiracy, designed specifically to take the focus away from the looming election onto the weather.

This storm has again reminded me that Americans know more about the weather than they do their neighbors. It’s a sad commentary as it is weather crises that often bring neighbors together.

As for me – while the hurricane is raging blowing leaves outside, I am happily sipping a homemade pumpkin latte on my couch and waiting for pumpkin, cranberry scones to finish baking. I am not in my usual Monday morning cubicle going through emails and arranging and rearranging my week.

I got the text saying I would not have work yesterday afternoon. “Did you hear the Governor called a State of Emergency? All non-essential workers are to stay home” I knew immediately that it meant me! I’m not essential.

In a world that fights to be known, to be valued, to be essential, I get to be non!

I’ve never been so happy to be non-essential. Because of a storm, I am non-essential.

It struck me as ironic. It is a human trait to want to be known, needed, useful. We seek out affirmation in a myriad of ways. Yet on a Monday morning in the middle of a rushed world, to be called non-essential was a gift.

Being non-essential means I get to bake scones and write blogs; make soup and read; talk to my mom and catch up with my kids. Being non-essential means I can do the things that are so much more gratifying and long-term important than what I do on a regular schedule.

Being non-essential means I get to leave the necessary and catch up with the important — the stuff that lasts.

For if I’m honest what I do in my job will probably not last to the next decade, let alone the next century. But all this other stuff? That’s what really feels important to me.

I’ve never felt more essential then when deemed non…..

How about you? Have you had a time when you’ve been able to leave the necessary and focus on the important? Would love to hear through the comments.

The Nightmare that is Reward Miles

Each month I am ecstatic when those guest e-statements come to my inbox. Reward Miles. The words fall off my tongue like butter falls off hot scones on a cold Saturday morning.

These reward miles spell excitement, travel, planes, and the International Terminal.  There seem to be so many of them and they are just waiting for that perfect trip.

But the clock is ticking. Some of these precious as saffron miles will be expiring and I can’t have that. I wake up in the night in a panic. I must book and I must book now.

So I settle in with Saturday morning coffee and the Etihad Airlines website. My mind wanders back to how I received all these miles and I smile. It was on my trip to Pakistan for flood relief. My sister-in-law and I (both  nurses) assisted in a medical emergency on a 14-hour flight from New York to Abu Dhabi. Our reward (besides of course the reward of helping another human being) was a hefty dose of miles, extra miles, in our Etihad banks.

Or, what we thought was a hefty dose.

And so the nightmare begins. I try everything and there is no way those miles will take me anywhere from the United States. There are not enough of them. So I begin again. They have partner airlines. Determined that these miles will take me Some Place I try this other option. Except that the other option is American Airlines, an airline in deep financial trouble, and every thing the patient Etihad customer service gentleman tries is a failure.

The hard truth soaks in over a cold cup of coffee. These miles will take me nowhere! No.Where. All my hopes for travel were bottled up in these miles – and they would take me nowhere. 

Not only that, they won’t even buy our family something fun like a new television set. They are worth so little in the Etihad bank. It’s like the Great Depression only it becomes My Great Depression.

I end up exhausted and frustrated, realizing that yet again I’ve put my hope in something so fleeting, so ridiculously transient and capricious. Airline Miles.

I settle on a coffee maker (ours broke and my plan was to hit a sale and buy one) and a hair straightener. So much for the exotic trip to Istanbul, or the relief trip to Pakistan, or the trip to visit my son and daughter-in-law in Los Angeles. Those are not to be. They are fleeting dreams, for now lost through a coffee maker.

I’ll let you know how the coffee turns out. 

PS – My sister-in-law got an iPad.  Evidently the rewards are better from the United Kingdom.

What’s your experience with airline miles? Misery loves company and I would love to hear through comments. 

Hanging Ourselves on Soundbites

We are a society of soundbites. Having little time for the real story we are delighted when we come upon that pithy quote or 140 character twitter feed that keeps us informed.

Or does it?

I recently commented on an article that a friend had posted on a social media site. She responded graciously but pointedly “Marilyn, did you read the article?” Although she could not see me, I had the humility to blush from my toes to my eyebrows. I hadn’t read it. I had skimmed and picked out the one sentence that I disagreed with, the one thing I could become righteous about.

It was embarrassing and it should have been. I hung myself on a soundbite.

The reasons why are many. We’re busy, we’re preoccupied, we multi-task….we also want to sound informed and smart. We want to get on the proverbial band wagon, showing that we are righteously indignant by responding with piercing words through comments.

And that’s fine – except when we haven’t read the full article, we don’t know the full story. Or if we’ve just believed someone who is well-known with a powerful voice on the internet instead of critically thinking through the issue and seeking information that will inform. And then the righteous response we are so proud of is nothing but clamor in an already too loud world.

How do you frame your comments on issues? Do you read the entire story or do you respond to the soundbite? These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’m serious. How do we in a world so divided learn to respond without getting caught up in misplaced indignation and quick, poorly formed log-in-the-eye responses?

Would love to hear what you choose to respond to and how you respond in the comment section.

Oscars for Airlines: A Third Culture Kid’s Airline Review

It has been said that Third Culture Kids feel far more loyalty to airlines and airports than to nations and governments, so with that in mind when Jet Blue banners fly across my computer screen with $44 fares highlighted in their familiar blue I always look. The flights are cheap, you get one checked bag at no cost and their boast of “extra leg room” is entirely accurate.

I flew before I walked and can’t count the number of flights I’ve taken, or airlines and airports I have had the privilege to meet. At the risk of sounding annoying and “remembering the good old days”, when it comes to airlines, it was the good old days.

International flights often included overnights in major cities world-wide at the cost of the airline. All inclusive packages with meals and transportation vouchers to and from the airport were the norm. In-flight meals, drinks and toys were complimentary and we even got little wing pins to proudly place on shirts or jackets that said “Fly the Friendly Skies“.  Extra baggage didn’t come at an exorbitant fee and you could often talk your way out of the cost through smiles and thanks.

Consider the average flight today where a grumpy airline employee checks you in, or you check yourself in, and then wander over to make sure your luggage will get on as well.  You wait, sometimes for hours with no information, to find out your flight is delayed and once you finally leave, peanuts, pretzels and drinks are thrown at you across the aisle.

But even in the current abysmal state of the industry there are those airlines that rise to the top and get high marks for everything from flight schedules to customer service, so today I bring you the “Oscar” awards for airlines

For domestic airlines in the United States the Oscar will be shared, going to Jet Blue and Southwest. Both offer great prices, generous luggage allowances, credit cards to help you build miles and all in all a good flying experience. News this past fall that Southwest has purchased Air Tran put a smile on my face!

Bottom of the barrel – no doubt American airlines with their frequent cancellations and rude interactions, and NO – getting an email telling me that my flight scheduled for 8am will be leaving at noon is not ok. United is right down there too, with equally bad schedules, although perhaps not as quick to change flights.

If flying internationally the Oscar goes to Swiss. With their hot towels to refresh you in economy class and their attention to detail and comfort, even with a delayed plane, they rise to the top.  A stop in Zürich, particularly if you have young children, is a treat as the airport has a fully equipped play room/nursery with a special room just for babies. Memories of hours in that nursery remind me that it saved us from what could have been miserable times of waiting by gates during long lay overs – we owe this airport our sanity. A close runner-up could be British Airways as I have always had lovely flights on British Air.

Virgin Air gives a cheap but uncomfortable flight to London, and if you are patient you can usually find British Air tickets for almost the same price. I have heard that Singapore Air could probably get a world-wide Oscar for the best airline (which I tend to believe as the efficiency in Singapore is legendary) but I can’t speak from experience on the airline. Lufthansa could be up there as a competitor, though not winner, and after our recent trip to Egypt, we would swear by the Egypt Air New York/Cairo Nonstop flight.

I’ve been told that Iceland Air is the bottom of the barrel internationally so I will not be swayed by their cheap prices, realizing I will pay the cost some other way (like having to make sure of change in my pocket in order to use the bathroom). I assure you I am not being dramatic – Ryan Air out of Ireland does have a “pay when you go” policy on using the loo.

So what about you? Who gets the Oscars from your experience? Would love to have you weigh in – Favorite Airlines, Worst airlines, Worst airline stories – we want to hear it all!

Paper Sam and the Power of Words

The trainer pulled out a plain white piece of paper. On the paper was a simple drawing of a face: two dot eyes and a single line upturned to symbolize a smile.

Paper Sam Before Insults

“This is Sam” he said. The activity was simple. Beginning at the front of the room each person was to go back in time to the days of playgrounds and small friends. We would pass around the picture of “Paper Sam” and say something that was said to us in childhood that hurt. Before passing on the innocent piece of paper that had become Sam we were to crumple it up.

So the words and the subsequent crumpling began:

“You’re weak!” Crumple.

You’re ugly!” Crumple

“You’re so fat!” Crumple

“You have no dad!” Crumple

“You stutter!” Crumple

After 20 insults, Paper Sam was a crumpled mess. And then the activity was reversed. Paper Sam was sent around the room again, only this time we were to take Sam and repeat words that someone had said to us in our adult life that demonstrated they believed in us. After delivering those words we were to take crumpled, almost destroyed Paper Sam and smooth him out, try to remove some of the impact and take away those wrinkles.

The contrast couldn’t have been more profound:

“You can do this!”

“You are incredibly capable!”

“You are a role model for others”

“You are a real leader.”

“I encourage you to go back to school – you are so smart.”

“You are gifted with people.”

“Your family must be so proud.”

20 phrases later Paper Sam was smoother but still bore some residual scars. There was no way that all that crumpling could be undone, it was too much and too prolonged

We all know the power of words, but sometimes we are given a new way of looking at that power. Watching Paper Sam crumpled time upon time as memories of words came flooding out was poignant and powerful. We had personalized Sam – he was us and each time he took a beating we took a beating. Equally powerful were the attempts to smooth the crinkles and restore Paper Sam to his former self through words of affirmation and acts of restoration. That too was us.

Paper Sam – Restored with scars

While words of insult tear down, words of affirmation restore. While some hands crumple and crush, others gently smooth. While sin tears down, grace and redemption restore.

Where have you seen the power of words in your life for good or for ill? Tell your story in the comment section. 

Earnestly Looking for Something I Don’t Need – A Look at Black Friday

DJ industrial average 1929 Black Friday
Image via Wikipedia

I ran into a store a few days ago with a specific item in mind to buy. I quickly found the area of the store and the right size and began narrowing down the decision. As I looked up from my task,I caught the eye of a woman across from me. She hesitantly smiled and shook her head.  “I am earnestly looking for something I don’t need!” She exclaimed “But isn’t this cute?

“Earnestly looking for something I don’t need”. What a great and descriptive phrase! She’d probably wandered in off her lunch hour and the more she looked the more earnest she became. How do I know this so well? Because I’ve been there too many times to count. Those times when I wander in, knowing full well I don’t need anything, but how can I not get something with a 25% Friends and Family coupon burning in my hand? It’s getting hotter just waiting to be used on the thing that I don’t need.

And that my friends is Black Friday. Millions of people earnestly looking for something they don’t need. I rarely break out in judgement the way this will sound, but if Black Friday isn’t a picture of a schizophrenic society, I don’t know what is. A society that on the one hand worries about unemployment, personal budgets, and the economy, while the other hand is earnestly looking for something it doesn’t need. A society holding its money close, for fear it won’t have enough to pay for that which it doesn’t need.

I am the first to fall in this area. For years I would bring home things that languished in closets or drawers, but I had picked them out so earnestly that I couldn’t admit that I didn’t need them.

I am sure that some people find this fun. Some people love the excitement of standing in line at midnight with their lattes and pillows. They bond with the crowd, until there’s someone who cuts in line and the bond is quickly broken with a curse and shove. At that point it could begin to resemble Tahrir Square. They bond until they are both fighting over the same 52″ flat screen TV selling for mere pennies. It will replace the 40″ flat screen TV that they got a year ago at a Black Friday event. They bond until someone is killed in the stampede, trampled to death from people earnestly looking for something they don’t need.

Interesting that this day should follow one of America’s favorites. A day devoted to thanks. A national holiday specifically set aside to give thanks, to remember. What happens between pumpkin pie with whipped cream and midnight, when our base nature breaks out and we pummel the pavement in search of stuff?

So – I’m finished. I will say no more about Black Friday. But I will post this right when Black Friday begins, at the stroke of midnight, to remind myself that as I earnestly look for something I don’t need, I’m completely missing all that I have.

And with that…A Happy Black Friday to you. May you earnestly find that which you are looking for! (And at least try to find some savings with this Lenovo coupon!)

Perfecting the Bostonian Stink Eye

There’s nothing quite like a Monday morning. Determined to press forward with a good attitude, despite limited sleep and still longing for the comfort that is my pillow, I decide I will conquer the Monday morning blues. And then, I step off the subway and I am greeted by none other than the high heels and designer knockoff suit worn by someone adept at doling out the Boston Stink Eye!

Tour books of the Boston area are generally missing an important section – that of explaining the Boston stink eye. While old buildings, history, beautiful parks, and glimpses of Betsy Ross are part of the Boston experience, it will be the odd visitor that doesn’t also experience what I call the stink eye. To be sure, other places may have this, but they certainly haven’t perfected it the way the Bostonian has.

To explain the stink eye, I would love a video clip. There is, in fact, an online dictionary entry (not limiting the eye to Boston) that describes it this way: “a facial expression of disgust, disdain, or disapproval” but I’d like to expand on that limited definition.  It’s a particular look and it comes in two ways. One is when the eyes of someone are staring right at you, but through you, as though you don’t exist. You are, in a moment, reduced to an ant that can be squished. The second is more obvious – the eyes begin at your feet and slowly travel up your body with disdain, stopping to make eye contact, curl the lips and go back down the body again. It is not pretty. While both types hurt, the latter has the ability to fluster more and sometimes reduces the recipient to tears.

For a long time I thought it was me. That somehow I had that peculiar ability to bring out mockery or disdain. I questioned what I was doing wrong and wondered how I could keep up with the unspoken rules of Boston. And then I realized something big. It isn’t me! It’s part of Boston. Along with the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, New England Clam Chowder, coastal beauty, Paul Revere, the North End, and the State House – it’s as much a part of Boston as those more lovely and picturesque things.

So what to do with the stink eye? Passers through can cope because their focus is on other things, but for those of us that move here and, like damn Yankees, stay, it is a more difficult dilemma. The old saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans” or “If you can’t beat them, join them”  and there you have it. I have learned with the best of them and I now know how to give a good old self-esteem reducing Boston stink eye.  Scary, isn’t it? I never thought I would stoop to this, but it’s survival of the fittest and fit I have become.

The good news about all this is that I never, ever use this on tourists and visitors. I reserve it for the Bostonian. The more Bostonian they seem, the better my stink-eye. Critics may condemn, but only until they have experienced this for themselves. After that we’ll talk.

Repost – Living “Intentionally but Flexibly”

I wrote this post right after I began blogging. Although written for the new year, it’s been a good reminder as life picks up it’s pace through the holiday season. What do you think of the idea of living “intentionally but flexibly”?

Old Year is rapidly fusing with New and I am reminded of a letter we received some time ago from acquaintances who were living in Amman, Jordan.  They had lived in the Middle East for a long time and they talked about the conflicts they experienced with their personality differences ~

she spontaneous, he a planner.

They recalled the many negotiations they had to make through the years and how that related to their  cross-cultural living, blending American and Jordanian cultural norms and attitudes.   The parallel between their marriage and  cross-cultural negotiations and the words they used of learning to live ‘flexibly but intentionally’ resonated with me.  With purpose and goals, but always willing to bend those for the sake of people coming into their lives and unexpected circumstances demanding adjustment, flexibility and of course, time.  An amazing mix of East, where people and relationships are paramount and West, where goals and ideas yield some quite amazing results?  I think so.

It sounds like a balanced way to live.  Too often I have lived just spontaneously and then move into auto-correct by embracing a rigid way of life that demands control and order.   What I want is a balance of flexibility and intentionality.  The “how-to’s” of achieving this is the challenge.   Life with it’s endless distractions and choices often interferes with my spontaneity and goals, making for a chaotic existence.

Os Guiness who’s writing I deeply admire says in his book “The Call” that the key is having a calling.  He of course goes into this with much depth and clear word-pictures, some of which are captured in this phrase:

calling provides the story line for our lives and thus a sense of continuity and coherence in the midst of a fragmented and confusing modern world.

And perhaps therein is my “how to” of living intentionally and flexibly. Continue reading

Regatta 2011: In Union There is Strength…Row


In Union There is Strength…Row

Just hearing the words “Head of the Charles Regatta” brings images of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle from “My Fair Lady“, stunning with a massive hat on her head, beautiful gown, and of course those famous words: “Come on, Dover, move your bloomin‘ ass!” Well, turns out it’s not quite like that. At least for our family and friends in our station in life.

It is thousands of people gathered on both sides of the Charles River, with the Cambridge side bearing the bulk of the action. It is an energy and openness that is not always experienced in this more reserved area of the country. It is the contrast of muscles and sweat vs. the strolling spectators. But for all involved it is an event not to be missed.

This year, unseasonably warm weather had some people strolling in t-shirts while others looked at their families saying ‘I thought it was going to be chilly! I would never have worn this jacket” as they removed layers of clothing. Sun and blue sky with a bit of wind made for a near perfect day, unlike some years where rainy and cold autumns dampen rowers and crowds.

The Regatta, a 46 year-old event, began in 1965. The event began based on traditions in England called “head of the river” races. The event has grown into a tradition that attracts rowers from around the world as well as 300,000 visitors to Boston yearly. Hotel space is at a premium and traffic is impossible.

I’m not athletic. Read the post “Crossing the Athletic Line” to learn more about this part of my life. The strength and muscles of the rowers are quite remarkable to this non-athlete. Even more so is the discipline. We are told that crew members at universities have to be tremendously disciplined to keep up with studies and compete on the crew team. 4:30 mornings are not uncommon in freezing weather, as in this area practice continues until the Charles River freezes over. What I deeply appreciated as I watched this years race, along with the great company of good friends, was the motto – “In Union There is Strength….Row” It’s not a new concept, but it was a new way of word-smithing and added an active verb to the end leaving the reader to understand that none of this happens without action. Often when I read things that are presented in a different way, I am struck by the truth in a new way. These rowers have to be unified in their rhythm to achieve success. There is no room for fractures in a successful crew team. If you want to go out on your own, then you need to row alone, and some people choose just that.

There is no strength or success in fractured anything. Not in families, not in churches, not in friendships. Fractures, even hairline fractures, hurt deeply and have to be identified and cared for in order to heal. So with the “In Union There is Strength” motto, I offer you this glimpse into the Head of the Charles Regatta 2011. Enjoy.

Harvard Boat House

A volunteer hard at work!
Harvard boat house from the Boston side of the river
Two-man race

The Charles River sparkling in the sun is deceptive - it's known as a dirty river!

Going under the bridges rowers have to hug to the side to get the shortest route

Fall colors are becoming brilliant after a late start
Best shot I have of the contrast between river and boat
Any event is made better by the people that are a part of it! Especially when they are friends who have stuck with all your quirks and still like you!
Regatta 2011 Cliff & Marilyn on the Charles