Silver Linings

I’ve always been an optimist. I believe that most people are caring, and that in spite of all the misery in the world, life is fundamentally good. I try to focus on the beauty of the seasons, the joy of holding a new baby or a squiggly puppy, the wonder of seeing life through a child’s eyes, the excitement of discovering a new city or hearing beautiful music. Even though I’m not a huge fan of winter (I don’t ski and I hate being cold), I love the hush of winter and the look of snow falling through a window. Even though it rains a lot in spring, I am a huge tulip lover and am mesmerized by the explosion of color after a dull, dark season. Summer is swimming in lakes and sunshine and shorts and fresh berries. And fall, with its glorious color and crisp air and apple picking, is magical.

And yet, it’s easy to forget those things when life gets tough. In the last three months, my son had an emergency appendectomy, and then two months later had a laser treatment for a skin condition he’s had since birth, which leaves him bruised for weeks, often with his eyes swollen shut. It was one thing when he was a little guy and we could hide him from the world, but now that he’s in middle school, it requires a whole new level of courage returning to school even with faded bruises. Now that he’s finally healed, my daughter had a snowboarding accident on a school ski trip earlier this week and has been home with a concussion, with dim lights, no technology and no visitors– not easy for a teenager.

My husband reminds me that our house didn’t burn down, we are not dying of cancer, and we don’t live in parched places of Africa where there is no food and water. That is true, but still. On top of this, my son’s down jacket was stolen, and the attic has a leak from various winter storms, so in spite of a lot of roof work over the years, our 80 year-old house is going to need even more repairs. The good news is that it’s not fall of 2016, when the entire family passed lice back and forth for two months until we finally got rid of them, and then my daughter broke her finger, which took four months, two doctors, one physical therapist, one occupational therapist, and a lot of driving to heal.

But as all of this was happening, I thought of the silver lining, which is that my son had an amazing team at Children’s Hospital for both medical procedures, and we live near one the best hospitals in the world. We were 20 minutes away when we needed emergency attention and not in the middle of the Sahara, as my mom actually was when she traveled through Africa with her parents as a preteen. The good news about my daughter was that she was wearing a helmet that saved her when she fell back hard against the icy snow and blacked out. The ski patrol said that this saved her from very serious injury, and we will always be grateful. (In fact, we are keeping her helmet for our memories, given that she can’t use this one again, to remember what it did to help her.) And, I have a client and a neighbor who will now wear helmets because of this.

There are other silver linings too. Because Americans have Trump in the White House, we are slowly waking up to the fact that we need to be citizens and not consumers, and that we need to get off our devices, turn off the Kardashians and march. Because my daughter was home and had to be unplugged, we made art together and I read stories to her, which is something we haven’t done a lot of in years.

I’m starting to hear from more of you– which I love!– that you’re wanting to make changes in your life, to get in shape, to learn more about yourself and the world. The world becomes a better place when we take care of ourselves, because then we have more to give to others. One of the lessons I’ve learned when I’m under stress is to make sure I have time to sleep, eat well, and exercise. It allows me to be more patient and present.

To find your world stage, don’t forget to find the silver lining. It doesn’t mean going around with rose colored glasses on. You have every right to feel bad when things don’t go well. But as soon as the crisis passes, or even if/when it doesn’t, it is a great spiritual practice to ask what is good about this. I don’t believe the oft-used slogan of “Things Happen for a Reason” since there is never a reason for so many things, like children dying in wars or suffering from hunger. But, I do believe that there is a silver lining that we can see if we really look. And finding that lining allows us to endure the next time things are hard.



Let Us Give Thanks

It’s hard to believe that the holidays are once again upon us. It seems like just a few months ago that I was making New Year’s Resolutions and committing to brand new goals, when in fact here we are with six weeks left to our year. I must admit that I do love this time of year, with golden leaves, crisp air, mittens and pumpkins and dressing up, gathering with family, twinkling lights and shiny ornaments.

My kids aren’t little anymore– my younger child will be a teen in 3 months, so I’m no longer doing the snow suit dance in which you get both kids in all the layers and then someone has to use the bathroom. They listen to music that consists of lots of breathless men playing the ukulele and I long for some Elton John or Aretha or even Queen.  We’re not going on “hikes” in the neighborhood anymore to collect leaves in our buckets to make into pretty pictures. We still pick apples most years, but really fall has become the backdrop of a busy back-to-school season, with dances and sleep-overs, homework, soccer practices and games and lots of scheduling and logistics. We don’t have anyone dressed as superheroes with capes anymore, but my son did volunteer to go to a diversity conference today so that his classmates would know that white guys care about diversity too. My daughter no longer dresses as princess who can change bad to good with her wand, but she helped a woman this fall who had collapsed by the road. She didn’t have a wand, but she had her cell phone and called 911, waiting until the EMT arrived.

This holiday season I want things to be different for me.  I will not rush or overspend or eat until I’m stuffed. Instead, I will try to be present and more moderate, to spend time enjoying the season, to take my time. It’s not easy to do, but a great start is gratitude, remembering that most of us are not escaping war-torn countries, many of us have enough to eat and a place to sleep, and some of us have work that makes us happy.  Today I went to the mall with my family to do some evening shopping and realized how easy it is to pull away from gratitude when you are surrounded by excess– store after store with beautiful things to look at and buy and own. It takes really presence not to get sucked into believing that you will be happier if you own all the shiny objects that are for sale. I tried a few things on in a horrible dressing room with unflattering light and three- way mirrors. It’s a wonder that I bought anything and left feeling at all good about myself in that light and with those angles.

When my kids were little, we used to spend time in the car talking about what we were grateful for. My kids came up with the most wonderful ideas. Here is an excerpt from a Christmas letter that I came across recently, describing the year when my kids were 4 and 2: “Will talks so constantly that Isabel can’t get a word in edgewise. He also loves to shout, “thank you, God!” whenever we’re driving. When we ask what they are grateful for, Isabel tends to be practical, mentioning her house and her friends. Will is more specific—“I’m grateful for blackberries, rocks and gourds. And peaches and mouths.”

So this holiday season, remember that a big part of finding your world stage, is realizing the parts of it that you already have. Let us be grateful for our own version of “peaches and mouths” and shine a light on a world that so needs our joy and our peace.


Beware of Bad Guys

When I was in 4th grade, I watched Batman on tv with my best friend, also named Melinda, and loved that we could cheer on the good guys and boo the bad guys, and that it was always clear which was which. Unfortunately, in real life, that is not the case. People aren’t always as they seem, and sometimes the person who appears rough around the edges, like my daughter’s music teacher, has a heart of gold, and yet some of the mom volunteers at my kids’ former school, who were pretty and stylish, were not as nice as they seemed, forming invisible cliques that made middle school look like a walk in the park. (Thankfully, I stopped volunteering with the PTO a few years ago.)

I’ve tried to teach my kids the importance of trusting their instincts, something which is so crucial but is not easily taught or even mentioned in school. We are told to be polite and trust others, which is why it is so essential to learn to have a healthy skepticism, whether toward an internet or mail “offer” or a stranger at our door. I just recently received a bill that looked very authentic for a trademark I had registered a few years ago. The bill was for around $900 and I can see how a lot of busy people with inexact records might pay it. The only problem is that it’s a total fake. I already paid for a 10 year license, so I ripped up the bill. My parents and other retired people are often targets for IRS scams, with phone calls threatening them if they don’t pay up. Thankfully, my parents understand that this is a scam, but many people don’t.

When it comes to strangers at our door, most are innocent, whether they are asking for charity money or trying to proselytize, but some are not. I’ll never forget when my husband and I were newly married and living in an apartment on the first floor. One day someone tried to buzz into our apartment even though I wasn’t expecting anyone. A lot of our neighbors would just buzz in the person without checking, since there was no way to verify who it was without going to the door. I felt that this was unsafe, however, so since I was on the first floor, I just went to the door. There behind the glass was a good-looking guy in a flannel shirt. He looked like a graduate student, someone who I should have easily buzzed in. And yet I knew deep down something was wrong. I asked through the glass, “What do you need?” and the man responded, “I’m here to fix your building’s heating problems since you don’t have any heat.” He even had a badge to validate his story. Now in most buildings, that would have been true. But in our building, we had the opposite problem: the heat was always running. I knew in that moment that this guy was a fake and that he was there to do harm. I told him that he was a fraud and I was calling the police and he threatened to break down the door. The only reason he left thankfully is that he heard other neighbors on the first floor, even though I was all alone in the lobby. This was before cell phones, so I didn’t have a way to call 911 from where I was. As soon as he fled, I went to the police and gave the perfect description for the guy they had been looking for: a good-looking graduate student-type who was breaking into buildings and threatening people. I never forgot how important it is to trust my instincts.

More recently, a few years ago after we had just moved in to our new house, a woman showed up at our door acting very strangely, saying that she had lived in the house when it was rented the previous summer– and yes the prior owner did have summer renters. She said she needed to come in to check out if her jewels were still in the house. At first, I didn’t listen to my instincts– I figured she was just sad and spacy and honestly wanted to get her jewelry back. I told her that nothing was there– the house was empty when we moved in. But she kept still trying to peer around our door, and given that my husband was not home, I was starting to feel very creepy about her. I suggested that she talk with the seller’s realtor in case the seller had seen anything, and then when I had time to think, I realized how strange her story was. I said she had to leave, and thankfully she did. I reported her to the police and they said that this is a common trick that bad guys do; they find a recently sold house that had been rented out and try to clean the new owners out. They also choose a “front man” who appears innocent, and the guys in charge often hide in the bushes for back up. The problem is that this woman seemed like she was either high or crazy or both. Thankfully, I was smart enough not to let her in, and I was just about to call out for my pretend cop husband if necessary to scare her off.

To find your world stage, watch out for bad guys. Things are not always as they appear. Sometimes a graduate student-type might be trying to harm you, and a nice woman who lost her jewelry might be trying to steal from you. It’s up to you to listen to your instincts to protect yourself, whether it is someone in person, over the phone or by computer or mail. Most people really are good, but just remember that life is not always as simple as Batman. It’s up to you to recognize who the bad guys are.