Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Be kind. Be true to who you are.

We watched "How to Train Your Dragon" last night, a cute animated movie, and it made me cry. (Yeah, I know. Really silly.)
It is the story of Hiccup, a young Viking whose people have been fighting all sorts of very imaginative, destructive dragons for 300 years on the Isle of Misery, where it snows 9 months of the year and hails the other three. He is not hero material and is bullied somewhat by the other kids. But he manages to make friends with a Night Fury, the most terrible of dragons, and ride it, and eventually becomes a hero. That's the short version.
I'm not even quite sure what touched me so much in this. Maybe it's a boy who followed his instincts to be kind rather than destructive, and in so doing, changed his entire culture. And it is all about love, too -- between a boy and his father, his dragon (who is sort of cat-like and also a little dog-like), and learning to be true to who he is.
We have such power to change our world by changing how we act and react to the people and events that we encounter. I know that a kind word and a pleasant smile can change a surly clerk into one who is ready to help. I know that we may never know what effect our words and actions might have on another -- sometimes it can make all the difference. 
I know that the only person I can change is me, and I get to decide what kind of a person I want to be: nobody else gets to decide that. I know that I must live with the results of my decisions, but I also know that there are only a few choices that are irrevocable, even though the next choices may be different than the one I just made.
That's what this movie reminded me about, I think. And kindness won. It does, every time, even when it doesn't seem that way. 

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Just one wild and precious life

In my favorite movie and play, Steel Magnolias, Truvy says, "Honey, time marches on, and eventually you realize it's marchin' across your face."

Today a friend sent me the Baby Boomers Battle Hymn. "Holy crap, we're getting older!"

As my grandmother would have said, "'T'aint funny, McGee."

It's already May 5 and it's flying by. We'll be in 100-degree temperatures all too soon. And then it will be Christmas again.

It is, I suppose, the nature of youth to behave as though there is infinite time spreading before them and that they are, despite evidence to the contrary, pretty much invincible and indestructible. I sure acted that way, perhaps not exactly 'pissing my youth away,' as the You Tube version goes, but without any real acknowledgement that our time here is finite and precious.

It's only when there are more days behind us than in front that we begin to realize how quickly this life slips by. I'm so there.

That's why I'm striving these days to take care of myself, to tell those who I hold dear how I feel about them, to let go of things that drag me down, and to make some inroads on the things I want to do. I hope I have many more years, good years, ahead of me. But I don't want to face the end of this life wondering what I might have accomplished had I paid better attention to what was going on around me, to my health both physical and mental, and to those I have loved most and best.

So I resolve to do the following:

Relish something each day, be it a good book, a loving relationship, a beautiful flower, a devoted pet, a piece of really good chocolate. And be aware that it is good. Say prayers for those who are hurting and for myself. Be kind. Do at least one thing 'for the good of the order' -- I don't have to do it all in one day, but one task every day will get the job done. Tell my friends and family that I appreciate them and love them. And love who I am becoming, wrinkles, gray hair, stiff joints and all. God is not finished with me yet, and I may have discoveries and contributions to make that I haven't even dreamed of. And give thanks, every day, for this one wild and precious life.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Family relationships: setting healthy boundaries

Family connections are still very much on my mind these days, partly because of the situation with my cousin, but also because of a play that I'm going to do later this fall titled 'Night, Mother by Marsha Norman.

The play is about suicide; it is just the two women on stage for the whole time, and it is powerful, dramatic, and thought-provoking. When we did the read-through, several people present, including me, were in tears. And we realized from that experience that suicide touches more lives than we perhaps realize. There are preliminary plans to involve suicide prevention groups and mental health professionals to encourage better awareness and speak to the issues that so often surround suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Watch for more information and performance dates.


I've also been contemplating family relationships, both extended and nuclear, and how we behave with those we are closest to. Sometimes we are most unkind to those who we supposedly love the most -- perhaps because we feel secure that we will be loved in spite of our actions? Or is it that we put down our mask within our family circle and reveal what is really going on if anyone cares enough to look deeply enough?

I also think there are givers and there are takers in every family, in every group. The givers -- of which I am one and always have been, sometimes not healthily -- will put others' welfare above their own in many cases and sometimes to go extreme lengths to make sure the needs of others are met despite whatever sacrifice it may entail. One of my daughters has done this in the extreme with most of her relationships, and they have cost her dearly in money, material possessions, time, and mental and physical health. She has not yet learned how to draw  boundaries. And I was probably not the best role model for her when she was young.

It took me a long time to begin to establish boundaries, and I'm still learning, but it is necessary to become fully who we are. (I continue to daily repeat Mary Oliver's poem "The Journey" about saving the only life I can save -- which is mine.)

This article speaks to boundaries, saying among other goodies: " You can’t set a boundary and take care of someone else’s feelings at the same time. You are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you are setting."

It goes on to say that learning to set them is a process, and that you will do so as you are ready.

It's hard. It's not fun. But it IS liberating to take care of the only person I can really be responsible for -- myself.

There also are takers, who while they may give lip service to the needs of others, really want the attention to be on their needs, their wishes, their lives, and don't really want to listen to your stories. I've had experience with them in my family as well, although I'm finding that with some age and life experiences, some of the takers have achieved some balance in their actions and can give without expecting a return.

What makes us a giver or a taker? This article says it likely begins in childhood and how we are raised, what needs are met or ignored, how we are treated. And this one has some good exercises in how to begin to set them.

What is important now is that we can change. We can learn how to treat both ourselves and others with compassion and kindness. Setting boundaries is an act of self-love as well as an indication of acceptable behavior. It is not closing a door on a relationship, but rather an affirmation that both parties are important.