A Gentle Goodbye To 2013

We had all the kids at home yesterday, and the house was resonant with laughter and teasing, generous gift-giving and a love I can only reference as palpable.  My heart beats more deeply, echoing in my chest, snippets of serious conversation that stay in the forefront of my thoughts as I process and hold them as gently as feathers.  “You really are my only mom” (a figurative comment that was so full of history and stories and trust and love that I will never ever forget its intent); “Remember when Grammy would give us shit for playing ball in the playroom and I asked her why it was called a playroom then?”  “I used to think it was so ridiculous that you would treat me like a child when I was over; of course now I realize it was because I was a child”.  Lessons in wine tasting, a book titled “The Story Of A Lifetime” which offers prompts and questions to facilitate the telling of one’s tale in a way that may be at least salient if not interesting.  Laughter that included some good snorts, bad fart jokes and hugs good-bye for which I am never fully prepared.

And so it is as one year ends and another waits in the wings.  I guess I’m not fully prepared.  Certainly for some of the people I love, it has been a challenging year with losses that re-shape the heart.  For most though, it has been relatively gentle.  Our lives are intact, marriages seem happy though not without their requisite effort, young adults are realizing that the operative word has changed from ‘young’ to ‘adult’.  We’re still close and I am forgiven my maternal neuroses that at least can be shared among three.  I consciously tried to be kinder, cared less about judging and more about accepting, placed the notion of acquisitiveness somewhere down on the list where it belongs.  I learned this year, perhaps more than the one before, how deeply I can be touched by the candor and stories of people I have come to know in this little universe.  I have been gobsmacked when I received comments insisting that I have inspired, or tickled, or pleased, or echoed a thought that had been unspoken in someone else’s thoughts.  I’ve been brought to tears and moments of spontaneous delight by David and Bill, Russ and Andrea, Bonnie and Liz, LouAnn and TIna and Ivon, Kizzy, Rhonda.  Of course there are more and I do not intentionally omit anyone – you are in this circle with me and I believe you know it.  People who comment with thoughtfulness and generosity and love.  My friendships have been enhanced and allowed to flourish (for Lori wouldn’t have it any other way).

We found a house to hide in and stand outside of in that mystic fog of the morning when the world demands stillness.  Memories have begun to be made, new places to claim as one’s own.  And we got Bogey – our juvenile delinquent puppy, who should be wearing a leather jacket with a skull and crossbones instead of his snappy little tartan plaid.  Except of course when he’s just so laughably adorable that he is forgiven everything.

I will turn 60 this coming year, a number of some sobriety.  I know that at this point I’d be aged-out of employment in many cases (if I was looking), considered truly senior in the eyes of people with younger eyes and minds.  And yet, I’m so far from done, I don’t swallow too hard at the number.  There is abundant time to try and do better, be kinder, live in moments that should not be ignored, celebrate that which others often miss.  Read more, give more, dance in the driveway and maybe even get up and sing.  Who knows?  There is so much yet to be.  Thank you for sharing this part of the trip with me.  And Happy Happy New Year.

Beautiful Blessings Remain

Last week, my wondrous friend Lori (donnanddiablo.com) sent me one of John O’Donahue‘s exquisite blessings.  I used to consider myself well-read – until I met Lori;  moderately well-rounded – until I started following David Kanigan (davidkanigan.com), a tad lyrical – until I found Bill (drbillwooten.com).  I also considered myself to have a modicum of some other qualities that have been brought into some question now that I am an avid fan of many of your blogs (and I could go on, but you know from my comments how highly I think of you very, very talented people who enrich my life so often).  Creative, courageous, innovative, funny, unbridled – some of the adjectives that come to mind..

Anyhow, Lori and I are connected in ways too cosmic for me to fully understand.  Our emails cross each other in the cyberspace almost daily, each of us thinking of the other simultaneously.  She can intuit when something’s wrong, and I will feel a shadow across the sun if Lori is troubled.  That I can sense something is ‘off’ with Jo for example, seems to come with breathing – we’ve known each other longer than we have known ourselves.  But Lori and I began in tune without ever having met.  I find it incredible and awesome.  I feel this way about all those I love – each is a blessing.  Corny?  Mea culpa.  Is there a way to say this without sounding corny?  Probably, but this is a reflection of my limitation with the language nothing more.

I hadn’t heard of John O’Donahue.  How I could have missed such beauty?  So I share this with you – though it is Lori who should be thanked for this introduction.  After emailing with a friend of mine earlier this morning, thinking about how we test ourselves and occasionally torture our thoughts and hearts, it seemed only right that I pass this along to you.  I hope you receive it in the spirit with which it is given – with hope in the sunlight.

A Blessing For The New Year

On a day when

The weight deadens

On your shoulders

And you stumble,

May the clay dance

To balance you.

And when your eyes

Freeze behind

The gray window

And the ghost of loss

Gets into you,

May a flock of colors

Indigo, red, green

And azure blue,

Come to awaken in you

A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays

In the curragh of thought

And a stain of ocean

Blackens beneath you,

May there come across the waters

A path of yellow moonlight

To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,

May the clarity of light be yours,

May the fluency of the ocean be yours,

May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow

Wind work these words

Of love around you,

An invisible cloak

To mind your life.

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Overthinking

“Child, child, do you not see?  For each of us comes a time when we must be more than we are” — Lloyd Alexander

Well the last few weeks have brought with them a frenetic level of activity reminiscent of earlier chapters in my life.  Facilitating training sessions at two law firms; attending a national convention where I will be moderating a panel  on effective communication between leaders in practice offices and their counterparts at ‘headquarters'; discussions on employee engagement at another company and then back to another professional services firm to chair forums on a number of issues all rolling up under the header of ‘organizational dynamics’.  Ok, stop yawning – I find this stuff pretty fascinating, and the people I meet as a result, even more interesting and engaging.  It’s the people – I’m just so damn drawn to the people.

So somewhere around the end of May or June, things may slow down a bit once more. Some things haven’t changed – the more I have to do, the less I sleep and the more I perseverate.  For those of you who have not been ‘gifted’  with this talent, I’ll describe it quickly.  It starts with a benign thought, like “I hope I can pull all this together in time”, and from there it blossoms into a profusion of peripatetic petals (it is spring and Cherry Blossom time here in DC after all) that fall all over my mind, covering the synapses, neurons and pathways with layer upon layer of resistant ground cover.  Thought loses all rhyme or reason, and I spend an inordinate amount of time getting in my own way.  Do I know that I really should get out the leaf blower?  Of course I do – I’m just too busy looking at the magnificent mess I have created.

Now this talent of mine exists in direct counterpoint with another ability that I really do have about many, many issues.  When my sons were younger, they maintained their rooms as temples to the God Of Who Cares.  Somehow the word ‘messy’ really doesn’t do their efforts justice – neither does ‘unhygienic’.  Once a week, I would expect them to make some effort to return their rooms into something livable, for I really didn’t want them contracting some weird bacteria that is only found in the Amazon and the soles of filthy socks.  Their disregard drove Andy crazy – he’s  the kind of guy who feels that everything has a place and there’s a place for everything – and if not, toss it out.  So as he would get increasingly exorcised, I would become calmer.  And my mantra through those years was “If this is going to bother you in five years honey, then I will invest in this issue with all the emotional energy I can summon.  But if this isn’t going to matter five years hence, then I’m letting it go”.

Hypocrite – thy name is Mimi.

You see I really believe that little mantra – I do.  I just don’t apply it with as much conviction when it comes to my own efforts.  So in short – I become my own pain in the butt.  Somebody needs something from me – ok, let’s jump into hyper-drive, over-think it and deliver with everything I’ve got.  And then collapse and chastise myself for all that excess worry and emotional self-flagellation.  Oh, and then start the whole process again…because after all, this is different.  It’s about someone else’s needs.  I have to be better this time, right?

Last night though – somewhere between Carson Daly and the 2:30AM news on ABC – a memory came to the fore and I think as a result, I am going to try to teach my foolish self what I already know.

Years ago, after one back surgery or another, I lost the use of my arms.  Truly.  I could raise one arm high enough to bring a utensil to my lips, the other only far enough to scratch an inch near my waist.  The surgeon wasn’t alarmed (of course, they weren’t his arms) – neurological effrontery can make for some pretty lousy retribution.  I was petrified.  All of a sudden elements of daily self-care were elusive to me.  Andy would wash and dry my hair (with enormous affection and limited expertise – we will not conjure any thoughts of how I looked during this time), I drank coffee through a straw, modifications were made.  The doctor was sure my range of motion would return – he had no doubt, so I believed him.  My anxiety became more reflective of the ‘when’ not the ‘if’, and immediately became more manageable.  In five years, this would not be an issue for me – I knew that.  My thoughts became less frantic, I began to clear away the disorderly mess that had become my thought process.  And yes, the doctor knew what he was talking about.

Which brings me back to this moment.  In five years it will matter to me that I gave my best to others – period.  I won’t get there by letting my worry trump my determination.  Let me re-phrase – I may get there, but I will be have depleted essential elements of the thoughts I need to be happy.  Today, I’m going to follow the advice of Steve Martin – “I’ve got to keep breathing.  It’ll be the worst business mistake if I don’t”.

I hope this makes you smile – and if by chance you identify with any of this – I hope it helps you breathe.

 


 

 

When There Are No Answers

“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all” — Emily Dickinson

Some days need to be subdued.  In the silence you can hear your thoughts – jumbled though they may be, scatological and spontaneous, making sense maybe, perhaps not.  Maybe it’s the mind’s way of trying to integrate contradictory stimuli.

Is it the phases of the moon or just the stages of life that bring four of my cherished friends to the ragged edge of loss this weekend?  Remarkable people who have never met, marking anniversaries of loss, experiencing the passing of a beloved family member, and/or finding themselves staring straight into the sea of frightening inevitability which we deny for as long as we can?  And why does life’s corollary have to be so untenable?  I have no idea.

I don’t know if there’s a heaven; I have a hard time conceiving of hell.  I think I’m very faithful, for I believe in many things that I can’t see – and for me, it is the simplest way to embrace something as indescribably huge as faith.  And love.  And hope.  I know that when we have to let go, we never really do.  One of my friends was relating the conversation she and her brother had with their dad, telling him that they were okay, that they would be okay…My sister and I had similar discussions with our parents when they were arguably between two worlds.  And yesterday I thought to myself that sometimes the idea of leaving is untenable because we don’t want to leave our children with no barrier against mortality.  The thought that they have to assume a different and arguably scarier position when we are no longer physically here.  The mere thought is anathema to me.  Life – that is all that we want our loved ones to embrace.  How dissonant to suggest that our abdication requires their assumption of a new place in line?  Perhaps one of the greatest acts of love is hanging in there if one can, with the invisible, powerful hope that we are still protecting those we love beyond measure.

I believe that some souls come into our life for a brief time, and leave indelible imprints on our hearts, our approach to each day, etc.  Some remind us that we are loved, when we doubt it; others nurture us when we have forgotten how to do this for ourselves; defiantly protect us when we are emotionally over-exposed.  Are they angels?  Their miraculous arrival and elusive departure suggest they could be.  Is there a better way to define a lifeline when it is provided and holds you together with unshakeable confidence and purpose?

I know the canned answer is that the experience of sorrow somehow makes the moments of joy all the lovelier.  Loss underscores our appreciation of that which we have.  It sounds good enough to become a cliché, though like most trite comments, it doesn’t necessarily resonate in the heart.  Hope however, has wings.  Hope that forever is a place, that love remembered is a blessing and love extended is a gift.  I wish it didn’t have to hurt so damn much.  I wish that tears weren’t necessary.  The daffodil shoots are stubbornly insisting on breaking through the frozen ground – indifferent to the reality that greets them when they appear.  They persist – with faith.  They will flourish in the spring – with hope.

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The Feeling Is Mutual

It’s 1:45 in the morning and I’m sitting here at the Knights’ Round Table, with a cup of coffee and a heavy, unbreakable silence that pervades the house.  Even the Knights have dispensed with their evening wanderings — ensuring that the kingdom is secure before retiring to their abodes (e.g., my bed).  The last training session for this program ended today…um, yesterday, and my mind is racing with post-mortem thoughts that needed a place to go.

(In case you’re wondering I don’t look nearly as refreshed as this woman does)

I have told you about the level of engagement of the participants, the richness of our dialogue and the development of professional bonds which will likely continue and thrive.   On this, our last ‘official’ time together, the group surprised me (which is rare – I don’t ‘surprise’ easily).  I returned to the conference room after making a phonecall, and there they were standing together by the door, snapping their fingers and singing “we love you” (the melody was unclear but it definitely had a beat because everyone was dancing.  So…I danced too..)  To make this brief, we were laughing and I was fumbling around with my sense of wonder when they gifted me with a memory to last a lifetime.  They told me they thought I was terrific and wanted to thank me for our sessions.  A gift of personalized stationery and a  custom made t-shirt with a motto of mine (that’s a secret which will be revealed in another post).  What was just as astonishing were the personal messages each person wrote on a card to me.  Expressions of appreciation for the program and hopes for continued dialogue, one person called meeting me a ‘blessing’, every one commenting upon the impact the course had on them and their delight with the content and me as the facilitator.  I don’t want to overstate the incredible feeling this evoked in me, nor do I want to make this post about me.  It’s about them

You know how much energy I received from their collective and individual enthusiasm.  You can imagine the loyalty that I feel towards such a devoted group, and how much I want for them to continue striving to be the best managers in their offices.  And they will.  At one point, J asked me, “so what motivates you”?  And I realized that for me there is nothing more gratifying than positive connections.  I facilitated a program – their interest in the content fed my enthusiasm, my soul and my sense of purpose.  We can impact many, we can impact one.  And if fortune is kind, and those moments become integrated into a person’s way of doing business, his/her approach to others and their lives in general, then they have hit my motivational sweet spot.  These participants nailed it every Thursday – and yesterday gave me more than I feel I can ever return (but will continue to try).

I am sorry for their senior managers who don’t recognize the quality in their ranks, the innovative thoughts and strategies that are simmering on the back burners of ‘those in the trenches’.  If you don’t seek feedback from your direct reports about what they are seeing, what alternative approaches they are considering and whatever out-of-the-box ideas that are constantly germinating in the minds of those seeking to enhance and engage the workplace, you are missing the greatest resources available to you.  The workplace is morphing before our eyes – our challenge is to respond with forethought and consideration.  It serves no productive purpose to wait until the tidal wave of change washes over our offices and we are left shell-shocked and reacting to change far too late to do more than clean up the mess.  We have some tough decisions to make over the next few years – our staffing paradigms will change, virtual management is no longer a thirty minute sit-com called “Max Headroom” – it’s a reality.  Technology is allowing clients to demand 24/7 availability while it is also removing our gift of dialogue and the nuance of the written word.  The values upon which most firms were founded no longer hold up under scrutiny (hello Dewey LeBoeuf).  Who will respond to these waves of change?  People like those who attended this workshop.  These are the people who will do the hard prep if you ask them, ask provocative questions before they become moot and who truly want to create the best professional environment possible.  I send them love and thanks – they taught me so much and in exchange I feel like I really gave so little.  I only offered my time, some insight that experience and training have afforded me, and a genuine focus on their development.  It was my responsibility and my privilege.  When they return to their offices, I hope someone in a senior position does his/her job – listen to what these people have to say – and consider acting on their ideas.  I will miss them next Thursday, but I will remember them forever.