I sat in the car for a few moments before starting the engine, gathering my thoughts. I could literally feel my mind racing, like it actually had a heart beat and I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed. I must have looked like a loon to anyone driving by.
You see I was laughing at the fact that despite my intentional focus on positivity, it remains my truth that there are going to be things in my life that are beyond my control to change. Things I’m not necessarily meant to understand fully because, well, it’s pretty simple, I’m not meant to.
Lymphedema is one of those things.
Lymphedema has been on my radar since I underwent a bilateral mastectomy for breast cancer and was informed that there was a risk, a life-long risk, of my lymphatic system becoming painfully blocked in my arm, breast and/or hand due to the removal of lymph nodes from my under arm to test for rogue cancer cells. When and if, that happened, I would face the possibility of an unknown level of swelling, pain and risk of infection for the rest of my life. Whoopee! 😦
Last week my hubby and I were looking forward to packing our bags for a much needed New England getaway when I began to notice that my right breast hurt, was red and was very swollen. I knew exactly what it was. Lymphedema had arrived in my life.
I’d like to say I took immediate action, but I didn’t. I waited.
You see this trip to New England was a celebration of the completion of three years of surgeries, a delayed 30th anniversary trip and birthday celebrations for my hubby and I all rolled into one. Nothing, nothing was going to get in the way of our special time together, least of all lymphedema.
The God I love could not be that cruel.
But, as I said there are things that are beyond my control. Things I am not meant to fully understand and I knew deep down that God was in no way responsible for this latest health issue, so I set aside my pride, my need to control things and made the phone call to my surgeon.
He took one look at me and I just knew. No words needed to be exchanged.
After a moment of awkward silence I said, “Um, so my husband and I have a plane to catch and a romantic adventure awaiting, so I’ll deal with this little lymphedema issue when I get back, o.k.?”
“Sorry, no flying…not until you get fitted for a compression sleeve and see a physical therapist who specializes in lymphatic drainage. Oh, and by the way, it looks like you have an infection in the lymphatic fluid surrounding your new implant, thus the reason you are not feeling well, so we need to put you on strong antibiotics, remind me what you are allergic to again?”
“Allergic, me? How well do you know the good folks at the Center for Disease Control, cause they pretty much have me on speed dial!”
So, instead of cycling around Long Island with my favorite guy; or cheering on the Red Sox at Fenway while drinking one too many beers; or learning how to make cheese in Vermont, I sat there in the parking lot of my doctors office laughing like a loon and thinking how in the hell was I going to make this wonderful new game plan sound as fun and exciting to my husband as the vacation we had planned.
But I needn’t have worried.
Oh, I’m not going to lie to you. A few tears were shed, a few choice curse words, some I’m ashamed to say aimed directly at God and my husband was sad. I was sad. Everyone in my family was sad.
Yet in this moment of sadness, I’m choosing to see this whole lymphedema thing through a positive lens. This set back is no different than every other hiccup I have been through health wise and I know it to be true that blessings are often not what we have planned, but what is revealed to us in our journey.
I have discovered that God has provided me with an amazing opportunity to define my life not by all the things I can’t do, all the things, for example, that lymphedema will temporarily impact, like travel plans. Instead my life can be powered into infinity by the “I Can Do It!” moments.
And there is so much comfort and joy in that revelation.
Four simple words…
“I Can Do It!”
Words that are considered high frequency use words and are a part of the first 100 words we learn as young children. Words that young children are quick to embrace and use often, without prompting and adults quickly forget.
“I can do it myself mommy!” “Let me try that daddy, I can do it!”
You see the older we get, we lose sight of the value and power those words “I Can Do It!” can have in propelling us forward through all the negative trials we face in our adult lives because we are constantly taken aback that adult hood doesn’t include morphing into a super-hero capable of keeping the “I Can’t” in our lives at bay.
Thus the reason I sat in my car, after my doctors appointment, laughing at the irony of being a positivity blogger and yet, this one stupid thing, this lymphedema thing, I couldn’t fix even with all of my positivity efforts.
I know it’s wrong to beat myself up, but I guess the older we get, the more seasoned we become at choosing the “I Can’t!” in our lives first, until it is on autopilot. I’m a grown-up damn it, this all should be so simple!
Maybe it’s not all our fault tho.
You only have to turn on the television, radio, your computer and promoting “I Can’t!” is nothing short of a global phenomenon, with billions and billions of dollars changing hands each day at the expense of our vulnerabilites.
Tell us whats wrong with us enough and we begin to believe it and we will pay to hear it over and over and over again.
Seriously, have you ever stopped to think just flipping through the cable channels how much messaging is geared to the “I Can’t” in us, then the “I Can?” Multiply that exponentially over the course of a life time and well, that’s a lot of “I Can’t!” At some point, we stop trying to think positively and focus on all the bad because it’s what we are conditioned to believe is of value. We promote it in our selves, we promote it in each other.
The irony is we are all banging the same drum. “I can’t!” “You can’t” “We can’t” and the song is so stale and old and tired we’ve become numb to it.
I get it. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve embraced the negative more times in my fifty six years than I can count. Honestly, the past three years it has been so tempting to just bathe in all of that negative vibe. I’m tired, I’m broken and done with all of the chaos my health issues have caused me and damn it, I wanted to go to New England with my husband, is that too much to ask?
There seems to be an unspoken kinship in us grown-ups, wrapping ourselves in that blanket of pain and sorrow and all that is lost? We take one for the team of “I Can’t!” time and time again because frankly it’s pretty easy to explain all that we can’t do and so damn hard to explain our possible, especially, if we haven’t a freakin clue what it all means.
But I’m discovering that if I/we wallow in our own pool of what is wrong with us, we totally miss out on the joys of what we are truly capable of.
We all have within us the ability to move the needle from “I Can’t!” to “I Can Do It!” and all we need to do is stop complicating it and remember the child in us.
When my children were small and the years I spent as an early childhood educator, I discovered that, “I Can Do It!” flowed freely from the lips of young children, but not so much from adults.
You see the difference between young children and adults when it comes to the eight simple letters of “I-C-A-N-D-O-I-T” is that young children don’t automatically reach for the “I Can’t” when things get tough. They haven’t been tainted by advertisers and media and the collective security blanket of negative images and thinking.
When they face a physical or mental challenge, you will hear words like, “I want to try again”, “I would like another turn to try”, “I want another chance.” All implying their possible.
When they don’t feel well, once recovered, they have little recollection that they were ever sick and instead quickly get back to all they can do.
Thinking back to when I was a kid, I remember I got a bad case of chicken pox and learned to tie my shoes and ride a bike in the backyard while I was recovering. What the heck happened to that drive and motivation of that little girl? What happened to that kid, who despite being covered in itchy chicken pox, saw only her possible?
When did what I am incapable of become of greater value in my life than what I am capable of?
It’s interesting that failure is an every day thing in the life of a young child and yet, it just isn’t innate in them to automatically go to the dark side.
In fact, it is often during those really difficult moments when their “I Can’t!” seems to be the only possible outcome, that young children rally around each other, lifting each other up.
“I can do it” becomes “We can do it” and it’s a marvel to witness.
You see, what we adults interpret as loss: of our health, our person, our God given right to control our destiny in every aspect; young children see as a forever opportunity to GET IT RIGHT! Whether that is by themselves or in a group, there is no negative drum beat, only:
“I can do it!” “You can do!” “We can do it!”
Sounds like a pretty wonderful way to live, right?
Imagine a world where adults are no longer fearful of the inevitable obstacles, forks in the road, and jaw dropping cliff dives of life for which we have no control.
“I CAN DO IT!”
Imagine a world where adults are no longer vulnerable to the advertisers and media and the “I Can’t” of their reality and instead dream, imagine, cultivate all of their possible in themselves and in each other.
“I CAN DO IT!”
Imagine a world where we no longer table our child like wonder and the blanket we wrap around ourselves is warm with love, hope and all of the possibilities of our together.
“I CAN DO IT!”
We don’t have to wait. We have the tools in each of us to make it so and we only have to look to our childhood for a reminder.
I am going to work hard in the coming months to make that my reality. I know with the help of God, my family and friends, medical team and yes, even you, my fellow positivity seekers, that I do not have to give lymphedema any more of an audience in my life story then it needs to be.
I truly am looking forward to discovering all of the “I Can Do It’s!” that have yet to be revealed in my life and share those wonderful stories with you.
I am excited. I am hopeful. I am blessed.
And I’m going to New England with my favorite guy as soon as I’m cleared to do so. My bags are still packed!
I hope you will Like and Follow me as we journey together to figure this positivity thing out. PositivelyAnne.com on WP and FB and PositivelyAnne on Instagram and Linked In.
One of my favorite verses from the bible is from Psalm 118:24:
This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
In my humble opinion, the implications of this verse are powerful, less in the literally interpretation of creation and more in the subtext of opportunity…human opportunity.
As the sun rises and sets, we are given another chance to get it right. To appreciate ourselves, our lives and to be joyful and glad for who and what we are.
Now I’d like to ask you two simple questions and I am going to guess how you might answer them.
Are you glad, You, are you? YES OR NO? Do you rejoice in the You that is? YES or NO?
- “What do you mean by glad exactly?” “I mean there are so many levels of gladness from extreme happiness to mild contentment and everything in between, so, can you further define the word “glad” for me?”
- “What is there to be glad about, my life is in turmoil, period! “
- “Of course, I’m glad! BUT there are hundreds of things I’m working on, so um, it’s hard to let others see the real me. I’d rather envision the images of the “me” I want to be. The perfect “me” I imagine myself to be. The “me”, I’d be glad to know, not this mess of a person that I see in the mirror before me. I can’t rejoice until I’m that person.”
- “It’s selfish to be glad for ourselves when so many others are hurting.”
- “People who are glad, are fake. No one is glad. Everyone is just going through the motions of life. Anyone who posts “glad” things about themselves, happy pictures, happy stories, IS just catering to the fakeness that is life on this planet.
- If we say we are “glad” with ourselves, then we ignore all that is possible for us to be. We become stagnate, unable to move forward, past our own self-importance.
You may find my answers surprising, a bit bold, maybe even brash. Maybe you are even uncomfortable with my cynicism. Isn’t this a positivity blog????
Well, if any or all of the above answers resonates with you, then I’m doing my job as a positivity blogger because we can’t move forward in our positivity journey until we accept the fact that we live in a world that makes money off the fact that we don’t like ourselves. Lots and lots of money. And we are being conditioned to think this way about gladness, about joy, about life because it lines the pockets of the few who don’t care whether we are glad or not as long as the money keeps rolling in.
We’ve been led to believe that joy and gladness are counter culture to what the world wants for us. So instead of rejoicing in the day the Lord hath made, we spend our days “oohing and ahhing” over our foibles to the degree that we give power to our own degradation.
We strip ourselves bare of any chance at happiness because it’s cooler to keep our happiness hidden, and more profitable if we are downright miserable.
Hate of ourselves is a profitable business, it has been for a long time and we, the people, are its’ willing fuel.
Countless advertising dollars are spent pumping our brains full of round the clock negativity. Social media sites programmed to “push” our vulnerability to the forefront.
Seriously, I can tell you it is nothing short of an uphill battle to be a positivity blogger in a world where likes and follows are freely given for negative content and positivity has become a pay per view proposition.
Those of us attempting to stoke the fires of glad tidings are left with the crumbs. Crumbs that are readily available to multiply, but for which we are conditioned to think ourselves unworthy of the fight.
Life’s algorithm seems to favor an economy where gladness is a four- letter word. We are constantly looking in the mirror, both literally and figuratively, impressed not by what is good about ourselves, but by what is flawed.
Now before I lose you to the doom and gloom, I have a quick fix for all of this. The answer is simple.
WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY. I repeat. WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY. For those of you who do not like contractions, here it is again:
WE DO NOT HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY.
Nope, WE DO NOT. We can choose to be glad for ourselves. We can choose to post our gladness. We can choose to promote positivity, in all its forms. We can choose to say “HELL NO!” to the negativity machine.
But to do that we have to arm ourselves with a new attitude. An attitude that stops expecting the world to change for us and instead we change ourselves.
As I stated, we do live in a world where we are rewarded for being negative and that world encourages us to push gladness, true gladness in our human selves, to the back burner. Now the way this succeeds is it plays into our vulnerability that true gladness in ourselves is all about perfection.
And guess what people. None of us is perfect. Nope, not me, not you, not anyone.
So, first things first. Say to yourself:
I AM NOT PERFECT and THAT IS 100 PERCENT OK.
Simply put, Let Perfection Go!
O.k., so none of us is perfect. What’s next?
Well now we need to open our eyes to what we like about ourselves internally. Notice, I’m not talking about physical beauty.
I hate to burst your ego, but physical beauty is truly subjective and it’s virtually impossible to get consensus on what is physically beautiful and it’s the reason companies and their advertisers, since time immortal, have spent billions of dollars trying to convince us that physical beauty is important because no one can agree on exactly what that benchmark is.
So, forget your outside and focus on your inner beauty. Most everyone has something they like about themselves internally. Are you kind, considerate, compassionate, a quick study, a good listener, a good speaker, a motivator, focused, driven, energetic, positive, creative, romantic, resourceful, thoughtful, gentle, quiet, reserved, introvert, extrovert, comedic, entertaining…you get the idea!
Pick something, one thing. My inner beauty is my intuition. I can read a situation, a room, pretty quickly. I wasn’t always aware I had this skill or aware of how valuable it would be in my life. When I was an intern in my first job after college, a colleague of mine pointed out the importance of learning how to read the dynamics of a situation before jumping in with both feet to resolve it. She told me intuition was an important skill. I quickly realized it was a skill that came naturally to me, intuitively, and it is a skill that has served me well in every aspect of my life.
My intuition has enabled me to see the blessings in almost every situation. I quickly understand that “drama” in my life can also be the stepping stone to something even better. Be it tools to help me manage the situation or critical information that keeps me moving forward. So, I’m less reactive to change and more proactive about looking for the blessings.
So, let your inner beauty have a voice and rejoice in it!
Third, we live in a world where we have access to “the world” in real time. Anything we want to see and anywhere we want to experience is pretty much at our fingertips. But, as I stated before, life’s algorithms push us to seek out the negative and feel guilty when we don’t.
A couple examples: How many of you spend time looking at all the negative comments about a movie, a concert, a place you want to visit or eat at before you decide to go there? How many of you stress about all the negative things that can happen when visiting family and friends, instead of focusing on all the joyful possibilities?
Again, the push for us to choose the negative has us automatically second guessing everything. Maybe the restaurant isn’t as good as we imagine. Maybe travelling to Europe isn’t as safe as we hope it would be. Maybe my dream job isn’t going to be so dreamy if what I’m reading on-line is true. Maybe my grandma will be crabby or my cousins boring.
And…maybe you will get cancer or divorced or struck by lightning. Yep, bad stuff happens to all of us. That is a fact. So, rewire yourself to seek out the positive without hesitation. Don’t let the advertisers, the influencers, the negativity peddlers rob you of your joy. And forget the guilt. We can’t predict every negative thing in life. And to be honest, if we could, life would be boring.
I recently planned a trip to Chicago with my daughter and when planning for the trip, instead of just entering into the internet search engine, “Things to do in Chicago”, where I was guaranteed to see a plethora of negative feedback, I instead input the following:
“Fun and Positive Only” things to Do in Chicago.
Sounds silly I know, but…
Over 100 different activities popped up, all FUN and AFFORDABLE and there was not a single negative comment on any of the activities! The exciting thing was that these activities led us to discover other positive experiences (impromptu salsa dancing in Millennium Park comes to mind) and all told, it was one of the best vacations I have ever had.
So, my point is this, you can be glad. You really can. You can ignore the negative and seek out the positive EVERY SINGLE TIME! See that movie you want. Enjoy new restaurants. Visit family and friends without worry.
Let the world see the real you…your inner gladness.
Do not hesitate to post to your Facebook or Instagram the fun you are having. So, what if someone thinks:
What an ego! What a self-absorbed narcissist! What a phony!
Who cares what they think, because you will know the positive truth because you are living it!!!
You are the living embodiment of gladness and what Psalm 118:24 is all about.
REJOICE. OWN IT. SHARE IT. Life is too short not to SHOUT IT TO THE WORLD!
I AM GLAD!!!
This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
All are welcome to like and follow PositivelyAnne. Let me know what brings you joy and gladness? How do you push back on the negative in life?
I’ve worked so hard to build a beautiful life for my husband and kids, dedicating myself to creating a home environment that is warm and inviting and welcoming to all.
I’ve spent years crafting a career that I felt was worthy and purposeful, going above and beyond in my education so that I modeled for my children the benefits of a lifetime invested in continuous learning and self-improvement. For thirty years, I have been a dedicated volunteer in my church and community, devoted to sharing Jesus message of shalom and inclusion and helping all those in need. I have cultivated friendships I treasure and enjoyed travel, dining and cultural and sporting experiences with my husband, family and friends.
It has been a good life, a happy life, a positive life by all accounts that I’ve had a large hand in creating.
But a small, barely detectible, cancer tumor in my right breast forced me to reckon with the fact that no matter how hard I try, I am never going to be 100 percent the architect of my own destiny.
Why? Because life, by its’ very nature is spontaneous, and we humans spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out ways to sabotage that spontaneity. Without thinking, we all work tirelessly to reign spontaneity in, so that we can control it, manipulate it for our own purposes, and get angry at it for disrupting our plans. I am a master at it.
I love to fight with spontaneity.
How dare you trample on my life’s blue print! It’s my life spontaneity, not yours!!!
In my own defense, it is not that I am closed to spontaneity. Far from it. A lot of people tell me I adapt well to changes and can catch a curve ball better than most. I like “different” and enjoy the mix of planned and unplanned in my life so spontaneity isn’t such a foreign concept.
But that being said, going off-script can still bring on a case of the tummy butterflies. It sometimes seems unnatural, against the grain of how I was conditioned by this world to view a well-planned, orderly life.
I guess it would be understandable if that logic was applicable only to something as serious as cancer. But truth be told, despite wanting to embrace the “idea” of spontaneity, I can only take impromptu “go with the flow” for so long before I am rounding up the cattle and putting them back in the pen. Spontaneity scares the hell out of me because the world doesn’t like it. No wandering little doggies running roughshod over our master plan.
I am wired by this world to take all of the loose ends of life and create some semblance of order and balance I can comfortably live with. When the pendulum swings too far out of the norm, I’m anxious. When the pendulum stops swinging, I’m anxious. It’s hard to find a happy medium in the spontaneity game when all we do is fight it.
I am not alone in this. Embracing spontaneity sounds great and all, but if social media has anything to say about it, spontaneity is just a buzz word for flaky, unmotivated, undisciplined chaos?
At least that’s what we are force fed to believe. Oh, not necessarily by our parents or even by anyone related to us, but everything from schools, to employers, to just about every aspect of marketing in this world leads us to believe that success is akin to having our lives planned out, every “I” dotted and “t” crossed, and failure is akin to leaving life up to chance.
We pack our lives so full of “must do’s” that there is no time for discovery, possibilities, opportunities. We have forgotten that while spontaneity can bring on such things as cancer, it can also bring the cure, in the form of unexpected blessings, things we never imagined.
Cancer showed up spontaneously one February in my life and I discovered that my constant mapping and remapping of my life plan was not a match for good ol’ spontaneous cancer. If I was going to beat this disease, oh not physically beat it, the medical professionals were on top of that, but emotionally beat it, I was going to have to rewire my mind to think differently about what it means to be absorbed with controlling my life path and leaving nothing to chance.
I had to think of spontaneity in new and different ways. I had to stop fighting it and do two specific things:
Accept that Spontaneity doesn’t just happen without a lot of hard work
While I was going through a boatload of pencil lead crafting my life plan, I never once thought about how spontaneity would fit into my narrative. The blanks on my calendar made me nervous, less self-important, less everything. So, I filled them in. That is why spontaneity requires a lot of hard work. Hard work because we are hard wired to over plan, over schedule. Open spaces on a calendar equals vulnerability. Vulnerability equals the possibility of failure and well, as I said earlier, failure isn’t a popular choice these days. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The reality is that spontaneity isn’t calendar driven. It doesn’t wait around for those days when we have nothing to do. In fact, more often than not, it shows up when we are at our busiest.
Because the funny thing about spontaneity is that when it doesn’t work out, somehow, someone or something comes into our lives spontaneously to help us through it. You and I both know it’s true. The internet knows it’s true and it’s why we all scour and search for those feel good stories everyday where we can click “like” because deep- down we really want to believe. Maybe that’s a God thing, some sort of divine intervention or better yet, maybe it doesn’t need a label. But I can tell you people keep coming into my life spontaneously over and over again that make a difference and I’m betting it’s happening to you too!
Getting Real with Spontaneity
I didn’t have to do anything to “get cancer.” One day I didn’t have it and the next day I did. It was the reality of my world. A spontaneous blotch and initially I fought it.
I fought it with everything I had emotionally. I had unrealistic expectations about spontaneity being only good things, and suddenly waking up one day with cancer fueled my anger and frustration and disappointment in all things impromptu. For those initial first months, it was like being on a never-ending emotional treadmill and I was losing steam.
Fighting spontaneity took over my life. I closed myself off from everyone. Went internal, self- absorbed with my own importance and control. My behavior was stifling my ability to move forward, to take new paths, and caused me to spend an inordinate amount of time wallowing in my problems and in a lot of ways, gaslighting new opportunities.
But after a bit, I grew sick of my own self-importance. I became curious if the pendulum of my life only swung one way. Negative! My calendar was full, but my life was not.
What if, I opened myself up to being blessed spontaneously in a positive way? What if, I had no idea in what form or from whom those blessings would come, but I would remain open to it?
It was time to take the boxing gloves off and let spontaneity have its’ way with my life.
As a start, I focused my energy and attention on people, places and things that brought me joy. I made a conscious effort to not make plans, but be open to plans, spontaneous plans. I had to push aside the fear that something would go wrong. I had a lot of blanks on my calendar.
Literally, over-night, so many doors opened for me. Invitations to do all sorts of things just materialized. Impromptu fun with friends, trying new restaurants with my hubby, opening the front door to a neighbor with an extra loaf of the best fresh baked bread I’ve ever had.
On impulse I booked a vacation to Texas, a place my husband and I had never been, to attend HGTV’s, Chip and Joanna Gaines, “Silobration” in Waco. It turned out to be one of the best unscripted vacations my husband and I have ever had and was a beautiful reminder that one of the things that drew us to each other back in college was our mutual love for unplanned adventure. Without much thought, I agreed to visit an Indian Mission in Oaks, Oklahoma with an acquaintance from church and this morphed into a beautiful friendship between us that I will always treasure and a new opportunity for me to make a difference in the lives of children half way across the country.
Again, and again, I challenged myself to see both sides of the spontaneity coin. Bad stuff was going to happen, but good stuff was happening too…a whole lotta good stuff. I had to keep my heart open and stay out of the boxing ring.
I began to meet people, almost daily, in my cancer journey that inspired me. People who helped me see the best in me and who seemed overjoyed that I was in their life. I wrote a poem to my radiation team as a thank you for their kindness and it now hangs on the wall of the radiation center. I opened up about my cancer with family, friends, my church, not in a Debbie Downer kind of way, but in sharing all of the positive, unplanned things that kept happening to me spontaneously despite my health issues.
It was as if spontaneity was a fuel that was propelling me forward. Past all of the angst of surgery after surgery. Past all of the negative side effects and uncomfortable days. Opportunity after opportunity to be blessed.
Sunday, Father’s Day, was my three- year anniversary of my bi-lateral mastectomy. It could have been a depressing day, a reminder of all I had spontaneously lost. Instead, I went out and played an impromptu game of frisbee golf with my family and damn, my muscles are sore as hell, but I didn’t suck at it. Not at all.
So, I’ve decided to permanently hang up my boxing gloves and make peace with spontaneity. It is welcome in my life.
The fight is over.
I have won. You can too!
All Are Welcome to like and follow my blog either here or on Facebook. I also have an Instagram where I post daily positive photo reminders.
Dear Doris Day,
I heard that you died today at the age of 97. A long life by any stretch of the imagination.
They say you will be cremated, as you wished, without any fanfare. I’m sorry if I’m intruding on your final wishes, but I can’t let you go like that.
Doris Day, you were an amazing actress, singer and advocate. You were a complicated woman whose existence deserves to be more than a footnote gracing the pages of a dust covered history book or an inaccurate page in Wikipedia. You deserve more than an annual birthday celebration on Turner Classic Movies, a birthdate that my daughter proudly shares with you by the way, or the occasional chuckle I get when I’m in the mood to wear one of my many hats and remember that it was you who taught me how a silly hat could take the stuffiness out of a room full of business suits.
Although we never met, you have been this unwavering role model of positivity in the recesses of my existence for over half my life.
Well, for one thing, you never let tragedy, heartbreak, or disappointments stop you from moving forward. You were this picture-perfect screen image of the all-American woman and yet, your private life was a complicated series of twists and turns and more than the occasional cliff dive. You could have shouted from the roof tops how unfair it all was and no one would have blamed you. Wolves in sheep’s clothing and all of that. Instead you chose to see the good in people. Find the blessings, the positive lessons to be learned and without insulting your fans, you enlightened them that “perfect” is not at all what we ultimately should strive for as human beings.
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
You were born Doris Mary Kappelhoff of Cincinatti, but Hollywood changed your name to “Doris Day” after the song “Day after Day” became a hit. The name Doris Day sounded so much sunnier and happier, less German (remember we were heading into WWII) than Doris Kappelhoff. I imagine it might have been a relief for you to discard your heritage, after all your father discarded his family for another woman and left your mom to care for you and your brother at a time when divorce was a four-letter word. Then you had to quickly reinvent yourself to the public after a car accident cut short your meteoric rise as part of a dancing duo. Set-backs, always set-backs.
But just like the song, Que Sera, Sera, and your new name, you took whatever life had to offer you day by day. The twists and turns and complications a minor roadblock to all life had in store.
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
Doris, you had these twinkly blue eyes that ignited with mischief and knowing, above a spray of freckles that started on one cheekbone, paraded across your nose and landed on the other side of your face. In an era of glamorous leading ladies, you stood out like a country girl at a picnic.
I have always had freckles, I can relate.
The movie and television executives didn’t much care for your freckles and would layer pancake make up on your face to try to hide them. But somehow, some way, those freckles would make an appearance in each and every movie and television program you made, blinking brightly as if to say, “Hey America, this is me!” ‘
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
My connection to you began when I first heard you sing, “Que Sera Sera.” I think it was the theme song to your television show, but I might have heard it from one of your movies. I don’t remember which, but the lyrics always resonated with me.
“When I was just a little girl, I ask my mother what will I be?” “Will I be pretty, will I be rich, here’s what she said to me. Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be, the futures not ours to see, Que Sera, Sera…what will be will be.”
I read that you didn’t really like the song. You thought it a children’s song compared to the other songs you were blessed to sing in your lifetime and figured it would fade quickly if you ignored it. But over time, the song took on a life of its own. Representing women, men, all those seeking acceptance. You understood the song stood for our need as human beings to be loved and wanted and appreciated. But more than that, you understood that despite your own personal dislike of the tune, the song served as a reminder that the human narrative isn’t necessarily all our own doing. We can all make a difference. So, you unselfishly let your musical legacy be defined by this song.
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
Doris, you had this voice that took on a lyric and drew us in. It would start soft as a whisper. Notes melodically floating through air over mind and skin and then building, carefully building until those beautiful notes would be set free to soar magnificently into the great beyond.
But it was how you learned to sing that way that impressed me the most. At a time when segregation was common place in America, you proudly stated to all that your vocal inspiration was the great African American jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald. You said Ella had a keen understanding of how to master not only the melody, but create clean, relatable connections to the lyric and that you would practice singing to her over and over to get the nuances of a song just right.
At the time of those comments, it would be thirty years until the Civil Rights Movement, but here you were a white girl from Ohio openly promoting a person of color as their singing inspiration. America didn’t blink because you didn’t.
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
In the movies Doris, you were (and are) one of the few actors, man or woman, to show that human beings are multi-dimensional and capable of shape shifting between the silly absurdities of day to day life and corresponding gut punches of chaotic drama. You also proved that women could hold their own with a man in a script and on-screen.
Never once did I think you were miscast in any of the thirty-nine films you made. Some I liked better than others, some I can quote every line, but you owned every scene you were in.
Silly musical comedies that provided a welcome respite from a war weary nation; satirical movies that made fun of gender stereotypes and romance in a way that allowed us to laugh at the absurdity of the mating dance, and powerful dramas that showcased the physical and emotional abuse of women in a way that shed light on the complexities of human relationships.
Each role you played left a footprint on celluloid that resonates today because you got that life on film wasn’t much different than real life. Your own life. Our lives. My life. We watched you not so much to escape, as to be reminded that if Doris Day can handle all the silly, absurd and horrible crap of life, then so can we!
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
You made three iconic movies with Rock Hudson. America believed you as a couple. You even had pet names for each other, Ernie and Eunice. Years after your movie career ended, you invited Rock to be the first guest on your new television show for the Christian Broadcast Network called, “Doris Day’s Friends”. Rock was quietly suffering in silence from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and for which the public had been subjected to endless rumors as to how you could “catch AIDS”. You somehow knew your interview with Rock would be your last time together and on camera, you gave him a big hug and planted a huge kiss on him. A simple and kind gesture friend to friend. But when it became known that Rock had AIDS, the media went nuts.
“Aren’t you afraid of getting AIDS?” the reporters asked. “Did you swap spit?”
“No, my friend is sick and what he needed from me was kindness and empathy. I gave my dear friend a hug and a kiss, end of story.” The public response was immediate. If America’s sweetheart said AIDS was something to fight, not to fear, then so be it. Funding for research came pouring in, and compassion became the order of the day for victims.
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
Doris, when your small dog was run over by a car, out of your sorrow you were inspired to create the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL)to reduce pain, suffering and cruelty to all animals. When the DDAL merged in 2006 with the Humane Society of the United States it became the single biggest advocate for animal rights in the nation.
One of your first major national initiatives, that continues to this day, was to create an annual “Spay and Neuter your Pets Day” to prevent shelters filling up with unwanted animals. You then created one of the first “pet friendly” inn’s in America in Carmel, California that has served as a role model for the integration of humans and people in recreational and entertainment spaces.
I wonder if you ever comprehended how your simple act of compassion for your own pet set a course for this country to appreciate and value all of God’s creatures?
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
Doris, how you lived your life taught me that every individual has the power to be a positive role model. We must remember that the song each of us sings is of value, but is not something everyone appreciates. We must cultivate that understanding by modeling empathy and love. We need not fear our different, or the different in others. It’s ok. to disagree, to fight, even to argue, but in a way that promotes dialogue, diversity of opinion and not discord.
We must invite others to our table.
For in the end, Doris your legacy is that our journey on this planet is going to be paved with a whole lot of “Que Sera, Sera’s” and it is up to each of us as individuals what we do with it.
Thank you for your positive example of a life well lived.
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Have you ever spent an entire day analyzing the one thing that went wrong, instead of praising the hundreds of little things that went right? Do you feel like positivity is always something you are constantly chasing, instead of embracing?
If you answered, “Yes”, then let me reassure you, first and foremost, I’m right there with you and second, you are one hundred percent normal!
This pattern of negative self-absorption we are inclined to embrace seems as natural as breathing, but I am convinced that with dedicated mindfulness to think differently, it doesn’t have to be. For almost three years now, I have been training myself to get lost in the blessings and while it’s been one tough go, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
The journey to recognize I needed to do this was not an easy one and in fact, a bit humbling, because it involved deflating an ego, I didn’t even know I had.
I began to see this aspect of my personality reveal itself during the first few weeks after my cancer diagnosis in early 2016. I’m a solution minded person. I don’t like unsolved problems. Resolution without solution, in my world, leaves too many carrots dangling. It didn’t take long after I started talking to cancer specialists to realize that cancer was not going to be a quick fix and no one, absolutely no one, was going to give me any guarantees.
Well my solution-oriented mind just wouldn’t accept that. So before work, after work and into the wee hours of the morning, I would click and scroll my way through negative LALA land (aka, the internet) to find a solution to my health issues that would prove all the experts wrong. My world didn’t have to change. Cancer did. That was all there was to it, period, end of story!
I was going to be the miracle of all miracles.
I began to feel resentful waiting around for test results. Didn’t the labs know I had cancer? Why were my doctors making me wait for things when I could be dying? How inconsiderate everyone was to keep acting like everything was normal, when my world was crumbling and falling apart.
For weeks, I aggressively gave the front page of my world over to negative thinking. My outward face to the public was a frozen mask of happiness, but inside I was truly frozen in a wasteland of negative thinking.
That is until one day, about a week before my surgery to remove my cancer tumor, I had an encounter with a woman standing in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store that would change my life.
This woman was hard not to notice. She was very pale, completely bald and her cheeks were distorted like a chipmunk, the rest of her face completely round like the moon.
She was slowly loading all of her purchases onto the grocery conveyor. Each peach, one at a time. Each tomato, one at a time. The line behind me was two people long. The look of impatience on their faces was evident. The woman continued, one potato, two potato, three potato, four. I’m not trying to be funny, but I literally remember that children’s game popping into my head as she methodically stacked potatoes on the conveyor.
Was this woman a nut? Couldn’t she see the line was getting longer? Hurry it up! Hurry it up!
I turned around to look behind me again and now there were at least three more people in line.
I started to ask her if I could help her. She wobbly loaded a jug of ice tea onto the conveyor, turned to look at me and said:
“Before cancer, I would never have understood the blessing in a peach or a tomato or a banana. I would come to the grocery store and rush to load my cart, rush home and put it all away and I’m ashamed to admit, sometimes I would forget about the things I had bought, things I absolutely had to have in the moment, until I would find them rotting on the kitchen counter or spoiled in the refrigerator. You know how it is? But I don’t do that anymore. Each peach, each tomato, each banana is a blessing to me. I am lucky I can enjoy these things. Their different tastes and the smells (I remember she held a peach out for me to sniff), the ability to afford them and share them with my family. Before cancer I never understood the blessings in being able to pick up a jug of ice tea. I have bone cancer and the chemo makes me a little loopy, so I count out my fruit and veggies to make sure I have what I need and I am grateful for each thing. I hate that it makes you and all the others in line uncomfortable. But I decided it was time to let my ego go…the part of me that had to control everything and just accept the blessings.”
I honestly didn’t know what to say to her. How did she know what I was feeling inside, what I needed to hear that day, in that very moment? Was she psychic? I remember turning and looking at the man behind me and he had tears in his eyes. He reached over and squeezed my elbow and in almost a whisper he said, “My wife died last year of bone cancer.”
I blurted out, “I have breast cancer.” The cashier stood there, a young girl, and she said, “my grandma is doing chemo now.”
The woman reached over to grab my hand. “Train yourself to look for the blessings. It’s not easy, but maybe we were all meant to meet today so that we could bless each other. How cool is that?!”
It sounds so dramatic, but it really was just a conversation. Over in a matter of a couple minutes. But it was a couple minutes of clarity that was life changing for me.
I had to deflate my ego, the thing that was so huge it was blocking my ability to see the blessings in the every day and had been letting my cancer diagnosis control my life. My ego that had such a tight grip on my happiness that it was pushing negativity to the forefront. My ego that thought it knew best, knew better, knew more than the doctors and specialists and trained medical professionals who were charged with saving my life. My ego who sought out internet sites to verify my negativity and verify that “I was right!”
I had to deflate my ego that said I can fix all things. I can do it alone. I don’t need anyone.
But I do. I need the blessings.
My wonderful husband who understands my rollercoaster of emotions better than anyone, and still loves me going on thirty-five years together.
My two sons and my daughter who get my sense of humor, my quirky love of collecting chicken art and my drive to create, motivate and be the best I can be. They make me proud to be their mama every day of my life.
My parents, brother, brother and sisters in-law, aunts and uncles and cousins, niece and nephew whose love and support have touched my heart and who have made me hungry and curious to know more about my ancestry.
My diverse group of friends who challenge me to think, to ponder, to wonder, to laugh and have fun.
My animals who have shown me the face of unconditional love.
My Pastors and church family who have inspired me to move my faith from something I practice to something I live.
My medical team who believe in me, even when I do not believe in myself.
And especially the thousands of strangers I have met along the way, in person and in cyber-space, especially in the last three years, who’s kind words, wisdom, laughter and strength have sustained me in my darkest hours. Some have become dear friends and I am so very grateful for how they continue to bless my life.
Although I still have my negative days and still carry around a few pounds I’d like to get rid of, both literally and emotionally, the weight of negativity on my shoulders has been lightened.
The more I train myself to look for the blessings, my burden is less and less each day. I am happier, grateful and much more positive.
I hope you try it. What have you got to lose, except a few pounds of negativity?!
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Do you ever have one of those days where life is cruising along on positive speed and then for some reason, you feel the pull of negativity and just like that, your day has gone from milestone to millstone?
I have a theory about that. Maybe you will agree or maybe you won’t, but my theory is that we are supposed to have days like that, at least until we learn to think differently.
The reason has to do with how we are wired as human beings. We have a hard time unconditionally accepting positive anything without some caveat being attached to it. For us to truly develop an understanding and appreciation of the joy that positivity can bring into our lives, our imperfect human selves need balance and as such we invite good ol’ negativity to the table time and time again.
In other words, we need some negative sprinkled into our positive lives in order to continue our positive journey forward.
That seems rather confusing I know and it’s taken me forever to figure it out, but here is an example that happened to me recently that illustrates what I mean.
A couple weeks ago, I had a very good day.
I sat down to write about 730am and continued for the next six hours pretty much non-stop. My hands were literally flying over the keyboard, the flow of the ideas in my head perfectly translating into the words I wanted on the page. For those of you who write, you know that sometimes the vision of what’s in our head isn’t exactly what translates to paper. So, when it happens, it is a very good day.
My back started to ache from being glued to my desk chair for so many hours and although I probably could have continued to write, my positive self knew it was time to get some exercise and keep the positive momentum going. My office window looks directly down onto our garden below and I spied a few weeds sprouting, a couple rouge snails encroaching on my newly planted veggies. A positive opportunity to check off a couple chores, while making my Fitbit happy. All good things.
Two hours and a chipped manicure later, I had won the battle of the weeds and snails and had added another three thousand steps to my Fitbit and decided to reward my positive achievements with a generous glass of wine (emphasis on the generous), a little dish of wasabi trail mix and some quality time with my book club read before my hubby came home from work.
Parking myself on the couch, I dived into Hemingway and the Spanish Civil War, mindlessly reaching for my wine glass and a few Wasabi nibbles every now and then.
Absently I looked up from my book.
It was only me and the cats in the house, but still, I distinctly heard what sounded like someone trying to get my attention.
I looked across the room at the sixty-inch box of doom and gloom affixed to the wall.
“Hey girl, heard you had a positive day. That’s good, really, really good, you’ve got your wine, your wasabi trail mix, your book, but it’s all so positive….”
Is my television set talking to me? Eyes wide, I grabbed my wine glass and took a big gulp.
“Girl, you worked hard all day. Productive. Positive all the way around. But deep down you are worried things have been just a little too positive today. Too smooth, no bumps in the road. That makes you uncomfortable, right?
“I’m not worried things have gone too positive today,” I say out loud to the television, “I AM NOT!”
Still my hand started to reach for the remote control, hovering.
“Turn me on. You know you want to! Aren’t you the least bit curious if the Hallmark channel will bring back “When Calls the Heart?” I mean who would have thought a goodie-goodie like Aunt Becky (aka Lori Loughlin from Full House days) would be capable of buying her daughers way into USC? C’mon, you know there are probably four or five channels green screened with Ex-Justice Department officials discussing all the days political dirt. Oooh, how about one of those home improvement channels where you can listen to people whine about not having an open floor plan? I think one of those commercials for the Humane Society is on…you know the ones that show abused pets as Sarah McLaughlin sings “Arms of the Angel?”
All that juicy negativity!
I took another huge gulp of wine and choked.
“Pick up the remote…pick up the remote…c’mon you know you want to!”
“I’m reading my book! I’ve got my wine and my wasabi nuts, why do I need to turn on the television set?”
I didn’t need to. I had a good day. A completely positive day! However, despite the positive vibes still reverberating through my body the pull of negativity was calling me and I pressed the remote button.
Like some mindless idiot, I began flipping, flipping, flipping, between multiple cable news channels looking for some nasty gossip of Aunt Becky and Hallmark; waded through five stations of unemployed justice department officials talking about how everyone hates everyone and was sobbing my eyes out watching a commercial featuring a dog with mange, eyes pleading at me to save it, when my husband walked in the front door.
Has this type of thing ever happened to you?
There you are, ready to immerse yourself in a little “me” time to celebrate the fact that you’ve had a perfectly good day. Maybe it’s not in your top ten of good days, but on the positivity scale, you have no complaints. You are all set to keep the positivity party going when for some reason you feel the pull to seek the dark side calling.
Sometimes it’s completely understandable. Your life is cruising along great and then like a trip wire, you get news you have cancer or heart disease, your favorite aunt is dying or your job is being eliminated and just like that, you find yourself stumbling and tumbling into negative territory.
We’ve all been there and if you haven’t, you might want to think about an Ancestry test to determine if you are a Vulcan, emotionless and related to Spock.
But fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your viewpoint), most of us feel and that means we are vulnerable to the negative in these types of situations.
That being said, what about the times when there is no trip wire, no obvious stumbling block for you to overcome in your positive day? Just like the pretty great day I was having before my remote-control trigger finger went in search of everything Darth Vader!!!
Why do we constantly do this to our positive selves? Why did I do it to myself?
One possible reason is that our human selves seek out negativity in response to positivity as a result of guilt.
“Maybe I don’t deserve all of this positivity!”
I know in my own life, I can recall many times I have talked myself into thinking my positive experiences were not all that positive by intentionally picking them apart, looking for the loopholes.
I also know I’ve gone through phases where I thought that embracing my positive self would somehow makes me less relatable to my family and friends. That somehow, someway, if I gave all the power to positive thinking, positive behavior and positive living, I’d lose sight of the negative and become self-absorbed and unable to feel empathy towards those going through rough times.
“Oh, there SHE goes again, everything’s perfect in her world all the time!”
As an introvert, the idea of people thinking this about me literally tore me apart inside. Even though no one has ever said this to me or implied it of me.
What I’ve basically done is unconsciously instituted a sort of cover for both of these issues by reinforcing my daily positives with negative reinforcements. In other words, I go searching for something negative to remind me how truly blessed I really am. That’s why I picked up the remote the other day to seek out something negative.
A negative capstone to my day.
How messed up is that? It’s pretty messed up. BUT I guess it just proves I’m human and not Vulcan.
But you know something, the more I delve into this positivity thing, the more I feel like maybe it’s o.k. if the teeter totter of life isn’t quite balanced. Maybe I don’t have to go in search of something negative to balance out the good. Maybe life can just be good, period!
Why do Positivity and Negativity have to share the ride? Up and Down they go. Up and Down. Up and Down.
Sometimes I’d like to just go up, up, up and stay there. How about you?
It’s something I’m planning on really working on this summer by developing my level of trust and acceptance that if life is going great, then it’s o.k. to be positive and leave it at that. Total acceptance of the positive. Well at least half acceptance of the positive is a good start. I’ll try!
But until that time, I’ll placate my negative side with a few moments of cable nastiness about Aunt Becky and her demise and then I’ll get back to appreciating my very positive life by drinking my wine, reading my book and …
Oh crap, I think the cat just hacked up a wasabi nut on my carpet. UGGGH!!!!
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I am convinced that quickest way to slide down the rabbit hole of negativity is to allow yourself to become a complacent participant in life by cutting off your connectivity with others.
Look, I get it, maybe you are going through cancer treatment or other health issues, or you are dealing with an unexpected financial burden, or maybe a break-up, death of a loved one, loss of a job. All of that sucks! It does. It’s not fun, it’s not happy, it’s not joyful, so it’s understandable if you have some days where getting out of bed and facing the world isn’t exactly something you want to do.
So, give yourself permission to take a day or two to pay homage to the stress of your situation.
The reality of negative situations is that they rarely resolve in a half hour like a television sitcom. Anyone ever waited weeks for their cancer test results to come back? I know I have. What about watching your bank account dwindle and the bills pile up, or sitting in your staff meeting at work and being told that the company is being sold and your job is well, hmmm, sort of secure for now. I can imagine a sea of hands are being raised right now.
Stress from negative situations is real, you feel it, so it’s important that you acknowledge it.
Wallow in bed all day, watch some rom coms, eat that pint of Ben and Jerry’s and let yourself cry. Whatever stress reliever works for you, as long as it’s safe and not causing you or anyone else harm, you are doing yourself a big positivity favor.
You are giving your mind and body the gift of time by acknowledging the truth that your situation is real, painful, uncomfortable and not at all what you had planned for your life. You are acknowledging that the road ahead may be challenging and uncertain and that you are scared.
You are giving yourself a few valuable days to come to terms with the fact that you are human and the way forward out of the negative abyss is to make peace with your vulnerability, by acknowledging it and then allowing positivity to propel you forward.
But don’t let yourself wallow too long. Say to yourself,
“ENOUGH! IT’S NOW TIME TO GET MYSELF UP,
PUT MYSELF BACK OUT THERE
AND LIVE MY LIFE!”
And my friends, that is a hard, hard thing. Why? Because we humans seem to be hardwired to handle stressful situations not by walking head first into the storm, but by sitting around and analyzing the “what if’s” and the “why me” until the negative of our situation becomes our security blanket.
The funny thing is negativity isn’t a warm and fuzzy thing. Negativity is sterile and cold and lonely.
Kind of like concrete. That’s why we feel so weighted down by negative thinking. The tighter we pull the negativity blanket around ourselves, the more we find ourselves feeling isolated, angry, frozen. Heavy!
So, what can you do to stop being complacent, to feel confident that you can drop the negativity blanket and let positivity do its thing?
First, it’s important to find good listeners.
You’ve allowed yourself to wallow in your misery for a day or so and now it’s time to get back out there. But you have a lot on your mind. A lot that needs sorted out. A lot you have to say. A lot you need help working through. So, it’s time to find a good listener.
That person might be your spouse or partner or another loved one, a teacher, a counselor, a Pastor, a neighbor, a work colleague. Approach them first with the fact that you are scared and feeling stressed and just need someone to listen. Be honest, that you aren’t looking for them to solve your situation, only that you need to connect with another human being and share your thoughts.
If your negative journey is more than a quick fix, be prepared to be spend time cultivating multiple listeners.
Look, it’s natural that you may automatically think nothing of purging your soul to your husband, roommate, best friend. They know you the best, have been with you through thick and thin and always seem a willing ear. But, it’s important not to let your negative situation blind you to the fact that what you are about to share with your trusted companion, may impact them in an emotionally negative way. Compassionate people tend to blame themselves for things they can’t control. Gee, if I had only seen the signs, maybe I could have helped prevent my child’s divorce. Maybe if I had cooked healthier meals my spouse wouldn’t have gotten cancer. If I hadn’t insisted on renting that beach house this summer, we would have had a little extra cash to cover my husband’s job loss.
So, as you are purging your soul to your trusted listener, look for the signs that maybe, just maybe, it’s more than they can handle. Ask them if it’s too much and do not be offended if they tell you it is. Just thank them for listening and work on cultivating other listeners.
Around the time I got cancer, my husband, my “go to listener” had to deal with not only my situation, but with the rapidly declining health of his father, who lived 90 miles away. One of the best decisions I made was to ask others: my older children, my church family and some wonderful women in my friendship circle to help me through my cancer journey so that my husband didn’t have to be the “ears” all the time. I found these people to be gracious listeners and in fact once that door was open, it was their warmth, support and kindness that not only energized me, but seemed to bring us all closer together, empowering us to listen to each other. The wonderful thing is the lasting impact of that experience has made me a better listener as well.
I am convinced that there is tremendous holistic healing power in being a good listener, so seek them out and make it a point to be one yourself.
Second, it’s important to share your vulnerability.
When negativity strikes, it is so easy to pull the blinds closed and hide. Don’t tell me you haven’t done it, because I won’t believe you. We all have.
No one wants to see me like this, I’m imperfect!”
But if we are honest, curling up with that negativity blanket and squirreling ourselves away from human interaction doesn’t make us feel any better. In fact, I know when I have done this, I find myself feeling really lonely and more depressed than ever.
The truth is, that old devil negativity would like nothing more than to have us all to themselves, alone, and miserable. To be able to toy with our vulnerable self, day in and day out so that our problems take center stage and push positivity to the back burner. So, it’s critical that you must cast aside those tendencies and put yourselves out there in all your vulnerable glory.
Now before you go and argue that you are an introvert and that sharing your negative side with others is impossible, let me share a secret with you. I’m an introvert too! I am so much more at ease with the written word than the spoken one, so opening myself up to people, especially when I’m going through something negative, isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I have to tamp down the jitters and just go for it. But it pays off.
One day I was killing a bit of time browsing the aisles at Marshall’s before a doctor’s appointment that I was dreading. I was standing there absently looking at a display of hand lotions and thinking,
“God, I am so tired of all of this health business. Why does my life have to be so hard?”
Suddenly this woman materialized by my side. She looked wide eyed and she had two small children’s books in her hands that she held out to me. She said in a rather frazzled voice, “I have never, ever approached a stranger like this before, but can you please help me?”
I have to admit my first thought wasn’t about helping her, but that maybe she was up to something no good. But there was something about the anxiety in her eyes that resonated with me and I said, “I see you have two children’s books?”
The woman sighed heavily and said, “Yes, I do and I do not know what to do. We have a new grandchild, our first and I want to send her a book, but I don’t know what to send her. I am so worried I will make a mistake and disappoint my daughter. You looked like someone who might be able to help me, so I took a chance on asking you.”
What? I certainly wasn’t wearing a label that identified me as a mom of three, a former preschool teacher, former preschool director, former Sunday school program coordinator, former youth director. Although I am all of those things.
So how did she know I could help her? Truth be told, she didn’t.
What she did do was take a chance on being vulnerable with a stranger. And in doing so, I had my answer to my question of God.
Life is hard because it’s hard. But when we share our vulnerability with others, our burden lightens and positivity takes hold.
In the scheme of things, the vulnerability this woman was feeling about picking out the perfect children’s book for her first grandchild, was equal to the vulnerability I was feeling about my doctor’s appointment.
I remember looking at both books and one was clearly for a child much older than a newborn. I said, “Choose this one…it’s perfect.” That’s literally all I said. I didn’t tell her my back story as an educator, I didn’t share anything about me. I said, “Your grandchild is so lucky to have you” and her face lit up and she said “Thank you, I can breathe again!” and she gave me the biggest hug.
Then without another word, she walked away.
On the way to my doctor’s appointment, that hug kept playing over and over in my mind. I felt happy, light, joyful. I could breathe again too.
Whatever your negative burdens right now, make sure to take a little time to acknowledge them. Find yourself some good listeners who can provide support and comfort and open yourself up to letting others help you through your vulnerable moments.
I have always been fascinated with photography.
Oh, not in a way that I ever wanted to pursue any sort of career with it. No, I’ll gladly leave that pursuit to my very talented brother and sister-in-law who have spent decades mastering not only a variety of camera lens and filters to achieve a perfect shot, but also possess a level of chill and patience in waiting for that perfect image, that frankly God didn’t gift to me.
But thanks to some creative folks at Apple, photography novices, like me, can be pretty successful with an I-Phone. Point, click, edit a bit and post. Yep, that suits my purposes just fine. Because photography for me is strictly about appreciating photographic images for their ability to capture a moment that at once appears stagnant, but who’s meaning is a free-flowing, ever-changing story. A story that can evoke all sorts of emotions in humanity, and can sometimes be powerful enough to change the course of minds, even history. Including my own.
I’m going to tell you a story of one such photographic image. It’s an image I took in 2017 on a lonely stretch of beach in Santa Cruz, California called, “Natural Bridges.”
It was February and my husband and I had taken a drive up to Santa Cruz to spend the week-end with our oldest son. It had been nine months since my bi-lateral mastectomy for breast cancer, two months since I had completed radiation, ten days since I had surgery to control uterine bleeding and one month before my world would once again be turned on its’ end with five consecutive major surgeries having everything to do with my survival, yet little or nothing to do with breast cancer. It was a pretty scary time.
But on this day, I was feeling happy. The rain had been pretty fierce the day before, but today the sun peaked through the clouds in fits and starts. Drizzling one moment and then seeming to lift so that the gulls and other sea birds could forage in the surf crashing on the rocks of the beach below. My son thought it would be fun to show us his favorite spots around Santa Cruz and it was pretty spectacular, despite the drizzle. Everywhere I looked, the light seemed to change from greys to reds to pink to yellows and back to grey. Through my phone camera I just couldn’t get enough of the scenery. It was as if every shot spoke to me somehow.
Our son told us about this special place where the water had worn a hole through a rock outcropping called “Natural Bridges.”
“Mom, it’s pretty darn cool, a natural bridge, you just have to see this!”, he said.
To view the bridge, we had a short drive, and then were going to have to walk a little bit through some brush and pretty deep sand and make our way to the floor of the beach below. It was low tide, so access wasn’t an issue, but my husband and son were worried the trek down to the shore might be a little much for me, given I was still recovering from surgery. Maybe so, but I knew my boy and if he said something was special, it was special, and not to be missed. So without another thought I said I’d be fine and off we went.
And I was fine. I was totally fine…physically. But emotionally was something else.
As I picked my way through the brush and sand, I could see this amazing rock outcropping in the distance about 300 yards off shore. It was about the size of a football field and rose several hundred feet into the air. Birds of all sorts were perched atop its’ smooth surface, almost like a football team lining up for the kick off. The ocean was lapping against it’s surface, swirling and whirling, forming foamy bubbles that took on the hues of the changing sky.
About three-quarters of the way through the outcropping an arched shaped hole had been worn through the rock by the water and the ocean was flowing in and out of it. It reminded me of the natural bridges I had seen in Lake Powell, Arizona or a kind of imperfect Arc de Triomphe, that is, if water were to flow through it.
It was like someone just plopped a bridge in the middle of the sea with this really cool water feature.
Excited, I picked up the pace and forgetting my recent surgery, I ran down a steep incline of sand so that I could take pictures. Reaching into my pocket for my phone camera, I looked up and then I froze.
The rock was huge this close up. Huge. But all I could see was the hole in its’ center.
A giant gaping hole!
The hole, that reminded me of my mastectomy! The hole, that reminded me of the pain of finding out I had breast cancer! The hole, that reminded me of the pain of telling my family and friends I had cancer! The hole, that reminded me of the pain of having to leave a job I loved because of cancer! The hole, that reminded me of the pain, both physical and emotional, that I tried so very hard to hide from everyone before, during and after my cancer surgeries and treatment.
The hole, that reminded me that cancer took a piece of me. Left a hole, where now I had some silicone, some fake body parts that for all outward appearances made me look normal, but would never be the real me.
My new normal was a hole. Just like the one I was staring at in that rock outcropping and it frightened me.
Here I was this sturdy rock of positivity for my family and everyone around me and I had a hole in me…a big, ugly, negative hole that no amount of plastic surgery, no amount of anything could fill up.
I felt empty. I grieved.
“Mom, come look at the driftwood over here,” my son said.
“Just a second,” I replied, and raised my phone. I pushed the button for the camera and aimed the lens at the rock outcropping.
Once…Click. Twice…Click! Three times…Click!
Click, Click, Click, Click, Click…
With each click, I could feel the grief rolling through me.
In and Out!
In and Out!
In and Out!
Just like the ocean rushing in and out through the hole in that rock.
I’m not sure how many pictures I would have taken of the “Natural Bridge” if my phone battery hadn’t chosen that moment to die. I’d like to think it was God’s divine intervention, but whomever or whatever forces were at work in that moment, a dead battery was enough to snap me out of my grief and go in search of my son and the drift wood.
And except for that one, brief, moment in time at the “Natural Bridge”, everything else about that week-end was amazing and upon returning home, I was anxious to make a photo collage so that I could post to my personal Facebook page a memory of our trip for my husband and for our family and friends to see.
The shot of the rock outcropping, (there were over 40 photos on my phone of that hole in the rock to choose from), was hard to include. To look at it made me sad, uncomfortable, and lonely for the me that used to be. But I put those feelings away and mindlessly popped the photo into an insignificant square of the photo collage, no more powerful or important than any other memory of that trip.
And there that photo stayed until a few weeks ago.
I was looking through my on-line photo albums in search of photos of the ocean I could use for my daily Instagram and there it was, sitting there in cyber space, waiting for me, in all of its “holy” glory. That “Natural Bridge” in Santa Cruz where I came face to face with all that I had lost, with the hole in my person.
I expected to feel a rush of negative emotions looking at that photo. But they didn’t come. In fact, when I looked at that rock, at the hole in it, at the ocean rushing in and out of it, I felt…well, I guess you could say, I felt happy. It reminded me of a fun day with my son, but it also reminded me of how far I have come in the past couple of years.
The photos story had changed, because I had changed.
I mentioned before that soon after our visit to Santa Cruz, I had several unplanned health setbacks. Five major ones to be exact, with a myriad of other health issues as a result of those five surgeries. While these setbacks were not pleasant, with each one I made it a point to be more open to the positive, to remember to focus on not what set me back, but what propelled me forward. The more I did that, I seemed to grow stronger emotionally and fear less all that lay ahead of me.
It was true that my body was broken, bruised, battered, my energy depleted. But somehow, someway, no matter how many holes in my person, deep down I felt a burning light, a strength that I didn’t know was possible because time and again the blessings flowed to me, through me, no matter how large the hole in my body.
In and Out.
In and Out.
In and Out.
And the more I opened myself up to the possibilities of the “new me”, to the fact that I was always going to have some “holes” in my life, the more positivity flowed into my darkest recesses, planting seeds of faith and hope and blessing.
The most amazing thing is that many of these blessings have come from strangers. People I would never have met or opened up to, if not for the fact that I had cancer or any of the other health issues. My life is so much richer for each conversation and there is a gratitude in my heart that kindness is alive and well and abundant in the world. Do not let anyone tell you different!
It’s as if this hole in me has become a welcoming portal to all that is possible for my life and I want to shout from the roof tops, “I AM BLESSED!”
The photo I took of the “Natural Bridge” in 2017 told a story of a woman who was uncertain of her future, feared her destiny and felt she had to battle her demons alone.
This same photo, viewed in 2019, reveals the story of a woman who has accepted her vulnerability, embraced her imperfectness and is working to conquer her fears one day at a time with a whole lotta help from the world.
It is now a photo that tells a story of me.
I hope you like and follow me here and on Facebook. I also have an Instagram where I post daily positivity boosts. Together we can change the world, one positive step at a time! God bless you all!
There is good in the weeds!
I truly believe in the healing power of positivity not only to heal us physically and emotionally, but to inspire us to live our lives seeking not what is wrong, but what is right!
That’s challenging because humans are curious creatures and it is our curiosity that pushes us into negative territory time and time again.
Now I’m not saying human curiosity isn’t a good thing. If curious humans hadn’t questioned things since the beginning of time, we probably would have been extinct a long time ago.
But when curiosity becomes synonymous with distrusting everything and everyone we come in contact with, that’s when we need to push our positivity button and say, “Enough!”
A month ago, after a major rain deluge in San Diego, my daughter texted me that the rain had caused a super bloom of neon yellow flowers to cover the slopes surrounding her home.
“Mom, you have to see this, it’s like the hillside is covered in sunshine,” and then she added, “…of course, they are just weeds, but pretty spectacular weeds at that!”
A few years ago, my reaction to my daughters joy probably would have been to chuckle and remind her that weeds after a bloom look like the kiss of death!
But I’m not the same person. Positivity has changed me.
I trusted the joy in my daughter’s text and I arranged to meet her the next day to photograph the hillside, hoping to use a photo for my blog.
Her property is up a steep hill. Natural terrain on one side, older, aging homes on the other and most with unmanicured yards…or yards in a natural state, depending on your perspective.
I can state emphatically that a few years ago, my curious mind would have wondered into negative territory worrying about unsavory characters lurking somewhere in all that imperfectness.
But as I said, I’m not the same person. Positivity had changed me.
The minute I pulled into the driveway I could see the yellow blooms. They were everywhere. My daughter was there too, her face radiant. “Mom, isn’t it great?!!!”
Reaching up the slopes to the palm nursery above her house, where little yellow blooms, dancing in the breeze and dappled sunlight. The greenery below the blooms was thick, yet delicate, and I could imagine fairies and elves living amidst their canopy.
I had brought my camera and some props for my blog post, my old tap shoes, Moe and Joe, and some other things. I started to set out all the props, but thru my camera lens I saw clearly that Moe and Joe would be just fine among the blooming weeds without the addition of any fanfare.
They were protected. Safe. Loved. Bathed in light.
There was another area of my daughter’s property, where the blooms were reaching down the slope through a chain link fence to an old shed on the adjacent property.
My old curious self would have immediately conjured all sorts of unsavory images about who lived on the property below and I probably would have blown the moment of happiness with my daughter with some negative comment about her safety.
But as I said, I’m not the same person. Positivity has changed me.
I began to photograph the shed and a thought came to mind that the old shed, sitting in a field of blooms, reminded me of the Wizard of Oz and my old, negative self.
An old house dropped from the sky into a field of yellow. And there I am, under the house, my negative-self withering in anger and fear, begging to be let out.
Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!
But positivity takes over and the image changes.
Faded boards and rusty nails, aged and imperfect like me, welcoming the sunlight of the blooms creeping towards them. The yellow of the flowers speaking to my soul in all ways positive: happiness, joy, hope. Representing all that is good in the past, all that is good now and all that will be good. Welcoming positivity.
Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!
It’s not easy to think differently. To train our curious minds to choose positivity first, especially among the weeds of life. But I can tell you personally that the reward for doing so is worth every second of the struggle.
For when we are able to see the good in the weeds, we are able to see the good in ourselves and in others.
Our human curiosity becomes not a tool for divide and conquer, but about a shared love for what is right in our world. We are empowered by a curiosity that seeks to squeeze out every ounce of value in this short time we have on this planet and that curiosity propels us forward into a land of positive change.
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It was Palm Sunday 2004, and my husband and I and our three children were on a tour of Paris, France. Our tour guide asked us if we would like to see the Dimanche des Rameaux” (Sunday of the Branches”) at the Cathedral de Notre Dame, a Holy week celebration of Jesus arrival in Jerusalem. Our kids, being huge Quasimodo fans, thanks to the 1996 Disney version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, were thrilled. My husband and I, while extremely excited, were still a bit unsure about putting our family in the middle of such a large gathering, only because the pain of 9/11 was still very fresh and we had already experienced a massive French military presence near our hotel and along the Champs-Elysees due to the state visit between Queen Elizabeth and French President Jacques Chirac. But children have a way of putting things in perspective and my little boys request, “I want to see QUAAAASIIMOOOO” sealed the deal.
Safety concerns aside, I silently hoped and prayed that some elfin creature would materialize from the bell tower of Notre Dame singing “Out There” or we were going to have some very disappointed children. I wondered if Jesus would help me out here.
Palm Sunday itself had started off in typical April in Paris fashion: gray and drizzly! But as our driver approached Notre Dame, the clouds broke to reveal a powder blue sky. The sun’s rays bouncing off the rose windows in the Cathedral tower reflected a kaleidoscope of colors onto the white robes of the clergy gathered on the steps below.
Our driver, could not find a place to park, dashing any hopes of us joining in palm procession, but he quickly zipped into a red curbed driveway and rolled down the windows.
“Prenez vite vos photos!” (Quick, take your pictures!).
I didn’t think twice and just started snapping pictures. Through my camera lens, I could see thousands of people, old and young, and somewhere in-between, locked arm in arm, standing in the shadow of this towering testament to gothic architecture and human survival. Palm branches were waving everywhere. I mean everywhere. With my ears, I could hear a cacophony of voices: some angelic sopranos, some altos, tenors and bass, some off-key, literally hundreds of languages singing what I later learned was a hymn called, “The Palm.” There were people who were not singing on the periphery of the crowds, but they were no less engaged. Most of them were smiling, their teeth white against a myriad of skin tones, their eyes raised to the heavens in joy, to admire the bell towers or possibly the spire atop, or maybe in hope that the wafting clouds might part further to reveal the Christ they had come to praise. Some were taking pictures like me. Others were silently holding hands with a loved one, or cuddling a small child.
I looked at my children, at my husband and gone were any thoughts of spying a Disney cartoon character. For, here was “faith”, not as a label, not even as a building as magnificent as Notre Dame, not as a theological doctrine or a set of rules that I struggled to follow, but rather “faith” in its’ purest form:
Raw, human interaction. Diversity in all its’ splendor. A celebration of the human spirit, of all we can be together. No barriers, no boundaries.
My three-year old son who was hanging out the window, turned to look at me, his tiny hands clapping, “Happy mommy, it’s happy.”
Quasimodo was forgotten. “Faith” had taken root instead!
I wanted so badly to get out of the car and walk with my family, arm in arm, towards those crowds outside Notre Dame and all of that “faith, but alas, our driver said we needed to move on and off we went in search of Montmartre and Sacre-Couer and all the other wonders of Paris.
But after we returned to the states, I thought about that moment at Notre Dame. The cynic in me argued that I was romanticizing things. Being a Christian and a regular church attendee, it’s natural that I would be excited to see such a diverse group of religious faithful joyously celebrating one of the most sacred aspects of Holy Week, at one of the most famous churches in the world.
But deep in my heart I knew I had been blessed by what I had seen in a different way.
And I began to wonder why I had couldn’t live out my life with a “faith” that simple and pure. No labels, no barriers, no ridiculous expectations or judgements, just pure happiness.
I knew how to do it. In fact, I think we all know how to do it.
Terrorist attacks, natural disasters, the death of a child…almost any tragedy, we move together without thinking as one “faith”. Oh, not the “faith” of a specific religion, but a “faith” that lives and breathes in each other, in humanity and in our very human desire to be the light in the face of darkness.
Yesterday, as the world watched Notre Dame burn, I once again saw the people gather, this time in the shadow of the flames engulfing their beloved treasure Their tear stained faces, reflecting the sorrow of what was lost, but in their eyes was a determination and hope that immediately took me back to that Palm Sunday fifteen years ago.
It mattered not where they came from. It mattered not their theology or lack thereof. It mattered not their income, their gender, their skin color, or any other label we humans assign other humans.
What mattered were the images of strangers, standing arm in arm, voices raised in song, defiant of the flames, reminding us that even in the face of darkness, happiness is just around the corner.
I need to make it a priority to not lose “faith” in my fellow human beings. There is much good there…SO MUCH GOOD!
Hope is alive. Positivity is stronger than Negativity. Let it in. Let it flow.
That’s what Jesus would want us to do. That’s what we should do!
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Have you ever thought about what your “mission” in life is?
I’m not talking about the lists of errands and forgotten “To Do’s”. I’m talking about if you could focus on something that would bring you happiness, joy, purpose, and encompass all that “You” represent to yourself and the world, what would your “mission” be?
My journey to uncover my own “mission” has by no means been an easy one. In fact, it’s actually pretty fluid and right now, I guess you could say that in this particular moment my “mission” is to spread “POSITIVITY” through my blog on PositivelyAnne.
As my life ebbs and flows though, so does my “mission”, but it might help you to understand how to define your own “mission”, if I share with you a little back story on how I have been able to find and define mine.
My journey to find my “mission” began when one afternoon, at the age of eight, I happened to hear these powerful words spoken by Captain James T. Kirk (actor: William Shatner)of the starship Enterprise in the opening credits of Star Trek: The Original Series:
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year “mission”: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
I imagine you are laughing now, but I am totally serious. Totally!
You see I grew up at a time when space was on the minds of all of Americans. Once Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the American flag on the moon in 1969, those grainy images on our television set of subsequent Apollo missions and the nightly commentary from broadcaster, Walter Cronkite, sent my imagination soaring. The nursery rhyme of my childhood that talked of a cow jumping over the moon, was now replaced by real people traversing the “cheese” planet with lunar landers. It all seemed so big and grand, a “mission” of the utmost importance.
In addition, my father was an aerospace executive and one of my earliest memories is standing with him and my brother in front of a rocket as it was intentionally blown apart on a launch pad as part of its’ “mission” testing. I have never heard a bang as loud as that since then. It was truly awesome to witness, but more importantly it etched the word “mission” into my subconscious. The idea of something powerful, something important, something BIG, really, really BIG!
I was too little to watch the original Star Trek series when it premiered on NBC in 1966, and if not for the growing interest in space after the moon landings, the show probably would have faded into obscurity, written off as a novelty, as were most of the shows in the early days of television. But the moon landings happened and after it’s 3 -year run, Star Trek was blasted into syndication riding high on the possibility that the secrets of space were now within our reach. I watched it as often as I could.
Now being so young, I had no real concept of the deeper meaning of Star Trek. I didn’t understand the lasting implications of the diversity of its’ cast. I didn’t understand its’ ground breaking storylines addressing differences, and inclusion and compromise I guess you could say I didn’t understand much, if anything, of the historic context of the television I was watching.
But, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really care about any of that. I didn’t watch the show for its’ story lines, my little girls heart was captivated by the opening credits and Captain James T. Kirk’s hypnotic voice inviting us to be a part of his “mission.”
“Space, the final frontier…”
I was rapt with curiosity. I wanted to be a part of the “mission” of this crew. To explore, to seek, to go where I had never gone before.
It sounded so important. I wanted to be important. To do important work like the men on the moon and my father. I wasn’t sure that my calling would be space flight…math was not my favorite subject, but I knew that whatever I did, I wanted my “mission” to matter, to my family, to strangers, to the world.
As I entered high school, America had long ago stopped going to the moon, both in real life and on television. We discovered the moon was not everything the Gumby cartoons had portrayed it to be, let alone Star Trek. My father now worked on a new space program, a space shuttle that would be able to return to earth…a sort of “space truck”, if you will. While its’ initial missions seemed endlessly exciting to me and my heart soared along with my fathers at each successful flight, I was watching television both times the shuttle exploded. First the Challenger, then several years later, the Columbia.
I felt the horror, along with thousands of other students across America, as our disbelieving eyes tracked the sky for the glittering remains of lives lost and dreams shattered. Something in me decided that day that it was no longer practical to reach for the stars and the moon. Keeping my feet grounded here at home, where I knew it was safe, seemed the best course of action. At this point in my life, my “mission” was to get my head out of the clouds and remain rooted in practical tasks and goals here on earth, at least for the next several years. Sometimes my “mission” seemed very trivial.
I’m on a “mission” to finish my homework so that I can go out with my boyfriend.
I’m on a “mission” to pass my geometry class.
I’m on a “mission” to get my college applications completed before the deadline.
I’m on a “mission” to get my laundry done.
I’m on a “mission” to go to the grocery store.
I’m on a “mission” to finish this book I’ve been wanting to finish.
I ‘m on a “mission” to lose 5 pounds.
I’m on a “mission” to not have tan lines.
I really like those Mission Tortilla Chips!!!
Yes, the grandeur of Captain Kirk’s “mission”, the same “mission” that made landing on the moon possible and sent the shuttle into outer space, was now reduced to nothing more than making sure I had a decent tortilla chip to dip into my salsa.
So much for the final frontier!
But trivialities aside, I did accomplish quite a bit after high school. I graduated with degrees in Liberal Studies-Journalism and Business and launched a successful career, first in hotel management and then in higher education. I met the love of my life in the dorms and got married and within a few years we were expecting our first child.
One day, in the first trimester of pregnancy, I found myself on the floor of the bathroom wrapped around the toilet battling a terrible case of morning sickness. I had pretty much memorized “What to Expect When You Are Expecting” and realized I needed to do something to take my mind off of the nausea. Laying down seemed to make it worse, so bed was out, but I decided I could probably prop myself up on the couch and watch a television program as a distraction.
I crawled out of the bathroom and over to the couch and turned on the television. I had no idea what was on. I heard the opening notes of Star Trek and Captain Kirk’s comforting voice:
“Space, the final frontier…” I relaxed. The nausea left me. I closed my eyes and I began to dream about all the “missions” that had come before me and were to follow.
I dreamed about those men who braved the odds to fly millions of miles above our earth to place their footprints and our flag in the dust, only to travel home to crickets chirping once we knew that aliens were not a part of the equation. They never gave up on their “mission”, even as America lost interest in them.
I dreamed of my dad and how tirelessly he and his team worked to make space flight look as easy as driving a truck and the sadness he must have carried inside him when all that was possible for space exploration, suddenly seemed impossible. He never gave up on his “mission” of searching and seeking answers to mans quest to explore space.
I dreamed of my unborn child, the bean inside me that soon would become our son or daughter and how much I wanted them to know that whatever their “mission” in life, their father and I would never give up on them, ever!
Lastly, but most important, I dreamed of my own “mission” and how I didn’t need to let life’s twists and turns stop me from progressing. At times, I move forward at warp speed. Other times, I sit quietly in the shadows taking it all in. Sometimes, I am a great success. Other times a great failure. But, I am always, always compelled to keep trying, not only for myself, but to honor all of those who have come before me and risk it all.
I have a “mission” and it’s ever changing, like me. But I’m all in. I’m ready for the challenge and in doing so, I truly think I have a damn good shot at this whole live long and prosper thing.
Thirty years of marriage, three kids, and four careers later, I’m still trying, one positive step forward at a time. Won’t you join me? PositivelyAnne
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I entered the waiting area of the radiation oncology department a half hour early, anxiousness after all of my pre-appointments with the oncology team, and ready to get the actual radiation started. The receptionist area was still closed, a sign taped to the wire cage that the office opened at 8am, but I was surprised to see three women already seated, their heads huddled together around what appeared to be a large puzzle.
One woman was definitely in her eighties. She had a walker perched to one side of her, a cup of coffee in her hand and she was wearing a bulky, ill- fitting cable knit sweater that dwarfed her petite frame. Around her neck was a patterned wool scarf that literally swallowed her chin, and on her head of silver, was a knit cap of the same pattern. Her ensemble struck me as really odd given it was mid-October in San Diego, our Indian summer, and despite the air- conditioned waiting room, once outside it was hovering in the low 90’s. Her face was deeply lined and her skin, an ashen shade of grey.
“Wow, she must really have cancer pretty bad”, I thought.
The woman to the left of her was probably in her fifties and she was wearing a pastel pink headscarf with a beautiful jewel pin on the front. In contrast to the woman in the bulky sweater, this woman looked very elegant in a tailored crème pantsuit with a silky blouse of jade and matching jade pumps. She was leaning forward over the puzzle, a piece of it in her hand, and her face registered intense concentration.
Seated next to her was another woman, she was much younger, maybe mid-twenties. She had on yoga pants and an off the shoulder sweatshirt that said, “#cancersucks”, her hair was little nubs like grass seed that is just beginning to sprout. She greeted me with a big smile and said, “Welcome to the Club” and motioned me to come sit next to her.
I looked at her confused, what club? “Well, um, I need to check in, I’m starting my radiation treatments today.”
The elderly woman with the walker said, “Yes, we know that honey, the gal opens up at 8am, come and sit with us and help us figure out this damn puzzle!”
I was taken aback. I just stared at them. Puzzle? What in the world, are they nuts? I’m here for radiation. This is serious you idiots. I HAVE CANCER! I have no time for the trivialities of a puzzle!
I turned towards the registration counter, and read the sign again. “Open at 8am!” I turned back towards the waiting area and the elegant woman, puzzle piece in hand, motioned towards the open seat next to her. “C’mon over here and help me find where this sucker goes!
Again, I just stared.
This time my voice was a little firmer.
“Um, thanks, but I’m here for my first radiation treatment today, I don’t think I could work on a puzzle.”
The elderly woman said, “We’ve all been there honey, but trust us, together is how we beat this thing. I’m back for the fourth time, not much left to radiate, but I’m going to beat it like I’ve beaten cancer all the other times. My friend here (pointing to the elegant woman) is almost finished with her radiation treatments for breast cancer, she gets to ring the bell tomorrow. And the youngster there (pointing at the woman in the yoga pants) is a newbie, like you, but she started a couple weeks ago.”
I’ve blanked out what happened next because I certainly don’t remember the elderly woman getting up and coming to stand beside me. But suddenly she was just there, walker and all, right next to me gripping my hand. I have a fuzzy memory of her saying something like, “C’mon, it’s ok, come join us!”
I remember her hand was like ice. Cold… so very, very cold. The bones of her fingers had a gnarled appearance, blue veins standing out like cracked porcelain against the grey of her skin. Two of her fingernails were black. I tried to recoil my hand, but she held on tighter. “C’mon, we need you!
Despite her cold hand, I felt a trickle of sweat drip down my back. Fear???
The elderly woman drew me over to the puzzle area, “Sweetie, fighting cancer is like this puzzle. It takes us apart and we have to put ourselves back together one piece at a time. Sometimes we need help to complete our puzzle…lots of help. C’mon and sit a minute with us while you wait for your radiation appointment and help put “US” back together.”
Did I hear her right? Did she just say, “Help put “US” back together?”
What is this “US” business? Poor thing, she must be delusional. I’ve never seen her or the other two women before in my life. I’m here for my radiation treatment, not to work on a puzzle. Again, I tried to pull away, but the elderly woman patted my hand and softly said, “Help us.”
Something about this elderly woman fascinated me, but also scared me. It was silly. I was towering over her and she looked as if a gust of wind could topple her without the security of her walker. Something about what she said made me want to run, to hide. The sweat was now rolling down my back. She tugged on my hand harder.
I took a seat next to her like she had asked me to. I was too afraid not to.
I was 52 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom had breast cancer in her 50’s and so the possibility that I might someday have it was always lurking in the shadows of my mind. But my mom had beaten the disease for over twenty years and in all honesty, I really didn’t spend any measurable time worrying about cancer or any other sort of life altering disease. If I got cancer, or any of the millions of other illnesses that were possible to ravage the human body, I’d deal with it as I’ve dealt with every other drama in my life.
On my own terms, head up, and with my usual can-do spirit.
But here it was, this cancer demon not only on my doorstep, but taking over my entire house. Every room.
It was overwhelming. The neat and tidy box I imagined my cancer journey to be, was not so neat and tidy in real life. I had complications, lots and lots of complications. I felt torn apart, like pieces of a puzzle waiting to be put back together.
It was unsettling, disconcerting, humbling and frankly, the scariest thing I had ever dealt with in my entire life.
I stared down at the puzzle in front of me and back up at the women.
The elegant woman said, “We were just saying to each other that figuring out the puzzle of life is hard enough, add cancer or any other major trauma and sometimes things don’t fit like they used to because cancer changes us, not only physically, but in all ways.” She talked a bit about how she had to rethink her life priorities, particularly when her cancer returned in a new, more aggressive way.
I found myself opening up. I told these strangers about my breast cancer, the complications, the surgery I was facing after radiation to fix my colon and after that a very probable hysterectomy. I told them I was so scared.
The elegant woman handed me the puzzle piece that was in her hand. “Honey, sometimes we need a little teamwork to get us through the darkness.”
I looked down at the puzzle before me. It was one of those thousand-piece deals, of a very famous Thomas Kinkade painting. A cobble stone street stood in the foreground of a white cottage. Yellow lights winked happily from the cottage windows and the street lanterns along the cobble stone street showcased an abundant garden, flora of every color, wrapping itself around the sides of the cottage like a hug. It was a happy looking picture and I smiled, until I looked down at the puzzle piece in my hand.
The piece was not pristine white, or cheery yellow, or even red or green or blue, no, it was midnight black.
The reality of the entire puzzle came into focus then. All that was left to finish of the happy scene was one corner, one dark corner. Every piece that was left to place was midnight black and indistinguishable from each other except for the individual intricacies of their jagged edges.
Why these women wanted me to help them because this is the hardest part of the puzzle!
A solid field of darkness that requires a keen eye, patience and sheer determination in order to solve. I didn’t think I had any of that left in me.
I held up the puzzle piece to the light above me. It was unremarkable. One of those typical puzzle pieces that look like two hands sticking out from a horseshoe. Common, except one of the hands was a little longer than the other.
The woman in the yoga pants said, “These two ladies come a half hour early for radiation to work on the puzzle together.” “I thought that was ridiculous! Why would anyone come early to radiation? Then I went home that first night after treatment and the fear crept in and ever since that day, I am here early, with these amazing ladies and one of these crazy, silly puzzles.”
“We are often surprised when we arrive each day that all that is left to finish of the puzzle is the darker, solid pieces”, said the elegant woman.
“We often need the assistance of a new person to help us solve where those darker pieces go, “said the elderly woman, that’s how we met our friend here”, she said pointing to the woman in the yoga pants. “In fact, she finished this tricky corner over here yesterday.”
I looked back down at the puzzle. The dark space that was yet to be completed. Suddenly, the puzzle dissolved before my eyes and in its place I imagined myself prostrate on the table with these three women hovering over me.
“I think it might go here,” the elderly woman said trying to put a piece of me back together. “No, can’t you see that edge there is a bit jagged?”, the elegant woman said. “Keep trying”, the younger woman said, “Together we can do this!”
“Help me”, I said. “Help me to be whole again.”
I was suddenly back in front of the puzzle, the three women at my side, their eyes on me with a clarity and a knowing that was palpable. I took the puzzle piece in my hand and pressed it in place.
“You did it!”, the elderly woman said. “We needed you and you did it.”
My name was called for my appointment and I got up and hugged each of them. The radiation tech smiled and as she walked me to the back area she said, “It’s funny how a silly puzzle has a way of helping us see just what we need.”
I lay on the radiation table, bare from the waist up, hands above my head, while the radiation tech maneuvered my body into place. I was told not to move as gears began to grind and my body slowly, very slowly was placed inside a large tube.
“Are you ready”, the radiation tech said. For a split second I felt a pang of fear.
Then a warmth enveloped me and I was laying there, my three new friends hovering over me in my mind, reassuring me that they would pick me up and put me back together, no matter how hard the puzzle.
“Life is a Puzzle, We are the Pieces”
Cancer is indeed a part of my life puzzle and it has certainly changed the physical me. However, cancer also gave me the opportunity to understand that the puzzle of my life is not mine alone to solve. When it comes to the hard parts of my puzzle, the pieces that don’t seem to fit, the dark spaces where it’s almost impossible to see the light, I can rely on the kindness of my family, my friends and yes, even strangers, to bless me, to put me back together in a way that is better and stronger than anything I could do on my own.
I hope I can be that for you too! PositivelyAnne
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To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you
-Lewis B. Smedes (Ethicist and Theologian)
It seems I’m always asking for forgiveness
again, and again and again!
My request is almost always met with confusion.
And yet, I keep asking,
“Do you forgive me?”
“Do you forgive me?”
“FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME!!!”
Then one day I hear you say
“Do you forgive me?”
and clarity blooms.
For forgiveness is not about the
question, nor the answer, but about trusting the action.
Copyright 2019 PositivelyAnne.com
I remember the minute the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to crawl in a hole. I could literally see the light go out of my husband’s eyes; those two brilliant green orbs that had welcomed me to the breakfast table just a few moments before, now blinked at me dull and hooded. As we ate breakfast, my husband had made some forgettable joke about some HGTV show we always watched together. I was nursing a cold and had awoke with a terrible headache and my initial reaction to his joke was not to go along with the fun or respond in kind as I usually would, but to bite his head off. And when I say bite, I mean “CHOMP!” To be honest, my reaction caught me off guard as much as it did him. Damn that Nyquil is some scary stuff! When the heck did I turn into Godzilla? But my own disbelief aside, I knew what I had said. I owned it. I was an adult. I had to fix things, make it right.
“I’m sorry honey, that was pretty crazy.” I mumbled something about not feeling well and then with a question in my voice I said those four timeless words:
“Do You Forgive Me?”
At first he said jokingly, “No”…then seeing my crestfallen face, he broke out into a big smile, those green eyes twinkling and said, “What do you think?”
I said I honestly didn’t know. I mean I thought I did, but I needed to hear the word.
“Yes” he said and went back to his eggs and casual conversation. All be it, any and all discussion of HGTV was unspokenly off the table lest Godzilla rear her ugly head again.
Now after over thirty years of marriage I can attest to the fact that my husband and I pretty much read each other’s minds and finish each other’s sentences. It is quite funny sometimes and actually catches us off guard at other times.
“Oh my gosh, I was just going to tell you about that…you must have been reading my mind.” “I can’t believe we both were thinking the same thing about that person!” “I just read that article and was sending it to you!” Happens all the time with us. We are simpatico. Soul mates and instant best friends since our first date in 1984.
So, it might surprise you to know that despite our deep connection and my sorrow at spoiling our beautiful morning with my Godzilla impression, I didn’t put a lot of stock in his simple one-word response of “Yes!” I guess you could say I didn’t trust it.
Which is odd because my husband is truly one of the good guys. The most genuinely honest and decent person I have ever met. So there is absolutely no excuse for questioning his forgiveness. I mean this is a guy who makes his living working fourteen hour days as a contractor and yet at the end of the day, he still finds the energy to cook a wonderful gourmet meal for us and give a damn about my day. This is the guy that got up early on his day off to make me fluffy eggs and oranges with sugared rims and I just bit his freakin head off. I’m blessed, more than blessed.
But something in me just wasn’t buying that I had done enough to earn his forgiveness. So again I told him I was sorry for my words. His response was to say that it was o.k. and that he was going to clean up the breakfast dishes and go outside to do a little gardening. He truly seemed unaffected. But not me. No inside me, I was a bubbling caldron of guilt. OMG, he’s washing the dishes after what I said to him! Why aren’t we rehashing all I said so I can really apologize? Really earn his forgiveness.
My head was throbbing now. My tummy gurgling despite just having had breakfast. I felt like I was going to throw up. How the heck can he garden after what I said to him? Maybe he’s still mad at me and just needs to clear his head? Yeah, that must be it.
I told him to go on outside to the garden while I finished up the dishes and I would join him when I was done.
Working in our yard has always been one of those things my husband and I enjoy doing together. Immersing our hands in the soil, pruning and sculpting our trees and bushes, coaxing fruit and veggies from seeds, fussing and putzing till whatever troubles we have on our minds are long forgotten.
Did he have me on his mind? Was he angry at me? Did he really forgive me?
I found him in the garden shed getting his tools.
Me: “Um, did you mean it when you said you forgive me?”
My Husband: “Yes!” It was a casual, almost flippant response.
Me: “Well what kind of a “Yes” is that?”
My husband: “It’s a Yes kind of Yes!” A slightly irritated, but still pretty casual response.
Me: “Well are you sure?”
My Husband: “Yes!” His tone was definitely a little annoyed now.
Me: “Well, I think we should talk about it, because you still seem upset!” I don’t remember if he walked past me or ran past me, but he definitely walked away. He looked completely perplexed.
But that did matter, I wanted to talk about it and talk about it I did … ALL AFTERNOON!
I couldn’t seem to stop myself.
While I babbled on about how I didn’t mean this when I said that or how I was cranky because I wasn’t feeling well, my husband stood in our yard carefully and methodically pruning our lemon tree.
I didn’t catch a clue that he was over it. Moved on. That he knew I wasn’t feeling well and had given me a huge pass on my behavior the moment the words were out of my mouth that morning. That he couldn’t even remember what he had said about the goofs on HGTV, let alone anything I had said.
I wasn’t ready to accept the trust implicit in the words “I forgive” that he had given to me. I was too consumed with blaming myself, with not forgiving myself.
It was all so silly given the triviality of how the whole thing started. But I was determined to get to the bottom of this whole forgiveness deal. So I dug in and morphed into a self-appointed private investigator, invisible note pad at the ready, British accent, pipe in mouth, on a quest to dig and analyze and probe the sincerity of my husband’s forgiveness of my words.
In my head I heard a little voice that sounded an awful lot like Benedict Cumberbatch.
“Now sir, when you told your wife this morning that you forgave her, what was the context of that conversation? Did you say “I forgive you” with clarity of thought, no malace or conjecture, or did you say it with just a hint of snark?”
Huh? What the heck am I doing? Why is Benedict Cumberbatch vocalizing in my head?
I came back to reality long enough to look at my husband, still pruning the lemon tree, a look of peace and contentment on his face despite my Sherlockian attempts at interrogation. Ah gardening….
Suddenly another voice popped into my head…but it was my own. “Are you so caught up in the idea of forgiveness that you have forgotten what it actually means to forgive and the joy that comes from accepting the simplicity of the gift that it is?
I had a feeling I knew what the answer would be.
The word “forgiveness” is a noun, a label that categorizes all the steps, processes, things we do to rectify an offense. It’s a label in which we strategize, question, ponder, mull, what it’s going to take to fix our misdeeds. Sometimes when I talk about forgiveness, I convolute it’s meaning with all of the other things I want out of those two simple words, “I forgive.” Yes, it’s admirable I want people not to hurt anymore. But I tend to take it a step further and I want people to forget what I did, to immediately let go their anger, frustration at my actions and I want them to like me. I become “The Forgiver!” and boy am I demanding as hell of the humans I hurt. I need proof I’m forgiven. And I can’t provide that for my own misdeeds, so I go round and round in a circle complicating all that it means to forgive.
Because the word “forgive” is an action, a verb. It’s simple, uncomplicated, a little gem of a word, without caveat. It is to be taken at face value as simply, “I stop”. Now you can fill in the blank after I stop to anything you want. “I stop feeling resentful or angry or frustrated or sad or hurt!” It is one of those words where it means what it means and that is all there is to it. And I might add that what it means is up to the individual and their timetable, but it has a heck of a lot to do with trust.
Ah there’s the rub. My husbands ability to forgive and the parameters he places on it are his and not mine to control or manipulate or worry about. His simple response of “Yes” when I asked if he forgave me, was absolutely the best and most appropriate response for him.
His “Yes” meant “Yes” and it was my job to trust in it, not to question it’s sincerity.
To forgive is simply to stop and trust. Trust in love, trust in kindness, trust in faith and hope and all of the things that help us to heal when we wake up cranky and spout nonsense. To trust in the goodness in each other. To trust in the goodness in ourselves.
Life can really can be that simple sometimes, if we humans stop complicating it.
On a journey to live life more positively…come join me!
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As you go about your daily life, you will encounter many lemons. Sour expressions, sour attitudes, sour auras! The good thing is that if you don’t want to be a lemon, you don’t have to be! Just don’t let those lemons rub themselves all over you! And you don’t even have to save them! Just let lemons be lemons! -C. Joybell C.
photo: Morning Accomplishments by PositivelyAnne
As the morning sun was just peaking over the hill behind our house, I sat in my favorite chair, enjoying my first cup of coffee, when through the window I spotted a pair of doves who had begun the process of building a nest in our lemon tree.
The nest was being built in the apex of two branches towards the back of the tree. These branches were covered with dark green leaves and laden with bright yellow citrus fruit. One of the doves appeared to be in charge of gathering the twigs to make the nest and I watched it as it scoured the ground underneath a nearby pepper tree, where it would bring back to the waiting dove a single twig of the exact same size as all the others lining the nest. The other dove would take that twig and maneuver it in place using their beak, head and breast. One layer of twigs laid vertically and then another layer laid horizontally on top of that layer and then all layers compressed to form a sphere.
I got up from my chair, face pressed against the window, and I marveled at the architectural, construction and engineering skills of these two birds. I’m supposedly smarter than doves and yet, I can’t cut a piece of lumber without measuring and remeasuring and here each twig this bird gathered was somehow proportionate to the previous twig. How could that be? And that spherical shape…what’s up with that? I certainly couldn’t build anything spherical without…well, I can’t build anything spherical period!!!
What really caused me to pause was the fact that the doves were building this amazing creation completely surrounded by dozens and dozens of really large lemons. Some of the lemons appeared to be heavier, and larger, than their tiny bodies, and many of the lemons were hanging directly, ominously, over their handiwork. All it would take is quick snap of a stem, a wayward fruit dropping and all that these two industrious creatures had worked so hard to create would be destroyed. Yet, the doves seemed completely unphased by the lemons and just diligently went about the work they had set out to do.
Maybe the birds weren’t too smart after all. I mean I wouldn’t build my house with a potential disaster looming overhead like that.
A thought crossed my mind:
“Not all lemons make lemonade.”
photo: Lemon Reflections by PositivelyAnne
Practicing positivity requires a certain level of “intentional awareness” of life’s lemons: the people, the places and the things, that bring one down and impact a person in a negative way. A few years back, I made a list of the lemons in my life and it was a bit humbling to discover that even positive folks like me can get caught up in some pretty sour situations, with some pretty sour people.
But being “aware” of life’s lemons is a totally different proposition then feeling compelled to try and make lemonade out of ALL OF THEM!
Is that even possible to do? To make lemonade out of all of the people, places and things that bring us down. Or were the doves onto something? Is it possible to be your positive self, do your thing, surrounded, just as these doves are, by life’s lemons?
When I was a little girl, I remember being very sensitive to anyone in my life, be it family, friend or stranger, who had a sour disposition or approached life in a negative way. Although I didn’t have much life experience, I had a keen awareness that there were some people in the world, who preferred to stay sour lemons. The folks who had no interest in making lemonade and made it their mission to make life difficult for others. I didn’t understand that. I wasn’t wired that way.
Now this did not include the folks I knew with horrible childhoods or who were poor, suffering from depression, mental illness or addiction issues. As complex as those issues were for a little girl to process, I somehow understood that there was a difference between being a victim of your circumstances and “consciously choosing” to be a lemon in life by permanently wallowing in anger, nastiness and hate.
As I got older, my concern for doing something about these individuals who checked off “lemon” as a lifestyle turned into a compulsion to where I felt I had to turn these lemons into lemonade any time I encountered one!
And that meant lots of sleep lost and lots of disappointment for me.
Life, in case you aren’t as attune to it as me, is sure full of a lot of lemons!
Families! Friends! Communities! Workplaces! Schools! Churches! Grocery Stores! Banks! Airplanes! The list is endless…
LEMONS! LEMONS! LEMONS!
Literally, I’m drowning in lemons…a heavy, depressive pile of lemons! What happened to positivity in this world? What happened to light and hope and peace?
Social Media is the worst of it. The divide and conquer mentality, the focus on all things that tear us apart, all the things that don’t matter in the end. I’m a cancer survivor so I know how futile it is to spend one precious moment of life focused on negativity. It’s a big reason I started a positivity blog. A happy place in cyber-space.
“Why does the world have to be so focused on the lemons, when it could be focused on making the lemonade?”
I remember one night recently, I unloaded on my husband (I owe him one!) my concern that the world was being taken over by negativity, a bunch of lemons with no interest in making lemonade. He said something along the lines of “Maybe, but they are not stopping you from doing what you do best. Be your positive self, which everyone appreciates and it’s natural for you. No matter what you do, there will always be some negative folks,” aka, some LEMONS!
I won’t tell you how I reacted. It wasn’t pretty. My poor hubby. Gosh I do love him so for putting up with me. I think I argued something to the effect that it was a cop out for me to just give those negative folks a pass without even trying to make lemonade.
But in the end, not looking forward to another sleepless night, I had to agree my hubby was right. My way wasn’t working. I was worn to a nub worrying about all of the lemons I couldn’t fix, when I was doing so much good with those who were open to positivity.
And truth be told, not a one of the stubborn lemons I had come across, either in my past nor in my present, was permanently stopping me from doing anything I wanted to do, least of all creating a successful positivity blog, talking about positivity, BEING POSITIVE!
It was me that was stopping me! Me that was so focused on bringing all of the lemons over to my side that I lost sight of the fact that I didn’t have to do that.
“Not all lemons make lemonade.”
I finished my morning coffee and looked out at the lone dove, work complete, sitting quietly on her nest, trusting life in the face of all of those lemons above and below and all around it. In fact, the more I looked at the bird nest, I began to notice the beauty in the lemons surrounding it. Their brightness of color, their different shapes and weights. Their importance in providing a cover and safety for the doves and at the same time a reminder of their vulnerability.
Maybe the doves are a little smarter than me after all. We all encounter lemons in life. Some will make lemonade sweeter than we’ve ever known, but many, and in some cases most, will only serve to remind us that we need to stay focused on our goals, on what makes us happy and positive.
photo: Lemon After Storm by PositivelyAnne
Sometimes, we just have to let the lemons be and build our nest the best way we know how. One positive step at a time.
You, Me, Us. Together.
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