The Spontaneity Fight

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.

Fribee Golf Fun

The fight is over. 

I have won. You can too!

PositivelyAnne

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“Que Sera, Sera, what will be, will be!”

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. 

Why? 

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.

PositivelyAnne

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