“Turn off the Stove!

…and everytime before the surgical anesthetic took me under, a fleeting thought crossed my mind: “Turn off the Stove!”

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photo: “Goodnight Flame” by PositivelyAnne

At some point you grow out of being attracted to that flame 

that burns you over and over and over again.

-Taylor Swift

In 2016, my remarkably stellar health decided to make up for 52 years of an otherwise perfect track record.  I spent fifteen consecutive months floating in and out of stark operating rooms; their interiors filled with all sorts of monitors and robotic machinery sporting lobster like claws and dozens of masked strangers, whose eyes reflected the seriousness of my condition and yet, were somehow comforting.

After so many consecutive surgeries, it often times felt like I was dropped into the middle of an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”.  But unlike the television drama, my encounters with Mr. McDreamy and company were a little strange to say the least, as each and every time before the surgical anesthetic took me under, a fleeting thought crossed my mind:

“Turn off the Stove!” 

Given everything I could possibly consider as my last conscious thought: gratitude for my life, love for my family, thankfulness that the doctor hovering over me with that long needle was pretty good looking…concern for turning off the stove” didn’t even register. 

Definitely not an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy!”    

“Maybe it’s just some crazy side effect of the anesthetic!” My family and close friends knew how often I fell into the “only one percent of the population gets this side effect” column, so the possibility that this was just some sort of reoccurring hallucination (brought on by some very powerful drugs) wasn’t unreasonable. 

“Maybe it’s just one of those random things we humans worry about, like turning off the lights or locking the front door, when we are going somewhere for an extended period of time.”  Possible, but…the fact that this idea of “turning off the stove” kept happening, surgery, after surgery, I had to think there was something more to it.

“Turn off the Stove!” 

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my family was already dealing with my father-in-law’s declining health due to dementia and so I was determined not to let a little thing like “cancer” rock my world any more than it had to.   My prognosis was better than good and I had no concerns that life wouldn’t soon return to normal once I took care of this little blip on my radar.

But as time passed, and complications arose for me and other surgeries were required to treat those complications, it became a daily chore for me to keep up the positive veneer.  

On the inside, I was angry.  A seething, burning flame!  A stove perpetually lit! 

Seething with anger that I didn’t have any control over getting cancer or the other issues that ravaged my body.  Seething that my perfect life plan was no longer perfect.  Seething, just to seethe because, well, just because!!!

One could argue that it’s perfectly normal to be angry at the cancer demon. I mean we are trained from the cradle to light a fire in our bellies to beat life’s demons, right?

But what if that that fire is always on,  not only to produce the energy and passion needed to conquer life’s demons, but to fuel perpetual anger and negativity?

“Turn off the Stove!” 

A stove doesn’t turn on unless you light it, and when you light it, it breathes flames.  Flames that can only be controlled by a knob.  Turn the knob to high and the flames rise like a beacon in the night.  Turn the knob down low and the flames simmer, barely visible, but always there, just under the surface. 

Now, it matters not if the stove is turned up high or turned down low… as long as a stoves flames are left on, they can burn, scorch and destroy everything they touch UNTIL THE STOVE IS TURNED OFF! 

My personal stove had been lit for fifteen months straight!

On the morning of my 15th surgery, I was handed a clipboard by a nurse with the usual paperwork attached and I began to fill it out with my usual nonchalance until I got to the line, “I understand that complications may arise that result in permanent injury, disfigurement, even death.”  I had signed my name to that line fourteen times before without giving it second thought, but today I paused, and the magnitude of those words hit me.  I felt the flames of my stove rise, higher and higher.  I COULD DIE! 

And if those words came true, then would my husband, my kids, my friends remember a woman who had given life the best she had to offer or, would they, instead, remember a woman drowning in the flames and ash of her own imperfections? 

No, NO, NOOOO! I couldn’t let the latter be my epitaph. 

So, I turned down the flames of my stove to simmering and I signed my name on the line, put the clipboard aside and cheerfully asked my husband to pass me my purse.  In my purse, I found my makeup bag and I pulled out my trusty tube of cherry lipstick. My “happy” color always made me smile.   I painted my lips (without a mirror) and put the tube back in my bag.  I asked my husband if I looked o.k. and he said, “Great.” 

But as I said, I had left the flames of doubt on my stove still simmering, just there under the surface.  So I pulled out my compact and took a look at myself in the mirror:

WHO ARE YOU KIDDING GIRL?  A little cherry lipstick can’t hide the fact that YOU ARE TERRIFIED!  Yes, you’ve beaten the odds time and again…but, c’mon, it’s only a matter of time!

My stoves flames licked higher and higher beckoning me towards negativity.   

My anesthesiologist walked into the room at that moment, and I looked up from my compact, cherry lipstick smile quivering, our eyes met, 

“Look at you,” he said cheerfully.  “Wow, I needed to see a bright face this morning.”

“Bright face…me?”, I thought.  I’m dying inside.  Burning up.  Searing. Tears came to my eyes and I just stared up at him.  Everything in my heart, my soul, my entire being was in my eyes at that moment.  I could feel the flames of anger and sorrow that I had been carrying around with me for the past fifteen months rise up to the surface of my body.  My skin, like the flames within me,  felt so very hot.  Could he feel it too? Could he see the flames? Something in my eyes must have registered with him because at that moment he came closer, pulled up a chair and grabbed my hand.

“I will tell you a secret”, he said.  “It’s fine for you to be scared, I get scared too…I do, but keeping you alive is also what I do and I’m good at it.  I need you to trust me, but more importantly, I need you to trust in yourself. No doubts!   You’ve made it through fourteen other surgeries just fine and this is just another one. We’ve got this!”

I’d like to tell you that I had some profound words in response and we hugged and it was a true “Grey’s Anatomy” moment, but all I did was lightly squeeze his hand.  Two quick pulses of my fingertips against his palm.  A fleeting gesture of confidence in his words that I have no idea if he even felt.  But I’d like to think he did.

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photo: “Joy” Carlsbad Flower Fields by PositivelyAnne

But it doesn’t matter.  I felt it. I felt the sincerity in his words.  His willingness, like so many others before him,  to take on my lifes complications and face the fires of hell for me.  I closed my eyes and imagined my hand reaching,  slowly, slowly for my stoves knob.  I quickly turned it all the way off.  The flames winked out and unbelieving of what I had done, I reached out and touched the grate…it was cool to the touch.

Soothing.  Calm. Comforting.  A balm to my weary soul. 

It was then that I came to understand the immense value of what the words, “Turn off the Stove” meant the past fifteen months and for my life going forward. 

In times of stress, I had to let go of my ego, my pride, my fear that I, and I alone, could handle all of drama life was handing me.  God and a whole host of family and friends and medical professionals had been whispering in my ear each and every time I went into surgery and all along the road of my life, that I did not have to go it alone.  I didn’t have to fear things.  I had help…help to stay positive.  

I had to “Turn off the Stove” and trust others to light my way. 

As you sort through your own laundry list of challenges: health problems, difficult family dynamics, financial worries and all sorts of unresolved situations that raise your flame quotient higher and higher, just remember to keep your eyes, ears and heart open to those helpers, both familiar and stranger, who are there to whisper a reminder:

“Turn off the Stove!”

And then turn it off and go live your best life.  I can tell you it works!

PositivelyAnne

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Partnering with Negativity to Power Your Positivity!

Has it crossed your mind lately that no matter what you do to be positive about life, it seems the soldiers of negativity stand ready for battle, day and night?

Here is a universal law: that when it comes to negative and positive, you will always thrive more powerfully in the positive if you have first been immersed in, and have heroically overcome, the polar opposite negative of that thing. 
-C. Joybell C.

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photo: Carlsbad Twilight by PositivelyAnne

Has it crossed your mind lately that no matter what you do to be positive about life, it seems the soldiers of negativity stand ready for battle, day and night?

I used to feel that way.  Night after night tumbling into bed, my positive- self weary from the constant battle with the “negativity” demons that seemed to lurk in every crevice of my life.  I lost count of how many sleepless nights I spent tossing and turning as the plotting and planning in my brain took on a life of its own trying to find the perfect strategy for defeating my enemy, “negativity!”

Then one day, while I was performing the very mundane task of changing the batteries in a flashlight, I discovered that instead of going to war with negativity day and night, I had to do something a little different.  My positive self-had to develop

A PARTNERSHIP WITH NEGATIVITY!

It all started with a flashlight.   In my house flashlights are everywhere.  My husband is a flashlight aficionado and we have flashlights in every room in the house.  (Yes, all three of our kids got flashlights for Christmas last year, thank you very much!).

Of course, living in sunny Southern California there is not much use for flashlights except for finding the bathroom in the dark when camping, or the occasional item that rolls under the stove.  I went to grab a flashlight for the latter and of course, because we don’t use flashlights very often, the batteries were dead.  I found some new batteries and went about the process of changing them. Now I knew which way to do it by matching the plus and minus markings on the batteries to the plus and minus markings on the flashlight.  Of course, as life goes, the markings were barely visible on this particular flashlight and because I didn’t have my glasses on, it took me a couple tries and a few choice curse words to get them in the right way so that the flashlight worked.

I found myself more than a little irritated.  “Why in the 21st century am I doing battle with the batteries in my dumb flashlight?”  Of course, deep down I knew why.  That positive and negative had to go to together in just the right way to make it work.

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photo: Winter Hope by PositivelyAnne

But that didn’t matter.  My irritation was clouding my brain and as trivial as this sounds, I put down the flashlight, picked up my phone and took my irritation out on a search engine:

Am I the only one in the world who thinks it’s dumb that I can’t just shove the batteries in my flashlight any which way and get it to work?

Now I figured when I pushed the send button I would be taken to the blog-o-sphere and rejoice in a myriad of snarky bloggers intent on fueling my negative thoughts about batteries.  Instead, much to my surprise, what popped up first on my phone screen was from a site called quickstudylabs.com:

Electrons have a negative charge and are repelled by the negative terminal.

(“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…so what?”, I thought.)

Electrons are attracted towards the positive terminal because negative electrons are…

(drumroll please…)

ATTRACTED BY THE POSITIVE! 

What?!!!!   I re-read the words, once, twice, three times. Surely this was a joke.  I ran to get my glasses to make sure I was reading it correctly.

Electrons are negative and repelled by negativity. Electrons are attracted towards the positive terminal because negative electrons are attracted to the positive!

Holy Moly!!!!   Suddenly I understood the reason why my positivity journey was being derailed over and over again.

I was going about this whole positivity thing the wrong way.  I was spending way too much time fighting negativity with anger, frustration, and irritation when I should have been using the power of my own positivity to acknowledge negativity exists, to embrace it, connect with it and let it absorb all of my positive energy.  Just like a flashlight battery.

Negativity is attracted to Positivity! Positivity embraces it, absorbs it and uses it to affect change. In you, in me, in the world!

That’s what negativity wants…to embrace the positive…and when we let it do that, our positivity takes over and suddenly our flashlight works.

So how is it going in my life since the great flashlight revelation?   Well, I am human, and imperfect, and there are still plenty of times I just want to just stuff the damn batteries into my life’s flashlight and be done with it.

But I am learning that when I stop doing battle with the negative aspects in my life and instead pause, take notes and learn from what they are trying to tell me, my positivity just takes over.  The flashlight of my life is revealing blessing after blessing.   It’s those things I’m focused on now.   I’m learning to “partner with negativity” and keep it in my “positivity toolkit” as a reminder of all positivity wants me to be, can be and who I am! 

Maybe it will work for you to.  Oh, in case you are wondering, flashlights reveal a whole other world under our stoves- HA HA!!!…but alas, that’s a story I will leave to tell another day.

On this journey together, one positive (and negative) step at a time!

PositivelyAnne (positivelyanne.com and instagram #positivelyanne)

Thank you for reading and I hope you will not only Like, but Follow my blog.  I look forward to our positive journey together!

Stop collecting wisdom…Cultivate it!

A man does not know what he knows
until he knows what he doesn’t know.
-Laurence J. Peter

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Prior to what I now call my own “Period of Enlightenment”, I’m ashamed to say that once I hit my twenties, my approach to cultivating wisdom, involved nothing more than the curation of “wise” people and “wise” experiences with a sort of impersonal detachment one might feel when walking through a museum filled with marble statues.   I was a “master collector” of all things wise and yet, I felt nothing more than fleeting emotions to what I was collecting.   My passion was sincere in the moment, but I lacked the commitment to truly understand what I was doing.

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Simply put, it didn’t register with me that for wisdom to become an effective tool in my “positivity tool kit” I had to stop seeing it as an inanimate object placed atop a pedestal, where my only interaction would be to periodically admire and pet it. Instead I needed to “cultivate wisdom” as a living, breathing garden.  One that would need my constant attention, daily tending, and yes, weeding!

I am not sure why I chose in my adulthood to become a “collector” vs. “cultivator” of wisdom.  Maybe it was laziness, maybe it was wanting to prove myself to my family, friends, work colleagues, strangers.  Maybe it was fear of what I would discover about myself.  All, l I know is I have been collecting an ark full of wisdom with absolutely no clue what to do with it!

As a young child I think I was much better knowing what to do with the wisdom that was before me.

One example worth sharing is I had a best friend who lived next door to me and she had an older brother.  Her older brother was very creative and artistic and he would constantly change the décor in his bedroom. I am not talking new sheets or a paint color, but a complete transformation something akin to what you would find on a movie set.  There was man’s first walk on the moon, Pink Floyd’s infamous Off the Wall album cover, the undersea world of Jacque Cousteau.  All of it crafted and created by my friends’ brother.  It was incredible, magical and this boy, a kid really, was creating all of this before he passed algebra.   I asked him once why he was always redecorating his room and he said, “It makes me happy!”

It made me happy too!  His creativity was free, joyful, knowing no bounds.  

More on that in a minute…

As I said, somewhere in my adult years, I tossed aside this idea of nurturing and tending and weeding my wisdom garden and I began “collecting” wisdom, in all its’ forms, for the sake of collecting.

And at first, it was fun and exciting this business of “collecting” wisdom.  I was very successful at surrounding myself with some pretty great people and partaking in some amazing activities and adventures. But after a while, the sheer volume of “wise” people and “wise” activities in my life became overwhelming, claustrophobic and scripted.  I didn’t know what to do with all of the wisdom in my collection.   Most of it, I would place on a pedestal, an object left forgotten to gather dust.

And after a while, I wanted to forget all of it because it was just too stressful. 

I felt the imagined eyes of all of my “wise” friends on me day and night and the pressure building inside me that I had to do something really great with all of this wisdom I had been collecting over the years or somehow, I would be viewed as a failure.

It made me literally sick, joyless, depressed. 

When someone would express they thought I was wise, I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone in my wisdom collection was laughing.  I’m serious!

I imagined a great museum hall, with thousands upon thousands of marble sculptures all staring down at me from great pedestals.  Their faces devoid of emotion.

“She has no clue what she’s supposed to do with us, so she just keeps collecting more and more of us!”

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How could it be that I had reached my fifties and so carefully made sure my world was top heavy with experienced, knowledgeable folks of good character and judgement and yet, be so clueless about what to do with it all?

The answer came to me last year when I was perusing Facebook.  I was thinking of launching a decorating site and it crossed my mind to look up my old friend and her very creative brother.  We had moved away in the early 1970’s and although we’d pledged, we’d always stay in touch, we didn’t, and well, I had no idea what paths their lives had taken.

It took me some time and I finally found both of them.  Their faces smiling out from the pages of Facebook, both older.  My friends’ brothers face lined with age and experience and holding what might have been a grandchild.  Both of their profiles required that I send them a “friend request” in order to see more.

My fingers hovered over the keyboard, ready to press the request key.  I remember thinking about my friends’ brother, “I wonder if he went on to do something with all of that creativity?”

And then it hit me.  He had.   He had changed me!

I had cultivated the wisdom I had garnered from him as a child and put it to daily use in my life.

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Without even trying, this creative boy next door, had become my lifetime guide, mentor and window into true creativity.

He is primarily the reason why I have been so comfortable redecorating first, the bedrooms of my youth, then apartments and houses I have lived in and taken on the responsibilities of designing dormitory living and eating environments at a major university, reimagining the youth rooms and preschool indoor and outdoor spaces at my church.

No, I am not a designer, architect, artist or any of those things.  I create simply because it makes me happy and I have the wisdom of a neighborhood boy to thank for that.

So now my challenge is to dismantle the remainder of my “collection” of wisdom and begin the process of “cultivating” it purposefully in my own garden.

Maybe I will discover many more positive stories of wisdom seed planting in my life than I realize.

Maybe the pedestals I imagine are not as plentiful in my life and my wisdom garden is full of beautiful blooming flowers, breathtaking buildings and simple, joyous people.  I’d like to think that’s the case, but I’m imagining, much like cleaning out my closets, I won’t remember why I collected a lot of the wisdom that is there.

I guess that’s the way life and wisdom intertwine.   Maybe it just takes some years to figure it out. To wipe away the film that keeps us from remembering the innocence of childhood, when it was as simple as a boys bedroom and before it became so very complicated.

But it is my hope that as I move from a “collector” to a “cultivator of wisdom” that I am more mindful to plant it, tend it and weed it, so that it grows into something that I use, day in and day out,  until there is nothing left.

May you find much success in the journey to “cultivate wisdom” in your own lives and know I will be here, garden tools at the ready, to support you.

PositivelyAnne

 

If you like my site, please click like so that it moves up the blog foodchain and others can find me.  I figure the more positive souls out there the better, right?!!!  Also, feel free to share briefly your thoughts on wisdom and how it’s impacted your life.  

All photos and images are my own, except where noted.