unFriending

Over the past few months I have been struggling with the knowledge of a long-term friendship coming to an end. Had the friendship been over for months or years, or were we stuck at a crossroads and had no clue we had lost interest in each other’s stories? Would it be in my best interest–as well as the best interest of the friend–if I simply let our relationship end quietly, without any fanfare? How does a true friendship actually reach a climax? And how do you end it? Pick up your phone and call to discuss it like mature adults? It feels unnatural to let the ending wander in silence.

When was our turning point? We were two people who shared painful life lessons, laughed out loud together, debated issues, overcame conflicts, ups, downs. We experienced the elusiveness of life together. Do people merely stop caring? When did the conception take root, and what caused it? Time, circumstances, outdatedness? Or did one person no longer need what that friend had to offer? Does such an ending care whether someone will get hurt?

I have grappled with this. And for a great while. It’s not an easy decision to arrive at. It’s something I’ve carried with me since childhood, but I’m the kind of girl who holds tightly to a friend and never want to let her go. Even when some of my friends have drifted away from me without a good-bye or a why, I maintain some level of contact.  On occasion I will receive a message on my voicemail in which someone decided to return my call. Yet more often than not, friends on the edge of good-bye have a way of sending cryptic texts (e.g., “been so busy with work”). Eventually, I have honored their silence and drew the conclusion they were over me and didn’t think an awkward good-bye would really benefit either one of us.

Rarely has this been the case, but when I do choose to separate myself from someone, admittedly I don’t approach them with what I am feeling; instead, I do it in a gentle, loving kindhearted way. I know that we have lost something, and that this person is not a go-to for me anymore. Something stopped working. And the reasons are nuanced. But there comes a time when I am aware that I have grown past needing this person in my life, and their advice or feedback, or I simply do not choose to hear her opinion because I already know what she’s going to say. In ways not particularly obvious, we are growing at different speeds and in incompatible directions.

When I thought about how to approach this idea for this blog, I was reminded of romantic relationships I had with men that didn’t work out. Once it became apparent that we had reached a stalemate, and we sensed it was not working out, there was a conversation about it, albeit indirect. There might have been shouting over each other’s voices and slamming car doors. But we acknowledged that the relationship had reached its plateau.

It’s different with female friendships. Perhaps because it’s not the same type of expression of love, or potentially it was never a loving friendship to begin with. We lack the intense emotional investment. We haven’t had a physical connection; it was purely platonic and befitting for where we each were at the time the friendship took shape.

When I was younger and drifted from a friend, the why was apparent to me. When the friendship first blossomed we had commonalities, and our relationship blended between dual interests and similar life goals. But then I (or the other person) evolved, or failed to, and we drifted apart. We no longer needed each other. Yet friendships in youth are not the same as friendships in midlife. It would seem that since we are more mature, and our friendships don’t hinge on fleeting amusements, time would never test it. Mature friendships have a unique bond. History.

This decision–to end a friendship–saddens me. Still, I have become acutely aware that our conversations always come back to the same subjects. We rehash topics we’ve covered for years. And the bridge between those conversations is transparent. We have chosen paths that are no longer parallel. There’s a lack of interest; not making the time or putting in the effort. We have reached a place where we have now begun to take each other for granted. Actually, there’s a subtle indifference more so than an implicit I-no-longer-want-to-be-your-friend.

Undeniably, I desire the very best for this friend. And I will miss her. Deeply.

Inner bitch

Yesterday morning I stopped in Whole Foods to grab a few items. I reached for a bag of their signature popcorn. I prefer the plain, but decided to go with the olive oil flavor instead. It struck me that all the other flavors (e.g., cheese, herbal) were $1.59, but the olive oil was $1.79. With a shrug I dropped the bag into my hand basket and resumed my shopping.

Every open cash register had several people ahead of me, and every single person had quite a few items. As I stood on line, my eyes wandering over the various magazines about healthy living, I began to think about the price of the olive oil flavored popcorn, and trying to decide whether I should purchase it or not. Or just go and get the plain popcorn instead. The longer I stood on line, the more the 20 cents difference nagged me. It wasn’t about the cost so much, because 20 cents is nothing. It was more about the “why” behind the extra cost that I began to overthink. What was so special about olive oil?  It’s not as though the olive oil flavored popcorn was gourmet! The so-called olive oil flavor is really, really subtle; you can hardly taste it.

By the time I was able to put my items on the conveyor belt, I wanted an explanation for the difference in cost. I broached the subject with the cashier, and she shrugged, and in a flippant way said, “I think it’s ’cause it has an olive oil flavor. Are you sure they aren’t all a dollar-seventy-nine?” I replied with a shake of my head and said they were all $1.59 but for the olive oil flavored popcorn. “Well,” she shrugged, yet again. “It’s probably ’cause it’s olive oil. I can have someone check the price if you want.” I told her not to bother, primarily because there were other customers behind me. Before walking off, I inquired as to where I could talk to the store’s manager. She directed me accordingly.

When I addressed this subject with the person at Customer Service (and he was not the manager), I got the same sorta flippant It’s the olive oil response. I felt myself getting closer and closer to becoming bitchie. I know the feeling when it’s coming, as do most women. Yet by the time we sense that inner bitch starting to emerge, that bull side we manage to hide so well in polite company has already caught a glimpse of the crimson hue. Thus, the bitch in us takes charge. Some women make an effort to shut it down. We know, down in our core, it’s petty.

I do the work. I own it when I know I am not showing up in the way I often discuss in this blog. So I can say that despite “doing the work” and knowing that I was getting bitchier by the second, I still wanted them to agree with me. I wanted them to tell me, “You’re right, Whole Foods Customer” (because the customer is always right), but not one cashier would go there. This only intensified my need to hear it even more. Sometimes we just need to bitch! It never is about what is happening in the moment (i.e., Whole Foods olive oil popcorn). Of course, whatever is happening in the moment that makes us release our inner bitch plays a part, to be sure. But if we are doing the work, we know how to tame that inner bitch. So the thing that’s happening in the moment is more the effect; it’s not the origin, its cause.

Every woman’s inner bitch is about other stuff from two weeks ago or as far back as three years ago, or potentially even farther in our life story. At the time we thought we handled whatever it was, or we buried it beneath all the other I’ll-deal-with-later stuff. It’s the baggage we continue to haul around because we aren’t even aware there’s an issue that has gone too long without some form of attention. Indisputably, pent-up emotions exacerbate. Even though we were remarkably cool when situations were deleterious in the past; and we even managed to keep our inner bitch in check and came from a place of Namaste, it might as well have been a tumor the size of a pea that developed into the shape of a golf ball–it gets larger and goes deeper when we fail to identify its source or purpose. Before we roll our baby browns/blues/grays and pop our necks, it’s beneficial when we breathe. If we are doing the work, we will cringe once we’ve returned to the breath and see clearly that the eye-rolling and neck-popping is an overreaction. It helps with our self-esteem, and even more so for our emotional wellbeing, to take a moment and seek out what it is we’re failing to own.

While talking to the cashier at Customer Service, I attempted to stop the banal and sarcastic “Seriously?” from making its way to the tip of my tongue.  That satirical Seriously is a quintessential expression for moments like my Whole Foods moment. When we cannot believe what we are seeing or hearing, and even if we know it is what it is, we are in that Seriously? mind-set. The Whole Foods cashier at Customer Service was so bloody cavalier, and I really wanted to get in his face; and I wanted him to stop being so indifferent. Because I do the work, I knew it before I walked out of Whole Foods that the olive oil flavored popcorn had little to do with my state of mind. And now as I reflect, I see my Whole Foods incident with amazing clarity.

There are those moments though, when we need an excuse to release our inner bitch!

Brenda

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There are moments, in particular in the past three years, when I have wondered, had my big sister made another choice would her fate not have been so sudden. Perhaps, had she not moved out to Los Angeles, her story—the life she led in L.A.—would have had a quiet, gentle ending. When I graduated from high-school, I moved to Los Angeles to attend college. Six months later, Brenda came out to L.A. too. She took an immediate liking to the statuesque palm trees that contoured innumerable blocks; the sprawling, crowded freeways; the vivid sun that tainted the landscape citrus nearly year-around; the popular beaches; and the Hollywood mystique that gave the metropolis its trend-setting glamour.

While she would enroll in a two-year college, in time Brenda would stop attending and began this journey of searching for an invisible cure to the deep yearning in her spirit. She longed for something that seemed so out of reach. What became clear—Brenda had no idea who to be and what to do, and her future became vague. Los Angeles can make you feel lost, groundless and disconnected, and its elusive nature has a way of testing those with the slightest crack in their armor. Even though my big sister was smart and charming and style-conscious and fashion-model-pretty, she got lost in a lifestyle that would ultimately trap her. This eventually led her to wander too long in psychological pain. Even while she tried time and time again to get back on track—and she had her moments—Brenda had the hardest of times recapturing that well-liked, nameless quality that made her so popular when we were growing up. Without a doubt, she made the effort. Somewhere along the way she began to live each day on very thin ice. It is my solemn and sincerest hope that she is now in a very sacred place.

It’s funny. While I spent a large part of my adult life seeing her as this complicated personality that I had the hardest time getting along with; now, since her transition three years ago today, I see her as the big sister who always had my back. It didn’t matter how long we went without speaking to each other; Brenda still had my back. I cannot recall over the past year or two when I stopped crying, and often out of nowhere, because she is no longer someone I can pick up the phone and call. But sometimes, in moments when my mind wanders, I recall something she said or did, and I laugh out loud.

It depends on the messenger

Recently, I was in a conversation with someone (and I will call her Sally) who needed objectivity and unbiased feedback. Sally and I met while attending a meet-and-mingle for female writers event in Hollywood a few months ago. Because we aren’t friends, per se, I knew I was in a position to be impartial. After listening for a short while, I started noticing subtle nuances of her story that coincided with mine years ago. Her primary struggle, she had started out telling me, was that she needed to leave a man but felt she wasn’t ready to leave him. Moreover, I heard in her story that there were other dynamics that I believe were keeping her stuck. I know this for sure: there could be no turning point if she didn’t confront at least one of her pressing obstacles. I had already lived through some of her personal struggles. Life will always test us with various trials and tribulations. Trying to avoid them merely prolongs getting passed them, and the feelings about those trials and tribulations have a way of intensifying.

In the course of our conversation I suggested that she read A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson. On occasion, when someone complains or whines or is sharing personal details with me that in my mind are less the source but more the symptom of their issue, my social science background kicks in and I try to ascertain what that person isn’t saying more so than what they are saying. Likewise, we are too intimate with our own personal story. This blocks us from recognizing that often what we are saying we’re struggling with is not necessarily the origin of our in-the-moment emotional and/or psychological angst.

I recall, when first introduced to Marianne’s book in 1993 and after having read it, discovered that I was too preoccupied with my wants and avoiding what I needed, and perhaps more superficial than I realized at the time. A Return to Love, as well as meditation, was how I began to look another way. There was no immediate epiphany or anything like that; in fact, the change was quiet, subtle. Change is never glaring. Especially personal transformation. It took a few years, and leaving L.A., to apply some of the messages in the best seller. Because I wanted to evolve, steadily I began to pay attention to how me-me-me-ish I was. How self-involved. What I discovered was that whenever I wasn’t living in L.A., I was less one-dimensional, and I could hear the sound of my tender heartbeat. When I first read A Return to Love, I was young yet not naïve; and less sure of myself than I was shallow.

Something I said about the book must have resonated with her, because Sally wrote down the title and said she’d “definitely” download the book. Before we ended our conversation, I shared with her that since returning to L.A. I discovered that getting on your knees isn’t the way out; it’s a way in. She responded with, “Hmmm, I don’t think I relate to that. What does that mean? What does that do? Because my situation isn’t that radical. I don’t need to ‘fall to my knees.’ ”

Within a week I received an e-mail from Sally. She was letting me know that she’d just finished reading A Return to Love. Because it didn’t take long for her to get through the book, I took that to mean that something about the ideology affected her enough to consider a new path. New paths, like personal transformation, generally don’t reveal themselves straightaway. But there comes a time when we are fully aware of something being a “used to.” I even thought Sally might benefit from Marianne’s lectures which are available each week via Livestream. I decided to forward the Livestream login from a lecture Marianne had this week in New York. Friday morning, and just one day later, I was perusing my in-box and came across an e-mail from Sally, and this is what her e-mail stated: Ms. B! Thank you for introducing me to Marianna Williamson. She is so relatable. I really needed to hear someone tell me, ‘Nothing is a failure if it took you to your knees.’

Bullies

It is the very first year since 9.11 in which I have chosen not to watch anniversary coverage. Finally I see I need no mnemonic of what happened on this day 15 years ago. Each year, on this day, I have been pulled to stare robotically at horrific heart-wrenching images on the television screen, or on my laptop. Visible impressions I have undoubtedly seen 300 times or more, but have failed to numb me enough not to still create a lump at the back of my throat when I see a plane hit the first Tower. Those images, still poignant in my mind’s eye, are a reminder of the fleeting nature of life, and the unpredictability of one’s last breath. That day, on 9.11, no longer serves as a prompting of how complex it is to live in an increasingly frenzied universe.

We are so fragile. The fate of one’s destiny is so ambivalent.

Yet, like the troubled men who boarded iconic airliners 15 years ago, the 2016 election has highlighted a kind of schizophrenic mind-set of too many people. How hatred–or self-hatred–can be so visceral and have undeniable energy. It’s like the bully in middle school whose insecurity is so intense; he or she uses that woundedness as their personal armor. And in essence that woundedness is that bully’s pseudo power. Yet if you put that bully in a room–or those men who boarded aircrafts 15 years ago, or the hate-filled people who use the election to justify their abhorrence–the bully will be intensely uncomfortable if someone–anyone–talked to that person from a place of unconditional love. Isolated from the thing that makes them feel powerful will, in essence, emphasize their shame, their weaknesses.

More and more I am unsettled by how the world is evolving. I am much too aware of how troubled I am by the turbulence of a society that appears to be lacking a soul. I make attempts as often as I am nudged to do so, to see that there is enough good in humanity to turn this all around. Yet on days like this, when every corner of the world will be reminded that because of the acute capability of hate 3,000 souls met an ineffable fate on 9.11.2001, I wrestle with increasing doubt. And because of the swell of hatred that permeates throughout the universe, I find myself sad and weary and disconnected.

Perhaps that is the point. There are levels of bullies. From the schoolyard tyrants who feel so terribly small, to the extremists–tormented, and supposedly faith-inspired men, who changed the fate of America on 9.11. But they are no different from the rest of us: Those of us that try mindfully to make sense of our lives. But because the bully’s mind is so restricted, they want us to feel sad and weary and disconnected, because that is precisely what they are feeling, too.

Being too casual

It has only been in recent years that I have come to understand how much of my life I took for granted. I was carried, and had a soft place to fall so I didn’t grow in the ways that I should have. However, it takes substantial growth and taking moral inventory to genuinely come to understand—and own—how much of your life you treated so casually. Taking our lives for granted doesn’t necessarily mean we’re selfish or self-centered, or that we aren’t even paying closer attention to the day-to-day-ness of our lives. It begins with one simple idea: underestimating the value of something or someone. And it’s easy to lose sight of that—life has become so, so demanding.

It’s impossible to go about life on a daily basis being exceptionally grateful—so many of us aren’t living in the present. And frankly, even if we devoted more time being purposefully appreciative, it doesn’t have anything to do with losing things, people—whatever matters deeply. Losing people and coming up against challenges will occur whether we take life for granted or not. What I have learned over 59 years is how life gives and takes in amazing ways; yet on a humanistic level we focus so much more on how it takes and takes. And that’s natural.

For myself, as my life reaches its sixth decade, I am less attached to things. Even people. But especially things. It’s been because I’ve lost so much that I’ve had to learn not to be too terribly attached to—in particular—stuff. Now I can see so clearly how incredibly attached I was to consuming, and taking for granted that everything would remain within my comfort zone—family, friends, money. The things that for so long were like borders around my life and made me feel safe. But when we no longer have financial security; and when life feels fragile and extremely unpredictable, you can see that you unconsciously took more than you should have for granted. That knowledge hasn’t been an easy pill to swallow.

But the gift of learning not to take stuff—more so life—for granted is that you begin to peel away the outdated aspects of your life, material things have less of a hold on you, and your mind leans in a direction that has depth. Having a brevé-latte first thing this morning, and bought with a Starbucks card my nephew gave me as a birthday gift would have seemed so mundane five short years ago. But it now means so much to me. It’s my 60th, and I have never, never felt as blessed as I do on this day and at this moment. Both my mother and my oldest sister passed away in their 50s, and with little warning. I had no time to prepare psychologically for their life’s transition. There have been times—especially over the past few years—when I wasn’t sure I would get to this day. The meaning and purpose of why life keeps holding me steady is elusive to me. But I am committing myself to spend the rest of this journey not assuming things, and go a bit deeper with gratitude.

Be the change

Earlier today, I made a concerted effort to recall a time in my life when I felt alone, and it seemed I knew no one to call, and someone—a stranger—extended me an unexpected compliment as we passed each other. Or someone held the elevator when they saw me rushing to make it before it closed. Or the commuter who understands what it’s like to try to cross a busy street to make it to the other side, so they make a way. I tried to remember if there was a time when I wished so deeply that someone—anyone—would see how afraid I was.

Perhaps it’s unnatural to get too caught up or involved with strangers one-on-one. It takes Orlando of which 49 people the world lost that day; 9/11, which shattered our idea of feeling safe and shocked us out of our complacency. Nine-11 and Orlando are widely exposed heart-pounding moments, similar to the butterfly effect: a flapping of its wings in one part of the world and miraculously that tiny, tender flutter reaches another part of the world and creates this undefinable thing; and this is solely because a butterfly flapped its wings. Princess Diana, John Kennedy, Jr.–the entire world stops for these blind-sided moments in our culture, and there’s this collective holding the breath, and we all share this down-deep melancholy.

I recall, while living in New York, having this conversation about how, when you live in New York, it just becomes a part of your identity to be rude! This person responded back to me with, ‘If I said excuse me every single time I bumped into someone or knocked against someone, I’d be doing it all damn day!’ While living in New York, I thought I was quite mindful not to fall into that same way of being. Oddly, though, within days of relocating back to L.A., I didn’t take the time to really hear this woman as she said to me, a stranger to her, “What a beautiful day.” First–and it doesn’t excuse–I was in a hurry; and two, I shrugged in the way people who don’t give a damn do, and kept on walking.

No longer living on the East Coast close to eight years now, I’ve softened. And today, as I made my way down a street in West Los Angeles, I slowed my pace to see whether an elderly woman, wheelchair bound, would be sitting on a patio adjacent to a small bookstore. And she was. I have never stopped to talk with this woman. I don’t know her name. But I see her several times a week. She sits in a wheelchair with personal belongings in chic tote bags that are at her immediate reach. She even has an iPhone! I couldn’t guess her age, and I couldn’t know her story without sitting down and listening to what she might have wanted to share with me. But I do sense that she’s outlived friends, and family might be sparse. Consistently in this blog I have demonstrated my beliefs, and I trust in my core that we have an idea—provided we’re even remotely paying attention—when someone could use a smile, a polite hello.

Simple gestures don’t make us lose even a second in our day. We can recognize when it might be a good time to show empathy in a moment when we detect a stranger’s life has met some stuff no one ever thinks it’s necessary to plan for. The woman who learned she has Stage IV breast cancer is likely to be too devastated about the path her life has just taken to acknowledge sincere praise on her unique style. Or the man who’s spent the better part of his life working for a company that is now in the midst of downsizing and he finds he’s unemployed but cannot afford to retire might not be present enough for any kindness you might throw his way. Sill–and trust me on this–something small has its own quiet influence, even if it doesn’t kick in right away. And the receiver of someone’s kindness, later on, will have no clue how or why his mood has softened.

So I always smile at this elderly woman wheelchair bound. I never know what her day has been like. I simply extend a broad smile that is purposefully sincere, and I say, Hello, how are you today? This woman always smiles back at me as if she’d looked forward to the moment all day. Her hellos always accompany a kind of girlish laughter. She is always open to my modest connection. In a way that I am not quite sure of, she adds something to what’s left of my day. I like speaking to her. The idea that I have done something so simple that made a difference in someone’s day means a lot to me. Especially to someone whose connection to others might be limited. I sense this elderly woman spends a good amount of time alone.

If you asked, say 20 random people, if they could do anything to contribute to the world being a better place, more than half would say, What do I need to do? Gandhi said, “We but mirror the world.” With only four months left in this year, it could be our challenge: to consider working a benevolent muscle. We can be a part of the effect, not the cause. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t bemoan how our society is at the very brink of losing its moral compass. So we should collectively make an effort to be that change we claim we genuinely want to see happen in our amazing universe!