To all the mothers in the house

One very cold morning in the West Village of New York City, I sat cross-legged, staring out of a large window with a fire escape blocking much of my view. I was mesmerized by the falling snow when something hit me for the very first time in my life: I would not have children. I was 34. Although I was never drawn deeply to the idea of having children, and not once thought that much about having them, I expected one day to have at least one child. It wasn’t so much that I lacked maternal instincts per se; I think it was some deep-seeded knowing that doesn’t necessarily present itself until one day time decides the fate of that knowledge. While I should have been struck by the abruptness of that idea swirling around inside my head, I didn’t blink. A tear didn’t shed. I was not overly amazed by the revelation resting boldly inside my mind. I just kept staring out at the beautiful snowflakes dancing to and fro against the chilled air before they landed onto the cold earth.

There were probably three men in my earlier life in which I might have entertained having children with. But now as I sit writing this I don’t recall having genuine love for those men that would lead me to marry them. Perhaps it was why on that cold morning in New York it snuck in: I will never have children. I cannot recall ever feeling differently about this: I would not raise children without a husband. Most likely because I didn’t grow up with my father always living in the same house in which I grew up, I knew innately I didn’t want that same thing to happen to my daughter or son. While my father didn’t abandon my older sister and me, when a child is raised primarily by only one parent there’s a psychological process–a feeling of being abandoned–that naturally sets in, however subtle. I didn’t want my child to experience that same fate. Unfortunately where I stand at the moment, I have far more regrets than I’d care to admit to. But not having a child has not been one of them. And nor have I felt something missing. By chance I may have felt a degree of lack, but it never went deep enough for me to recognize it as something missing in my life.

As is the case each Mother’s Day, I honor every female relative and friend who has had to raise a child. Over the course of my life, there might have been something deep down in my gut that nudged me every once in a while: you are not fit to raise a child. And I say this only because I understand fully the sacrifices that must be made in order to be a good parent. But more importantly what it takes to be a good mother. I am aware of the difficulty that comes with raising a child. I understand the worry, the compromises. And then there’s the growing up and growing away that a mother must live through, and what emotions she begins to feel when she recognizes for the first time that her child no longer needs to hold her hand. Sometimes there’s emptiness; sometimes a jubilant “Thank the Lord” feeling. But undoubtedly she is greatly transformed. I got it rather early on in the way some of my friends didn’t: having a child is a game-changer. It is the biggest, most important thing a woman will ever, ever do! No matter what career she embarks on; no matter how much suffering she undergoes in her own personal pain, struggle, sorrow, this–raising a child–is her biggest Moment in life.

Here’s to all the mothers of every age and color and religious affiliation: to the frightened mothers; the mothers who failed to forgive; the mothers who have shed quite a few tears; to the mothers that feel as if time has mysteriously slipped away while they were raising a child and/or children; the mothers who feel guilty; the mothers who tried as hard as they could but believed that they failed; the mothers who sacrificed so much and yet feel the sacrifice was in vain; to the women who endured agony and pain in order to birth a miracle, so that their daughters would have the opportunity to pay it forward. Here’s to you!

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When the librarian said shhhhh!

When were kids, my sister and I would go to the library to check out books. Sometimes we walked from school to the library and waited until our mother was off work. Early on, we learned the Dewey Decimal System, but I’m not sure that we went there solely for a learning experience. Likewise, I don’t recall how often we’d go. But we went regularly enough for me to remember vividly our trips to the public library. I loved going to the library. I became a reader rather early in life, and trips to the library opened up my then limited world. I know a number of people who don’t possess a library card, and probably can’t recall when they last went to a library. They read books on their Kindles or whatever, and if they want DVDs they download or rent from Redbox. They have access to the Internet through various forms so they have no need to take advantage of the library’s free Wi-Fi or Internet. But every city I’ve ever lived in—from the San Francisco Bay Area to Paris—I’ve had a library card.

I recall, while living in Seattle, walking through the old main library downtown. (Seattle’s Central library was rebuilt and opened in 2004. It’s worth a trip if you’re ever in the city.) I’d see people signing up on a sheet (it’s now done by computer, of course) to get on the Internet. It was the late 1990s or early 2000s; I can’t quite recall for certain. I was struck—I was impressed—that the library was moving in this direction and that our world was becoming increasingly smaller—or supposedly more connected—because of the World Wide Web.

I’m a Baby Boomer who is not on Facebook and Instagram. Save for a few, Boomers I know reach for their handheld to check social media throughout the day. Nearly every person on the planet reaches for their smartphone or iPhone to check texts, or e-mail. Sometimes we don’t need an alert; it’s a reflex that we reach for our devices like we do bottled water. Our fixation urges us to peep–it’s the FOMO. Picking up our devices has become routine, like brushing teeth.

Recently I met a friend for coffee and while we were sitting at the table talking she unconsciously reached for her iPhone to check to see if something, however trivial, was happening she was not privy to. For years I’ve considered this rude. (Actually, I still do!) But I’ve now reconciled that how I feel about it won’t change it. I have to accept it in the way I accept rude strangers. Moreover, this is where so many are mindset-wise whether it’s social pressure, the cultural shift, or something that balances out the oftentimes mundane-ness of daily life. My being opposed to the way in which it’s used does nothing but isolate me from those I associate with. I don’t have to engage, but it has become clear to me that because I don’t social network I find myself not communicating with others as often as I once did.

I’m not making an argument here about whether the Internet is a good or bad thing. It’s about the library! Hence, here’s my point: I was in the library doing some research and there was a young woman seated next to me at a row of computers. She was laughing very loud at whatever amused her on the computer screen; at times she even snorted she was laughing so hard. For several minutes this was not what I’d call a distraction, but then she began to RLOL, and I mean really laugh out loud! I dare not tell someone in the library how to conduct themselves; I leave that to library personnel.

The Internet being accessible at the public library is a very good thing. Yet, what comes with online accessibility is a certain kind of behavior. We have lost our sense of knowing when we are in a public place. This doesn’t apply to the homeless and the downtrodden using the library as a means to have somewhere to go during the day. In some cases these are emotionally unstable people. But culturally we have lost our sense of knowing we’ve crossed the line. We’ve lost our sense of basic common courtesy. We have no sense of personal space. We have no sense of awareness. We are mindless. When I was a child, and prior to the Internet being available in the public library, the library was quiet, almost too solemn. This can be exactly why a lot of people I know don’t spend time in the library: They think boring, and assume dead people are buried in them (i.e., gravesite). But the Internet produced a lot more public library “patrons.” People that would not otherwise go to the library now have library cards. And it most likely has nothing to do with the library’s endless books on every subject known to mankind, or other various reading materials for that matter. It’s simply to have access to the Internet, and to check out DVDs or CDs.

More often than not, when someone is seated next to me in the library I can hear the music they’re listening to from their earphones–the music is generally tuned way up. It’s rare, but a few times I’ve witnessed a library worker tap someone’s shoulder and ask that they lower their volume. They seem clueless why they have to turn down their music. But like the young woman I sat next to who laughed with such verve, the Internet invites a new generation to experience the library in a whole new way. They get lost in whatever they are engaged in; so much so, they aren’t aware of their surroundings. Actually, today’s library has become no more than a Starbucks sans the espresso.

When we were kids, if my sister and me laughed or snickered at our table just a bit too loudly in our neighborhood library, the librarian would come to our table and tell us to “be quiet” or we got the rather harsh, “Shhhhh,” followed by a judgmental stare.

Frankly, I kind of miss Shhhhh?

Be impeccable with your word

Some years back I read the book, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. Because it was a popular book it made its way into the American consciousness. Lots of people I either knew or had casual conversations with would refer to one of the Agreements; at least back in the late 1990s. The first of the Four Agreements is to “be impeccable with your word.” Simply, this Agreement urges us to recognize that our words have power, and thus we should use them with “truth and love.” Back when the book was on the best seller list and I was very familiar with each Agreement, I found myself consciously attempting to honor each one. I was good for a while; I was conscientious about being a sincere work in progress. But eventually, I must say, in time I reverted back to typical, and even negative, behavior. No one was quoting from the book anymore, or sharing what Agreement they were struggling with. The concept was no longer relevant. Something else snatched our attention away from awareness. Timing wise, I’d say it was the Internet. Slowly but surely we went from sharing too much information to sharing too much of ourselves.

I never arrive first, and worse never arrive on time. But I was waiting for someone I was to meet at a café in Mid-City. The entrance was pretty packed. The holidays were finally over and the Yuletide carols season was a vague memory. It’s amazing how quickly that happens, as if the holiday had never even arrived. It’s now a few days before Martin Luther King Day. Swift, time is. Several young women and a male were standing nearby. Eventually I became aware of their gossiping about a famous person. Full disclosure: this entertainer—and the person’s name has no real meaning to this story—is not someone I am particularly fond of, and reasons are beside the point. As the gossiping ensued, I found myself engaged in their judgments of this actress, and chuckled to myself at some of the things they were saying about her. At some point I slipped my book in my bag because their lively conversation was a distraction. Before long I realized that I was actually behaving as badly as they were. I might not have been “badmouthing” the actress; still, I was amused and got caught up in their judgments and sometimes harsh comments about her by merely listening and nodding, and thinking, that’s so true! I took notice how they dressed (skinny jeans, booties, and the tops and sweaters that typically hang on racks at stores like Forever 21; the young man clad in the L.A style for men his age). They were late 20s, early 30s, maybe. At some point I began to feel uncomfortable. Some of their comments were hateful. Someone in the group said something about an interview on a program the previous evening, and she said, “I’m going to tweet about it,” and proceeded to tweet from her iPhone. Her friends mimicked the idea. They each fired off tweets and laughed accordingly when they were posted on the Twitter website. This began to get petty. Ugly. Evil. Mean. Unkind.

I moved away from the area where they were standing, because I was not proud of myself at that moment; that I was getting caught up in their judgments of this young woman. While my intentions were not to go as far as I had, I did get caught up nonetheless. I laughed in areas that I thought were funny and even nodded when I was in agreement about negative remarks that were made about the actress’s hair, her looks, her shape. The First Agreement is about making every effort not to engage in speaking unfavorably about another human being, and likewise yourself. (Hmmm, Twitter would be out of business.) But I failed to recall–I failed to learn to use–that principle. Whatever I did learn was superficial. Looking closer at that experience in the café, I sincerely believe now it’s because in reality when I was trying really hard to adapt to the Agreements, it was under false pretense. Of course at the time I read the book I thought I was very committed to living my life based on non-judgment; to not personalized things people say or do; to not assume by understanding that each person’s perception is based upon where they are on their particular journey; to do my best with who I am and where I am at any given time in my life. But what I learned that afternoon was that, despite the work I’d done all those years ago, I had reverted back to behavior I would find unfavorable in someone else. I didn’t slip or forget. While I adopted those Agreements because I truly believed in them, I also trust now, many years later, that the book was such a huge success and that might have been in part why I tried really hard to live by the Agreements. It was a cultural experience, let’s say.

Dr. Phil has this saying, ‘You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.’ Now that I am aware of this, I have challenged myself to start all over again, beginning with the First Agreement, and to revisit the book. I shouldn’t have to tell someone I am impeccable with my word. It should be demonstrated by how I speak of myself and how I speak of others.

I intend to . . .

Here we go again. This is the end of the line. Our 14th year into the New Millennium has briskly come to pass. So often at this time of year I have made commitments to do better, to be better, to act better, to give better, to just damn change! I cannot count the number of “I intent tos” that I’ve started my new year off with. As I sit before a floor-to-ceiling window and gaze at the rain falling down over Los Angeles, I have attempted to reflect on my year and to be open-minded in determining exactly what I accomplished. I had to remind myself that a few years ago I decided that my list of “intend tos” for the new year was impossible even if I mindfully made an effort to carry them out in the span of 365 days–so much of our lives is a work in progress. Here are some of my “intend tos” over the past five years: to become more environmentally aware, to give more to charity, to donate more time on things of substance and less on things that have no genuine value, to be kinder to myself and even kinder to others, to deal with others knowing that they have a story, to be truly grateful for the life I have, to LOL even more than I already do, to stop trying to make sense of the Universe, to trust myself more, to have more faith, to touch the soil of places I’ve never seen before, to talk less and listen more, to reach out more often, to stay in touch with the people who matter, to open my heart just an inch more, to scratch something off my bucket list, to live more authentically this year than in previous years, to get closer to family, not to make assumptions that I still know my friends, to write a new book, to start a blog, to study the Bhagavad Gita, to stop procrastinating, to live deeper, to study something new, to fall in love (uh, that’s not all on me), to stop regretting, to not feel fickle or uncommitted when I change my mind, to be consistent, to not be complacent, to know that I matter, to cut down on the complaining, to come to terms with the knowledge that there will always be unanswered questions and experiences I will never have, to judge less, be more tolerant, be more humble, to follow my truest nature, to embrace aging, to challenge myself more, to be open to new possibilities, to become more aware, to honor the unknown, to intensify my compassion, to risk even more, to be less trivial, to “let go” sooner rather than later, to personalize less, to make this the year, to lean into my destiny and not to be suspicious of it, to assert myself more and not feel like it’s intrusive, eat healthier, respect the earth, trust the process, move toward what I choose to do, to evolve beyond my comfort zone, to live my deepest potential, to connect with my life’s purpose, to look in the mirror buck-naked and say to the reflection “Damn, you’re beautiful”, not to be so hard on myself, claim my victories, be proud of whatever positive energy I put out into the Universe, care less about not being good enough, redefining “good enough”, to make a difference, study a religion, refresh my French, to return to the flute, to not preoccupy myself with not having attained my goals on my timeline, strengthen my discernment, expand my generosity, quit with the insecurity, to not take good health for granted, trust that the Universe will always provide and that God doesn’t play dice, finalize unfinished emotional business, to meet “The One”, to be here now, to be a light unto myself.

Sensitive skin

One early evening, in July 1999,  I listened to messages on my answering machine. My sister, Brenda, left me a message in a nearly sobbing voice. She was upset, saying, “They can’t find the plane. He’s dead, I know it. Bonita, they can’t find the plane!” And then there was a dial tone. I called her straight away. The pressing thought that went through my mind was that a relative was flying somewhere and the plane just vanished into thin air.

When she answered the telephone, Brenda obviously knew it was me; perhaps because of caller I.D. She greeted me with, “Bonita, he’s dead, I know it!” And she was genuinely upset.

I said, “Who?” with panic in my voice.

“John-John,” she said. “They can’t find his plane on Martha’s Vineyard!” She then proceeded to tell me that John Kennedy Jr, his wife, Carolyn, and sister-in-law, Lauren, had flown from New York to Martha’s Vineyard to attend a family wedding. John–and Brenda often referred to JFK, Jr. as John-John–was flying the plane. She couldn’t believe I knew nothing about it; that I hadn’t heard the news. And when it was eventually confirmed, Brenda experienced–and grieved–his death as though “John-John” was a dear, dear friend. Just as she’d done with Princess Diana in July two years before.

No one I know well personalized life in the way my sister did. She took to heart nearly everything she experienced. The rhythm of her life was at times heavy and somber. Today, should she have lived through the aftereffects of cancer treatments, she would be 60! Beautiful, funny, a fashionista, crazy as heck, too loud sometimes, angry about a lot of things; a friend, a sister and a mother. Looking back now, Brenda was a marvel. A few days ago I was browsing through Papyrus for a few holiday cards. I came upon birthday cards and paused to read a few. My eyes watering, my smile solemn, I held the one I’d have chosen for her should the Universe have allowed it to work in her favor and let her reach 60 years old. A day does not go by when I don’t think of my big sister. Something we laughed so hard about it made us cry; the so-so silly stuff we did growing up; ridiculous and petty arguments we’d had; the often trivial things she complained about–so many things have crossed my mind. But it was on her birthday that, as I reflected on my sister, I remembered how upset she was when she learned of the news about JFK, Jr. Brenda had incredibly sensitive skin, and her emotions could go as deep as bone marrow.  Strikingly, as well as paradoxically, the one thing that often annoyed me about her is the thing I find fascinating about her today. She lived a lot deeper than most I know. In that way she lived a life richer and fuller than I at first believed, or assumed because she used all of her senses–a lot!

I can see her in my mind’s eye rolling her eyes at the idea of my saying all of this, and followed by her notorious, anyway . . .

Something bigger than yourself

It was not by choice to join Twitter. Because I have a book being published in 2015, my contract indicates that I use at least one social media Web site in order to promote my book. Thus, I joined Twitter. I was flattered that someone wanted to follow me; someone I didn’t even know. I didn’t join Twitter to keep up, to get involved in chatter about this thing or that, or to keep tabs on people. I especially didn’t want to read tweets that consisted of judging and strong opinions. I never wanted to engage in the noise. I joined because of contractual obligations. Plain and simple. So then I needed to decide who I would follow. I wasn’t going to be the 2-billionth follower of a famous person. I’m not sure how that serves me. I think the famous get more than enough attention, and for what reason they use Twitter would not necessarily interest me. But I knew that I needed to start somewhere. Two people—and in the public eye—I admire and like are Marianne Williamson and T.D. Jakes. Marianne is the best-selling author of A Return to Love, and a lecturer. And T.D. Jakes is, well, Bishop T.D. Jakes.

So most likely my first Twitter follower followed me because Williams and Jakes are high-profile spiritual leaders. My first Twitter follower doesn’t tweet in a gossiping fashion or pontificate about whatever the ongoing political or social news is that otherwise dominates Twitter on any given day. She doesn’t share her personal life or give details about her shopping sprees. Her tweets, which tend to be at least a dozen or more each day, are about her love for Jesus. My first Twitter follower is devoted to her religion, and every tweet promotes Jesus, or shares her thoughts and love for Jesus. However, on occasion she adds photographs of herself: in Paris, at her new office on a studio lot, close-ups of her face like she’s posing for a photo shoot to advertise lipstick or hair products, a few times of her just as she’s getting out of bed (but she does a selfie under the sheets so not to wake her husband), she stepping out of a limo, her husband in the background—they have grand smiles on their faces as if they are blissfully happy. And sometimes she just says straight up: I LOVE JESUS as many times as she can in 140 characters.

In time I found myself curious of her agenda. There was something sincere about her tweets in relation to her love for “Jesus.” Still, the personal collage of photographs she often posts made me step back with, Hmmm.

And speaking of T.D. Jakes. Recently I heard one of his sermons on YouTube, and the sermon made me think of my first Twitter follower. In his sermon, Bishop Jakes refers to “something bigger than yourself.” Full disclosure: I have doubts about “something bigger than myself” and yet I still believe in “something bigger than myself.” I just struggle with the how that Bigger works in my life and in the world. But as Bishop Jakes’ sermon grew more passionate and deep, I kind of started thinking about my first Twitter follower and how much she promotes “Jesus” and her love for Jesus through her tweets. And I juxtaposed those seemingly sincere tweets with the photos she displays and started trying to connect the photos with the under 140 characters she sends out each time she tweets about Jesus. There’s ambiguity to her Twitter page. On the one hand she’s (definitely) about Jesus; her tweets are all about Jesus and her love for Jesus. And yet on the other, her personal photos display trips to Paris and getting out of a limo and showing her followers her new office at a film studio, and selfies. And I began to think a little differently about my first Twitter follower and the message she’s sending to those that follow her. Does her love for Jesus mean that she isn’t narcissistic? Most of those on Twitter upload photos of themselves. Yet if you are selling Jesus I’m not sure a photograph of the Eiffel Tower in the background while you smile gleefully at the camera or uploading a first-thing-in-the-morning selfie has anything to do with your love for Jesus? I’m not saying my first Twitter follower is not about something bigger than herself, but I question—at least on Twitter—who is she trying to sell?

Taking stuff for granted

Although it is never my intention, I have come to recognize that I take stuff for granted. We all do in some way or other. It is so natural to assume we will always be here or that we will always have what we have. Even when we lose something of value or someone we love deeply, in time we manage our lives with those losses and resume our lack of mindfully being grateful for whatever we have or have achieved. We have forgotten when, or are too distracted, to engage with someone present enough to smile as we pass them, or a kind and thoughtful hello from a stranger who sees us. Have we lost the ability to live without having an agenda?

Every year about this time we go about telling ourselves we are grateful or thankful, and I am not sure of the distinction, although I do believe there is one, however subtle. Why do we need one day of the year to remind ourselves how blessed we are, or that we have much to be grate—thankful for? Should it not be something we naturally sense in our daily lives? A morning or evening prayer does not cut it. There are times when that can be perfunctory because habits are oftentimes done without being fully present. Even prayer. We should make some effort each day to reach out to be kinder, more in the moment. Life should not be rushed; it should be savored. If we are too busy or too caught up, we cannot naturally participate in this kind of exchange. We lose the essence of being in the moment when we over-engage in social networking. It is compulsive; it can be a distraction. We need to be reflective sometimes, not always reactive. So many of us are losing our ability to hear or listen because we are not paying attention to the sound of words; human interaction is natural. It is not enough to text or keep tabs on Facebook. While it has become a very convenient way to maintain connections, both with those we know and those we would never have known otherwise, something poignant gets lost inside the public display of connecting.

I began by saying that I have come to recognize my shortcoming of taking things for granted. In a conversation with someone earlier today, whom I had not spoken with in several years, we shared this conversation which gave birth to this post. Our passionate debate went back and forth about the whole idea of taking, or not taking, things for granted. We had different ideas about this, yet we both agreed that the commercialization of Thanksgiving makes being grate—thankful superficial; to a degree. At the very least, it is a one-day event, preceding Black Friday, which often ends with college football, overeating, and less about gratitude. I am not suggesting that taking stuff for granted is a deliberate thing. It is simply how we process our way through life.