Lessons Along the Path

Intellectually, we all know our lives have a path along which we must travel.  The length of that path is undetermined, and often we’re not sure where it leads.  There are many inflection points, opportunities to course correct, and fellow travelers to influence and to be influenced by.  Perhaps most profoundly, though, is the thought that we travel these paths without knowing how the journey will end.

Perhaps it comes via our choice of direction, perhaps just by circumstance, or it’s set in motion the day we’re born.  Perhaps it’s that lack of knowledge that allows most of us to continue along our way, blissfully unaware where and when our travel ends, when we become one with time.

The longer I’m on my journey, the more comfortable I am with the idea that it’s short and by necessity the closer I am to its end.  By saying I’m more comfortable I am decidedly not saying that I am comfortable, just moreso.  I get it intellectually and I resolve to do better to reach the end without regrets…but yet I continue to do things and fail to do things that would help me come to a place without regret.

I don’t tell the people I love how I feel nearly enough.  I don’t make the time to connect with the people in my life often enough.  I allow grievances and irritations to get in the way and let myself more fully express negative emotions rather than more fully expressing positive ones.  It becomes so easy to let the time pass instead of doing the work of maintaining those relationships.

Today, I mourn the loss of a colleague and friend.  Some weeks ago she had a cold or the flu that she just couldn’t shake, only to find she had Leukemia. Where only a few months ago, she was watching her young daughter grow up, mourning the loss of a beloved dog, basically living her life, today we’re mourning her passing on.  Never in her wildest imagination did she even for a second consider that  anything other than a particularly virulent strain of the flu was causing it to linger.

I’m of course sad for her family, especially “her little” who will now grow up with only memories of her mom – a truly sad proposition on its face, made even moreso knowing what a wonderful person her mom was  – but I’m sad for my loss of opportunity to check in with her just to say “hi” and “you’re on my mind today.”

I just started to write that it’s almost as if we (I) have become emotionally lazy, making friends and just assuming they’re always there.  There’s no work at all in curating a Facebook feed.  Everyone you meet is now your “friend,” all with the same relative ranking of “friend.”  But it’s not “almost as if.” Lazy is exactly what it is.  I know I have become increasingly lazy about putting in the work of maintaining my friendships and other relationships.  It occurs to me that I’m rarely the one who reaches out at some random point and time to make a call.

So while I’ve become much better at setting goals, it’s now completely clear to me that I’ve neglected to make developing, enhancing, maintaining friendships/relationships a goal.  I’ve not demonstrated to the people in my life that they’re important to me, and thus making it increasingly likely that someone will come to the end of their path with regrets.  If I were to reach my journey’s end today, there wold be plenty of regret to be had.  I’m not willing to let that go unchecked; I have to do better.

Today, Shannon’s family replete with grief sets forth to plan the details of saying goodbye, something just a few short weeks ago would have been unthinkable.  I’m sorry I didn’t make more time to give her a call.  We just don’t know how long or short that path is, yet we pretend it goes as far as the eye can see and allow ourselves to be lazy about the things that matter most.

She made the world a better place, I want to be sure to honor that memory by letting other people know that my world is a better place because they’re a part of it.  This should be a simple goal, but I suspect it’s going to take a lot more work than anything else I’ve set forth to do yet.  Simple is not always easy.  That’s why it’s important to keep working toward it.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 28

Over the last 28 days, I’ve explored 27 different stories, themes, principles and acts I find inspirational.  These things, people, ideas help me want to be a better me.  I would love to report to you, dear reader, that I always succeed in that endeavor, but alas I do not.  Nor, I think, do most people.  There is ALWAYS room to grow and change and be better.  This isn’t an exercise for the young, it’s an exercise for the living.

I’ve endeavored to take what I found to be a Presidential election race devoid of inspiration, and to find some for myself with the hope that by sharing these pieces of daily inspiration I could help influence someone, anyone to grow and change and be better no matter to what degree.  It’s been a remarkably fulfilling journey for me: I’ve spent the last month literally working to see the good in situations, seeking out stories I could discuss, culling life lessons from less than ideal situations.  It forces a shift in perspective.  I’ve learned that there really is plenty of good out there, an amazing amount of inspiration in the every day if only you look and WANT to see it.

Thus, for my last entry in this series, I want to share with you what I consider to be one of the most selfless, life affirming and loving things anyone can do for another person.

Families By Choice: The DiBonas, Servellos, Sheilds’, Shapiros

On Day 12, I shared the idea of Foster Parenting as a support and a hand up for kids who may not have another shot. Kids so disadvantaged they have no idea where they’re going to sleep otherwise, where they’re going to go to school, where they have someone who legitimately cares for them.  It’s a caring and often thankless avocation.

On Day 28, though, I want to share with you the people who take another person into their lives, and make them their own.  Adopting a child, taking another person into your life and home, and binding them to you as a member of your family has to be one of the most amazing, loving things a family can do for another human being.

The adoption journey is a different one for every family that goes through it.  I’m fortunate to have close friends and people I’ve known since I was a child – maybe even grew up together – who have taken this step.  They’re all inspirational people with inspirational stories, so much so I couldn’t just focus on one and felt singling each out on their own day would miss the mark.  They’re inspirational stories not only because they share the ultimate goal of accepting someone into their family, but because they all had to accept their futures weren’t necessarily theirs to decide – they were at the whim of the fates to which they submitted themselves.

Michael and Julie DiBona shared with me that while having a family was something they always wanted – indeed ever since she was a little girl Julie wanted to adopt a child – time just kind of got away from them.  We’ve shared some challenges together, and we’ve shared positives together – that’s kind of what friendship is, I guess – so when they asked me to write a reference letter for their adoption effort, I was humbled that I was chosen to help them in completing their family; even more humbled when I could help notarize their documents at some weird hour as they were preparing their trip across country.

Outside of a couple of minor false alarms, it was a matter of waiting for them.  Then on one random day, a call came.  There was a birth mother that had chosen them…but they had to decide more or less now.  Within 24 hours they had started their plans in motion – kitty care, airline tickets, everything – and were en route to Texas.  With so much that could conceivably go wrong, everything went right.

The birth mom of their beautiful little girl had them in the delivery room, had them cut the umbilical cord, they were the first to hold her.  They had planned for this moment, organized their lives around this moment, and after a frenzied 12-hour dash to the finish line, their story book was ready.

Compare Debbie and Sean Shields’ story.  They tried to build their family through egg donation and through three attempts, and they made the decision to adopt. Their adoption journey was no less harrowing.  They had their share of failed matches when they got the call, much like Michael and Julie, that they should go to California.

Its there, though, that their stories diverge.  After welcoming and accepting this newborn into their lives, the birth mother changed her mind.  The story is unknown as to how that will work out for that family, one hopes it was ultimately the right decision, although one can only think about the family they know and can only feel the empathy and pain they must have felt on that lonely flight home.

Upon reflection, they came to the decision that upon the expiration of their home study, they would not seek to renew their application.  Yet, fate intervened.  An email the day after they had decided they would no longer hold out hope of a midnight phone call, informed them there had been a baby boy born a day prior and they could be under consideration. Perhaps a bit defeated from previous experience, and some delay between the two of them, they learned from the agency that their profile had been submitted even without their having decided – and the mom had chosen them.

After having come so close an entire continent away, their baby awaited them two hours away on the other side of the state – one of the small north east states.  The birth parents signed the paperwork 72 hours after the baby boy was born – mom had discharged herself from the hospital by the time they arrived. To have Debbie tell it, they had gone to work on Wednesday a couple and on Monday they were a family of 3.

Unlike the surprise call Michael and Julie received, or the heart-wrenching false alarms Debbie and Sean had to experience before their families were complete, Chrissy Shapiro already had a son when she and her husband David married and began their journey to grow their family.  After several miscarriages, and IVF, they welcomed their daughter to their family.  After some consideration, though, it became apparent that their daughter’s life would be enriched by having a sibling closer in age.  David, having been adopted himself, suggested that as an option to further their already blended family.  They chose to adopt internationally and their initial excitement quickly evolved to confusion, sadness and guilt.

Beyond the considerations of choosing a world of children looking for a family, they had more than a few stumbling blocks: In India, they couldn’t adopt because they were both previously divorced; in Columbia we couldn’t adopt because David was 40 .  They were finally left with Ethiopia and Guatamala. At that time, there was concern with children being abducted and put up for adoption in Guatamala, so Ethiopia was the choice by default, but perhaps that was because there was a child for them that needed them more than anyone else in this world.

11-months after their agency meeting, they were matched with a one month old male who was abandoned and wrapped in a yellow and black blanket under a bush. Today their son thrives in their suburban community – consider what life may have had to offer him as an abandoned baby half a world away.

Diana and Sergio Servello had similar but not the same journey; theirs was built on faith.  Before they were married they talked about adopting children – Diana herself was adopted.  They had 3 biological children when they decided the time was right to adopt.  Our other families were seeking babies, infants to join their families.  Diana and Sergio were looking for an older child – specifically they did not want a 2-year old in diapers because their youngest was 12, so they were looking for someone 5-8.  They were rewarded with their two year old in diapers.  Diana tells her family’s story through the lens of faith in God, the God that has given her and Sergio 7 children – biological and adopted – between the ages of 3 and 23 in a large racially blended family.  In so doing, they have affected the lives of their own biological children and the lives of these children they didn’t have to know to love.

Today would have been Michael’s father’s birthday – the man in whose memory he went forward to take on the challenge of fatherhood.

So much influence and inspiration from so many places; and most of all their own families. Different journeys, different circumstances, but the same result.  Children who may have otherwise had few others, if anyone at all, to love them and help them fulfill their potential, have found solid loving families.  Children from across the state, across the country, across the world.  Babies.  Older kids.  The common theme is a desire for family – that connection with and between another person.  Some of the parents here were adopted themselves – giving back to the universe that gave to them.  And so the story of kindness and giving and love continues in their adult families.

Their families have chosen them and given them all the greatest possible gift a person can give another – Love.  In a world where it’s so easy to see the negative and the worst in human nature, where we see families pulled apart and in need, it’s so important to take a step back and see how special family is – so special in fact these families wanted to share it with someone who may not have had one without them.

As it happens, November is adoption month.  Take some time and learn some more about adoption.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 18

Principles of Unitarianism

500px-flaming_chalice-svg1I’m not much a follower of organized religion and I’ve generally stayed away from discussing religious figures over the previous 17 days of inspiration – the world doesn’t need another list of inspiration including Jesus Christ or Mohammad.  What I believe the world does need, though, is to draw inspiration from multiple sources, multiple perspectives, multiple beliefs. Perhaps a little more understanding of each other and a little less posturing.  In disclosure, I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the Unitarian church.  I simply appreciate their teachings.

The UUA does not use dogma nor a specific creed.  Indeed, they’re more interested in the principle of freedom of thought than having these things, but they do use seven principles that are meant to guide their congregations:

  • The Inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The message I read in these principles is to be the best person you can be, whether or not that means being a Unitarian or not.  Consider what the world might look like if more people were interested in a search for meaning and truth than in pushing their truth and meaning on others; where compassion would be the guiding principle instead of righteousness.

In an age where we can be so divided, I am heartened to believe that others seek congregation and justice and am inspired to be more than what I may currently be by virtue of others seeking truths as well – even if they’re not my truths.

My Neighbor Tow Mater

I have a neighbor that reminds me of the Tow Mater character in the movie “Cars.” Now, if computer animated anthropomorphic automobiles aren’t your thing, “Mater” is a well-intentioned, but socially-inept and poorly maintained rusted-out heap of a tow truck. He’s a little simple, not very bright, but loyal to his friends and is always of the best intentions. And that is my neighbor.

Mater has a knack for making mistakes – he wants to follow the rules, but sometimes life gets a little too complicated for him, so he keeps it simple. He just kind of makes his living helping other cars out of their messes as the proprietor of “Tow Mater Towing and Salvage,” and it seems kind of difficult for anyone to stay too angry with him for too long – he’s often misunderstood, even though he’s acting with the best of intentions. He does the best he can with what he’s got.

This is my neighbor. He makes a living doing odd jobs, “landscaping,” and doing residential “clean outs.” He finds some interesting things doing these jobs – often expounding on these finds to anyone who asks him how it’s going for him, and is more likely than not to offer to share his bounty. He will listen when you talk, and will try to make sense and draw connections to his own experiences – even though you may get the sense he doesn’t fully “get” what you’re saying to him. He does his best to make connections, to put people and things together – more often than not, awkwardly, but he cares enough to make those connections.

Here is this genuine, thoughtful man – he’s more than a little “odd,” but he seems to me to be one of the most genuine and caring people I know. He wants more than anything to make people happy – and the funny thing is, this guy always seems happy. He walks down to the bus stop with his daughter every morning and every morning they’re actively engaged in conversation, playing games together. In thinking back, I cannot think of one time he has ever had anything negative to say about any situation or anyone. Everything in his life is an opportunity. He doesn’t have very much, he lives with his mother, and yet he seems perfectly happy in his life. One gets the sense that not a lot of people make time for this man, yet if they did, they might discover a little something.

We have this tendency to get so wrapped up in the pursuit of “life,” whatever that may be – making the sales quota, hitting that ROI, turning a profit; commuting to work, navigating the office politics, getting that email out on time; coordinating sports schedules, food shopping, balancing the check book…”winning.” And after all of that, there’s no time to read a book or enjoyment in that Sunday drive. We don’t make the time to see junior off to the bus stop. Meanwhile, our children grow up without us noticing and “life happens” while we’re too busy making other plans.

“Tow Neighbor” might just have the right perspective on things. EVERYONE can teach you something, even if they don’t know they’re teaching you.

When #Friends Die

Social Media, and Facebook in particular, increases our connections – it more easily invites us into other people’s lives. Historically, we maintain a network of a maximum of some 150-friends, otherwise there are just too many people, names, faces to keep up with. Psychologists have recommended that we don’t maintain more than 354-Facebook friends because of the combination of the effects of our propensity to post only positive things, thereby leading us to unfavorably compare our own lives to those of others.

Life does happen. We can now see into the lives of others more ably than ever before, which is a connection – no doubt. What happens when that connection is severed, not through a falling out or the click of an “unfriend” button, but through death. What should we do with our online connection when one of our “friends,” or worse “in person” friends, passes away?

I’ve struggled a bit with this – I had a friend who knew he was failing, and he took great pains to make sure those connected to him understood that he was comfortable with death. He said what he had to say and he was at peace. When he passed, his family posted notice of his passing and his friends that he had so carefully prepared mourned. But then what? Do I “unfriend” him?

We are so good with beginnings: Facebook posts that you’ve made a new friend, Twitter announces to you when someone has begun following you. We’re not so good with ends: connections are terminated without an acknowledgement. And so it goes, that when a life ends before a connection ends, it is a question left unanswered.

I’ve had a childhood acquaintance pass away suddenly through accident. It was a particularly harrowing situation because while I was connected to him through other friends, I wasn’t connected directly. Many of my friends were able to express their sympathy directly to his wife or on his Facebook wall, but I was not – and perhaps that was best, after all, as I was able to express my condolences for my friends’ loss. It was eerie, though, so pull up his wall and see him smiling yet to know he was no longer with us. A similar feeling came to me upon learning of the passing of another friend’s mother. I know him through online ventures, although not in person – I helped him write his resume. I was looking for information on his mom, and found her wall. To see the things of interest to her, her connections and activity up to her death was a bit unsettling.

Regarding the first friend I discussed, I said my condolences to his family through his wall and said my final words to him…and unfriended his account. It was too much of an emotional investment to see notices posted to his wall, comments of his loved ones expressing their missing him.

We all grieve in different ways. Perhaps had I more of a connection with him, I would have wanted to keep that connection – almost like being able to visit a grave site. I know many of my in person friends have kept their connection to our common childhood friend’s account and stop by on occasion to comment. A blessing and a curse, really. I honestly don’t know what is a healthy response: is it healthier to keep that virtual connection or to let it go? Should loved ones remove the account, or keep it active? Perhaps it is best to be able to say good bye, have that final conversation, and let go. Life isn’t about hanging on to the past, it is about our own individual journey, and when our journey ends it may be best to let the minutiae and detail of it rest with us.