Tag Archives: Friends

Ushering Ants

The other day I came up the hall to find a line of ants marching at eye-level on the wall in the foyer. As there is neither food nor water in the foyer, I found this interesting. They came in under the front door, crawled up the closet, moseyed around the corner to some shelves, turned around and left. This went on for a day or two – with me cautioning my family to “Watch out for the ants! Don’t lean on the wall, you might squash one!” This was met with the usual “Uh huh.”

One night as I came up the hall, I stopped and watched their journey. Something about the procession was soothing – the way the ones coming greeted those who were leaving. My husband walked up behind me and muttered, “Would you like me to get you an ant farm? Then you can watch them all the time – and they won’t be loose – in our house.”

It didn’t bother me that the ants were loose, because I knew they’d do what ants always do – leave. There was no reason to be alarmed or kill them – and it was certainly not an infestation. It was only about 20 of the wee fellows – coming and going.

For those of you who know me, the fact I allowed the ants to come and go as they pleased will not surprise you. For those who don’t know me, I’ll explain. I’m vegetarian. I kill nothing. I’m kind and compassionate to everything — even people who hurt me and (as I’m told) “don’t deserve kindness or compassion… or your friendship – because they’re playing games with you, they’re cowardly, and they’re an asshole.” 

Today I woke to find 3 ants aimlessly wandering the kitchen tiles. These I had to usher out. Not for my sake, mind you, but theirs. That’s a dangerous place to wander – a lot more risk of being smashed than when they’re eye-level on a wall. I didn’t want that on my conscience. I put each of them outside to join a line of ants marching by my rose and wisteria bushes. There was much antennae-waving before they got in line and crawled up the branches with the rest of their cohorts. It made me smile, that welcoming back into the fold – like old friends reuniting.

I often find beauty and smiles in places others don’t. But lately I’ve not seen a lot of beauty or smiles. And lately I’m the ant wandering out in the open on the kitchen tiles – exposed, vulnerable – with people and forces coming along trying to smash me. The past few weeks have been especially hard. The day after my return from a glorious birthday trip to NYC, we unexpectedly lost a family member. It was devastating – and it fell to me to tell my children and husband. The grief overwhelmed. To add to this, the following week, I had to put our beloved dog down. She had been part of our family since 1997. This was all so much death – so much grief, in so short a time. I needed to unplug and get away from people – especially those who didn’t have my best interests at heart. I needed to talk to real friends – old friends – the ones who’d always be with me, no matter what. These friends hurt when I hurt – and I’m hurting now. They’ve been kind enough to get behind me, trying to usher me on, and when I rise slowly to the surface again, I know I’ll be greeted with much antennae-waving by them. I’m blessed.

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Stumbling, Fumbling Towards Perspective

I’ll let you in on a little secret; I don’t always like being right.

There are moments when I relish it, of course. Those tend to be when The Husband and I have had a discussion about something, and the following day I bring it up and he doesn’t remember ever having spoken to me about it. Whereas I can sit there and tell  him in no uncertain terms where we were standing, who was wearing what, what commercial was blaring in the background, and even what direction the goldfish were swimming, he will not recall the conversation. He’ll stare vacantly and shake his head. As I start to squawk and gesticulate wildly, all pretense of patience flying the coop, he’ll remain mild-mannered and somewhat curious about the floor show I’m putting on. When he eventually relents (out of a desire for peace, not a sudden flash of memory), I count it as a little victory. Go me.

But I digress. The times where I wish I hadn’t been right, those are onerous little buggers. I don’t relish those moments. I don’t toss them into my mental Rolodex of woohoos! They are the sad sighs, the hunched shoulders, the rapid texts to friends – in other words, signs of the forlorn. They are more painful – and vexatious to the extreme. I’m a pessimist, I know this will come as a stunning blow to those of you who have never read more than a few lines of my writing, or who have never met me in person… I have always been a pessimist, and, one day, I will die still having been a pessimist. The glass is half empty, and it’s fucking ugly, too.

Again, I digress. A few months back, as I do, I predicted a couple things would happen. I wasn’t looking forward to these events – they weren’t celebratory, like the “epic collapse” of the Red Sox this year. No, I just felt they were inevitable, and, in my Eeyore-esque fashion, predicted their dismal arrival. One of the issues was part of a cycle, a cycle I had continuously fed into. It’s one of my many flaws, feeding into cycles. In January of 2009, I put a stop to feeding into one. I have not relented. I’m quite proud of myself (quick, make a note that I said that). I won’t lie. It hasn’t been easy. Many times I have longed to continue the binge feeding of that particular cycle – but enough was enough.

This time, the same is true. I’ve reached a saturation point. This will not continue. I have sought and found perspective. I know, that sounds so lofty, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t an easy find, mind you. Nothing with me ever is. It was rather a clumsy meandering.  I sort of tripped and landed painfully on top of perspective. But that bitch is mine now. At least this cycle stops here.

The other issue? That’ll take work. I’m great at work though. I like having that purpose, that thing to strive towards. A goal, as enticing as a box of Godiva truffles after a month-long diet. It’s a renewed sense of me and my capabilities.

In the end, being emotionally and mentally cruel to yourself is counterproductive for the whole growing and learning thing which constitutes our lives. Yes, yes, yes, I’ve heard. It’s also cruelty if you allow others to dump their problems on you. You’ve got to stop it. It’s not about who said what, or who did what. It’s about how much more you’re going to take before you’ve reached your saturation point. It’s about cutting the bullshit out of your life – and the bullshitters. Huddle and cuddle with those who’ll help you burrow into your soul. Those who’ll tolerate your silly little ways and love you just the way you are. Ditch the haters. Wish them luck and then back the fuck away from them. We’re all on a little march towards enlightenment. I’ve decided I’m only going to march with those who don’t give me flat tires along the way.

Forever Friends

Years ago, when my friend was still alive and on a Left Ventricular Assist Device, a study came out saying women need to have regular time with their friends. That it’s healthier for them. This is nothing against spending time with their significant other, just that they need their friends. To laugh with. To share with. The study showed that women who regularly spent time with their friends had lower blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol. Therefore, she and I needed to go out more often!

After her 2nd big stroke, when she was learning things all over again, I would go to her house and bring DVDs. It didn’t count as “going out” anymore but it was still girl time and, it mattered. Her husband knew it did. He’d bring us food and beer and then he’d wander off to care for the kids while we sat, giggled, and yammered about how horrible the movie was. I have a book she gave me a few years earlier of quotes of friendship. We’d been friends since 10th grade. On the opening page she wrote, “For my forever friend. Thank you.” Four years on I’d be the only one in the room as they unplugged her life support.

Women are emotional creatures. I tell that to my sons all the time. This is usually after I’ve burst into tears about something they consider so slight that they’re now staring at me as if I’ve gone mad. Women need other women if just to have them tell us, “That’s what I do!” Our friendships mean much more than just someone to go shopping with. For many of us, your friends were there with you through grade school (think roller skates, clip-on bears, and Dittos for you aging ladies like me), middle school (wooden clogs!), high school (Madonna…), and college (finally getting to drink – legally!). Your friendships last from school crushes to divorces. Your friends are your friends, no matter what. No matter how much she hates your significant other, she’ll still be your friend, and she’ll be there to help you put your life back together again when your relationships, finances, or physical health crumbles.

Time with your friends gets more precious as you get older. You get married, you have kids, you move away. But one things remains the same, your friends are there for you. Whether via text, telephone, email, Skype! They’re there. No matter how crappy things are. Women need other women to socialize with – particularly during times of stress. According to the study (seen here ), our brains react to stress differently than our male counterparts. “It seems that when the hormone oxytocin is release as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone—which men produce in high levels when they’re under stress—seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.

So, pick up that phone and schedule some time with your friends this weekend. Tell your significant other it’s for your own health. If they don’t like it, have them drop me a line…

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” ~ Aristotle

The Clock Stands Still

It was just a little slip of paper – something inserted in a baby shower gift. A note. A poem. The top had a pretty bouquet on it. She had written it, I’m sure, on the spur of the moment and had no real thought that I’d keep it forever in his baby book. She certainly could never know that one day I would use it to eulogize her.

I stood before a packed church, straight as a rail, with a powerful voice and no quavering knees and spoke of my friend. I did so without crying. At the end I read her poem – the one she’d meant as a welcome for my baby born fourteen years earlier.

Isn’t it funny how we keep little things that, after we lose someone, become so important? They’re like nuggets of gold in the stream of our lives. We catch a glimpse of them – these gifts – sitting on bookshelves, mantels, or hanging in our closets, and all of a sudden they take on new meaning. They’re gone. The person who shared such times with us is gone and we’re left with these tokens of a life spent together.

On my mantel is a clock that stopped working years ago. I keep it because on the back, written in permanent marker, my friend wrote, “Friends for all of time.” She is gone but the clock stays. I’m sure that’s just a sign I’m far too sentimental (and disorganized!) for my own good. I like the clock. I don’t mind time standing still. If it had, my boy wouldn’t have moved away to college and he’d still be here – trashing the kitchen with his midnight meals. But time doesn’t stand still. It marches on and drags down our jowls until soon our necks resemble turkeys’.

I have a collection of rocks. They began as a gift from my friend Andy. He sent one as a Christmas gift in 1998 and one shortly after. They’re the largest in my collection – more like bricks – and they’re also the most valuable to me.

I have a drawing of an olive from 10th grade typing class. It was drawn by my friend Millicent. She knows I still have it. It’s in a photo album. I have no idea why I kept it. I mean, sure, I like olives, but why I’d have kept that over the masses of horse and shark drawings she’d done since 5th grade, I have no clue. To me, that olive means the world.

I have nearly all my boys’ drawings. Really. I used to have a wall covered entirely from floor to ceiling. They were taped together like wall paper. It was glorious. The drawings are precious.

I have shiny decorative objects and jewelry from Marcia. They glitter and remind me I’ve friends who think I’m sparkly.

I have a lifetime of gifts from my family, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what life’s all about – giving? Your time, your effort, a smile. They end up being memories for those you leave behind. Priceless.

Real Friends are the Wheat in Life

I was talking with a dear friend the other day. We were discussing stress and health and friendships. When an individual is experiencing persistent stress, or a traumatic event, you can tell a lot about their friends by how they act and react. Stress separates the wheat from the chaff (in friendships). Not all “friends” are created equal.

My friends know I’ve spent far too much of my life visiting loved ones in hospitals and at the doctors’.  My closest friends could probably recite each incident! I got an early start in life having to cope with these visits. Through all of them, I’ve had a core group of friends that held me up while I watched others suffer. My close friends are not the type that say, “Oh, I’m so sorry” and wander off. They’re not the “It’ll be OK” type. My closest friends are the ones that call and offer the sun, the moon, and the stars – or an evening out! That behavior, to me, defines friendship.

I realize everyone is different, and some people are uncomfortable with doctors and hospitals. I also realize some people just don’t know how to act and react when someone they’re friends with gets bad news or is ill. I, unfortunately, know how to react in these situations. It’s been drilled into me from encounters with loved ones with heart problems, strokes, and cancer. I’m not going to say it came easily, but it came.

A lot of times people are uncomfortable dealing with friends in these situations so they give a weak, “I’m so sorry. Let me know if there’s anything I can do” and then they totter off, grateful it isn’t happening to them. “What if I say the wrong thing?” they ask in an attempt to make themselves feel better for putting space between them and their friend’s struggles. Look, unless you’re suddenly going to lose complete control of your senses and begin babbling like an idiot, you’re not going to “say the wrong thing.” Tears and shows of emotion aren’t “the wrong thing.” It shows your friends/loved ones that you care and are concerned. That their pain weighs heavily on you. At the end of the day, remember, this isn’t about you. It’s about your friend and what you can do to offer support.

In writing this blog, I went on Cancer.Net and checked out their suggestions for supporting a friend who has cancer. It gave great advice that can be applied to any major health trauma. It was as follows:

  • Give your friend space, but offer to visit whenever he or she would like.

  • Make flexible plans that can be easily changed, in case something comes up or your friend needs to cancel.

  • Make plans for the future—this gives your friend something to look forward to.

  • Be humorous and fun when appropriate and when needed.

  • Allow for sadness—do not ignore uncomfortable topics or feelings.

  • Make time for a weekly check-in phone call. Let your friend know when you will be calling, and let your friend know that it is okay to not answer the phone.

  • When you make a commitment to help, follow through. For example, if you offer to bring a meal over on Sunday, try your best not to forget (post reminders for yourself in an appropriate spot).

  • Try not to let your friend’s condition get in the way of your friendship. Treat him or her the same way you always have.

  • Ask about interests, hobbies, and other topics not related to cancer—people going through treatment sometimes need a break from talking about cancer.

  • If you aren’t sure how to help, ask.

What to say

Here are some simple guidelines to use when talking with your friend.

Avoid saying

I know just how you feel.

You need to talk.

I know just what you should do.

I feel helpless.

I don’t know how you manage.

I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Don’t worry.

How much time do the doctors give you?

Let me know what I can do (instead, offer specific ways in which you can help and things you can provide, should they need to call on you).

Do say

I’m sorry this has happened to you.

If you ever feel like talking, I am here to listen.

What are you thinking of doing, and how can I help?

I care about you.

Just remember, the key point isn’t to make yourself feel better, it’s to be there for your friend – to provide comfort and support. Real friends are there for each other, no matter what. Real friends are the ones that pick up your kids from school, bring you over dinner when you’re too ill to make it yourself, and take you out for a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on. Real friends are the wheat in life. The chaff you can do without.

And So I Gave In

I “should” blog. “Do it!” I was urged. I’m not entirely certain what these kindhearted individuals expected from me. I already Tweet so much, a certain Scotsman decided he needed to unfollow me. I was “clogging” his feed. Really? “Clogging”? I felt like a lump of hair wedged in a bathroom sink. For days after that, I tried to keep quiet. Really I did. But what can I say? It was the 2009 Major League Baseball playoffs. My New York Yankees were wiping the floor with every contender. Was I supposed to keep that to myself? I had fellow Yankees fans counting on my rants, my diatribes, my ecstasies. I couldn’t let them down. Clog or no clog. And so I continued.

I’m told blogging helps with writing. If it does, it takes me away from the two manuscripts I’ve started that sit like dead weights, bobbing up and down on my hard drive like buoys out at sea. “Ahoy! We’re here! Over here! Hallooo!” Yes, I see you. I know you’re there. But Mommy can’t get to you right now. Mommy is still deeply concerned about manuscript one, the one that’s out in the world, being looked at by a literary agent. You know, the one that took years to write? So sink back down to the depths of my hard drive for a while, would you?

My mind goes to and fro. Maybe today isn’t meant for writing? Today I should paint. Who has a birthday or special occasion coming up? I find it easier working on paintings for other people than for myself. Those I put off, much like the sunken manuscripts, waiting, waiting, waiting. The painting above, “Midas Rescued from the Black Hole” was all about waiting. But we won’t go there.

So, a blog? Really? What will I blog about? Paint drying on the canvas? The two very different (and neglected) manuscripts? The odd assortment of items I find on the carpet in my house? The dull, shark-like eyes given me by my family when I say things like, “Someone who isn’t me will be emptying that dishwasher”? Or, how about the line of ants marching in my son’s bedroom? Where are they coming from? Where are they going? It seems purposeless. It’s like they’re on an ant runway, “Does this grain of sand make my butt look big?”

Well here was my blog. My bloggy blog blog. They cannot say I didn’t follow through.