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In Praise of Self Care

It’s here! December, in all its glory: eggnog, sugar plums, peppermints and parties. Will you make the naughty list or the nice? Will you yield to temptation but deliver yourself in January? I’m reminded of a hand towel I saw in a store downtown which read, “Don’t blame the holidays, you were fat in August.” How’s that for encouragement?

Every Christmas I make batches and batches of cookies, usually my favorites, with the idea that I’m giving them as gifts, which I actually do.  As I bake, though, I nibble on the dough and then the warm cookies, which sets my palate into a no filter overdrive, which means now anything goes — cheese straws, gingerbread or maybe even Bailey’s over ice, which is oh so nice. Dinner goes by the wayside and it looks like snacking is the menu until bedtime.

Each year I put exercise clothes on my list, because while I don’t particularly like walking my dog in the cold, I’m convinced I’m going to get out there if I have on new gear — the new me, a veritable page out of Athleta. We promise ourselves loads of things and envision our return to our 20-something bodies, yet we keep right on eating whatever is within reach. And let me assure you, there’s a lot.

Don’t blame the holidays. You were fat in August.

This past October I changed things up. I’d been hearing about the Whole 30 program from several friends who all attested to being noticeably transformed by their month-long  journeys, so I wanted in. Not sure what I was looking for, but I needed a reset from summer travels and eating and drinking too much and moving my son into college. This plan isn’t for everyone and definitely not for those who can’t say au revoir to alcohol, sugar, grains, dairy, gluten and legumes for four (yes, we’re talking consecutive) weeks. Basically, it’s goodbye to your old life. Everything you typically touch is pretty much on that list, that is, unless you follow this plan.

What I assumed was going to be the biggest concession was actually the easiest. I switched from 2% milk in my coffee to unsweetened almond milk, and it was surprisingly better than tolerable. It just worked. No sacrifice there. Alcohol was a different matter. I hadn’t realized how often I’d included that glass of wine or two while I was cooking, catching up with friends on weekends or always accepting the glass my husband poured me at night after dinner. I needed a stand-in and craving mojitos, I muddled mint into club soda squeezing in lots of lime. This worked at home and out in bars, which still had mint on hand from summer drink menus. Out, I fit right in, “cocktail” in hand.

I discovered the secret was feeling full, and the less deprived I felt, the better. Potatoes were allowed on the plan, and I used my potato peeler daily. I added onions and red bell pepper and folded them into omelets or alongside sautéed steak and garlic at dinner. Sweet potatoes were good too, and I mostly ate them roasted because to enjoy a baked sweet, you need a generous pat of real butter, off the list this month. Another memorable meal was Brussels sprouts sautéed with crumbled Whole Foods sugar free sausage. I drank loads of water, too, and that filled me up. Handfuls of cashews covered the sugar and fat cravings I had, and over the month I went through an entire Costco jar.

Salads made the menu most days and I got creative adding sunflower seeds, chopped avocado, red onion, and roasted meat or fish. Over and over there were gorgeous meals which I found myself photographing before inhaling. I treated myself to the really good tomatoes from Whole Foods – true stand-ins for homegrown – and haricot vert and organic potatoes from there too. Ghee was my clarified “butter” and along with olive oil, my foods were for the most part lubed. Avocado was great for adding the fat and creaminess I craved, and I had good luck over the month finding them ripe and ready.

I discovered the secret was feeling full.

I rolled along still challenged until the half way point which was the month’s sweet spot. I felt the accomplishment behind me and it seemed all downhill from here. However, coasting into week three found me tired of the rotation of foods with little hope for change. I felt hungry and the fistfuls of cashews weren’t getting it done. I knew what I wanted, something so perfect, so easy, so off my list. I wanted pizza, just a slice, but a really good one. I ignored my cravings and rounded week three, planning what I might eat when I could let myself out of this maze.

You aren’t supposed to weigh yourself during the month and I didn’t. At the end I had lost four pounds, less than I thought, but four pounds is four pounds. The weight came off the hard to lose areas, which for me were my outer thighs. I got narrower over the month and clothes fit differently, which was great. Lying in bed at night I could feel my ribs and trace the outline of my entire rib cage. My stomach was still soft (Pilates is always ready when I am), but it had definitely flattened and as for my digestion, my system was textbook. Every. Single. Day.

When the month ended, I was proud of the work I put into each meal. There had been no packaged foods, no quick grabbing of kettle chips (Non-GMO and all), no standing with the refrigerator door open eating slices of Swiss cheese, no looking for something to fill the void. No buns with my burgers, no yogurt in my smoothies, no corn, no bean burritos. Everyone around me was eating normally and I found I didn’t envy them but preferred my approach — the big salads and gorgeous avocados and omelets and seeds and such. Afterward, I wasn’t particularly overjoyed returning to “regular” eating and never did find that perfect slice. I eased back in slowly but didn’t notice any major food intolerances, though I was more bloated after pasta and legumes than before.

Now December and the holidays are here. I think I’m ready to take on the baking, the eggnog, all of it and come out the other side just fine. The secret will be moderation and adding exercise, proven advice I’m returning to. I couldn’t juggle the Whole 30 and exercise because it’s just too much. I don’t need white bread and sugar but when I do have some, I’m going to be selective and it is going to be good. Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures and this program reinforced that. If you frequently fill your plate with colorful foods that you sliced and roasted and prepared yourself with gorgeous garlic and herbs and seeds, and then sit down and let it nourish your precious body, you might find you feel cared for. Loved even.

Happy holidays.

tomato

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home Again

I am a nester. Every house I’ve lived in, every apartment I’ve rented, each space I’ve occupied is in me still. Moving through them, living and sleeping in them, you can’t help but take on a sense, a flow, an inimitable soul that sticks to you long after you go. It’s a smell, a memory, a repeating loop of sights and sounds. Hardwoods creaking, a daddy long leg in the tub drain, calloused feet walking down a gravel driveway, the orange glow of ceramic heater tiles, getting mail with a key, watching summer rain from a screened porch, I can’t shake these memories, and I wouldn’t want to.

Growing up I treated my room like my apartment and rearranged my twin beds into various configurations, switched out the plants in pots clamped around my standing lamp. Things on the felt bulletin board over my desk could easily come and go which minimized my mom’s don’t put holes in our wallslecture when I’d occasionally want to hang things outside of my supplied rectangle, and then of course move them, too. Eighteen years there started my itch to change up and play with my space and set me on a lifelong course of doing it. I eventually moved away as did my parents who divorced and sold the house. Now a girl from my high school lives there and they’ve changed it to suit their own family. I still want to roam those woods (that have been replaced with a lawn) and look out those windows again and wonder. Even though my parents have long ago passed, these memories stay present.

As a little girl, I remember reading The Little House, a book about a well-loved house perched on a hill with sloped grass and shade trees, and the challenges it faced needing love and care. Its illustrations showed carefree children romping around it amid a colorful changing seasons backdrop, and as it gave its all year after year, each occupant was better for it. It had a soul and you rooted for it as you saw the city began to surround it and disrepair settle in.

randall mill

In summer when we stayed outside late past dark, I’d look up at our own house and get a great sense of security, as if it would be there until the end of time and there was nowhere else that I belonged. The charming tied back curtains’ silhouette in the windows, the zinnias climbing the fence outside and the moon above magically decorated this already warm glowing place. The house was my beacon, wrapping itself around everything I knew and loved.

Leaving a place is weird – you get flooded with memories and the instinct to protect and preserve the space you’ve lived in. I moved from my own little brick house perched on a hill a decade ago, the first home we bought as a couple, yet I vividly remember life there. We knew it had been loved, but a forgotten yard and dowdy avocado trim inside and out said otherwise. Like peeling an onion, we went about undressing it layer by layer, and the kitchen floor alone had five: sheet vinyl, indoor/outdoor carpeting, sheet linoleum, asbestos tiles and the pièce de résistance under it all, hardwoods. Every Sunday we filled the curb with piles of debris which were gone by Monday’s trash pickup. We touched everything, but the moving parts (electrical/plumbing/ hvac) we left to contractors, and we went about undoing shoddy work and restoring the house with our own enthusiastic vision of grace and dignity.

Sixteen years happened in a flash, and as our kids grew and more stuff accumulated, I began to want more elbow room. A big old Victorian house nearby caught my eye. It had good bones and intact details, and so we went for it using equity in our little house to buy the big one. We’ve been loving on it for ten years now in small ways, but it needs more. We’ve hung on to the little house and are now landlords. Every time we list it for rent, I worry that we won’t find a tenant, that we will go months into debt and that we made a terrible mistake. Then out of nowhere someone else inquires, I show the house and things fall into place, those fears tabled until next time.

Each tenant has nudged us in their own way to improve the house, tending to things we overlooked when we were there. And they’ve learned things too: don’t peel a bag of potatoes and think the garbage disposal will cooperate. Don’t install your own home alarm system and think it won’t derail the doorbell we had in place. If you leave the shades down all the time, don’t be surprised if the neighbors wonder. Don’t assume your large SUV will fit in our 8’ driveway and if you do, expect the stone wall to buckle as you back down. Sometimes I glorify the time I spent there and want to move right back and walk into my old life, but I remind myself that home is where I am, and besides it’s fascinating to see others’ vision for life at our house unfold.

So far we’ve had five different tenants. First came the Irishman, G. He had recently split from his wife and our home had a good vibe – the calm he needed after the storm that is divorce. He loved it like we did, and that it was so close to an international farmer’s market. He often entertained, and dinner parties extended his dining table well into the living room. G appreciated the finer things in life. His cappuccino machine was serious, the size of a mini microwave. He turned a small bedroom into his walk-in wardrobe. My boys loved his accent and stories of Ireland when he was a boy there. Unfortunately, G lost his job so couldn’t finish out the year.

Next came S. Also divorced, she had two girls who lived with her part-time and a mom nearby who helped her feather the nest with custom valances and a shower curtain. It was fun to see my son’s former room dressed in pink and white gingham, dollhouses and ballet shoes – with nary a truck in sight! She cooked and entertained too and loved the house, even planting a garden out back. Her boyfriend visited often, and they eventually married. His son slept in my older boy’s room, which now had a tv and cool sports memorabilia on the walls. My boys were envious wishing that’s how their room could have looked, if only I would have allowed a tv. Poor things. After three years, S and her hubby wanted to buy their own house, and so they moved, saying they were sad to leave our house which they’d grown to love.

Next came T with her boyfriend and they quickly signed the lease. Like S and her husband these two were crazy in love and also seemed to enjoy setting up the house together with their two cats, whom I especially liked. It was a cozy haven for them in between going to work, to workout or shopping at the nearby farmer’s market, as our Irish tenant did. They soon became engaged and married several months later. They made the house their own and filled it with family photographs and plants and music. Eventually, they also wanted their own house and found one to buy just a few blocks away.

We found ourselves again on the hunt for a good tenant and had what we thought were serious leads. Some were a “sure” thing, a lawyer who definitely wanted the house and then bailed at the 11thhour – another, a woman who assured us that her ex whom she had mistakenly remarried “shouldn’t be a problem” because she had a court order keeping him away which she “hoped” would be effective. Then an older couple, R and his wife, arrived, tape measures in hand and in love with the place, hoping to be considered if the others didn’t pan out. The others weren’t contenders after all and R and his wife moved in. They loved old houses and ours worked well for them, retired and downsizing. They hired their handyman to pressure wash our driveway (a first!) and garden shed and steps. They brought in their big pie safe and other large dark antiques they’d amassed over the years, and their interior designer arranged their furniture and art. They also loved the nearby market and walkability of our town six miles east of Atlanta. However, nagging health concerns began in their second year and R wanted a walk-in shower and quieter street, so they left for the suburbs.

Once again, I posted the house online and a new renter, P, from western Europe, seemed particularly interested. He took videos of most rooms for his wife who still lived in their city out of town, and they decided after a few weeks that they wanted the place. With two small children and no pets, we had ourselves a deal. Now, it’s lovely inside with their white furniture and European minimalist décor. They’ve already planted a garden and made memories there, decorating for Halloween and now Christmas. Their kids look out the windows and smile and wave when I approach to visit, and they love the house just as we did. Once again, the house is full of new life and energy.

They say you can’t go home again,  but you can invest in the home you’ve got, give it your all and make new memories there. The old ones will come around from time to time, but there are more ahead if you can shift your gaze from behind. The house we gave everything to has returned the favor and become a home for people who are helping to pay our mortgage, allowing us to start over and love on another house. It will be a few years before we can finish everything, but this house, like the others, is ready and willing.

We’re all looking for home. Big or small, lavish or lowly, beyond the obvious protection from the outside, it is so much more. Home seeps into your insides and stays there. There’s no place quite like it.

 

 

Plane View

plane view

I saw Hoda Kotb today in New York about to start her third hour of The Today Show. I waved through the glass and she waved back! It was raining, but her sunny smile lifted me, exactly what I needed after settling my son into his dorm.

The morning before was the big move-in. We were happy, packed the right things (and they fit), the roommates were nice, and his succulents were digging their 14thfloor window. We left him there that morning since he wanted to get a feel for the place and grab lunch with his new buddies, and we drove around to find our own lunch. The morning’s high started to fade, and a strange quiet floated around us as we ate, cloaked in the bizarre enormity of our visit. My stomach was queasy, as if I had a root canal planned that afternoon, bringing the day down a few notches. A margarita offered a slight salve, temporarily tabling the pain.

We went about our day but didn’t hear from Benjamin who was busy with orientation. After the 6pm parent meeting, the three of us walked around outside close to his dorm in case he would want to join us for dinner. We looked up toward his room, craning our necks to find the 14thfloor. We were paparazzi waiting out a Ben sighting. It’s the one with the art leaning in the window, rightDoes anyone remember how low his shades were pulled? We needed a sign. Nothing.

Looking for a restaurant, we kept staring at our phones. Still nothing. I saw an ice cream truck inching along, its sick I took your child and he’s in my creepy van music droning, as if from an old Victrola. That same queasy feeling returned. We settled on pizza, telling the hostess table for three — but it might be four — and she got us a booth.

We walked the eight blocks to our hotel. 10 p.m. and still nothing. He is busy, I told myself, wondering what he did all day. The silence was deafening. I know he’s fine. He’ll move along carried by the stream of this city, lifted by friends and the good energy college brings. Certain he’s eaten, but where? Did he go to the dining hall or outDid I transfer money to his account? My monkey mind stopped long enough for me to sleep.

Up early the next day before anyone, I headed out on a fabulously long walk, ten miles if you count the whole day. After a few hours, I stopped for coffee, wondering how his first night went. Was the bed comfortable, roommates nice, dining hall decent? I thought of Maurice Sendak’s book, Pierre, about the family who came home to find their son missing, eaten by a lion. Where’s Pierre? Forget Pierre, where’s Benjamin? Maybe the city gobbled him up. I wanted to turn it upside down by its legs, give it a good shake and have it cough up Ben. Then we could all exclaim, “Ben was in there!” and  give him a hug and reunite, all happy and grateful.

Where in the world is Ben Greco? Will I get to see him before I leave? I bought him his favorite, Twizzlers, which I kept in my bag with the toiletries he forgot, as if carrying them around would will him to call. Still nothing.

Getting up to leave I checked my phone once more, and voila!, there it was, a shiny new text. He’s up, needs art hooks and two-sided tape, and might be free after his 10am session. A feast for sore eyes, the text lunged me back into our rhythm, our connection, and I felt a new purpose scanning my phone for a store. The packing, road trip, move in and now worry had worn me out, but all the walking smoothed out the rough spots. I reminded myself that while this may be his time, it’s mine too. Time to unlace our fingers, stop hovering, which served me well once upon a time, and park that helicopter. He knows the way home and will return.

It’s well documented that this college drop-off is a big deal for families. Friends tell me we should have a drink together to cry about the children we’ve sent away. Everyone keeps asking how I am, as if they know what’s ahead, seen my labs and feel the sympathy I’m evidently going to need. I’m scared to cry about this; maybe I’ll look like a loser, a wuss or the tears won’t ever stop. Instead, I’ve honed the ability to build up my eye’s tear duct muscles and am expert in holding it all back. I’ve felt it coming a few times but willed it to stop, willed my eyes to dry, shamed them into it even. So far, it’s working.

His roommate’s mom from Staten Island is darling and keeps texting me with news about the guys, hoping they’ll visit her one weekend. A mother hen, she went to IKEA on move-in day to buy furniture to hold their appliances — a microwave, toaster oven, even a rice cooker. She called me in the car, disappointed, wondering why I hadn’t taken a photo with her on my way out. At the height of move-in-my-child mode, I never considered this trip could bring me new opportunities. We were only a block away, so we stopped the car, and I walked back to the dorm so her husband could take our picture. She’s texted me every day since. I guess I’m not the only one missing her son.

So what’s there to cry about? I’m just a mother who dropped her child off at college. He’s healthy, in a great city, so what’s the big deal? It’s the shutdown of communication that gets me and the new normal with which I now must grapple. I won’t let myself text him often as I’ve read too many articles warning me what not to do at drop off and beyond. Let him reach out to me, they say. I know he will and when I see him again, he will have changed. We will soon fly home and walk into our own new normal, changing too. Our old and new selves will weave into something bigger, and we’ll see bits of each when we come back together again. And again. I know all of this.

Still, I feel it. A big chunk of my heart is walking around without me. I think it’s the strong part that holds back my tears, lifts me up and pumps B positive blood reminders through my veins. So why am I left with the weak part lamenting this and remembering that? I was the lens through which he saw so much. For this next journey, he will see things that I won’t, and vice versa. It’s not just walking, running, college and beyond. There is in-between stuff for which no mother can prepare you. It’s curiosity, confidence, growing up and seeing life and yourself through your own lens. Wherever he is, I know he will always be in my heart. Turns out, my muscles aren’t getting it done. Those damn tears, they keep returning.

I’m on the plane now heading home. The city below is alive and sparkling, and I can see the Empire State building near his school. He’s out there, down there, somewhere, and I’m leaving my heart in New York City. When you decide to have children, you sign up for your heart to break into pieces and live in other places. I’m a collision of equal parts proud, glad and sad. The memories are messing with me, tugging me to go back in time to tender moments, little hands and lullabies.

After we landed and got home, I noticed we each wandered into his room at separate times, looking around in the dark, the pillow and lamp gone, art taken off the walls. We feel him everywhere, while his stuff, his shoes, the physical evidence now lives six states away. It’s not a death, it’s life. It’s not negative, it’s positive. Still, I decided to torture myself and open his closet door. Gone, all of it. His brother came home from school today and as he often does, asked, “Where’s Ben?” He stopped himself, smirked and rolled his eyes. Duh.

What a trip it’s been but what a trip it still is. There are new memories ahead, family get togethers, conversations, work to do and places to go. I’m going to dry my tears, dust off my running shoes and get back to the business of life here with my family. I heart New York and I heart Benjamin, but mostly, I heart myself enough to let the sadness give way to joy. There was yesterday and there is tomorrow, but I think I’m going to tune in to Today.

 

Treasure Trove

More than a month has passed since the summer solstice. Daylight is officially narrowing and the universe is whispering,  c a r p e   d i e m ! Time is in full throttle fast forward mode, and I’m over here looking for the pause button to take a closer look. I’m doing my best to taste it all, but new courses keep coming as I’m still blowing on my first bite, waiting for it to cool. There’s another four-top and the waiter is itching to clear the table, but I’m still working on my plate. It’s like I’m in a store and the salesperson keeps peppering me with questions: What are you looking for? I’m just looking, I insist. Can’t I just look? Evidently there isn’t time. Days fly by and big things keep happening.

A few months ago, I woke in the middle of the night to the sound of my dog’s limbs flailing and her writhing on the floor beside my bed. After an interminable who knows how many seconds, she stopped and stood up, drunk and disoriented. I carried my 62-pound girl down the 22 stairs, and once outside, she slowly returned to normal, clueless as to what had happened. She did her business and we went back to bed. The next morning our vet ordered labs to check kidney and liver levels and sent me away with the name of a neurologist we should see just in case.

A couple of hours after we got home it happened again, this time more violent, scarier and for longer. She frothed at the mouth, writhed frantically and then stopped, eyes blank, staring ahead. You’d swear she was gone, but in the seconds that followed, she was back, soaked in her own froth, but back nonetheless. I was hysterical on the phone with our vet who explained that two or more seizures in 24 hours are cluster seizures, and we need to get to the neurologist now. So off we went just as rush hour began to form, up I-285 to an animal hospital called Blue Pearl. Whomever named the place did a great job, as I had beautiful pictures in my head, as if we were driving to Oz, heaven or even just a soothing spa for the infirmed.

Once there, I was still a tear stained mess, but the hospital was comforting and matter of fact; we were just another routine check in, another dog who would stay the night, another owner who would pay in the thousands. I said my goodbyes in her crate, climbing in and lying next to her, and was reassured to see a beautiful lab just across the aisle also with an IV in his arm, calmly hunkered down for the night. Nothing else for them to do but lie down and stare at each other across the aisle. Like leaving your child at college for the first time and finding you like his roommate. The lab’s sweet face also helped drown out the sorrowful moans of the dog three crates down, who was either in crazy pain, scared or just terribly missing its person.

This same week was graduation week and the next two days buzzed with my son’s pre-graduation party, high school graduation and family dinner after. I wanted to get fully lost in the happy celebrations, but I kept one foot back at Blue Pearl thinking of Lucie, whom I assumed gave similar thought to this sudden and worrisome turn of events. My sister reminded me she’s a dog and doesn’t ruminate like her owner does, which helped. The hospital began their tests, first a CAT scan, then a spinal to detect inflammation (aka cancer), coupled with a complete neurological workup. After an interminable day and a half wait, I got the call: no tumor, no cancer, and instead the best possible diagnosis we could hope for (and highly unlikely per our vet and the neurologists): late onset epilepsy which requires twice daily medication. We dodged a bullet. Big exhale.

As if overnight, though, she is aging. Her haunches don’t have the range they once did, and at bedtime I hear her sighing trying to get comfortable. She still smiles big toothy smiles and gives us kisses, and whenever she hears keys, she’s up by the door ready for a car ride. Her smile says thank you, I love you to the moon and back, and never says I’m in pain, I’m sad or disappointed.

After graduation we migrated to Jekyll Island, Ga. for my husband’s annual conference there. It’s our annual happy place, a free mini 3-day vacation which ushers summer in. I got the email one night as we were driving home from dinner, that my mom’s twin brother in California died. Alzheimer’s. The car was loud with post dinner chatter, but as I read the email my aunt sent about my Uncle Pete, I wished for a phone call instead, something more personal. I sent flowers to my aunt and cards to each of my cousins. Even though I rarely saw them on the west coast, a door I wasn’t ready to close had closed on its own.

Speaking of doors, last month I came home to our back door kicked open, cats missing, drawers flung open and an empty spot on my dresser where my jewelry box sat. They only took my jewelry box and thankfully the pieces I wear most were hidden elsewhere. But still, the guy who kicked in our door and splintered our 150+ year molding is now carrying my memories of which he has no clue the sentimental value. My mom’s sterling charm bracelet held loads of charms among them three silver placards each bearing her children’s names in script, James, Anne and Susan. There was a lobster charm because she grew up on the north shore and a cocktail shaker too, because who doesn’t love a good cocktail? My bracelet had fewer charms which included a Christmas tree, a heart locket and a church with a small hole in the steeple. If you held it up to the light you could read the ten commandments inside. Thou Shalt Not Steal, remember that one?

July arrived and brought a big dose of happy travel and new experiences. Seventeen days in Portugal and Spain put life as we knew it on hold, giving me that pause button I’d been looking for. We covered lots of ground, walked cobblestone streets, ate new foods and I spoke loads of Spanish. I’ve tried to record it, jotting down menu items we loved and taking pictures. Mostly, though, I’ll remember being together all that time, navigating brand new places and while not loving every minute of every day, loving that each was chock full of new memories in the making.

The playful whir of baccalaureate, graduation and travel have long passed, replaced by the important work of college class registration, tuition payments and soccer and high school details. Long languid summer days at the pool or grilling outside haven’t yet started and they just might get skipped this year. But the birds are singing loudly all day long, the squirrels aren’t stealing the tomatoes ripening on the vine and if that alone isn’t cause for celebration, the lighting bugs put on a Disney-worthy show each night, filling the yard with twinkling stars.

Tomorrow my younger son starts 11thgrade. In two weeks, I’ll leave to drive my older one to college, climbing up a half dozen states to New York to settle him in. I can’t predict how it will all go, how life’s new normal will be, and I’ll admit sometimes I worry. I guess that comes with the territory. But I can say how grateful I am for all of it, for these precious creatures I’m with.

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My peeps, many years ago

 

Starbucks, Theta Tau…. Who Art Thou?

I know I need to stop turning on the news, but I want to see what’s happening, and so I watch. Like turning to look at a bad accident on the highway, you know it’s wrong, but you do it anyway. Seems there’ve been more wrongs than rights in the news of late, and it’s getting to me, leaving behind unsettling, unanswerable questions.

Do we even know what wrong looks like anymore?

I can’t imagine that some of us were born separatists who from the get go spread evil, fear, and injustice. It’s the age-old nurture nature debate, but just how do closed-minded beer funneling, latte serving elitists evolve? Do we even know what wrong looks like anymore, assuming we once did? Maybe we’re bored outcasts who need attention but can’t figure out how or where we fit in. Or some of us are just bad people who don’t know better. Should we be blessing our own hearts?

Show me the benefits of ridiculing others — people of color, different religions, mentally challenged or a different sexual orientation — because I can’t see any. Maybe it’s an addictive high you get from onlookers’ laughs that helps you feel you belong, from putting people down so your own status can rise, or scoring friends from daring to go too far, shaming people and mimicking the most vulnerable. Surely you didn’t know what you were doing, someone put you up to it, it was the alcohol, the moment, it wasn’t really wrong. Was it?

Mean people suck. Always have, always will.

Wake up, Syracuse frat boys, it’s time to sober up and be accountable. Look at the chances and choices laid out before you, and then look at others’. They want what you want — a job, a family, security, health, a home and friends – and they want to be happy, but lucky for them they don’t have what you have — the bias, the sense of entitlement, the dispiriting lack of curiosity. They may not know it yet, but in many ways they’re rich from the bits they get, which they savor and, I’m guessing, share. How about you, other than laughs at others’ expense, what do you share? As for the Philly Starbucks manager, was it fear that made you call the police, hoping they’d rescue you from your own prejudices and suspicions? When they came running, did it work? Is it over or are you still scared?

You who poke and prod at society’s most defenseless and then smirking, star in your own social media film, are you just misfits, starved of courage? As you look around for a clean napkin to blot the cappuccino foam from your lip, have you given any thought to where you’re going or what kind of person you want to be? When the barista goes home, the beer runs out, when the party’s over and the guys crash, when the girl moves on and it’s just you standing there, what will you do then? Is it really 2018? Certain we’ve moved farther than this by now. Wake me up when the storm has passed.

Life defined is the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body. Is there no more life in Greek life if some of its members appear so void of it, so dysfunctional? It’s not about tolerance, but inclusivity, not because your campus or workplace says so, but because somewhere deep down, you want it, know it’s right, and learned it long ago. Or maybe you should have. It’s instinctive, it’s decent, but has to be regarded important enough to live it.

What happens when bad news breaks and campus and coffee shop ratings plunge? You enroll in unconscious bias training, of course. That people must un-learn their own biases should tell us something’s not getting done at home, we aren’t being taught the things we should. Calling the cops in two minutes because two black men are waiting in your coffee shop isn’t just unwarranted, it’s outrageous. It’s fear rearing its ugly head. Again. A toxic culture has been brewing, and Starbuck’s isn’t the only place you’ll find it.

What are we afraid of? What were these black men going to do to you or to your customers, or maybe it was your image at risk. Did they have guns, threaten people, or did they do the unthinkable, park their black bodies in your chairs as they sat and waited. Did they look in your eyes like they didn’t belong, or did you first look in theirs and think that? Was the color of their skin all you needed to make that call?

Can this fear be trained out of you?

I’m afraid tolerance alone doesn’t cut it. We’d be wise to stop doling out A+s for human decency that should instead garner a B/B+ at best. Let’s aim higher and no, I’m not talking about firearms. I’m tired of bad behavior filling the news and the occasional acts of kindness applauded at a level as if no one has seen the likes of them before.

I’m referring to a national news segment on a man from my own state getting out of his car during rush hour to help an elderly gentleman with a walker cross the road. While I commend this Good Samaritan for being generous, I’d like to think there are others who would’ve done the same. What if you saw a frail individual like this? Would you stop or just go around him as if you were dodging a pothole? Maybe you’d turn up your music and miss the opportunity entirely. We’re all trying to cross the busy street and get somewhere and on any given day, one of us sure could use a hand. It’s not a story. It’s kindness.

Is it possible the focus on labelling and categorizing each other will one day give way to encouragement, service and support? That this single story of someone helping someone else is such a rare find, something we still talk about weeks later, tells me we’re focused on the wrong stuff, the sensational crap on TV at dinner, sexy sound bites to accompany our own. What if we stopped and reset. There are no do-overs, but there is today and tomorrow and the next.

Mean people suck, always have, always will. With enough practice, this cycle could break across generations, within cultures, on campuses and at work, in homes and places of worship, and we could stop separating ourselves from each other and choose to collectively do more good. We are equals on this earth, different but equally worthy and of worth. It’s a privilege to be connected here on this planet and if we can put down our biases, weapons and fears, maybe that’ll free up a hand for lifting each other up. It’s not all Greek to me. You?