Category Archives: Friends

Shackles Or The Meaning Of Life: How Do You View Your Responsibilities?

“Nothing shapes your life more than the commitments you choose to make.” –Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life

“Commitment…something which is loved and hated in equal measure.” –Kiran Joshi

Hello friend,

I have been the bad guy at my house lately.  Fun-killer.  Mean Dad.  Wet blanket.  All of that stuff.  Me.

You see, my wife really wants a dog.  She spends her free time researching the countless different designer breeds and pulls up pictures of each one to share with my kids so they can all “OOH” and “AHH” together.  Because of course the kids want a dog, too.  What kid doesn’t?  My wife knows this and plays the situation like a maestro.  It gets mentioned in any interaction with family or friends.  More inquiries are made.  More photos.  “OOH!”  “AHH!”

I, meanwhile, have not budged from my position.  I do not want a dog.  Don’t get me wrong: I like dogs.  I really do.  I love their energy, their loyalty, their playfulness, their goodness.  I grew up with dogs and loved all of them.  I see how much other people love their dogs, too, how much they are truly a part of the family.  I understand their value.  And honestly, I know I would be best pals with a dog if I had one.

But, I don’t want one.  I never have, in all of my adult life.  It boils down to one thing: RESPONSIBILITY.

Perhaps a brief, adulthood-only autobiography would make this stance easier to understand about me.  In my twenties, I didn’t spend a single day wanting to be married, wanting to have kids, or wanting a pet.  I was deep into my personal development and cultivating ideas to make the world a better place to live.  I had no interest in being “tied down,” even though I was in love the last few years of that decade.  When I hit 30, I finally surrendered to the idea of being a husband and father.  The decision didn’t come easily, as I was so deeply happy and at peace without the long-term commitments and responsibilities that I questioned the wisdom of trading that for the more conventional life that everyone else seemed to go in for.  I wondered if I was just not wired for it—full disclosure: I still have that wonder way down underneath it all–and would at some point crack in the face of all that obligation and selflessness.  Still, I made the choice to dive in, knowing that it was not just marriage that I was signing up for but marriage with children.  Two, not more.  I had accepted a cat into the deal before the kids came along.  When he died when they were young, I decided he was easy enough to care for that getting a replacement was okay.  But that’s it.  No more.  No more kids, no more animals, no more spouses.  With all of them plus a home to take care of, that was my absolute limit.  I needed some room for myself, too.

Now, with the cat 13 and the kids 12 and 10, I am still walking that tightrope.  I am all-in on the husband and fatherhood deal, but I have also carved out enough space to still feel like a unique human being instead of being swallowed whole by my responsibilities.  However, I am also well-aware of the daily sacrifices of the personal, soul-feeding stuff I would otherwise like to do and had done before this chapter in my life began.  Even with that awareness, I can say concretely that I have made a good bargain in adding these guys to my world, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  I love my life and appreciate the choices I have made, the responsibilities I have taken on.  I am the family man.

Enter the dog proposition.

I understand that it probably seems like the logical next step.  I have the house and the yard.  My wife can help.  The kids are theoretically at an age where they can feed it, walk it, and scoop the poop.  And dogs are cool.  It sounds like a slam dunk.

And yet, everything in my independent soul is screaming, “NO WAY!”  It stresses me just to think about it.  I picture that cute little guy and think, “Sorry buddy, it’s not you.  It’s me.”  Because it is.  It’s totally me.

I simply don’t want any more responsibilities.  Well, at least not of the large and long-term variety.  I want to be a wonderful, totally devoted father who spends as much time with his kids as they allow, all the way until they grow up and move away.  I want to be good to my cat (who, of course I know, is much less demanding than a dog).  I want to be a devoted husband.  I want to keep my home maintained, the bills paid, and my family doted upon.  I want to be great in all those roles.  But then I don’t want any other roles.  I don’t want to be the guy anybody else counts on for any daily—or even weekly—needs.  Quite simply, I would rather give that time and energy to myself.

That sounds really selfish as I write it, giving me a twinge of guilt and making me wonder if I have somehow taken a wrong turn from my basic humanity.  But the pause is brief, the guilt fleeting.  Through journal entries and endless hours of pondering over the course of a lifetime, I know who I am and what works for my energy supply.  I am clear about my needs, and all of my senses are fine-tuned to detect when things become even slightly off-balance.

I have a serious thing with BOUNDARIES.  If I meet someone whose energies do not match up with mine—I don’t even have to know exactly why; I go with the feeling—I do not allow them any room in my world.  Similarly, I fiercely protect my time.  If I am told going into a job that I am required to be there exactly these days at these times, I am a loyal and committed soldier.  But the moment they start saying, “No, we actually need you to come in more often and at different times than we agreed to,” my loyalty and enthusiasm go right out the window.  Don’t mess with my time.  Every single minute of it is precious to me.

I can see that this fierce guardianship of my time and energy is behind my unwillingness to add more deep, long-term responsibilities in the form of offspring or pets or spouses [I know it is not exactly the same line of thinking—because believe me, my wife does not need me to take care of her–but I would lump a spouse in with kids and pets here.  If my wife finds some trick to be rid of me along the way, I cannot imagine myself wanting to get married or otherwise legally bound to someone again.  I will happily take this commitment to the end, but then I’m good.].  I know that there are still things I want to do in my life.  There are places I want to travel, things I want to write, and solitude I want to bask in.  These are daydreams that don’t involve responsibilities and obligations to others.  I don’t want to have to worry about finding places where my dog can stay in the room or campsite with me, or all of the logistical adjustments I have to make in order to travel with kids.  And I don’t want to feel the guilt about leaving the dog or the kids with other people and both missing out on what they are doing and hating that they are missing out on the memories I am making without them.  I don’t want any of that baggage.  I want some freedom.  Freedom while I am still young enough to enjoy it and make something out of it.

I think about all of the childless-by-choice adults and the way people tend to think about them.  We like to think they are selfish or, at the least, just not wise enough to understand what they are missing out on.   They don’t get it.  Unlike those of us who have chosen to be parents, these self-centered hedonists can’t wrap their minds around the magical equation that, despite all of the diapers, tantrums, sleep-deprivation, financial drain, time drain, headaches, heartaches, and stress that children bring (in a single day even, but also all through life), despite all of that, kids still somehow come out on the plus side of Life’s ledger and make every day with them worthwhile.  If only these egotists could understand that, they would do the right thing and procreate, like us.  After judging them, we come to feel bad for them, sentenced as they are to a life of relative emptiness.  I think dog owners carry some of that sentiment for those of too short-sighted to get a dog or too uncommitted and therefore settle upon a love-withholding feline.  I understand where they are coming from; there is no love and loyalty quite like a dog’s for its owner.  We should want that for others, right?

This is why I have to fight off the internal nudge to feel bad about myself for not wanting a dog (or, at one point, more kids).   Not because I don’t know how much more rich and rewarding life can be through our relationships with those we take responsibility for, but because I do.

I think it speaks to the strength of my boundaries and the strength of my conviction about what is truly essential for my unique journey through Life.  I know not only some of the things I want to do, but perhaps more importantly, I know how I want to feel.

I want to feel free.  Unburdened.  Unencumbered.  Unfettered.  Unchecked.  Unbound.  Free.

Not now.  Now I want this deep dive into my kids’ world and all of the magic and fulfillment that complete investment in others’ lives brings.  But later on, when that passes, then I want the unburdening, the liberation from responsibility, and a re-investment in my own life and the part of my path that meanders away from the others.

After the blessings of this golden age of parenthood move on, I will be eager to get back to my old priorities from my twenties—self-improvement work in the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms—as well as the many new ventures and adventures I have been dreaming of in these last many years of responsibility.  I want to travel more, and more spontaneously.  I want to read and write more.  I want my “free time” to actually be free.  It is not that I want to abandon people (and pets) altogether—though I have my moments—but rather just the responsibility for them.

I like the idea of having a few distinct stages of my life’s journey, with different governing philosophies for each.  I understand that it is all one flow, but I appreciate that the map of my journey shows clear forks in the road, with my chosen path obvious from the historical record, but with the paths untaken also clear from what I consciously gave up to follow the ones taken.  I hope it continues that way.  All lives can look that way if examined closely enough, but this one is mine, and because I have journaled all the way through it, I have been keenly aware of its contours as I have co-created them with the Universe.  I love to read, listen to, or watch a good life story.  There is nothing more fascinating or entertaining to me.  I hope that if I keep my priorities and my boundaries tight and clear, that my story will someday be one that I enjoy watching in the rearview mirror.  I hope that I will have loved and cared for others long enough and deep enough in my “responsibility years” that I will have no regrets about staking such a firm claim upon my “freedom years.”  From this position midway through, I would say it all looks pretty darn beautiful.

How about you?  How do you see the responsibilities and commitments you have taken on in life?  Open up your journal and be honest with yourself.  What feelings arise when you think about the characters (both human and animal) that you claimed responsibility for in this world?  Whether you are in the midst of your biggest commitments (e.g. to young children, to employees, to dogs) or are looking back on them, what is your range of feelings?  How much love do they fill you with?  How much pride?  Do they inspire you to be better and uplift you in your darker moments?  How much humor do they provide you with?  Have you found a certain freedom within those responsibilities (I think of the Indigo Girls line from Power of Two: “The closer I’m bound in love to you, the closer I am to free.”)?  Do your responsibilities provide the foundation for your life, an emotional home base?  In the end, are the people you are or have been responsible for the true meaning of life?  What would your life be like without those you are responsible for?  On the other end of the emotional spectrum, how heavy is the weight of your responsibility?  How much stress do your obligations bring you?  To what degree do they dictate your happiness and overall well-being?  Does that seem healthy to you?  How often do you feel hints (or torrents) of bitterness or resentment toward those you are responsible for because of the weight of that responsibility?  Is the resentment fleeting or lasting?  Do you ever wish you had not made these enormous commitments?  What do you do with that feeling?  How much different is a spouse/life partner relationship than that of children and pets when it comes to providing meaning to a life?  What does having one another’s back mean compared to being truly responsible for another’s well-being?  Is it the difference of being responsible to and responsible for?  Which type of responsibility suits your personality better?  Are you able to see your life in specific chapters or seasons, defined in large part by your responsibilities at the time?  Do they tend to be good and bad in different ways but hard to evaluate overall in terms of what you liked better or what you would prefer to happen in your upcoming chapters, or is it very clear to you that your next chapter(s) should be defined one way or the other?  Will you steer your next chapter toward or away from responsibility and commitments to others?  If you want to spend more time and energy on yourself, do you feel any guilt about that?  Are you satisfied with how much you have done for others in your lifetime?  Would you choose the same commitments again if you had a chance to live it all over again?  Would you go with more or fewer?  What is the best thing you can do for yourself going forward?  How do you wish to feel in your next chapter?  How is that different than the other eras of your adulthood?  What will you carry with you from your current obligations?  Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you view your responsibilities?

Make it All beautiful,

William

P.S. If this one resonated with you, please share it with your community.  We are One!

P.P.S. If this combination of introspection and storytelling appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

Thanks, 2020! Personal Firsts, Bests, & Discoveries From A Year Like No Other

“Life is about accepting the challenges along the way, choosing to keep moving forward, and savoring the journey.” –Roy T. Bennett, A Light In The Heart

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow.  The only way that we can grow is if we change.  The only way that we can change is if we learn.  The only way we can learn is if we are exposed.  And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open.  Do it.  Throw yourself.” –C. JoyBell C. 

Hello friend,

I felt like a 90-year-old who couldn’t figure out how to get the remote control to play the movie.  I was on the phone with the Apple guy, stressed out and flummoxed, trying to learn how I could get my CDs to play in the new laptop I was considering buying.  “Why in the world wouldn’t it come with a disc drive?  How will I load all of my CDs into iTunes?  How will I burn the next album I rent from the library?  Surely I’m not alone here, am I, young genius person?  How else will I listen to my precious music????”  “Umm, well sir, you could just stream it.”  “Pay for music?  No way!  No….well, how would that work?”

Suspicious but intrigued by this sorcery he was explaining, I hung up the phone and called a couple of my friends who actually live in the modern world.  When one told me that he subscribes to Spotify Premium, I asked him how he plays all of his CDs that were the soundtrack of our many cross-country roadtrips a few decades ago (you know, when CDs were the newest, coolest technology).  “I sold them all on eBay,” he said, crushing my soul in one sentence.  How could you just dispose of those priceless archives of your life???  So, I called my other modern-yet-more-nostalgic friend.  She guided me through my fears, starting with a cost analysis: the cost of Apple Music for a month is the same as the cost of one CD.  But how do I get new albums when they are released?  I still need to buy them, right?  “They’re free.  They just show up on the release date.”  I didn’t believe her.  “Okay, name me a new album you would want?”  Indigo Girls: Look Long.  She looked it up: “Yep, it’s there.  I can listen to it right now if I want.  And anything else I want.  Anything.”

I was like a living, breathing version of the “Mind Blown” emoji.  I was stupefied by this new reality.  No CDs?  My whole world felt like it was coming apart.  But that stupor only lasted for a few minutes, the part when I was intellectualizing it all, thinking through plan options and credit card numbers.  After that, when I actually activated the free trial, well, then my whole world felt like it was opening up.  Wide!  All of this blessed inspiration was suddenly right at my fingertips.  I couldn’t get it in my ears fast enough.  Before the day was over, I had created several new playlists and downloaded hundreds of albums.  I was the proverbial kid in a candy store.  Honestly, as someone who is absolutely nutty about music, it felt like the discovery of a lifetime.  I was in Heaven!  Just so cool.

That day, lying on that hammock with my headphones on and my devices all aglow, with that music filling up my entire soul, was a total game-changer.  It was mid-2020—the height of the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest over racial injustice, and a crumbling economy—but all of those things that have become the year’s headlines suddenly had to share space in my heart and mind with something new and beautiful and, well, cool.  I don’t think a day has passed in the ensuing months that I haven’t been on Apple Music, granting myself that little space to both escape from this world and to be inspired to build a better one.  It is one of the things I will always remember 2020 for, and probably the one for which I will always be most grateful.

But it’s definitely not the only cool thing I learned or tried this year.  It’s not even the only eye-opener for me in the world of technology and media.  No, I got even further out of my old man mode when we finally cut the cable cord at my house.  My wife had been cursing the cable company for years.  I always watched the least amount of anything in my family, so I had no opinions.  However, when we got Netflix and Prime Video a couple years ago, I was intrigued by this streaming thing but just never found much time to watch anything.  When doing my cardio workouts in the gym, I always read books on my tablet.  However, when the gyms closed in March and my workouts moved home, watching Netflix as I rode the treadmill became my new thing.  I loved it.  Later, when we finally cut ties with the cable company and took on Hulu, Sling, Disney+, ESPN+, and Apple TV+, I was in the mode of wanting more material for my workout hours.  It was a revelation!  Bravo, streaming services!

There is really some wonderful stuff out there.  The artists are clearly in full bloom with all of these new outlets.  I have found that I love documentaries.  I have watched several good ones on different topics—from Bill Gates to Greta Thunberg–but find that I keep coming back to films that cover music and musicians, particularly those who were involved in the revolution of the 1960s.  I just finished two fascinating ones about The Band—Once Were Brothers and The Last Waltz—but have also been captivated by pieces about Keith Richards, the artists who lived in Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon in the sixties, and Sam Cooke, among others.  I have dozens more on my watchlists.

Of the non-documentary things I have watched, a few of my favorites from this year are When They See Us, Schitt’s Creek, and The Trial Of The Chicago 7.  There are so many more that intrigue me, but I know my chances of getting to them are slim.  I am grateful for what I have seen, and grateful to 2020 for opening my eyes to so many wonderful works of art.

Whenever I watch a movie or TV show, though, it comes with a measure of guilt that I am ignoring the many brilliant books in the world.  I did, however, find one released this Autumn that has stayed with me in the weeks since I have finished it.  It is Greenlights, by the actor Matthew McConaughey.  I was drawn to it because I learned that, like me, he has kept journals for all of his adult life, and the book used many of the insights he gained in writing them over the years.  I have never been particularly drawn to McConaughey as an actor and so was otherwise skeptical going in, but I found myself captivated by his tales and the wisdom he drew from them.  It is my favorite literary discovery of this year.

While I doubt I will ever be anyone’s favorite literary discovery, I did have a Journal of You highlight this Summer, albeit coming not from something I wish I had to write about.  By many times over, more people than ever showed up to read and share my piece called “But I’m Not a Racist!” And Other Things We White Folks Need To Do Better.  It came on the heels of the George Floyd murder, as the protests were getting into full swing.  I certainly appreciated the positive feedback and was glad I could contribute to something so important.

I never know when something I write will resonate, but that moment in American history seemed to sweep so many of us up with it, and rightly so.  In addition to writing a couple of pieces on it, the George Floyd murder brought me to another significant first in my life: my first real protest.  I wasn’t in the throngs of people downtown getting teargassed or anything so dramatic, but I did bring my children to a local event where we got to lift our signs and our voices in a show of solidarity with our community against police violence and racial injustice.  It was moving for me and hopefully something of a precursor for more social activism, both for me in my later years and for my children for the rest of their long and precious lives.

I spent more of 2020 than any other year on the seat of a bicycle.  That seems a strange record, but it is true.  With fewer “play” options for my kids, we took so many more rides on the streets of our town.  I also got more into mountain biking at local trails; that was tremendously invigorating.  Then, as Fate would have it, I sustained an injury that would not allow me to walk, run, or play sports.  That would normally drive me to the nuthouse, but in a stroke of luck, I discovered that I was still able to ride a bicycle.  Early mornings in Summer and Autumn were spent pedaling out the miles on the quiet streets in the surrounding towns.  It was a delightful release to drink in that fresh air and still be able to sweat amidst my other physical limitations.  When the days shortened and chilled, I got myself an indoor bike to sweat away the Winter.  While I miss the fresh air and the lakes and trees, the workout is fantastic and much-needed.  Perhaps I won’t need the riding so much in other years when my body is more cooperative, but I am so grateful to have found it and made it a big part of my life.

Speaking of that fresh air and those lakes and trees, my last, best discovery of this year was about spending time outside and having more adventures.  Maybe this one qualifies more as a re-covery, since I have had it and lost it more than once in my many years on this planet.  I feel like the year has left me more committed than ever to design my remaining years around being outdoors and exploring the beauty of Mother Earth.  Most of my social media scrolling this year has been on the pages of National Parks and travel sites.  I don’t think a single day has gone by when I haven’t added to my itinerary and fantasies for my next trip to Glacier country in Northwest Montana, and I have plotted adventures all across the American West, from Utah’s “Mighty Five” parks to the Sierra Nevadas of California and the Cascade Range in the Northwest.  I have developed plans for overnights and weekends near home as well, with lots of hiking and sleeping in the pine-fresh air to the sounds of the forest and rippling streams.

Even as much of a Winter-hater as I am, my Christmas gifts this week included new snowshoes, trekking poles, fleeces, and a backpack (and I am even planning my next car and its necessary adventure accessories).  I am more determined than ever to be an active participant in the outdoor activities of every season.  Maybe I was coming to that anyway in my life’s evolution, or maybe 2020’s message of “Stay Home & Cover Your Breath” only served to stir up my natural resistance to being contained, or maybe it is some combination of the two.  In any case, I now know in a deeper place that being in Nature is one of my greatest inspirations and an absolutely necessary fuel to get me through the rest of the world’s obligations and nonsense.  It is both my escape and my spiritual home.  I am relieved to know that so clearly now.

I guess most discoveries and favorites are like that: something outside of us—music, books, blogs, bicycles, and mountain streams—lights up something inside of us.  They give our existence meaning and value.  They buoy us against the storms of Life and make historically bad years seem pretty darn good after all.  They are the source of our Gratitude and thus our Happiness.  I am deeply grateful that there are so many of these points of light in my life, no matter the year.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I want to do 2020 all over again!  But I know that it brought me many gifts, and I refuse to look past them just because they arrived on the same train as COVID, racism, and political folly.  I am grateful for this year and the many new things I know and love because I lived through it.

How about you?  What are the coolest things you learned or tried in 2020?  Open up your journal and your spirit and expose what the light let in this year.  First, what new things did you learn?  If you had extra time in the house, did you pick up any home improvement skills (e.g. Marie Kondo organizing, carpentry, plumbing)?  How about personal improvement skills, like learning a language or a musical instrument?  Did you learn how to be a teacher?  Did you learn some new technology tricks, like how to Zoom?  Did anything blow your mind?  What did you try for the first time this year?  New foods?  New fitness routines?  Online grocery shopping?  Something outdoorsy?  Did you do anything social justice-related this year that you had never previously been so moved to do, like a protest or a sign in your yard?  How about with politics: did the extreme divisions among this year’s election issues and candidates spur you to participate in ways that you hadn’t before?  Were most of the new things you tried in 2020 related to things specific to this year—being on lockdown, COVID, Trump drama, etc.—or were they more random and could have happened any year?  Which of them will you continue with even when things return to whatever “normal” looks like to you?  Now to the Arts.  What musical styles or artists did you discover this year, whether they were new or just new to you?  What was the best thing you watched on television?  What were your favorite 2020 movies?  Books?  Did you try anything unique to get Art in unconventional ways, like attending a virtual theatre performance, concert, or museum tour?  What else did you love?  Did you have any personal bests this year?  Did you excel at anything at your work?  Did you improve upon a hobby or passion project?  Were you a better friend, sibling, parent, co-worker, or ally?  Did you find you were great at the self-care this year demanded?  Finally, what did you discover about yourself this year?  What issue or passion might you have had only a hint at before this year but now have a clear position on?  Do you have a core belief that has changed?  Do you know what you want to do more of (and less of) going forward?  Are you clear that there are some people in your life who you need to distance yourself from?  Are there others you would like to cultivate a deeper relationship with?  How have you grown in the last year?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the coolest things you have done and discovered in 2020?

Seek out the light,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community.  Let’s chase the bright spots together!

P.P.S. If this way of reflection and introspection appeals to your way of being, consider buying my book Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

What Always Brings Tears To Your Eyes?

“Those who do not weep, do not see.” –Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

“Tears are words that need to be written.” –Paulo Coelho

Hello friend,

Last weekend I attended my first virtual funeral.  I don’t ever go to real funerals.  It is just not my jam, for many reasons.  However, this one had me especially intrigued, and since it was over Zoom, I figured that I could escape whenever I wanted.  My commitment was minimal.  I was drawn to this particular memorial not because I was so close with the deceased—indeed, we didn’t know each other well at all and hadn’t seen each other in years—but because of my sense of who he was (perhaps a kindred spirit) and the wide variety of lives I imagined that he had touched in his too-brief stay on this Earth.   I knew that he was special, and I wanted to see how that presented itself in this final farewell.  And honestly, I wanted a little more of him.  I am sure we all did.

Throughout the service, which was designed to pack in as many different voices and testimonials as possible from the lives he touched along the way, I discovered a pattern in my emotional state: when the speaker was dry-eyed, I was dry-eyed; when the speaker cried, I cried.  It never failed.  Oh sure, I cried at a few other times, too, like when they showed a picture of him and my daughter when she was a baby or a picture of him and my wife smiling together.  Those got me.  But otherwise, it was a pretty safe bet that when I witnessed weeping, I wept.

I have come to know that pattern about myself over the years.  When raw emotion is in front of me—especially crying but beyond that as well, even in Joy—I am an instant puddle.  After studying myself through my journals for this long, I have come to chalk this characteristic up to the same Empathy that has shaped so much of my worldview, including my politics and spirituality.  When I witness someone deep in feeling, it just seems to channel directly into my heart.  I am powerfully moved in an instant.  It can be a problem, but I mostly appreciate it.  I like to be reminded occasionally that I have not hardened myself too much against this world that is so full of slings and arrows.  I am still raw and affected.  That is alright with me, especially the part of me that wants to remain an artist and a warrior for justice until the day I die.  As long as I keep having authentic interactions with people and absorbing their genuine emotions, I am going to be a weeper.

But when else?  Other than diving headlong into others’ drama, what are the other moments that get my tears going?

If you have been with Journal of You for a while—whether through these regular letters or just the book—you know that I spend a fair amount of time obsessing about Death and Legacy, the importance of my impact and what I will leave behind.  I am so grateful that I have not yet had to face many deaths of those closest to me; I have always been lucky in that department.  But it doesn’t stop my active imagination from running wild with images of that loss.  I don’t mean scenes of graphic violence or horrific accidents; my mind does not go there.  It does, however, go often to thoughts of learning of their loss or having the difficult conversations about life without them.  I picture things like hearing about my child’s (or sister’s or mother’s) death or explaining my wife’s death to my children.  Vivid scenes that sweep me away and leave me tear-stained.

Those daydreams, however, are nothing compared to the ones in which I am the one dying  (usually of cancer) and have to communicate that with my wife and, even more often, my kids.  Somehow, I seem to fall into this awful habit when I am driving alone.  I think about making videos for them to watch when I am gone, on occasions like birthdays, graduations, or weddings, messages from their father who would be so proud of them and wish he were there.  I make big speeches, often out loud in my car, by the end of which I am full-on sobbing, hardly able to see the road through my gushing eyes.  By the time I realize what I am doing, I am practically panting in despair.  It is embarrassing.  It is that idea of leaving my family, though, that I simply cannot abide.  That is a guaranteed tear-jerker.

Speaking of leaving my family, I am pretty quick to get weepy in saying goodbye to my parents and siblings after our too-infrequent visits.  I try to fight it by rushing through the process, but by the time I hit the gas pedal to drive away, I am mush.  Even though we all get frustrated with my Dad for doing it, sometimes I envy him for his habit of just sneaking off before the goodbye part of the visits.  If we have gone to his house to stay for a holiday, he always manages to be “at work” when it comes time for us to leave town.  If we meet up with him at the cabin and we are all planning to leave the same day, he gets up early and gets on the road before anyone realizes it is time to go.  It’s pretty weasel-y, but at least he doesn’t have to face the emotion of goodbye.  He leaves that for the rest of us, most of whom are pretty teary about it.  I don’t really get that way with goodbyes with other people outside the family, but that is why family is family.  It’s just deeper.  I know I will be awful about it when my kids are grown.

I have a terrible time reading out loud, too, without crying.  This happens with sad stories, of course.  I still read to my daughter every night before bed, and it is highlight of my day, but I occasionally struggle to keep it together.  I can laugh now at my attempts a few years ago to get through Where The Red Fern Grows with her, but it was a choking, teary mess at the time.  Any sentimental message read aloud can get me, though, like a card or a Facebook post that I am sharing with my wife.  It happens with my own writing, too, especially things about my feelings for loved ones.  I sometimes read my work aloud to myself before publishing it, just to see if it flows, and I have definitely found myself in a puddle of tears on more than one occasion.

Likewise, I can envision wanting to say something at my parents’ funerals but just not being able to.  I am one of those criers who simply cannot speak through the process.  The emotion stabs me like a knife, and it’s like my air is just gone.  I tried to say a few words about my grandfather during the visitation the night before his funeral, and it was a sobby, chokey, mostly silent mess.

Strangely, I have occasionally fancied the idea of being a television news reporter or anchor, probably a poor fit for a guy who cries when sharing almost any impactful story.  It was more acceptable when I was studying to be an actor, which, now that I think of it, is probably how I fell into the habit of imagining all of those dramatic scenes I mentioned above that so regularly slay me in the car.  I guess I am drawn to sharing the Truth of any situation—whether my own or of those whose stories need hearing—even if that sharing brings me to tears.

As I come to recognize that realization, I am reminded of my tendency to tear up—not sob, but just get “watery eyes”—in just about any direct, intimate conversation (typically one-on-one).  I can recall so many conversations, especially ones concerning my loved ones or my own work—things like parent-teacher conferences and job interviews—when the eye-to-eye and the intimacy itself seems to draw the water involuntarily up to my eyes, even when seemingly inappropriate.  As I said, it is not weeping in the usual sense—I am not breaking down emotionally in these otherwise-normal moments, just tearing up a bit (which can cause the normal to become slightly awkward, though people typically pretend not to notice).  I chalk it up to sensitivity.  I am a bit of a raw nerve, prone to really feel everything.  It is just one of my idiosyncrasies.  I roll with it.

I am not sure what it says about me, the things that bring me to tears and the regularity of them in my life.  I tend to not judge it, not seeing it as either a particular strength or weakness.  But is it?  I kind of appreciate the cleansing nature of crying, but I don’t seek out opportunities for it (like I said, the dramatic driving scenes are not planned or even fully conscious, but rather just the result of getting swept up by my overactive imagination).  I don’t have a strong desire to cry any more than I do now, though I would prefer not to have so much of the “watery eyes” in mundane, everyday conversations.  I tend to see the source of my tears as an understanding of Love and the value of connection.

I also understand that I come at this topic as someone who is unusually blessed in my life circumstances and psychological make-up.  I have been lucky all my life, with a healthy upbringing, a pleasant nuclear and extended family, always enough food on the table, with things I enjoy doing and people I enjoy spending time with (and, as I mentioned, I haven’t dealt with much death yet).  My worldview is naturally optimistic, and I don’t struggle with anxiety or depression.  I am resilient and self-confident, and I understand, thanks to my daily journaling, the minute details of what makes me tick.  My mental health is in good shape.  For all of these things, I am extremely lucky.  I understand that if any one of them went the other way, my outlook on this topic of crying would likely be entirely different.  I am grateful that most of my tears to this point have been healthy ones and from situations I could choose.  I don’t ever cry because the world all seems too much for me, because I am stressed out or just can’t take one more thing working against me.  I don’t cry because I hate my life or feel trapped or overburdened.  I imagine those kinds of tears are pretty common in the world, and I know that Life still has many challenges remaining for me.  A run of good luck doesn’t last forever.

This is part of why this topic is fascinating to me, and why I want to know your answer.  It illustrates yet another way in which our stories are all different and thus why we need Empathy and Grace.  Our tears, whether of Joy or Sadness or anything in between, reveal something special about us.  No, reveal is the wrong word.  Maybe indicate.  The tears don’t tell the story.  They merely indicate that there is something special worth digging into.  Something deeper.  Something worth the effort to understand and appreciate, because it is soul-level stuff, the kind that makes us who we are.  For me, that means there is magic in those tears.   The magic of our Truth.  And I always, always, want to be a part of the Truth.

How about you?  What always makes you cry?  Open up your journal and your heart to explore the source and significance of those tears.  What predictably makes you cry?  Are your things specific events (e.g. a funeral, a break-up, a goodbye) or mental health-triggered issues (e.g. anxiety, depression, or the accumulation of Life just becoming too much sometimes)?  What are the events that trigger you?  Are they obviously heavy hitters, like death, or are they more subtle things?  Who are the people usually associated with your tears?  Has it been the same people all your life?  How often are the these “people tears” due to how much you love them, and how often are they due to these people wronging you?  Is that a healthy ratio?  How do you do with goodbyes?  What about books and movies (I’m a big movie crier)?  Do you have any memories that always bring tears with them?  Are those good memories or bad ones?  How often do you cry tears of Joy?  What other emotions make you cry?  How often do ordinary, everyday life situations bring tears to your eyes?  What kinds of conversations do it?  Do you cry at the sight of others crying or suffering?  How empathetic are you?  Do you think your Empathy rating dictates how much you cry in response to others’ pain?  Do you ever wonder about the source of your tears, their true trigger?  What do your tears actually say about what is going on deep down inside you?  Are they revealing of something you haven’t yet addressed and need to dig into?  Do you need help with that?  Do you believe your crying to be mostly a healthy sign, or a sign of problems?  Do you usually feel better afterward?  Do you wish you cried more often or less often?  Which topics give you your best cries?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What always brings tears to your eyes?

Be free,

William

P.S. If today’s topic resonated with you, please share it.  We could all use a release from time to time.

P.P.S. If this way of introspection appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.

Reasons To BE THANKFUL

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” –Marcel Proust

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.” –Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” –Eckhart Tolle

Hello friend,

Happy Thanksgiving!  I arose this morning with a welcome lightness in my heart.  The weather here promises to allow for a pleasant walk down by the lake before I plop my butt down at the table (and the sofa, and the rocker, etc.) to gorge upon the culinary delights of the day.  I am going to enjoy this holiday!  After the all-time clunker that 2020 has been, I feel like I deserve that.

I mean, just think of all the things we have been through this year….NO!  STOP!  DON’T THINK OF THAT STUFF!  That is not what this day is for.  We don’t need to revisit that stuff today; it will be here waiting for us tomorrow.  Today, let’s just focus on the good things in our lives, the things we really ought to be grateful for on a daily basis but sometimes forget to acknowledge because they are so much in our faces, so much the wallpaper of our lives.  In this year when it is better that we not have a huge celebratory gathering, let’s muster up some huge Gratitude anyway.

I truly believe that Gratitude is the mother of Happiness.  The way I see it, you just can’t get to any real, lasting Happiness unless you can acknowledge the blessings that surround you and permeate all that you do and all that you are.  The ability to find a way to Gratitude no matter how your life looks is a rare and priceless gift, one that we should all strive for.  I say we should begin today.  Any day is a good day to choose Gratitude, but TODAY is always the best one.  Not because it is Thanksgiving—which is a nice reminder, though, I admit—but rather because it is TODAY.  NOW is always the best time to be more than who we have been.  I want that.  So, let us begin.

In this year when it was unwise to mingle outside of your household, I am so grateful for the three other people under my roof: my wife and kids.  While we all have our moments of mess in all of these months of isolation, I can honestly say I would choose these guys to stay with if I had to do it all over again (which I might!).  We are a team.  A good one.

I am thankful for the fresh air and the ability to get outside and breathe it in.  This year has had so much of “There’s nothing to do,” but my restless mind has been saved on so many days simply by getting out the door and feeling the air on my skin and in my lungs.  Whether it is on a walk or bike ride around my neighborhood or swaying in my hammock as I stare up into the big trees and open sky, the option to get out and breathe it all in is often everything to me.  I am grateful every time I am out there.

I am grateful for the other people in my life: my extended family, my friends, my co-workers, my social media community, and you.  For the ones who have been my allies, either silently and vocally, I am more thankful than ever for them this year.  And though some of us don’t always see eye-to-eye and have needed even more boundaries this year than ever to maintain our sanity—loving from a healthy distance has become a well-practiced skill—I am glad to know they are out there, and I truly wish the best for them.  I am so pleased—and relieved, really—that after all of the political drama of this year and the (not always spoken) tension and strain it has brought into so many of my relationships, that I can sincerely wish them all health and happiness (and, of course, a more empathetic, liberal worldview!).  I guess sometimes a simple lack of grudges and bitterness is a gift.  Blessings come with many different faces; today I am thankful for all of them and the lessons they keep teaching me.

I am grateful for my health.  I know people who have had COVID and been relatively unscathed by it, and I know people who have died from it, and many variations in between.  It scares me, and I am so thankful that no one inside my house has had it.  But it is not just the absence of COVID that I feel grateful for.  I have struggled with an injury for much of this year that has limited my ability to move freely and to enjoy many of the things I love to do.  That has made me acutely aware of the things I can still do and has made me grateful for each improvement I have made on my way back to health.  I am truly delighted to be able to do the things I can do.

I am grateful for writing.  Both my daily journal entries and these occasional letters to you provide me with some much-needed clarity and sanity.  That is certainly the case this year, but I can say the same every year.  It is my escape from “reality” but simultaneously my access to Truth.  I am thankful for it every day.

Lastly, I am grateful for days like today that are meant to give me both the time and the reminder to be thankful.  While it is nice, on an ordinary day of the year, to bring my awareness into a moment and find myself smiling or feeling a wave of positive energy all around me, it is so much better when I can extend that awareness to the reasons for my Joy and for the lightness in my being.  This day is all about that awareness.  It reminds me of the things that I need to seek out more of in my life.  I appreciate both the reminder and the lightness of being.

How about you?  What are you grateful for today?  Open up your journal and your heart.  What comes to mind first when you think about your greatest blessings on this day?  Is it a person, an object, something you do, a state of being, or something else?  Are you aware of your gifts often enough throughout the year, or is this the day that makes you fully conscious?  Of the things you are most grateful for, what can you do throughout the year to bring more of them into your life?  How can you become more grateful?  A Gratitude journal?  Prayer?  A Gratitude jar?  Regular journaling?  Is it just a matter of changing your lenses and focusing on the right thing, the roses rather than the thorns?  What method will you start with?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your reasons to be thankful today?

Happy Thanksgiving,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please share it.  Spread Gratitude!

P.P.S. If this way of questioning yourself and discovering your light appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailer.  Namaste.

COVID Paranoia: The Awfulness Of Thinking You Might Have It

“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.” –Epictetus 

“Your mind is working at its best when you’re being paranoid.  You explore every avenue and possibility of your situation at high speed with total clarity.” –Banksy, Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall 

Hello friend,

“So, have you guys been feeling okay since you left here?”  That was the question my sister posed to me when I answered my phone last weekend.  My kids and I had visited her family for a few days earlier in the week and had left two days before.  “Uhhh…” I muttered as the alarm bells started blaring in my brain.  “Nobody’s gotten sick?  No fevers?” she continued.  By then, my heart was racing and I was up and bounding toward my children, urgently questioning them about how they felt as I reached for their foreheads to feel temperatures.  “Because your one-year-old niece has a fever…” 

While my mouth was saying, “No, everyone seems fine, though I did cough a couple of times yesterday randomly,” my mind was screaming, “WHAT HAVE I DONE???”  Instead of wondering if one of them passed the dreaded coronavirus to one of us, I immediately began to fret that I had given it to them.  No one else could have been the source, I was sure.  Only me.  I was instantly filled with guilt and regret.  How could I have been so reckless with the ones I loved?  Surely I would never forgive myself.

I sound crazy, right?  I know, I know.  And it is crazy.  It’s irrational, illogical, and way too dramatic.  But it wasn’t sudden.  I had already been building this story in my mind for a week before she called, and I have spent the days since in varying degrees of unfounded obsession on the topic.

Let me rewind the story.

Two weeks ago, I noticed the faintest little tickle in my windpipe.  It was below my throat but above my lungs.  And when I say faint, I mean that I had to do a mental “feel” through each part of my body just to notice it a few times a day.  I would say that, even in non-COVID times, I am hypersensitive to physical stuff and constantly monitoring my body for injuries, ailments, and things that either agree with it (like stretching and water) or disagree with it (like running and deep-fried anything), probably leftover habits from my days in sports.  And since the arrival of the coronavirus several months ago, that vigilance has only increased.  That is especially the case with respiratory symptoms.  I have scrutinized every single cough or sneeze for months.  Thankfully, they have been very few in number and explained away by such things as swallowing down the wrong pipe or inhaling some pepper while cooking.  But, needless to say, my radar and my guard are always up.  So it was that I noticed—if only barely– this tiny tension in my trachea and committed myself to tracking it like a hound.

Nothing changed that day, and I didn’t feel anything else suspicious.  I didn’t think about it when I got up the next day and went about my ordinary exercise and activities, but when I remembered it, my self-exam revealed that it was still there, still barely noticeable.  Even though it felt like next to nothing, the fact that it was still there was disquieting.  My kids and I were planning our visit to my sister’s family the next day, and I wanted to feel totally confident that we were all healthy.  They have been super-diligent about social distancing for months, and I was not about to bring something into their anti-viral home.  I continued to monitor my system all day and still felt good.  That evening as we packed our bags, we all took our temperatures and were just right.  I addressed my nagging concern about the faint strain in my windpipe by reminding myself to be logical.  I didn’t want to be a hypochondriac, which it seemed I was becoming.  I let it go and went to bed.

The next morning, I exercised, packed the car, and we hit the road feeling fine.  About three hours into our four-hour journey, I coughed.  Just once and very briefly, but still a cough.  As with every one of the very few coughs I have done in the last several months, it set off alarm bells.  First a trachea tickle, now a cough.  Oi!  Thankfully, it was one and done.  Again, I calmed myself down and moved on, feeling good mentally and physically.

The next day was the same: the tiny tickle and a few random, single coughs.  Given that I hadn’t had either symptom prior to the last few days, I was bothered.  The COVID era—with its varied symptoms and many asymptomatic cases–had spooked me to anything in the ballpark.  My symptoms were almost nothing—I would never have said I had a cold or mentioned any symptom if someone asked how I was doing–but that is still something.  Barely something, but still.

So it went all week long.  On our return from my sister’s house, I coughed three (single breath) times in the four hours.  I noted the increase with concern.  I noticed that my neck was a little stiff, too, and wasn’t sure if that could just be written off to my fitness routine, a poor sleeping position, or if an illness could do the same.  The next day was similar, but I was a little bit tired.  Was that the trip, with its disrupted sleep schedule and abundance of treats?  Or was that another symptom?  I still didn’t have a fever or any other noticeable symptom.  While I didn’t necessarily feel sick, I noted in my journal that I seemed “not right.”  And was that “not right” an actual, physical thing, or was it just the natural mental toll from a week of this self-analysis?  Because I’m telling you, the constant dance between “I think I have something!” and “I have lost my fool mind!” was exhausting.  It gave me a greater appreciation for the tax of mental illness.

And then it came, after a full week of hypervigilance: the call from my sister.  My niece, whom we had just left two days prior, had a fever.  Ugh!  With the call came the guilt.  The second-guesses.  Had I been wrong to talk myself off the ledge about a negligible symptom?  Should we have stayed home even though we all felt fine?  How would I have even gotten the virus?  If I gave it to her, who else?  Was the “not right” I felt this morning enough that I should be in quarantine, even if it was basically nothing?  I tortured myself with questions and doubt.  It was awful.  Thankfully, the worst of it only lasted a couple of hours, until my sister texted back that an Urgent Care visit revealed it to be “only” a double ear infection for my niece.  Sweet mercy!  What a relief!  I was off the hook.

And yet….

I was still paranoid for myself and, by extension, my household.  Was I tired because I took a long bike ride and then mowed the yard, or was it something more sinister?  Was that a sneeze my daughter just did in the other room?  How is everyone’s temperature?  Sense of taste and smell?

Perhaps by a strange twist of Fate, my wife had come across a notice from our local health department offering free drive-up COVID tests earlier in the week and suggested we do it just for the knowledge.  I thought it was a great idea, partially due to my paranoia and partially because it seems like something we should all be doing as often as possible.  I am the first one to share my disappointment and disgust with America’s abject failure with the coronavirus.  And while the complete lack of federal leadership certainly deserves much of the blame for that failure, the rest falls on us ordinary citizens.  Of course, most of that is our rush to return to “normal life” and the self-centered, foolish behavior that stemmed from that, as I have lamented in a previous letter to you.  But some of it, too, is the lack of a push to get tested (often) and then do our best version of personal contact tracing if positive.  I realize it would be much easier if there was a robust system for testing and tracing organized and funded by the government—that has proven successful all over the world, but for some reason has not occurred to our leadership—but in the absence of that, we need to take more personal responsibility.  So, I am all for random, frequent testing.  So, we made our appointment for last weekend, drove up, got swabbed, and then went home to wait.  And wait.  And wait.

As we waited, though, life went on.  I kept monitoring all of us for anything suspicious.  By Tuesday, my hint of “not right” feeling had left my body.  Even though I had a couple of small coughs per day, I felt free again somehow.  The paranoia and dread feeling eased significantly.  I was aware that a test result was still lingering out there in the future, which could throw a major wrench into my peace, but I was disengaging from the drama a bit.  I was finally able to look at my reaction—the anxiety, the guilt, the uncertainty—from a clearer perspective and note how crazy I had gotten over symptoms that were next to nothing.

That realization really got me thinking about this virus’s hold on us, though, and imagining how much worse the paranoia would be for me if I actually had full-scale symptoms, not some trace of tightness in my trachea.  Because seriously, what do people with allergies do?  When they are stuffed up, sneezing, snotting, and feeling horrible—you know, as they do at regular intervals every year—do they assume the worst and start a strict quarantine?  Is their life completely on hold until the pollen passes?  Are they begging their doctor for COVID tests to prove to themselves and everyone else that they don’t have it?   How about the rest of us when cold and flu season comes around?  It will be a nightmare!  My job said that we can’t go in to work if we are experiencing any symptom all year long.  Anything?  All of these daily checklists to get in the door anywhere—school, work, the doctor and dentist’s office, etc.—already have me on high alert.  I will be a wreck when I actually have a legitimate symptom!

I realize most people probably aren’t as nerdy about the subtleties of their body’s fluctuations as I am, and I can tell from America’s coronavirus failure that most people aren’t as concerned as I am about spreading the virus to others or as diligent about social distancing as I (and definitely my sister) am.  But I have to think that every one of us with a conscience has had and/or will have multiple bouts of the kind of COVID paranoia that I am just now coming out of.  Some may get it for obvious reasons—the onset of major fever and tightness in the chest, or learning that they were in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus—or the paranoia may be self-generated, the way mine mostly was.  Because how can we not think that, in a nation that is already approaching six million diagnosed cases and around 175,000 deaths, that we will be in danger?  Even if you accept the risk and go on your merry way without a mask or a conscience, you still have to wonder when you might have it.

In the end, I guess I am looking at these last couple of weeks as my trial run for the upcoming school year and cold/flu season, minus the real symptoms.  It is sad that I have to cross my fingers in hopes that there will be enough tests available at that time and with a quick enough turnaround time on the results that our lives don’t feel perpetually quarantined and waiting for test results (our results came back negative, to my great relief, after five long days).  That may be our reality as the cold months descend upon us and our sniffles become perpetual.  I don’t like the thought of widespread anxiety, guilt, and dread in our society, but I suppose I ought to get used to it.  If only there were something we could do about it….

Oh wait, there is!  Now seems like a good time to get our act together.  I am all for a healthy world and am willing to do my part to stem the tide of Death and the coming tsunami of COVID paranoia.  I will mask up, wash my hands, keep my distance, and get tested.  For my sake, for your sake, and for all of our sanity.

How about you?  How worried have you yet been that you have contracted COVID-19?  Open your journal and explore your levels of both concern and conscience.  How often over the last several months have you wondered if you might have contracted the coronavirus?  What has usually stirred your concern?  Have you been in close contact with someone who had the virus?  Did you know it at the time, or did you learn later that they had it when they were with you?  Have you felt anxious after going into a grocery store or other indoor space where you were –either intentionally or accidentally—within six feet of other people?  Have you been around people from outside of your household without masks on?  Were they social occasions, or things like shopping?  Does hanging around friends without masks on make you feel more comfortable than being with unmasked strangers?  How about unmasked friends vs. masked strangers?  How about your work situation?  At your job, are you forced to interact in close proximity with people whose activities and contacts you cannot verify?  Are your nearest co-workers in masks?  What level of COVID stress or paranoia do you feel about this on a day-to-day basis?  Has it made you think about quitting or taking a leave of absence?  Have you questioned if your paycheck was worth the risk?  Which of these areas of your life—work, social, or regular life stuff (e.g. grocery store)—tend to stir up the most COVID paranoia in you?  What about your own personal triggers?  During this era of the coronavirus, have you had days when you just haven’t felt well or have had specific COVID symptoms that made you believe you might really have the virus?  Even if you hadn’t knowingly been in contact with someone, have your symptoms alone caused you any panic or distress?  How strong were the symptoms?  Were they barely noticeable, like mine, or were they clear and measurable (e.g. a fever)?  Did you get tested for the virus?  Did you go into quarantine?  Were you worried enough that you warned the people in your life about possible exposure?  If you genuinely believed you had the virus, how guilty did you feel about the people you may have infected before you realized it and went into quarantine?  Did you have much regret about people you had socialized with or otherwise interacted with?  If you have tested positive and were surprised by the result, could you look back at a symptom or recent day’s gut feeling and thought, “That must have been it!”?  Have you been tested for the virus?  Why not?  If tests were free and easy to get any time you wanted one, how often would you take one?  Wouldn’t it give you more peace of mind if you knew with certainty if you had the virus?  How about if you knew that everyone around you was uninfected?  How do you think your anxiety level will change as you go through cold and flu season and the inevitable symptoms you will feel that match COVID-19?  Will you be willing to test?  Will you be quick to quarantine when the symptoms come on?  Will you be diligent about communicating with the people you have been in contact with?  Are you anticipating that your regular life will get entirely shut down by the onset of symptoms—whether COVID or not—at least once in the coming months?  Does that worry you, or will you just roll with it when it comes?  Are your worries more along the lines of the disruptions it will cause to your family’s routine, or do you worry more about the actual sickness, death, and the long-term health consequences from the disease?  Or do you worry more about spreading it?  Do you think you fret about this virus more or less than the average person?  On the whole, are you being a conscientious citizen and doing your part to minimize the spread of the virus so that fewer people will die and the country can get back to school and work, or are you mostly doing what you want and not being inconvenienced by the threat of being infected or infecting others in your community?  If we were all a little more paranoid about being infected and infecting others, might our country be doing better in terms of cases and deaths?  Could a little COVID paranoia actually be healthy?  Leave me a reply and let me know: How anxious are you about getting and spreading the virus? 

Be well and be considerate,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your communities.  We will only truly thrive again if we do it together!

P.P.S. If this way of self-interrogation appeals to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

Missed Connections: Are Your Conversations Deep Dives Or Surface Skims?

“Good conversation is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.” –Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From The Sea 

“Sometimes when it looks like I’m deep in thought I’m just trying not to have a conversation with people.” –Pete Wentz

Hello friend,

At a recent holiday gathering with my immediate family, we were chatting outside on the deck when up pulled a crew of more distant relatives, many of whom I hardly know.  I am naturally reserved—probably ‘unsocial’ is more accurate—in such situations, inclined to disappear until the crowd passes through.  There was one cousin with them, however, who holds a special place in my heart, even if we don’t keep in touch beyond the photos on Facebook.  I am interested in her life and have always imagined that we could be close if the logistics of our lives matched up better.

In spite of my well-practiced social distancing precautions, I was pleased when she moved through the family and over to where I was observing the scene.  I greeted her warmly, and we proceeded to spend the next several minutes getting caught up on her family news.  Before long, my brother drifted over and started chatting with her, and our window together closed.  A few minutes later, she was gone with the rest of the visitors, probably out of my sight for a few more years.

It was a nothing conversation, but the moment seems to keep returning to my mind in these receding days.  We had a few minutes, a window.  Although it is, of course, the norm to do the standard check-in and small-talk—How long are you in town?  How is your Mom?  Do you like living in Anytown?  Blah blah blah…–we didn’t have to.  Knowing that she is an avid reader, the very first question I asked her instead could have been about the best book she has read lately, or her top five authors, or her favorite memoir (my go-to genre).  Now that would have been a good conversation!  Instead of lamenting her departure because we hadn’t really connected, as happened this time, I could have lamented being unable to finish a gripping exchange of ideas that likely would have ended with a promise to message me a list of suggestions.  Those are two very different laments.

I can tell that the reason this seemingly forgettable interaction remains unforgettable to me is that it was a wasted opportunity to feel alive.  Isn’t that what a good conversation is?  That deep connection to another human being in a moment, however brief, is the spark of Life itself.

I love Life.  I crave it in its various forms, including the ripple of the stream, the song of the bird, the breeze on my skin, and the rising of the sun.  Humans are in there, too, sharing their Life with me through their art, their compassion, their aspiration, and their acts of true love.

And yes, their conversation.  Real conversation.  Impassioned, curious, well-listened, and deeply felt conversation.  When it is fully engaged in both the give and the take, a conversation—whether it is silly or sad, with a stranger or a friend—is a priceless gem.  And like that gem, it is, unfortunately, too rare.  We just don’t take that deep, beautiful dive often enough.  Like me with my cousin, the window closes, perhaps never to be opened again with that person.

It would be easy and cliché to say that in this age of social media and texting, our faces in our screens preclude us from making those meaningful connections and having those heart-to-hearts.  But I don’t know that I believe that.  I have hung around plenty of people from older, less-techie generations and found their chatter to be nearly all of the small and space-filling variety.  And maybe these screens—provided we are willing to put them down from time to time—are so saturated with juicy information on every topic imaginable that everyone can find something that they are passionate about learning and sharing with someone else who is willing to lock eyes and listen.  Maybe these screens are the gateway to deeper conversation, not more shallow.  I hope so.

I believe in our ability to converse and to light each other up in the process.  What I am less sure of is our courage.  Let’s face it, when you attempt to go below the surface with someone, you don’t know what kind of reception you will get.  For one, these attempts are so rare, especially in traditional small-talk zones—sidelines of sporting events, walking in your neighborhood, pubs, grocery stores—so people can be taken aback by your probing and your full attention (sadly, something we also rarely seem to give).

But if you can catch someone in that perfect moment when you are both willing to be open, present, and vulnerable, Magic can happen. 

I am the first one to admit I don’t like talking with most people.  My soul sensors are fine-tuned to detect people whose energies align with mine and those who don’t.  I passionately dislike anything in life that feels like a waste of my time—errands, lines, traffic, meetings, small-talk, the list goes on—and that includes spending time with people who don’t ignite something special in my heart or mind.  Knowing that about myself, it crystallizes my challenge: to take full advantage of every moment to converse with these captivating people, to not waste any words on small-talk, but rather to plunge directly into a meaningful exchange of ideas and energies.

I have to be more opportunistic with these rare moments and more efficient about getting into the meaty portion of people’s minds.  I have to launch into my best questions from the outset rather than participate in the standard opening, anesthetic nonsense about the weather, the outfits, and the appetizers on offer.

And rather than just waiting around hoping that I happen upon one of my favorite people and that they happen to have time for me at that moment, I also need to be better about seeking them out.  This directive struck me hard this week as I was strolling through the Twitterverse.  Amidst all of the politics and pop culture, I stumbled upon this humble gem by the octogenarian news man Dan Rather (who happens to be a fountain of simple wisdom): That person you keep thinking, “I should call them.”  You should.  Do it.  Pass it on.

That seemingly innocuous little note had the effect of simultaneously slapping me in the face and kicking me in the butt, giving me a wake-up call about all the people I so often think about talking to but never make the effort to reach them.  Dan is right.  I need to do it.  My life would be infinitely richer for it.

I want that richer life.  I want those richer conversations.  I guess it all circles back to that issue of Courage.  If you want something—in this case, a richer life full of deep, meaningful exchanges with fascinating people who stir my soul—and you know what it takes to get it, you have to be willing to stick your neck out.  I have to be willing to feel awkward in order to feel energized and enlightened.  I have to be brave enough to follow my “Hello” with a question I really want to know the answer to, one that can stimulate a lively exchange.  I must set aside my anxiety about picking up the phone and calling someone who hasn’t heard from me in a long time.  I must display the same courage that I implore you to summon.  That seems only fair.  I can do that.

Hello, World, I am ready to converse!

How about you?  How open and assertive are you in your pursuit of good conversation?  Open up your journal and wade through your interactions with the people in your life.  How deeply are you reaching below the surface in your usual conversations with the people you are interested in?  Not the people whom you cannot avoid in the regular course of your day—at your job or in your neighborhood or your hangouts—but the people whom you would choose to interact with; nobody wants to take a deep dive with someone they can barely tolerate.  So, for those intriguing characters in your world, how aggressively do you pursue their true nature and interests?  In your encounters with them, do you make it a point to raise topics that will lead to a lively exchange and perhaps some personal growth for each of you?  Do you try to draw out their life story?  Do you probe for their opinions on important matters, whether the politics of the day or a life situation you are struggling with?  Do you ask them to educate you on something you don’t understand?  If they are natural storytellers, do you try to coax them into a fascinating or funny tale?  Do you request specific favorites or lists, such as favorite books, movies, music, vacations, games, foods, etc. that you know will spark a spirited discussion?  Which of these types of inquiries seems to work best for you to get the kind of feedback and deep connection that satisfies you?  How aware are you of the quality of the conversation as you are having it?  How much time typically passes after you have had a wonderful give-and-take before you realize its rewards and think to yourself, “I want to do that again!”?  How often do you find yourself in one of these discussions?  Do you usually arrive there intentionally or accidentally?  How often does an interaction end leaving you with some regret—like me with my cousin—that you didn’t make the effort to go deeper?  Do you think it is because you lacked the courage in the moment to probe them, or were you just not mindful enough of how shallow the conversation was until after it was over, stuck in the habits of our usual superficiality?  Why are we so superficial in general?  Is it just a matter of practicality, us being unable to take a deep dive very often due to things like time constraints and other people overhearing what we would like kept private?  Or are we afraid of being vulnerable, of exposing things about ourselves that will be open to judgment from others?  Or are we shallow?  On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being shallow and 10 being deep, how deep are your conversations with the people you want to connect with?  How do you think that number compare to the average person?  How does it compare to the people you admire the most?  Who are those people?  Who in your life—whether it’s been 10 minutes or 10 years since you have spoken to them–would you love to get a phone call or a visit from so you can share stories, ideas, and passions?  How often do you think about calling or visiting them?  How much would it enrich your life?  What keeps you from doing it?  Does that fear or justification feel more important than the joy, the growth, and the inspiration that the connection would bring to you (and to them)?  If you could pick just one person to reach out to today for whatever reason, who would it be?  What would you ask them?  What would you share?  I dare you!  How much deeper do you want your connections to be?  How much richer do you want your life to be?  Are the two answers the same?  What is your next step to go further below the surface?  Leave me a reply and let me know: Are your conversations satisfying to your soul?

Take the plunge,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it.  Let it be another way to deepen your relationships.

P.P.S. If this way of probing yourself feels helpful to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

Spoiled, Selfish, & Stupid: Why We Are Not To Be Trusted

“Living as I do with human beings, the more that I observe them, the more I am forced to conclude that they are selfish.” –Natsume Söseki, I Am A Cat

“Pride and folly, they go together like two tightly grasping hands.” –Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear

Hello friend,

Open the floodgates! The Americans have left their homes and their senses!

We gave it a good run. We–well, most of us–did the decent thing for a solid month or so. We sacrificed. We listened to scientists who told us that the best way we could help was to stay home and keep our distance from one another. We actually considered how our behavior affects others. We showed a conscience. We were selfless, altruistic. It was like a weird, totally surreal, alternate universe. But we made it cool! Social distancing and masks became the darlings of social media, inspiring all sorts of clever memes, GIFs, and videos. It was this quaint little throwback thing we were doing together–like having a 1980s Day at school or pretending we were re-enacting “Little House On The Prairie”–all with a collective ‘wink-wink’ knowing we were way too cool to actually live like this. We were playing along until we got the first signal that we could call off the charade.

Apparently, the signal was not a vaccine to prevent anyone else from getting Covid-19. It was not a medicine to help alleviate the symptoms. It was not the steady decline of new cases over a 14-day period, as the experts had told us from the start would be best indicator. The signal wasn’t even any sort of decline. As it turned out, all it took for Americans to assume permission to return to regular social living was the mere mention by folks on TV of the possibility of a slow, measured re-opening of the economy.

And with that, social distancing (and sense) is a thing of the past.

Exhibit A: Last weekend, my wife, kids, and I took a bike ride around our neighborhood. The first park we passed had a full parking lot, people playing volleyball and other sports, grilling, playing on the playground, and hanging at the beach. I could feel my sensible wife fuming behind me as we passed from the road. She had already made clear before we left that we would not be entering that park, as the nice day would draw too many people. But this was another level. This was Summer-day-level crowding. I sped up my pedaling to get past it, and we soon arrived at the next park, where we would be circling the more remote path that surrounds the hub of the park. Of course, we immediately spotted in that center a large gathering of what appeared to be friends, some playing full 6-on-6 volleyball and many others gathered around the court lounging and socializing in very close proximity. Again, it looked like an ordinary-times Sunday afternoon at the park.

Keep in mind that at that point, where I live in Minnesota, there had been no new guidelines for removal or even decrease in social distancing or gathering size suggested by the governor or other top scientists in the state, just talk about some upcoming small measures to get a few more businesses operating.

My wife, who may be accused of being cautious and germaphobic–qualities I have finally come to appreciate with a killer virus in town–but also has a track record of wisdom and sense, was livid. She could not wrap her head around what these people were thinking–or, perhaps more accurately, not thinking–to be in each other’s space and touching the same things willingly. I admit, I was outraged at their behavior as well, but I was less shocked. I had felt it increasing the entire week leading up to that day. And immediately prior to our bike ride, I had witnessed Exhibit B.

I was in my kitchen and happened to look out my window to see some neighbor kids and their friends from a few blocks away right up on the front patio of a different neighbor, where that neighbor (a middle-aged man) was sitting with his girlfriend. (You may recall that I mentioned in my last letter my anger with my neighbors that have kept up frequent play dates and social gatherings throughout the pandemic. Well, these were the kids and friends.) I was immediately shocked and angered at their proximity to one another, of course, but its lack of appropriateness also captivated me. I kept watching. The kids proceeded to circle this guy’s house over and over again, stopping by the man and woman as they went. Then, when they seemed to tire, he gave them a drink from his cup, which they proceeded to pass around to everyone in the group.

As someone who has taken the scientists very seriously regarding the necessity of social distancing and mask-wearing during this global pandemic, my jaw was practically on the floor. Why worry about the spit droplets traveling randomly through the air and only maybe reaching someone else when you can just pass those little guys directly via a cup? Brilliant! These same folks were part of a several-family, no-distancing yard party just a couple days earlier that I also got to witness in horror from my window. All that is to say that by the time we got to that park last Sunday, my sense of disgust was still strong but my ability to be shocked by foolishness had been dulled dramatically. Mostly, my neck was getting tired from shaking my head so often.

Though I have no satisfactory justification for anyone willfully breaking the simple social distancing guidelines that have been in the public forum for several weeks now, I have thought a lot about the mindset behind it. As always, I spend a lot of time considering how we humans think and the impulses behind our actions. It starts with myself, of course, in my daily journal entries that have been helping me understand my shenanigans for decades. But I am equally fascinated by others, both individually and collectively. I am a fan of all studies sociological and psychological. And obviously, immersed as I am in American culture, I am particularly fascinated by attitudes and behaviors that seem uniquely American.

This recent abandonment of conscience and the corresponding moral free-for-all regarding social distancing and our obligation to care about the health of people we don’t know seems to fit the bill as something thoroughly American.

For the sake of today’s discussion, I am separating the people gathering at my neighbor’s house and in the park to celebrate and play socially from the maskless hordes storming state capitols and shouting in people’s exposed faces in protest. Although there is some relation between the two groups, I think the arguments get much more complex when you bring in the economic aspects of stay-at-home orders, which I like to think are motivating the protesters. People simply craving human contact and unfettered hanging out occupy a different spot on the spectrum. It is these people who are just over social distancing and are moving on despite the potential consequences that are the ones I am pondering today.

When I think of my wife’s shrill, panicked, “WHAT IS HAPPENING????” when she first witnessed up-close these blatant acts of disregard for established guidelines for protection against a deadly virus, the first thing that came to my mind to sum up my theory was “spoiled Americans.”

Sacrifice is not something we are accustomed to at this point in our history. For those of us in the middle class and higher, anyway, we haven’t spent much thought on how our lives affect others or ever had to “take one for the team” and make do with less so others could live. The term “first-world problems” has caught on in the common vernacular precisely because for many of us, we simply aren’t very inconvenienced by the world. But now this coronavirus has kept us away from the blowouts, hangouts, and make-outs that we have come to see as our birthright.

So sure, we played along at first (at least most of us). We stayed at home. We stayed apart. We wore our masks and acted like this virus was real. We posted on social media about the blessings and bummers of staying at home, the heroes on the frontline, and the plethora of new memes on this fresh topic. It was a quaint little game we were playing together. For fun, sort of. Something to tell the grandkids about one day, anyway.

But then it became dull. It was no longer enough that we all had computers, phones, FaceTime, ZOOM, Google Hangouts, Facebook, Twitter, InstaGram, TikTok, and a million other ways to connect with friends and family in real time. The world had denied us of one thing–proximity–and we aren’t people who suffer denial well. So, over the past couple of weeks, the bat signal somehow went out. Every time I took a walk or rode my bike around the neighborhood, I saw more and more gatherings with less and less space between the gatherers. Before I knew it, neighbors were passing cups around to share. Americans had revealed themselves. Spoiled, self-absorbed, foolish.

Now I know, of course, that it isn’t everyone. Obviously, I am writing this letter as someone who has not changed his behavior recently, and I have seen other shows of dismay and disgust in both conventional and social media (including a column in the Tampa Bay Times called, appropriately, “I Will Not Die of Stupid”). So plainly, I am not saying all Americans are selfish brats, but I definitely believe that streak runs through our culture. And, as so many people are showing us in the last couple of weeks, there is a critical mass of people in this country who are proving that this aspect of our collective personality cannot be held at bay no matter how dire the outcome. We are that petulant, arrogant toddler whose behavior embarrasses the parent when it comes out in public, so ashamed that they let the child get this obnoxious in its egotism.

Fortunately, I think (I hope) that we are also the parent, or even the onlookers who are appalled at the toddler spouting demands that his every whim be met immediately. I am confident that I am not alone in my astonishment and outrage at the foolishness of my neighbors. I know there are others who feel both hurt and confused by the collective lapse in morality by people who they have respected. I am aware of others speaking up, if only to people who share their dismay.

My question is, what is the score? How many people are on each side? Are there enough people with me to make a positive difference, or am I shouting into a vacuum? As I said, I have seen other people voice their anger and disgust over this flouting of science and disregard for the health of others, but every time I walk past the park or look out my window and see a big gathering of people ignoring the rules, all of those articles and social media posts seem like a whisper no longer heard over the shouting. I want to think that the bigger mass of people still has a conscience and integrity, but those volleyball players and cup-sharers make it hard for me to see things clearly.

We have a very long way to go with this virus, and at this rate, I know I am in for a lot of future outrage. However, I really, really want to think the best of people. I want to believe that they will look to their better angels and find the mental strength and the moral courage to do the right thing, no matter how dull and inconvenient it is. I just hope that when they are at their weakest moment, when they are lonely and cranky and bored, that they can look to the people around them and find positive role models, people who care about all of the people in their community and about getting through this pandemic as quickly and safely as possible. Together, but separately. I will be over here in my yard with just my wife and kids if anyone is looking.

How about you? Are you more likely to be hanging out with friends these days or watching the crowds in horror from a safe distance? Open up your journal and your conscience and lay bare your inclinations and your justifications? How annoyed and inconvenienced do you feel by all of the coronavirus-related restrictions? Were you annoyed and pent-up all along, or did you play along willingly at first but have gradually slid your standards of acceptability? If all of the restrictions and dangers magically went away today, what would you do to feel “normal” again? How closely have your actions approximated that lately? Do you do “meet-ups” with friends (e.g. for coffee), respecting social distance or not? If you have kids, do you allow them to play with other children who don’t live with you? Do you play sports with people from outside your household? Take walks with them? Have you had gatherings of extended family or friends? If you answered “YES” to any or all of those, how do you justify your behavior to yourself? Is it easy to do? Can you come up with sound, intelligent arguments to explain yourself? Can you reasonably claim the moral high ground? Does anyone call you on your questionable actions? Do you get defensive, or do you feel fully justified and unapologetic? On a scale of 1 to 10 and being as honest as possible, how much do you care how your behaviors affect other people? Do you feel like you deserve to do whatever you want? Does your conscience bother you at all when you skirt the guidelines of safety? How likely do you believe you are to become infected by the coronavirus? Does that percentage affect your behavior one way or the other? If you do get it, would you say it was worth it to act in whatever ways you are currently acting around distancing and mask-wearing? Would an impartial scientist say that the way you are behaving is on the risky side of the spectrum or the safe side of the spectrum? Would a wise person say you are being wise or foolish? Would I say you are acting like responsible, altruistic human of integrity or a spoiled fool who is in moral decay? Would you care what any of us had to say? Are there such things as character qualities that can be ascribed to nations or social groups? Do enough Americans act in spoiled, self-centered ways that we can declare those to be characteristically American? Thought experiment: if you were going into a theoretical battle and were choosing your teammates, would you want to get in the foxhole with “America”? Would you trust her? For individual teammates, would you more likely choose one of the people at the park playing basketball and having drinks with their friends these days or someone who is strictly conforming to social distancing guidelines? Would you choose you? Leave me a reply and let me know: What type of citizen are you behaving like these days?

Be big,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it with your community. Let’s raise our consciousness together!

P.P.S. If you are stirred by this kind of introspection, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.

First-World Grieving: Sadness & Loss In The Wake of COVID-19

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.” –Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore 

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” –John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

Hello friend,

“It’s all over,” I thought to myself as I stood, shoulders slumped, by my bed in the dark. “The whole world is shutting down now.” Seconds before, my alarm had jolted me upright in the dark hours of morning. I had just climbed out from under the sheets and started for the bathroom so I could be at the gym when it was still quiet–my usual routine. The alarm had also stirred my wife, who, knowing where I was headed, rolled over and said, “The gym is closed. They sent out an announcement last night.”

It felt like all of the life went out of me. My window of escape was closing rapidly, and I knew it. I didn’t want to say it out loud, but I knew it. Just the day before, as the closures and cancellations were beginning to gather momentum, I was still willing our vacation into being, ignoring the signs and buying goggles and sandals for the beach and pool. The world just had to hang on for a couple more days so I could get to the ocean, then it could take away its concerts and large gatherings all it wanted. I would be in peace on the water with my little family. It just had to be so.

Thoughts of the beach and the pool were all that filled my quiet moments for the past three months, maybe more. We have been going to our special spot on Spring Break for the last few years, so the fantasies in my mind were crystal clear. It is just the right speed, just the right activities, and just the right vibe. For my liking, you cannot beat the combination of water, warmth, and sunshine. All the better that I get to see my parents and a best friend.   Every day and every place we go while there is perfect for me, for my wife, and for the kids. Everyone is giddy about getting there, blissful while there, and so sad to leave. For me, it is the trip I look forward to all the year long. It becomes an obsession the nearer I get to it. I needed this trip! So, needless to say, being only a couple of days away, I was downright manic in my excitement to get there when the news of COVID-19 started to become more ominous and the feeling of the window closing began to creep in.

Denial is a powerful force, though, and I was in no frame of mind to let my obsession go. My bag was already packed! I could practically taste the saltwater. I was not able to think clearly about anything. I was seeing friends on Facebook on their Spring Breaks. My niece was sending photos of her trip to the same place we were going. It was all right there. I was so close!

My wife, whose mantra over the preceding weeks was, “Just get me on that plane! You can quarantine me on the beach if it comes to that,” was constantly monitoring travel recommendations, and nothing was saying we couldn’t go. My belief began to crack, however, as the CDC recommendations for the size of gatherings hit 100 people. Even in my delusion and denial, it was not a stretch for me to start thinking, “There are more than 100 people outside the gate, and there are definitely more on the airplane.”

Still, my will to go was strong, and with no government directive to cease travel, I began this sort of desperate self-justification process, making a last gasp of trying to convince myself it was acceptable. “If we could only just get through the airplane stuff,” I pleaded, “we would spend the rest of the week on an open expanse of beach, far from other people and their germs. Isn’t that enough?”

When my alarm sounded that morning, though, and my wife told me about the gym closing, it was like my last breath came out of me. There was no fight left. The dangerous reality of the virus and its exponential spread were suddenly facts to me, and I could deny them no longer. Social responsibility, which had been the elephant in the room that I had been trying to ignore, grabbed me by the shoulders and made me look him in the eye. When I finally did, I knew: I would be a selfish, irresponsible jerk to get on that plane, and perhaps also a merchant of Death. The trip I had been dreaming of for months was simply not going to happen.

I was absolutely crushed. Devastated. That night when I called my kids into my room individually to break their hearts with the news, I wanted to cry right along with them. It was terrible. I wasn’t torn about the decision anymore by that point; I was certain that it was the right thing to do. But it still hurt like hell.

I moped around the house for the next few days like my dog had been shot. It was hard to find light. I was weak, slumped, and slow. It was in the air all of the day, thoughts of times in past years that I would be missing out on this time. The first face-full of saltwater as I raced the kids to be the first one into the waves. Frisbee in the sand. Ice cream at the splash pad with my parents. Swimming races against my kids in the pool. Walking the shoreline with my wife, the water chasing its way up to our feet and then receding. Watching the pelicans dive for fish and the dolphins rise to breathe. Just being there. All beautiful, happy thoughts that made me sad to think about.

There were moments that were particularly difficult, mostly the ones that confirmed the reality that I would not be living that much-anticipated journey, such as calling my parents and friend to speak the words out loud and going to the grocery store to stock the refrigerator that I had been working diligently to empty before we left. The most poignant one was unpacking the suitcase I had filled with swimsuits, t-shirts, and sandals. That felt like a burial.

I’ve come out of it, though, at least part of the way. I still have moments when I realize what I have been missing or think about what I would be doing if we were there. When my Google Photos or Facebook memories pop up on my phone from one or two or three years ago “On This Date,” and I get to see all the fun we had and the memories made: those are bittersweet parts of my day now. I am glad I have the memories, but they are kind of a punch in the gut when they arise this week. But that pain is easing, if ever so slowly.

I can feel other losses in the wake of COVID-19, too, though thankfully not as intense as the loss of the dream week. I miss starting my day at the gym. I am still exercising at home when I wake up, but it’s not the same. There is little variety in my basement, and no pool or basketball court. I am not social at the gym–shocker, right?–so I don’t miss that part, but I feel terrible for the many senior citizens who go there less for the workout and more for the coffee and fellowship in the community room and find a real home there. That is all gone now.

I empathize with my kids, for though they aren’t necessarily dying to be back in school just yet, they definitely miss playing with their friends and being on sports teams and running out to join the neighbor kids in the cul-de-sac for games. They were bummed when the earliest possible date to resume school got bumped out to May. Connecting them with their cousins and friends on FaceTime or ZOOM helps, but there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction: wrestling, hugs, baking, high-fives, Girl Scout meetings, basketball games, sleepovers. So much stuff. I am sad about them missing that. And though my own kids are generally happy and stimulated and fed and safe when they are at home with me and my wife, I have worries about so many kids at their schools (and every school) who I know are struggling without the structure, socialization, food, and caring adults that their school provides for them. I am sad thinking about those vulnerable kids.

I always feel a bit silly and self-absorbed when I am tempted to claim any exceptional quality, so I tend to balk at claiming to be something of an empath (because maybe everyone feels this way and we just don’t talk about it). But here we are telling our Truths, so I will just say that I most often feel my sorrows or have my tears when I witness other people having theirs. I am less inclined to cry over my own misfortune than I am of yours, especially if I can see how it weighs on you. My heart feels yours, and that is more depressing to me than any burden of my own. That is what I am feeling more of as these days go on. I feel other people’s anxieties, fears, and sorrows and desperately wish there were more I could do to alleviate their pain. I would rather take it on my own shoulders.

And hey, I know I have it easy compared to most. I have very little desire to get together with people for work or play; I can imagine that part being the most depressing for a large percentage of people. I don’t typically enjoy going out to restaurants, bars, or even stores. At least for now, I can still get to parks to walk around and be with the trees, the water, and the fresh air. That tends to satisfy my soul. I actually enjoy my wife most of the time, and extra time playing with my kids is a treat for me. I can hardly imagine how sad, frustrating, and scary this time is for people who are extroverted, who love going out at night to eat and drink, prefer to shop and run errands, enjoy the coffee shop and the gym, whose “family” is their co-workers, who live alone but long for company, or who can’t stand the people they live with. Then multiply that for people who have lost their jobs and dreams; I shudder to think about it.

It will be interesting to see how the losses and our grieving evolve as the pandemic goes on (and on and on and on…). I know that my psyche will be vulnerable as our income declines. That will change my concerns dramatically. And who knows how the people around me will change as the weeks drag into months. Solitude and distancing affects everyone differently, but so does living in close quarters with only the same few people every day. Will they grow irritable, or get cabin fever, or become depressed? Will I? And how will we deal with each other when that happens? Will we spiral together, or will the least affected help the others to rise again? What will happen when more people that we love get sick and possibly die? All of these things, and more, are on the table. Suffice it to say that there is likely more loss and grieving to come.

I don’t want this letter to come across as just a big list of complaints against the Universe and a search for “Poor Me” sympathy, as that is not my style. And maybe in the next letter, we will look at all the blessings that this crazy time has brought us; that deserves its own space. But I also think it is important for us, as people who are working to uncover our Truth and to live authentically, to acknowledge our losses and speak to our grief. We can own those things without qualification. My loss of a long-dreamt-of vacation, or your loss of going into work at a place that you love, or someone else’s loss of the convenience of their favorite gym class or coffee drink need not be apologized for just because we know others have it worse. It’s not a contest. (And let’s face it: even the worst of our hardships in this time are much better than what people in war-torn countries face in normal times.) If you are grieving for anything in this unprecedented time, it is your job to name it and process it and do your best to eventually come around to Gratitude for it, however long that may require. That is the job of Life, actually.

I wish I were swimming in that turquoise water right now, basking in the warmth and sunshine, and WooHooing at my kids as we ride the waves to shore. It breaks my heart that I am not. And that is my Truth.

How about you? What losses and sadness have you suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic? Open up your journal and your heart and share some of your low points from the beginning of a difficult time in our history. What is the biggest loss you have felt in this early phase? Have you canceled a vacation or important event that you had looked forward to? How disappointing was that? Enough to bring tears? Is it still bumming you out? How much does the current social distancing and isolation play upon your psyche? Do you miss your friends, relatives, and co-workers? Do you miss the people you serve in your life (customers, students, patients, clients, etc.)? If you still have your job, how has its meaning changed for you? Does it make you sad to work alone? How have your relationships changed with the (hopefully) few people you still have face-to-face contact with, especially those who live with you? Does the containment cause the relationships to deteriorate? How has your financial situation and outlook changed as a result of the pandemic? How much of a weight is that to carry around with you? What about the little things that have just broken your rhythm (e.g. the gym closing) or kept you from your usual treats (e.g. a favorite coffee shop)? Does that kind of thing get to you? How difficult is it for you to live with being aware of all the pain and suffering that people around the world are feeling right now? Are other people’s sorrows much of a burden to you? What do you grieve most about your changed life? How do you imagine your sorrows will evolve as the weeks and months go on? Do you need help? Are you getting it now, and are you in a position to get it when you need it? Does naming your pain help? Are you inclined to dwell on your sorrows or do you tend to move through them quickly? How is this experience different? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the losses you are grieving as a result of COVID-19? 

May your burdens be lightened,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it with those you care about. Let us share each other’s loads.

P.P.S. If this way of self-examination appeals to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Be well and Namaste.

So Much Left Undone: The Tragedy of Life Cut Short

“Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities.” –George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

“You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made. Dreamed your dream. Written your name.” –Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book 

“You must decide if you are going to rob the world or bless it with the rich, valuable, potent, untapped resources locked away within you.” –Myles Munroe, Understanding Your Potential–Discovering the Hidden You

Hello friend,

I was at an arcade/sports bar for a kid’s birthday party when I heard the news of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash. I looked up at the bank of TV screens above the bar and there was his picture and the dates of his birth and death. I was stunned. I shook my head, recalling that I had just that morning read an article that mentioned him congratulating LeBron James on passing Kobe on the NBA’s all-time scoring list the night before. And now he was dead, just like that. It was a shock.

But the real pain for me came later in the day, when I learned that his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, or “Gigi,” was also on the flight and killed. My heartache only grew when, in the following days, I learned that among the seven others who died in the crash were two of Gigi’s basketball teammates, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester. Kids. Kids whose brilliance was snuffed out in an instant and whose future contributions to this world we will never get to experience and appreciate. As iconic and mythical as Kobe Bryant was to millions of people across the world, it is the deaths of those girls that I can’t seem to shake free of. Even two weeks later, they hang like a cloud over my heart.

My daughter, India, is 11 years old right now, just two years younger than Gigi and her teammates. She is probably both the kindest and the smartest person I know. Her compassion knows no bounds, and she is always looking for ways to help people and make the world a better place. She is clearly on the path to greatness in one form or another (and knowing her, probably many forms). Her existence on the planet, when all is said and done, will surely be a net-positive. I cannot imagine the loss to the world–never mind my personal loss–if she were to die at the age 13. Oh, the wonder and brilliance that we would all miss out on! A loss so big that only those who already knew her could fathom because she had not yet been fully unleashed by the gift of maturity to do her special thing for us all.

So much potential. So many possibilities. So much still on the table. So much left undone. It is devastating to consider.

That is what I think about with Gigi, Payton, and Alyssa. What magnificence were they going to offer us? How were they going to illuminate our world with their gifts? Was Gigi really going to be a basketball savant like her father, as video suggests, and become the next icon of the sport? Would they become teachers, artists, scientists, or senators? Would they raise wonderful children? Would they raise our awareness? Would they break down barriers? What did they leave on the table??? To depart from us at that age, leaving us grasping fruitlessly to “We’ll never know…” as an answer, is truly devastating. It is the essence of tragedy.

But as I think about that condition, I begin to wonder: At what age is it NOT tragic? Seriously. What is the point when we can be satisfied that someone has emptied their bucket and given the world a satisfactory portion of their potential?

I look no further than Kobe Bryant himself. While I was never a big fan of his as a sports hero–though I had great respect for his work ethic and competitive will, I was turned off by other parts of him and more drawn to other athletes–I had, in the few short years since his retirement, become fascinated with his curiosity and his intellect, as well as his ambition for projects beyond basketball. I had known already that he was fluent in multiple languages, a trait which I respect. But he had also become a true storyteller, creating a series of books and even winning an Oscar for a short film he wrote, produced, and narrated called Dear Basketball. He seemed to want to keep expanding and sharing his light in as many ways as possible, including coaching his daughter’s basketball team. So, even though he had a very long, full career as a pro athlete, inspired millions of people around the globe, made a fortune, and had four kids and multiple successful business ventures–more than most of us dare dream of–I would say he had an unfinished life. At 41, it appeared he had a lot more to give. That is tragic to me.

It’s different, of course, than the loss of the three children. He got to live out his dream, at least. But still, with all of his potential–a bright, curious mind with burning ambition and the money to fuel it–he clearly left a lot on the table. We’ll never know…

It saddens me to see potential go unfulfilled.

This heaviness I have been carrying around with the losses of these young people and all that they might have been has inevitably led to thoughts of my own life and death. Beyond those awful visions of losing my children at this age and the world being deprived of all their potential magic, I have pondered my own death and the relative importance of what I would leave undone if I should go now, at 47. How much more do I have in me, and how valuable is that to the world? Can I still be a net-positive? At bottom, I suppose the question is this: How much of a tragedy would my death right now be?

My mind goes immediately to my kids and the thing I believe I have done best in my life: parenting them. They are only 11 and 9 now, so no matter how solid the foundation has been laid to this point, I still have a job to do. So many lessons to teach, meals to prepare, and hugs to give. Is there any age before adulthood when kids DON’T need all of the material and emotional support that a parent provides? There is just so much more I am going to do with them and for them? With them, I feel like an unqualified Good. It is the one spot in the world where I feel essential.

While I am less confident of my necessity in my wife’s life–she would be and do Amazing under just about any circumstances–I hope that my partnership with her can help her to rise even higher, do even more great deeds, and leave an ever-increasing impact on the world. I like to think that the supporting role I play in our duo allows the light to keep reaching her so she can amplify it and spread it out into her many areas of influence.

I hope I have some good writing ahead of me that will enrich the lives of my readers and those around them. I want to think that these letters to you continue to provide you with fodder for self-reflection and journaling that will lead you, like it lead me, to a greater self-knowledge and, in turn, a deeper sense of gratitude and thus happiness. I believe in the value of my purpose and my message, and I believe I have more to share on that front. I hope that includes more books and many more letters.

I know that I have more works of service in me as well, and also just more positive interpersonal communications. I plan to be a better human: more kind, more generous, more forgiving, more compassionate. And hey, I plan to have even more fun and adventure, making myself even more grateful and happy, which I know seems selfish on the surface, but I truly believe that happier people are a benefit to the world.

All in all, though I may not reach the millions that Kobe Bryant reached, I think I can be a net-positive to this place if Fate allows me to stick around. But especially for my kids. They are going to do magic here, and I need to help facilitate that. That is what saddens me so much about Gigi Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli, and Payton Chester. They were going to do magic here, too. I hope that any extra years I am granted here can be filled with such works of Good that I can make up for some bit of what we lost with them. I hope my life can do honor to theirs. And in the end, when it is my turn to go, I hope that I have wrung so much out of the years I was granted that it seems no tragedy at all that I have gone.

How about you? When you arrive at the end of your life, how much will you leave on the table? Open your journal and consider both your realized and unrealized potential. How have you done so far in your lifetime? Have you used your talents wisely and generously? Have you been of service to others? Do you feel confident that your existence has been a net-positive, that the world is better because you were here? Whether or not that is true, what would be the loss to the world if you were to die today? What more do you have left to give? In what specific areas of your life do you plan to be the most valuable? Family? Career? Volunteering? Sharing your voice? General personal kindness? Which people in your sphere of influence would miss out the most if you were to die now? How aware are they of that? Based on the life you have lived so far, could we make a pretty good guess as to what you have left to contribute, or do you plan to surprise us? How steeply can you raise your trajectory? Does the possibility excite you? How will your legacy differ if you live 20 more years from the legacy you would leave today? At what point in your journey–past, present, or future–would your loss be deemed a tragedy for the world (I mean beyond just being very sad for your loved ones, which is a given)? Do you mourn people differently depending upon how old they are when they die? If you had to pick an age when it no longer feels so tragic when someone dies, what is that number? 60? 78 (average life expectancy)? 90? Do you mourn people differently based on their talents and what they might have left to give, regardless of age? In the case of the helicopter crash involving Kobe Bryant, which did you find yourself mourning more: the 41-year-old, multi-talented celebrity or the 13-year-old kids? What do you imagine each of them left undone? Do the deaths of strangers shake you and stay with you? Is it because of their potential and what they never got to do? How about thoughts of your own “early” death? Do they rattle you? Is it because of what you might never do? Does that motivate you do better now so as to have fewer regrets about your impact and achievements? If you died now, what would you most lament having not done? How devastating is that thought? Leave me a reply and let me know: How tragic would it be if you were to die today?

Carpe diem,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community. Let’s all live our best lives now!

P.P.S. If this way of reflecting on your life feels important to you, consider purchasing my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

Misguided Saints or Friendly Villains? Assessing Loved Ones In The Age Of Trump

“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” –George Carlin

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” –Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

“That’s what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you’re not so lovable.” –Deb Caletti

Hello friend,

If you and I meet up any time in the next year–or maybe forever–and I don’t seem to remember how to act, it’s because I don’t. Truly, I don’t. I’ve forgotten. I may be dying to interrogate you, rip into you, gloss over you, or lavish you with empathy and good will–or all of the above simultaneously. What you get? I don’t know! Never in my life have I felt so torn about how to interact with people in general, but especially the people I have always known and loved. Ninety percent of my interactions are a form of torture. And I blame it all on Donald Trump!

Just kidding. Not about the torture, but about the Trump. (I am not here to litigate the President, really. We all know where we stand on him already, and I don’t expect to change that. My question today, as always, is ultimately about YOU.) I know he is only a symptom of a deeper disease–and I generally don’t even mention his name–but he makes the arguments stand out in bold, cartoon-like form, making it easier to highlight our differences of morality. So let’s go with it for the moment.

I suppose I have been tortured by a version of this syndrome all my life–a liberal, “bleeding heart” kind of soul born into a family, community, and region of the country that oozes conservatism–though most of my years were spent in happy denial of it. At some level, I could always say that I felt “different,” as though I didn’t quite belong, but I didn’t ever really do the work to crystallize what it was. I was blissfully unaware of politics and the ramifications of political beliefs on the lives of the people around us and the people of the world. I casually accepted the idea that all of those politicians in Washington were pretty much the same: White men who agreed on the problems but just had slightly different views on the solutions. I suppose I figured the rest of us were pretty much the same: it wasn’t our politics that separated us or showed some to be “good” and others “bad,” but rather our day-to-day actions and our morals. Politics seemed to be a separate thing and far less important.

And then I opened my eyes and started paying attention. It all changed pretty fast from there. Me, I mean. I changed. Not me, as in, who I was. But me in how I understood the world and its workings. The curtain got pulled back for me, and I couldn’t un-see what I had seen, though it would have saved me a lot of torment in the ensuing years.

Politics is morals put into policy form.

The policies–and, by extension, the politicians that espouse them–that you support tell so much about your character and your moral compass. At bottom, your politics reveal exactly what (and whom) you value. Simultaneously, they tell about what you are willing to swallow in order to make your values win. It is a crystallization of your priorities.

So, why do so many of the people from my past–people I have liked or loved, people I played with or share blood with, people who raised me–support a brand of morals that makes my skin crawl? How could we come from the same home and seemingly be moral opposites? And should that make us, if not enemies, then at least cordially not-friends? Are we deluding ourselves by thinking that the bonds of old friendship or family should endure even though we realize we are thoroughly incompatible morally? Should I be cutting ties, or do I have to just shine it on at reunions for the rest of my life, keeping my conversations agonizingly superficial in the service of tolerating each other? Or is there something more, some level of wisdom or grace that I can reach that allows me to fully embrace them again, the way it was before I could see these things clearly?

I want to know how to interact! Maybe more so, I want to be able to think better of the people I have been feeling hurt by and angry with, people who have been a big disappointment to me since I opened my eyes to the stark differences in our beliefs. I want that, but at the moment, I admit that it’s hard to see a path to the bridge.

This may seem random, but I think we need to talk about Jesus. As I have shared with you before, I am not a Christian but am a huge fan of the man. His example and his teachings are wonderful. In this era, though, I feel as though I have to defend Jesus from his followers. It truly makes my blood boil to listen to certain high-profile religious leaders as they not only cover for the despicable acts and policies of our current President but celebrate him and lean on their congregations to do the same.

But, as I said, I do not want to make this seem like it’s about Donald Trump. As easy of a target as he is in any discussion of morals, I would rather pull it back to a party level, but still stick with my guy Jesus. My pet theory–perhaps incorrect, but still mine and sure to offend even more people, but hey, I’m already in the deep end on this one–is that the “Christian coalition” (or “Evangelicals” or once upon a time the “Moral Majority” or however you would like to name the right-wing Christian movement) was willing to hitch their wagon to whichever political party was going to side with them on the issue of abortion. The Republicans signed on and have happily won a ton of easy elections out of the deal (hence the “Bible Belt” also being called the “Solid South” to signify that it votes solidly Republican).

But what policies did the Christians–and just so we are clear, I am not suggesting this applies to every Christian but rather to the movement and leaders (e.g. Franklin Graham) that try to speak for the religion–wed themselves to for the sake of abortion? How do they look after this deal? And, more importantly, how do you imagine Jesus would see it?

I have studied this guy Jesus fairly seriously, both as a kid and as an adult, and these are some of the traits and principles that stand out to me about him: generous, nonviolent, empathetic, welcoming, charitable, open-hearted, peaceful, forgiving, an ally to the outcast, opposition to greed, caring for the poor and the sick. When I look at the issues of the modern world that our political parties disagree on, I always shudder to think how he would feel about the side taken by the leaders and followers of the religion that bares his name.

Tax breaks for the wealthiest, leading to greater income inequality and a greater number of people suffering and impoverished. LGBTQ discrimination. Separating immigrant families who are fleeing war or cruelty at home–hey, like Jesus!–and caging children at the border. Gun laws. Expansion of the prison-industrial complex and military-industrial complex. Civil rights and righting past wrongs to African-Americans and other minority communities. Guaranteeing health care for all. Protecting the environment. From what I can tell about Jesus, he would land on the exact opposite end of the political (i.e. moral) spectrum than the people who are supposedly carrying his banner.

Whenever one of these issues comes up and I ask myself that famous question, “What would Jesus do?” the answer inevitably turns out to be so different than the Republican/”Christian” response. That is deeply disturbing to me. I wish it were to them, but judging by the election results at all levels, it plainly is not.

Just look at the President. We will pull him into the discussion for a moment. I have no need to write the laundry list of his moral failings, but suffice it to say that in both his policies and his social (e.g. Twitter) messages to the world, he would seem to me to be a glaring embarrassment to not just his country, religion or political party, but to humanity. Horrifying things are said and done, and yet who in his party–whether a politician or an ordinary citizen–ever says, “Yikes! This time he crossed the line. That is unacceptable.”? As my wife is fond of exclaiming when at her wits’ end about these silent enablers, “How do they look themselves in the mirror? How can they live with themselves?” I would like to know.

Because I have Republican family members who practically spat in disgust when Donald Trump was a candidate for President. Until he became their nominee, that is. Ever since, I don’t hear a single negative thing about him from them, no matter how egregious the latest lie or slander or tantrum. All is well in their world. I would like an explanation for that.

But what I also want from them–and I know this sounds extreme and self-absorbed at first blush, but it is my truth–is an apology. I have been highly sensitive to racism my whole life, even growing up White in a thoroughly White community. And now I have a Black wife and two biracial children, as well as dear friends of color. Any neutral account of this President’s history before and in office show him to be plainly racist. You, as a supporter, can say all day long, “I am not a racist. I am not a racist. I am not a racist.” But if you pledge your support to a racist, what does that make you?

And I get it, there are more things about a politician than whether they are racist or not . So maybe you love your politician’s foreign relations philosophy or immigration policy or health care plan so much that you are willing to overlook their racist statements and actions, but does that mean you should not even acknowledge that aspect of it to someone who is hurt by your vote? Especially if you love them? Something along the lines of, “You know how I voted, and I know that must feel like a punch in the gut to your family because his racism is truly ugly and harmful. But the other issues are ones I couldn’t compromise on, so I felt compelled to vote for him despite serious misgivings about his character. I really do apologize for the damage his racism causes; I can only hope I am right about the rest and that our relationship survives it.” From my own experience, I will say that the votes of my family and friends for Trump have deeply hurt my feelings on this issue of racism. The possibility that they are blind to their hurtfulness doesn’t do much to salve the wound. It mostly makes me feel the moral divide between us is that much greater.

That divide tends to feel like a gulf, because, as I said, this is not just about Donald Trump, and I am sure it won’t disappear when he leaves office. This is about political issues that are shows of our moral character and thus our priorities. After all, conservative media spent decades portraying Hillary Clinton as, alternately, morally weak for sticking with a cheating husband, then frigid, calculating, ruthless, and finally, as corrupt and untruthful as Trump himself. But in the end, whether any of those cartoon-villain descriptions were accurate or not, she still stood for policies that revealed a morality far, far different than the policies of her opponent, never mind his well-chronicled character flaws.

So let’s be clear, I don’t think anyone in Washington is a saint. They play in an ugly game, and to rise to the top, they have probably done things that they don’t want to tell their mothers about. But you and I aren’t playing an ugly game. We are living this one life, and I, perhaps naïvely, presume that means we are trying to be good people and leave the world better than we found it. In this one life, we get to choose how we come down on every issue, and we get to step privately into that voting booth in every election and vote with our moral compass as guide.

But that’s the problem I am having and why old relationships have become so awkward and challenging. I get to see the election results and know the values and priorities of the people in my community. In the case of family members and some friends, I already know the way they vote, so there becomes no way for me to deny their moral positions. When I do the old, “What would Jesus do?” test and their votes come out on the opposite side of me and Jesus, it creates a crisis of conscience for me. Not because I doubt my political positions, but because I doubt my relationships.

I begin to wonder whether, in staying loyal to the person, I am betraying myself. Am I taking the high road with them but low-balling myself? Their presence in my life–at least on some level–feels like a violation of my principles.

But then they go and muck up my righteous indignation by doing what they have been doing all my life: being kind to me and my family or doing other good works for their neighbors or the world. They tell me funny jokes. They enjoy a walk on the beach or in the woods with me. We play sports together. Our kids are best friends. We take each other’s suggestions on great books and movies. We have an intellectually stimulating conversation or commiserate about our children, all of whom we love and want the best for. They act like friends and family are supposed to act. In effect, they make it complicated.

Humans are so darn messy! The so-called Good and the so-called Bad. It turns out neither is exactly what we call them. None of us are. We are all grey, all wearing one angel’s wing and one devil’s horn, showing them off alternately depending upon which angle someone is looking from. You are this to me, but you are also that. I can therefore not put you in a box. Knowing you requires nuance and perhaps a sacrifice, some boundaries, or even some cleverly placed blinders. That is frustrating because it is a lot more work. It’s so darn much work!

But what is the alternative? Solitude? That is tempting to me on many days, believe me, but I have mostly made peace with my decision to be a (somewhat) social animal. I know that I will have people in my life, and that means I must accept some degree of compromise of my many principles (I do like to have things my way!). It doesn’t mean I will accept just anyone into my life or that my current relationships have not changed from my end. As I said at the top, now that my eyes have been opened to the ramifications of political positions, everything has changed, but most especially my boundaries. But it is a murky task. I thought maybe in the course of this letter, I would come to a hard and fast conclusion on this. Like, “I can no longer commune with these people, even in our superficial way! The moral gulf between us is too wide.” But my heart does not seem ready for that extreme lockdown, even if it has narrowed the pathway in. I guess I have to learn to be okay with a little more messiness, a little more grey than I would like. I have to learn Grace. Grace is hard. But I suppose that is Life, isn’t it? It is not easy, and it isn’t clean. It resists boxes and absolutes.

The entrance of politics into my life has done so much more to muddy the waters. It is no wonder that new studies show that the more people pay attention to politics, the more stressed they are. But I cannot go back to denial. The cat is out of the bag. I have allowed the complexity into my life, and I want to be responsible with its ramifications. So, if you see me on the street and I seem a little wary, forgive me. In all of my balancing between assessment, acceptance, rejection, and practice of Grace, I no longer seem to know how to behave in public. It turns out I am a work in progress.

How about you? How well do you balance your natural feelings for the people in your life with the new information you gather about their character as time goes by? Open up your journal and take a deep dive on this enormous and so-very-pregnant topic. How open and honest are your communications with family and friends on sensitive topics such as politics and religion? Are you able to really say how you feel and challenge them on their beliefs and your differences, or do you remain silent on these topics and pretend your differences don’t exist in order to keep the peace? Whether or not you talk about them, are you aware of the political differences you have with your loved ones? Do you know where they stand on the various issues and how they vote in elections? How much do you think about that? In what ways does it shape your relationship with them? Do your differences, even if unspoken, cause you to keep them at more of a distance than you might otherwise? Do your political similarities bind you together more tightly? Perhaps the dictating factor in all of this discussion regards how much weight these issues–and politics in general–carry in your life? Are you like me and feel very passionately about things like health care, the environment, or gun control, or do you not think much about any of these issues and not care to allow them to shape your relationships one way or another? If you are in the latter camp of not caring, does this idea of politics making or breaking relationships seem silly? Do you believe that politics are really just our moral values put into policy form? If not, then how do you see politics? But if so, why aren’t more people more invested in them? Whatever your level of investment, how do you deal with people you care about who have very different politics/morals than you do? Do you try to change their mind? Does it affect the quality of your time together, or the amount of it? Have you cut anyone out of your life for their political/moral beliefs? If these moral issues are as important as I think they are, shouldn’t they cause more relationships to break up? Do you feel weak or somehow in betrayal of your principles when you allow people with starkly different beliefs into your life and/or the lives of your children, especially if you take their positions to be detestable and their influence a negative one? How do you deal with a racist in your family? What other moral/political characteristics are hot triggers for you and cause you much tension at family reunions or other gatherings? Does a lot of this depend on how long someone has been in your life and how late in the game you learned of their moral shortcomings? For example, if your father is severely racist or your sister nasty to the poor, but you didn’t fully grasp this and gain footing in your own convictions until more recently, do you feel as though it is impossible to change your relationship dynamic with them because they have been with you–and good to you–for so long? Are you able to merge the new information you have with the old and manage the good and the bad, or do you tend to keep focused on only the good or only the bad? How about with new people in your life, like a co-worker whom you have become “work friends” with but then, upon getting closer, learned you were politically opposite? Now put specific political parties or politicians to all of those questions. How do you react to someone when you learn how they voted in the last presidential election? What if you were planning to meet a friend or family member somewhere socially and they showed up wearing a red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hat (or an Obama T-shirt)? Would your blood curdle? Would you say something? Would it instantly change your relationship? Think of the loved one who is farthest from you politically but that you still allow close to your heart. How do you pull that off? How much of it is denial? How much is it that you have witnessed them doing so many other good things interpersonally–being kind, generous, or compassionate–that you let the bad stuff slide? How much is that you are wise enough to see everyone as complicated and messy and that you have learned to just see through to the good and be more accepting of everyone? How do you think this whole issue varies between liberals and conservatives? I once wrote you a letter about my theory that conservatives tend to see liberals more as foolish and overly idealistic–but not morally lacking–whereas liberals tend to see conservatives as morally corrupt. What do you think? Are liberal-minded people more likely to keep the conservative at arms’ length and/or break off the relationship entirely because of perceived moral failings, or the other way around? Or equally likely? Is your tendency to see your politically opposite loved ones as good people who are just misguided, or do you tend toward seeing them as bad people who have done good things for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do your relationships change when politics are revealed?

Do your best,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with your community. Let us try to better understand ourselves and each other so we can beautify the world!

P.P.S. If this way of questioning yourself is appealing to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.