In a few short days, I’ll have another birthday. As is the case for most my age, birthdays are arriving faster and faster each year, but that’s not the only way mine have changed.
A year and a half ago, I lost my mother, as many of you already know. It was a traumatic loss due to a massive stroke, and there are times to this day that I think I must be dreaming. She can’t really be gone. I miss her every day, but special occasions exacerbate the longing.
My mother had mastered special occasions, pulling out all the stops on making those she loved feel special. I hadn’t been home for a birthday in years – having moved away in 1991 – but we did share some together. Both parents flew to celebrate with me when I turned forty, and I went to them for fifty. Otherwise, having a birthday so close to Christmas made it too challenging from a job perspective to be home for both.
What would she do to compensate for my distance? She’d send a whole box full of gifts. Little things, mostly, since Christmas was our real time to splurge. In later years she found this more challenging, stating that I’d gotten hard to buy for, because I didn’t need anything. But I knew it was because she’d exhausted herself making Christmas perfect and just couldn’t put in the same amount of effort. I didn’t care. It wasn’t what was in the gifts so much as simply getting them.
Every birthday, I’d open those gifts with mom and dad on the phone – each on an extension. In the last few years of mom’s life, we’d Skype, so that they could watch, while I unwrapped each one and squealed with delight – and I did squeal with delight, knowing that it would bring her joy.
My gifts always arrived early by a week or two, so that I could “enjoy them.” I’d put them in the big ceramic bowl on my dining room table and send her a picture. And I did enjoy them. They always looked so beautiful with their strategically placed stickers and bows, all the while calling my name and tempting me to open them before the day. I never did.
My ceramic bowl sits empty now, although I do have a great deal of love in my life, and I do receive gifts. There was just something about getting them from mom that I never took for granted. I knew that someday they’d stop coming – those cherished boxes – and I knew my heart would ache.
I still have my dad, who has become the best-damned card shopper in North America. He picks out the most special (and surprisingly sentimental) card on the shelf and writes something loving inside that brings a tear to my eye. When I receive them, I write the date on the back with plans of keeping them forever. I also hug the card and cherish the moment, knowing that my mantel will someday be empty, too.
I will celebrate my birthday this year (and every year), and I will feel loved. In the process of redefining tradition, however, melancholy can be a tough thing to avoid.
I think taking time to cherish what still is before it’s gone is the most important thing we can do in honoring our loved ones. I fill my imaginary birthday box with memories now, and I give myself plenty of time to enjoy each one.
Yes, I too have experienced sexual harassment on the job.
I can sense the collective sighs and eye rolling now – a desensitized response that seems to be increasing in popularity.
It happened many years ago and at the time, I’d been only one among several victims at the same place of employment. Our harassment included outright grabbing (this went far beyond the simple cheek of an ass – not that any form of it is acceptable), disgusting sexual comments and indirect threats of firing. Did I confront the perpetrator? Eventually, yes, but it took me some time, and when I finally did, he stopped – with me, anyway – for a while. He had just begun making advances again when the lid blew off the situation, and he lost his job.
Why am I telling this story? I’ll get to that, but I think it’s important to note that I hesitated writing this post for fear of judgment. Then came the realization that fear of judgment is often why victims don’t say anything in the first place, so piss on it.
Okay, here’s why I’m telling it:
Hypothetically, had this individual not lost his job, and he’d gone on to a far more important position of power and influence – say in politics or the entertainment industry (which he didn’t, to be clear) – and say that a young woman or two had stepped forward in present day to say they were being victimized by him, only to be discredited by a subsequent media frenzy – would I step forward after 30 years to say, “Hey, he did the same thing to me?” You’re damned right I would. I would stand up and defend them in the way that I should have defended us all back then.
And why didn’t I defend us at the time or confront him sooner? Why did it take someone else to bring an end to the whole sordid mess?
It irks me to no end that people have to defend their behavior in these situations, and that’s why I’m writing on this topic. It’s not to tell my story; it’s to illustrate a point.
I feel like I’m continuously bombarded by posts, comments and videos containing both men and women saying things like, “Why are they coming out of the woodwork now?” “Where were all the complaints when it was happening?” And my personal favorite (insert sarcasm here), “Why didn’t they stop it from happening? I did.”
For all of the women out there who suffered sexual harassment and took efforts to stop it, I applaud you, and I mean that with all sincerity. I’m proud of you, and I respect the courage it took for you to take a stand. For those of you who didn’t take efforts to stop it, I empathize with you, I feel your anguish, and I wish I could take you in my arms right now and say, “Don’t let them judge you. You did what you were capable of at the time, and none of this was your fault.”
When did the world become obsessed with this, “You should have,” attitude? Do we not all come from different backgrounds? Don’t we all have unique histories that shaped who we are as individuals? Aren’t there some among us who are just naturally stronger and more capable of standing up to bullying and blatant manipulations of power? Can’t we support each other instead of judging who should have done what and when?
I’m of the opinion that we need to drop the, “They had two legs and a voice. They should have walked away,” mentality and harmonize more on “I’m really sorry that you were violated in this way at all, and I empathize with how the experience – and your reaction to it – were unique to you.”
Harassers are masters of control and sly manipulation, not to mention retaliation. The harassed often learn only to master survival. What that survival looks like for that individual is none of society’s business. Stopping this bullshit and protecting our women from the outset is where we need to focus our attention.
Would I put up with any level of sexual harassment now? Hell no – not for one second, and I’m proud of the strong, independent and self-protective woman I’ve become. I am also, however, tolerant and loving toward the young woman I once was – the one draped in vulnerability and fear trying to find her way in an often very harsh world.
When it comes to sexual harassment, I’m all for judging the action. How about we lighten up on judging the reaction?
It’s simple, really. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who loves change – which doesn’t hurt – but I’ve been using a foolproof method for years now when dealing with big and small decisions alike, and it works.
Try this . . .
Sit quietly without distraction and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and feel yourself in a rocking chair, on an expansive porch, at the ripe old age of 90.
Really dig deep. Cross your hands over the textured afghan on your lap. Feel a warm breeze pick up enough gray hairs to tickle your cheek. Let the sun massage its way into each well earned line on your face.
Next step? Think about your decision and let that 90-year-old self reflect back on it, while really feeling from your core.
Some sample decisions may be, ‘Should I marry the guy/girl?’ ‘Should I quit my job?’ ‘Should I sell everything and park my Westfalia on the beach?’
Your 90-year-old self will do one of two things looking back on that decision: feel peaceful with a smile on their face, like my sweet Auntie Lee in this pic, or experience intense regret and sadness with the corners of their mouth on a downward turn.
It may sound crazy, but it works for me, every time.
Recently, I saw this quote from Kahlil Gibran that reminded me of why I take the above steps in the first place: because I loathe regret. If I have any, and there is some but not much, it’s either because I made a stupid decision prior to implementing this process, or I ignored my senior self like a pig-headed idiot. I ignore no more.
We all have an inner voice, or compass, that knows if a decision is going to be good or bad for us. What we tend to do, however, is ignore it and plunge forward despite the gnawing ache in our solar plexus that’s screaming, “DANGER! BACK AWAY!” When you practice accessing your future self in a state of reflection, and really take heed of their reaction, it becomes harder and harder to screw up.
Again, try this, and let me know if it works for you. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
And if you haven’t read Kahlil Gibran’s THE PROPHET, your future self will thank you for picking it up – with a smile.
All aspects of the scene are still so vivid: my tiny self, sitting at the dining room table, filling out magazine subscription cards, while mom listened to my many future plans.
Was the intent of the cards to burden our mailbox with copies of Redbook and Chatalaine? Hardly. They were blank checks in my imaginary world, each one awaiting my all important and very grown-up signature.
Independence has admittedly been an obsession of mine from the outset. I actually begged my dad to build me my own house in the backyard as a kid. I mean, come on. He had his own masonry business. What could be so hard? And he’d built a house for our dog, Spanky, with real shingles on the roof and her name across the front. Didn’t I deserve the same consideration?
Of course, I understand now why he didn’t, but then?
As an alternative, Spanky and I would spend hours together squeezed tight into her little digs. I’d verbalize my vision to her at length as we both kept a watchful eye out for brazen foe (be that stray cats or my menacing brother).
I’m reminded of that tiny me quite often when faced with adult challenges, and one thing still remains the same: I love filling things out. In fact, for me saying good-bye to paper checks proved painful, almost like destroying childhood momentos. So sue me for holding tight to my last shred of Leanadom: that old-school transaction record from the bank. That’s right, I’m that person.
I loved playing grown-up so much as a kid that I appreciate every nuance of being the real deal today. I particularly like opening mail, because it transports me back to mom’s kitchen table. I still tend to stockpile envelopes over several weeks – just like I did those subscription cards, and when I finally get settled in to open them, we’re talking a bonafide event.
A stack of envelopes, a cup of hot coffee and my ceremonial Canadian letter-opener. I just adore the “schlit” sound it makes slicing through each and every seal, while individual stacks grow higher: one for garbage, one for the shredder, and yes, even a special one for bills.
Being an adult rocks, and I don’t take one iota of my freedom and independence for granted. I would even go so far as to say that the older I get, the more I love it. It’s everything I dreamed it would be plus some, and I’m so glad that mom got to see me revel in the experience. I only wish that Spanky had, too.
You can take the girl out of the doghouse, but . . .
You know the guy. The one who sits down beside you on a plane and doesn’t stop talking? Yeah, I spent two hours with him yesterday. Initially I wanted to scream, having planned to sleep during my early morning flight, but the conversation proved interesting.
We covered a lot of ground together (literally as well as figuratively), and I left with a nugget of a quote – one for the reactionaries among us who suffer from seemingly involuntary knee-jerks when things spill out of our control:
“DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING; SIT THERE!”
It’s nothing short of brilliant! Maybe you’ve heard it before, but I hadn’t, and I now plan to practice it at the first sign of trouble.
And is it just me, or are the reactionaries among us proliferating? Impatience – everywhere – and I’ve had enough!
Okay, all joking aside, short fuses now seem like the rule instead of the exception, with no one having tolerance for anything or anybody else. Maybe it’s because our culture is obsessed with instant gratification. Or it might be our steady decline in values. Perhaps even the highly contagious spread of apathy among Westerners. Whatever the reason, I’m a firm believer that we all just need to chill, which is why I love this quote, SO MUCH!
It’s going to happen again, you know. You’re going to be somewhere, and someone is going to piss you off. I firmly believe, however, that we can retrain our blood pressures to be more selective on what shoots them skyward.
I’ll admit that there have a been a few occasions when instantly doing “something” has been the right move, providing the right outcome, but if I’m totally honest, it’s more often been disastrous. That’s why, the next time I get my ire up, I’m going to take a deep breath and sit.
Actually, let’s start a movement: SIT FOR YOUR SANITY! Yes, it’s an oxymoron – movement and sitting – but don’t let that annoy you.