Sunday, November 25, 2012

It's the End of the World as We Know It

About three years ago, my son Daniel came home from Karate and informed us that the world was going to end in 2012.  He was certain about this because his karate instructor had told him and the rest of the kids in the class that that world would cease on December 21, 2012.  The Sun would be replaced by Venus and that would essentially destroy the earth.   Max and I looked at each other and tried to reassure my young son that the world was not going to end even in light of the fact that he had heard this from what you would assume was a responsible adult who we were paying good money to teach our son self-defense.  I quickly retreated to the internet to look up doomsday predictions to debunk what he had heard so that he would be able to sleep that night and not feel scared.   I looked up the end of the world prophecies and found that since the beginning of time, there have been over 200 doomsday scenarios and yet miraculously the world is still here admittedly with plenty of scrapes and bruises but none too worse for wear.   I told him not to worry to because no one could really predict the end of the world and that mankind was not far enough along to have God call us all up to heaven.  I had him read some of doomsday prophecies that started as early as the year 44 A.D. and mentioned for all the predictions of Hell, Fire and Damnation, we’re still here.   I put my little man to bed and let him know that he was safe and sound and that 12/21/2012 would come and go with little fanfare. 

I closed the door to his room and cursed his teacher for even bringing this up because even though the Mayan calendar supposedly ended on the winter solstice that year, it doesn’t mean the world would end.  It just meant that the new cycle will start over from the last long count which ends in 2012.  The teacher might be dealing with his own anxiety about that date, maybe he saw the movie 2012 about the end of the world and took it for the truth, but he didn’t need to inflict it on a bunch of little kids who only wanted to get pointers on doing solid side-kicks.  I could imagine the other parents dealing with the same issues with their kids and trying the best they could to reassure them that everything would be alright.  I also wondered how many phone calls Master Bryant would be getting the next day from Moms and Dads who had their 9 year olds crawling into bed with them in the middle of the night because they wanted to be close to their parents when the end came.   Needless to say for a variety of reasons, we eventually pulled Daniel out of that karate school. 

It reminded me of when I was a kid and there were shows like In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock from Star Trek) where I learned about the prophecies of Nostradamus which have not always been on the money in the divination department.  Many times people would fit the vagueness of his prophecies to things that had already happened or were so obvious that they were going to happen that they were retroactively clairvoyant.  For instance, he predicted the world would end in 1999 and of course it didn’t.  Than the prediction was revised to 9/11/2001 which would make you realize that a prediction that is two years too late about two towers rather than the end of the world is probably not worth the paper it’s written on - but then his supporters will still try to find a way to believe no matter how far-fetched it is.   To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, apparently a prophet is a prophet, no matter how small (or wrong).

I remember in 1988, the world was supposed to end according to a NASA mathematician and crackpot, Edgar Whisenant who had figured out the formula from the bible because God had hidden it there. The rapture was supposed to be between September 11-13 1988 and was supposed to happen sometime during Rosh Hashana.  Of course it didn’t and the prediction was continually revised through 2001 when the poor man died and was more or less forgotten.  That scenario sounds pretty familiar to May 21, 2011 when Harold Camping predicted that his believers would be taken to heaven.  His radio station empire got hundreds of millions from their listeners to support his work and hopefully buy a higher place in Heaven when the rapture actually happened.   When it didn’t happen, it was revised to October 11th of the same year and eventually he had a stroke which supposedly took away his ability to speak –  which is an ironic a bit of divine retribution because Mr. Camping thought he could outsmart God.

The scariest event that I could remember for the end of the world as we knew it was during the panic of Y2K or the year 2000.   For years, there were Y2K experts who worked on ways to avoid disaster and keep planes from falling out of the sky because the computers would be confused and would think it was the year 1900.   The reason people were so freaked was because in the 1960’s, the programmers abbreviated dates from 01/01/1964 to 01/01/64 to compress data and save massive amounts of limited memory.  So fast forward to 1999, there was literally world-wide panic when the new year would turn to the year 2000, the computers would think it was 1900 and stop working.  There were survivalists who had basements filled with bottled water, guns, ammo and canned tuna.   Everyone dreaded New Year’s 2000 because it might mean the end of life as we knew it.   We would have to live like the Amish without computers and cell phones.   In that scenario, the world would lose its technological advances and the grid would go dark.  There were TV shows starting in 1995 about how those brave nerdy programmers were trying to avoid a meltdown.  All of the year leading up to Y2K, that was all you heard and your sure didn’t want to party like it was 1999.  I remember sitting with Max on the couch at 11:45 p.m. on December 31st wondering if life as we knew it would change forever and like the show Revolution anarchy would rein except for the brutal and hot militia guys who would suck the fun out of everything.   But as midnight hit in capital city after capital city around the world nothing untoward seemed to be happening - it looked we had dodged a major technological bullet.  The next day was like any other day, but with far less tension and fear.  The world had not ended, your money had not disappeared into a technological void and the lights were still on.  I remember taking three year old Amber to the park and enjoying the sun on my face and the shade of the trees which ironically would have still have been the same even if the lights had gone out. 

So even after life went on, there were news reports on how disappointed some people were that the world was still as it always was.  There were not thousands of deaths due to airplanes dropping out of the sky.  There were not marauding hoards of unwashed masses looting groceries stores.  The good citizens of those metropolises did not have to be saved by the valiant members of the NRA who had guns which made them way more prepared then the liberals who would just use their ability to use a thoughtful quip to stop the ignorant in their tracks.  Probably the worst thing to come out of Y2K was those people who had invested thousands in K-rations to survive were now stuck with hundreds of pouches of chipped beef on toast which I would imagine would be enough to make anyone really depressed. 

I’ve always been surprised that time after time when those dooms day predictions did not come true that there were people who were extremely devastated that the world was still around to see another day.  Harold Camping’s believers had to literally do some real soul searching to figure out why they were so duped and why they followed a false prophet.  Why would you be cheering for the world to end and have billions of people die?  What is going on in your own sense of reality that the end of all you know is a good thing?  I was sitting across from Max at the kitchen table and asked him that very question.  He very wisely stated that as much as we like to think we know what tomorrow will bring – we just don’t.  We like to think we can control things and but that’s a fa├žade.   So some people are really going to click into the idea that the end of the world is a certain day because it gives them a sense of control – in a weird way it makes them feel better.  I sat back and thought, “Damn, my man is smart!”
 I guess that’s why shows like The Walking Dead and the aforementioned Revolution are so popular.  It’s feeding into the collective dread of December 21st and asking us how we would survive if everything we ever knew what yanked from us in a very short period of time.  In The Walking Dead world, you have to fend off flesh eating zombies day after day along with trying to maintain a sense of order.  Life has a whole new meaning when there are the living and the “walkers” who wonder aimlessly looking for living flesh to eat.   When the world is full of the undead and you’re fighting like hell not to be one of them, the little things like the size of your bank account don’t seem that important.  Revolution asks us to contemplate what we would do to survive if the lights went out and there was no energy anywhere to keep your life as you knew it the way it was.  There would be no grocery stores, no ATMS - it would be Amish time!  Max and I experienced our own little revolution when Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in 1992 and we were without electricity for a week.   There was no phones, no internet, no newspapers and you could not drive around easily because of all of the debris in the streets.  It was hard to know what was going on.  You had radios but you had to conserve batteries so the information you got was limited.   I can definitely understand how the people who continue to experience the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy feel.   Like Homestead, Florida after Andrew, it will take months and years to come back after a disaster of that magnitude but people will because that’s what people do. Those disasters end up defining you way better than a zombie invasion ever could.  You come back stronger and all the stupid stuff you used to worry about just falls away because in the end it’s just not as important any more.   

Not having to worry about tomorrow might be comforting for some who are actually looking forward to the end of time as we know it, but when the sun still comes up tomorrow, then what?  Ten percent of the world’s population believes that December 21st is the end of the world.   Maybe they are out there running up their credit cards, having those awesome dinners at expensive restaurants as their last meals because 2013 will never come.  There will be the stays at hotels they can’t afford on credit cards they just got as a last fling before the end.  When day break hits on December 22nd, they will feel a little relived and then realize the massive cluster cuss they’ve gotten themselves into because the world did not end, life goes on and those new massive bills will still need to be paid.   

Probably the best end of the world prediction I’ve read is in the year 2034 from the “Church of Blair (a church with its tongue firmly in cheek – don’t ask which one) in which they predict that aliens who look like rainbow colored lemurs will land and wipe out mankind by bludgeoning us to death with giant burritos.  I’m actually pulling for that one because I think it’s so absurd, I would probably die laughing before they can get to me.   

There’s an old saying that “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”  I imagine if you want to really make him laugh hard, like so hard he’s falling off his chair and is slapping the floor wiping tears from his eyes, tell him you’ve figured out the mathematical formula for when the world ends because you’re just that smart.  The angels will be chortling too, and Jesus will be slapping his knee and saying, “That’s hilarious, dude, good one!”  As much as we’d like to think we have it figured out, we just don’t.  So sit back, relax and just let life take you where it’s supposed to because my guess it’s not going to be on the back of one the four horsemen of the Apocalypse this December.
One of the great paradoxes in life if that you have to live life fully like there’s no tomorrow but still need to have some type of plan in place for the future.  If today was your last day, would you have helped the people you were supposed to and told them how much you loved them?   December 21st could be figurative for changing the way you used to do things so that point in your life can literally come to an end.  It can be a time to make your life over to be what you want it to be so at the end you can be proud of what you’ve accomplished with no regrets.   So for those who have not been saving up for retirement because you were pretty sure your days were numbered, I have some good news and bad news.   The good news is that you’re going to be here awhile, and the bad news is that you’re going to be here awhile – what you decide to do with that blessed time is totally up to you.  Trust me, it’s not the end of the world.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving – The Other White Meat

It's October 31st around 9:00 p.m. and the candy fueled decaying corpse of Halloween wasn’t even cold when the commercials for Christmas started.  The bright lights, festivities and the message was that the best time to get with your family is that magic day in December. There was no message about that holiday that falls on the fourth Thursday in November - the holiday that is traditionally reserved for reflection to give thanks for all we have and the blessings bestowed on us.  Thanksgiving is now officially a speed bump on the way to the more financially bloated Christmas holiday. 

I have always loved Thanksgiving even if it does give me a dose of angst as I know that my days of getting everything done before December 25th are starting to tick away.  It used to be the one day that you knew you had to slow down because the stores were all closed.  If you worked in retail, it gave you a day to rest before the onslaught of Black Friday  - a day when legions of shoppers try to take their local malls, Targets and Wal-Marts like soldiers storming Normandy in WWII.  Black Friday is not for the faint of heart – it takes steely nerves, a strategy and a take no prisoner’s attitude – on that day, you keep your head down and know that fear is good, fear will keep you alive.  It’s precisely why taking Thanksgiving to take stock of your life is so important – you never know when reaching for that drastically reduced big screen TV might be your last.  But seriously, it’s supposed to be a time to be with family – enjoying football and avoiding a political discussion with the uncle who thinks the last good president was Ronald Reagan.  You take the time to go around the table and talk about what you’re really grateful for, not leaving half way through dinner to get to Target hours before it opens at 5:00 p.m. Thanksgiving night to get the $1 DVD door busters.

I guess the bigger question in my mind is – “Have we lost the fine art of being thankful?”  It’s a steadily snarkier world out there where people like Simon Cowell are praised for their brutal honesty and running people down on Twitter and Facebook seems to be America’s favorite past time.  You create a family video on YouTube with the baby’s first steps only to have someone leave a comment that the baby sucks.  Really?  What is happening out there?  Is the need to be the most negative the one who wins?     

Reality shows are steadily showing us the heightened effects of the demise of the human condition that include meltdowns, accusations, selfishness and a total lack of cooperation because you need to stab the other person in the back to get ahead.  But the constant barrage of negativity can take its toll after a while and skew your perception of what you should be grateful for.  If you are not rich, famous and have camera crew documenting your every move in our society, then you have nothing.  If you are not keeping up with the Kardashians then you have little to talk with other people about who would rather discuss the empty twisted adventures of pseudo-celebrities rather then taking the time to be introspective about their own lives.  

There are tons of distractions to keep us from taking stock and realize that what we have is pretty good.  There are smart phones that keep us on track so that we can get the latest tweets and instant messages from Facebook. We can use Outlook to schedule ourselves into oblivion and not have a quiet moment to think because if you are not plugged in, then you are missing out. Those quiet moments are essential for us to connect with who we are, but silencing the mind and really discovering ourselves can be flat out scary.  How many people do you know who are constantly running from appointment to appointment (almost always late I might add) or rehearsal to rehearsal, regaling you with how many projects they are working on. They are always dashing off to the next thing - never really forming tight bonds because keeping things on the surface is much easier than a heavier emotional investment.  It’s easier to cancel at the last minute when you are not deeply bonded to something because you assure yourself that something else will always come along to distract you.   You post the schedule of your exhausting day on Facebook only to be one-upped by someone who is equally over scheduled, because the one who drops dead first while working on that important project wins.You spend so much time trying to assure yourself that things are going great because you’re going at the speed of hyper-space that you don’t have the time to see much of anything until you are so emotionally or physically exhausted, you are forced to stop and hopefully ask yourself why you are so busy.  Why can’t we be thankful for what we have rather than always looking for something more?

An article by Melinda Beck of the Wall Street Journal, reported that in a landmark study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2003, Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Michael McCullough showed that counting blessings can actually make people feel better.  A group of 100 undergrads were split into three groups.  Each group had to report on different things for 10 consecutive weeks: one group had to report five blessings each week, one group had to report five negative things each week and the last group just had to report five things that happened.   Needless to say, the group that counted their blessings were happier, exercised more and felt better about their lives than the other two groups.   As simple as it sounds, gratitude is actually a demanding, complex emotion that requires "self-reflection, the ability to admit that one is dependent upon the help of others, and the humility to realize one's own limitations," Dr. Emmons explained.  You’re simply not going to be able to do that if you are constantly rushing from one place to another without the time to reflect on what you really need.

One of my favorite all time movies is It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart.  It’s a great movie about the power of being grateful.  In the 1947 movie, George Bailey tries all his life to get out of Bedford Falls because he’s sure they he’ll be completely happy if he can just “shake off the dust of this town” and start anew somewhere else.   The entire movie addresses the yearning of this man to do big things in the world but every time it looks like he might get out, he’s thwarted by his father’s death, his brother’s marriage and his duty to the town he loves and hates.   He marries the love of his life  and has four kids in the home she’s always wanted to live in.   Things are going along pretty well until one Christmas Eve when his uncle misplaces $8,000 (which in today’s market would be closer to $100,000) and everything seems lost.  He’s given everything to this town and now he might go to jail for something he didn’t even do.  When he’s told by his nemesis Mr. Potter that he might be worth more dead than alive - George clutches his life insurance policy and tries to kill himself only to be saved by his guardian angel Clarence.  When he wonders what the world would be like if he was never born, Clarence grants his wish.  He ends up in an alternate reality and sees Bedford Falls empty of happiness and compassion.   All the people he ever cared about and helped fall into despair because he was not around to touch their lives.  He begs Clarence to send him back to his real world, even if it means he’ll go to jail because having the people he loves in his life is worth the risk.  In the end, his family and friends rally to his defense and he realizes that he didn’t need to leave his home, because the world he has created there is amazing and special.  It’s a movie that still resonates with people today – probably more so because it’s easy to feel overlooked and forgotten in our technological age.   
In the same Wall Street Journal article, Ms. Beck discusses “The George Bailey Effect” which asks the readers to subtract a positive person or event from their lives and think about how things would be different.  If you take that flight of imagination, it’s easy to see how your life would be different if you didn’t have that significant event or person, good or bad to help define who you are. For instance, I met my husband Max when I was 25, coming off a bad relationship with an actor and the last thing I wanted was to date another actor.   He was coming off a break-up with an actress so the both of us started off as friends who met doing a play called All Men are Whores (yes, that was the actual name of the play).  We’ve know each other for over 30 years and have been married for 27.  I will tell you that I would be a neurotic self centered person without Max in my life.  I would not have my two amazing girls.  I probably would have been married and divorced a few times to men who would not have treated me very well.   I’d probably either be very skinny or overweight from stress if I was in the entertainment business full time and having crying jags everyday. To put it simply, my life would have no balance - I would be a hot mess.  So when I look across the table and see his face, I’m thankful that he’s part of my life and thankful for the times that we’ve had together.  We have a long history and our life together has definitely seen the “for better or for worse”  sides. We’ve met those times with tenacity, love, laughter and plenty of “That’s What She Said” jokes. 
Eight year ago, my life was very different. I had just been laid off, one of our two cars had died and our sick kitty had also passed.  I could have given into the negative, but I started to volunteer for Hands on Atlanta.  I also helped sort thank-you letters to the soldiers serving overseas which helped put things in perspective because those serving in the dangerous parts of the world needed prayers and support way more than I did.  I was happy to do what I could to help them out.   During the low points in my six months of being unemployed, I made myself take walks at a local park and appreciate the beautiful trees and the sounds of the running brook. I was grateful that I was healthy and had a family that loved me even if I didn’t have a job.
This Thanksgiving, rather sitting around griping and commiserating about the election and threatening secession from the Union (really people – it didn’t really work out so well 160 years ago) or gloating because your guy won, why not talk about all the great things we have in this country – like the right to talk about seceding, the ways can help people affected by Hurricanes recover, the games you used to love to play as kids and how wonderful dinner was. I guarantee if you focus on the positive instead of the negative, everyone will leave the table feeling better and closer. 
Thanksgiving should be about more than just a huge meal to get you from Halloween to Christmas.  It should mean something.  It should mean a heartfelt thank you to those that you appreciate and do kind things for you.  Saying thanks for something specific can mean so much.  The other day, I went to Publix to pick up a few groceries and the cashier asked me if I wanted to donate a few boxes of food for their Food for Sharing program to help needy families in the area.  I said, “Sure, why not?” as she rang up an extra $4.50 to my bill, because that easily could have been my family a few years ago. She thanked me profusely since I was the first person who had taken her up on the offer.  Her supervisor walked up and started to help bag my order and was told that I had just donated to the program.  “That’s great – now we’re ahead of the other team – thank you so much and the family who will get the food thanks you too.”  They were both so happy over what would amount what I would spend on a grande salted caramel coffee from Starbucks – but this was a much better use of my money.  I left with a big smile on my face.  I had made those women’s day and they had made mine because they were sincerely thankful.
You could save yourself so much time and frustration if you just took the time to sit and ask yourself what you are grateful for and what you really need.  The lightening speed of your life can take a pause while you contemplate that.  What are you thankful for?  My guess is that it’s not the fifth project that you’ve just taken on in addition to your regular job.  I’m not going to take the holier than thou attitude because frankly I’m guilty of doing that to myself – I'm an insurance agent, I sell Mary Kay, I've finished a novel that I'm submitting to an agent, and if people ask me to help them do things for non-profits, I have a hard time saying no.  But I have gotten better – I try not to give so much away so that I’m too exhausted to be present for the people that I love and who really need me.   When I take the time to see all the great things I have in my life, I won’t be looking outside of that nucleus to feel complete.
So this year, start a new tradition - sit back and ask yourself what you have to be thankful for and let those near and dear to you know how much you love them.  The last few years have included some really tough times and the loss of my mother and sister-in-law but I got through it. I learned who really loved me, who my friends were and would stick by me no matter what. When you get right down to it, I have everything I need to be happy. Feeling grateful should always be the meat of Thanksgiving – it’s what’s for dinner.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Divine Intervention, Karma and Gingerbread Milkshakes

So it was another broke-ass Friday night where the bills got paid and the checking account was low.  Pay day seemed to be too far off in the distance and we had only about $120 to last us four days until Max got paid.   I decided to take the kids to Burger King to eat and our budget was $10 for the three of us which on the dollar menu was a variable feast.   I ordered the kid’s food and a veggie burger for me - the grand total was $10.56.   I gave the cashier $20.06 in cash to get $9.50 back.  The young male cashier was new and struggled with our order.  He gave me $10.56 back which was wrong.  I explained that he was giving me too much money back.  He then looked at the receipt then gave me another dollar, clearly not understanding what I was saying which was frustrating.   For a nano-second I thought that it would be easier to just take the money since I had tried to correct the situation twice.   Then, I got a tight feeling in my chest (no, not from the idea of eating Burger King) and realized that if I took the money, my Karma would suck and I would feel horrible.  Nothing good would come from using that money and it was just wrong.  So I looked at the receipt and realized that he had rung up $22.12 instead of $20.06 and I told him to just give me $9.50 so his drawer would not be short.   Almost immediately after I did that, the manager who did not observe the transaction asked me if I wanted a gingerbread milkshake because they had made an extra one. 
Now most people would see that as a coincidence and that it was nothing more than a free milkshake.  But for me, it was a small reminder that doing the right thing sometimes had its rewards – not feeling like crap because your conscience is nagging at you and every now and then you get free milkshakes.  I get reminded of that frequently when the world seems like it’s going to hell in a hand basket and fighting the good fight doesn’t seem worth it - but for me, not doing the right thing feels so wrong. I get a sick feeling in the pit of my soul and nothing feels settled.  I guess doing the right thing is more about feeling good about yourself rather than in it for yourself.  It can be hard to see that when you see other people getting ahead doing underhanded things.  But trust me, it will eventually catch up to them because sustaining lies and stepping all over people takes so much negative energy that you can never relax.  It drains you and you’re always looking over your shoulder wondering if they will strike back.  Eventually they will because the wheel of karma turns that way.  You can only piss on so many people for so long before they get tired of it, clean themselves off and put an end to it.
I remember working with a young woman who decided that she was going to undermine me every chance she got.  I was her supervisor but that didn’t matter, she had it out for me for whatever reason (it might have been that she was a “good conservative Christian” and was not happy with my politics or stand on gay rights – it wasn’t really anything we discussed but she might have noticed the Women for Obama magnet on my car in 2008 and the fact that I was happy when he was elected).  She would run me down to the consultants and new boss at the company.  I retaliated by asking her to talk to me directly if she had an issue so we could resolve it together.  I also did mean things like give her the time off that she requested and gave her positive feedback when she did a good job – so it was easy to understand why she had such an attitude against me.  I came to realize that no matter what I did, this woman would not change her opinion of me or the need to hurt me professionally no matter what I did.  She would eves drop on my conversations since we worked in cubicles next to each other and would report what she thought she heard to the powers that be.   What she didn’t realize was that I was trying to teach her a lesson about spying - what she thought she heard was a certain amount of misinformation when I was on the phone to Max.  When I was asked about the information this young woman had related, I asked how she got that it since I had never spoken to her directly about the subject in question which never happened.  It became obvious that she was spying and the first time should have been the last time, but she did it two more times before it sunk in that she needed to stop trying to overhear because her credibility was steadily declining.  She eventually took a job at her church with like minded people.  I’m sure they are all having a wonderful time judging each other.
Her new replacement was a wonderful woman who I thoroughly enjoyed working with.  There were no agendas and it was nice to be around someone who just wanted to do their job and make their fellow employees feel good at the same time.  I had a great time working with her and it was not lost on me that for all the struggles I had with her predecessor, I had this new person who I genuinely looked forward to working with each day and who had nothing but good things to say about me to the higher ups.  The Karmic wheel turned in my favor. 
Of course there are times when the Karmic wheel can feel like it’s running you over.   In November of last year, I lost my job, our beautiful cat Skittles died and the 1993 Camry that my mother had given us after my father passed finally gave out.  We were down to one car – a 1998 Honda Civic which could go out at anytime and then what would we do?   I felt like I was handling the job loss and grieving for my furry friend but when the car died after we had put $1,300 in repairs that we couldn’t afford into it, hope started to drain out of my body.   I remember driving home with Max after we had gotten the final word that the car was unfixable and just sat there sobbing.  I tried to get it together for the sake of the kids when we got home but they knew something was up because my face is not generally red, splotchy and damp.  I tried to play it off the best I could, but they sensed my anxiety.  I went up our room while Max made dinner and cried some more into my pillow so the kids wouldn’t hear.   
I felt like my guardian angels had forsaken me and all those “angel codes” I had been looking for meant nothing.  When I was going through a really tough time at my last job, I found a book called “Healing with Angels” by Doreen Virtue, PhD which helped pull me out of a really bad funk and got me focused on my spirituality again.   In this book, Dr. Virtue suggests that angels communicate to us through numbers thorough out the day and if you are tuned to seeing them, you can read what your angels are trying to tell you.  For instance, if you frequently see the numbers 555 in a street address, or a $5.55 shopping receipt or you look up at a clock just as it’s 5:55 p.m., or in a license plate it means that a major life change is about to take place.  I was getting that code for months and my reaction was “Duh, tell me something I don’t know.  I’m one of the legions of the jobless.  Please let me get a job so I can feel like a real person again.”  Then I would feel bad for insulting a group of celestial beings that were trying to help me but doing it on heaven time which probably moves a bit slower than human time.  I would also get 222 which means keep nurturing the ideas that are growing into reality which I interpreted as my job search would yield fruit and soon (click here to seeangel codes if you would like to review them yourself).   So I was seeing those codes all the time and thinking my life would change for the good any minute.   I refused to quit “five minutes before the miracle happened,” but damn, five minutes on an angel’s clock must take a lot longer than Eastern Standard Time.  
After three months when I actually had to go on unemployment after my severance ran out, I kept thinking “Now, it’s got to happen now!”   Then week after week and no job offers, just phone interviews, personal interviews and rejection letters and e-mails.  I began to wonder what I had done to skew my Karma so badly.   So when I got a call from a friend about my current job at a charity that works with individuals with developmental disabilities I sent in a resume but not with much enthusiasm because it felt like was just another dead end.  But as I saw both the angel codes 222 and 555 frequently, I wondered if this time was it.  I prayed the night before the interview for a sign and when I arrived, I got it – a painting in my perspective boss’ office which had six dancing angels.  I knew that this was the place for me and that my angels had come through and for once this job interview felt right.
It’s not lost on me that the angels helped me find this job and that I had to go through what I did to get where I am now.  I’m more tolerant of other people who are struggling because I’ve been there – done that and know what it feels like. The place where I work is well protected by angels since it’s just down the road from both an adult and juvenile corrections facility.  I can sense them keeping an eye on things and helping me out when just when I think things are not going to come together.  They’ve made sure that the two events at this new job have happened even if the help seemed to come later than I would have wanted it.   Again, the skeptics might just say, its luck or coincidence, but I truly believe that it’s more, it’s Karma.  
When I needed inspiration to do a video for work, the song “Thank you for Being a Friend” popped into my head and it was perfect.  When I needed photos for the project, I found them easily even though I had to search through hundreds of photos.   When I stressed about getting the video together in time, it happened way faster than I would have thought because the angels were guiding me to get it done.   When the video was played at the event, it got applause and folks told me that it was great and needed to be where everyone could see it.  (click here to watch the video) So I put it in on YouTube and now our donors, volunteers and supporters can click in and watch it anytime they want.  It flowed easily because it was supposed to and going with the flow is something I’ve had to learn the hard way but when I do, it works really, really well. 
The lessons you need to learn, you learn whether you like them or not.   There have been times when I didn’t listen to that little voice – when I thought I knew better but didn’t listen to my subconscious and ended up paying for it.  For instance, when I didn’t get out of a bad relationship or speaking up to help myself or others, I got a celestial bitch slap and it hurt.  Karma pays you back for your inaction and hopefully you learn because it will keep happening until you do. 
As for karmic justice for those who have wronged me, my approach is always, “Leave it to Heaven.”  Those who have hurt me will eventually feel the sting themselves and more often than not, I don’t have to do a thing because they will eventually do it to themselves.  They’ll cross the wrong person, make a bad choice or flat out implode.  Just give them enough rope to hang themselves and you’ll start to see the noose close in.  It might not happen as soon as you would like it to (did I mention that angels, especially avenging ones run on a different timetable?) but it will happen because the truth will out.
As for my experience at Burger King, that little act of doing the right thing when no one was looking is what character is all about.  If I can’t be an example for my kids, they won’t learn it for themselves.  As I relayed the story to the kids while we ate dinner and were sharing the gingerbread shake, Daniel made a very astute observation.  “Mom, you know the thing I like best about good Karma?  Sometimes it’s just plain delicious!”

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Mother's Pride

My church is very liberal - it's the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett County (UUCG).   I call it one of the little blue spots in the big red state of Georgia.   Our church believes in social justice, gay rights, and the right of everyone to explore their own belief system.  This is a huge contrast to my upbringing in the Catholic church were you didn't have a choice about what you believed you just had to believe in the teachings of the church.  There was not a lot of questioning about faith growing up although I will say that when Max and I got married, we did find St. Louis, a Catholic Church that was pretty open to a variety of ideas (ironically, the adjective catholic means universal).   So when it came time to get back into the habit of going to church for the sake of the religious upbringing of my kids, I tried going to Catholic churches here in Georgia.  I found them lacking compared to my beloved St. Louis.   I didn't see many alter girls at the churches we went to and while there were women helping to do readings during the service, I knew my little Amber would never see a woman priest leading the service and that made me sad.   I wanted to find a place where my kids could be who they were and the Catholic churches around where I lived at the time were just not giving us that.   I needed something more accessible. 

When Daniel was two years old, I found UUCG.  I remember taking Amber the first time I went.  Not knowing the dress code, I wore a skirt and six year old Amber wore a dress with a matching hat.   We were immediately welcomed to this small church that had maybe 100 families total.   With it being so small, you get to know folks and there are many people there that I'm very fond of and enjoy seeing.  It's a nice place to hang as long as you don't seek any deep spiritual conversations about God, Jesus, miracles, guardian angels or other Christian beliefs that might brand you a simpleton among the more enlightened unbelievers.  I've reconciled myself to knowing that I'm more there for the social and political aspects than finding my spiritual path there.  It's nice to not have to hide the fact that you're a liberal since Gwinnett County is very conservative.  My kids are very comfortable going there.   I will always have a place in my heart for the Catholic Church and its rituals even if it's not openly pro-gay rights.   I do enjoy going to mass from time to time just to keep me centered about my relationship with God, the power of prayer, the saints and the continuity of rituals that happen at the same time every year.   As far as prayer and my connection with God go, I can do that anywhere without going to a cathedral.  

With UUCG, it's sort of like Cheers - "you want to go where people know people are all the same, you want to go where everyone knows you’re name."  So you wouldn't pray at Cheers but you'd sure sit down at the bar and let Norm and Cliff know how you're week was.  They would be interested and you would feel like you belonged - that's UUCG but without Sam or Woody serving beers. 
At ages 11 and 16, my kids are huge advocates for gay rights because we raised them to believe that everyone deserves to be loved and respected.   Working in the theater, I have gay friends and have heard their stories growing up and how they were picked on and bullied.   When I worked at Actor's Express Theater Company, they produced The Laramie Project about the death of Matthew Shepherd, young gay man who was killed by a pair of vicious homophobes.  The story is about how his death affected the town of Laramie, Wyoming.  It echoed the struggles of the civic rights movement in the 1960's and how people who could have done something - could have stopped the prejudice sat by and did nothing.  Seeing that play and how people reacted to it - both the members of the gay and straight audiences was really touching - there was a feeling of loss and resolve to never let it happen again.   As many times as I saw that play as the Marketing Director there, it always got to me.  You could not help but feel sad when you thought about how tragically this young man had died at the hands of fear and ignorance.  

Amber and Daniel see the discrimination that comes with being gay in their schools and they want to work to end that prejudice.   Our hearts always break when we hear about a young person who has committed suicide because there were being bullied at school because they were gay. Daniel is also very aware of the Westboro Baptist Church and their demonstrations at the funerals of our servicemen to protest this country's perceived tolerance of homosexuals.   It outrages him every time he sees them in the news.  Picking on the grieving families of soldiers who died protecting our freedom is just wrong, and it's sure as hell not what Jesus would want.   I'm not really sure what they stand for but it's not on the side of God.  I tell Daniel and Amber that they are not really a church but just a bunch of stupid people who are out for attention.  They are not doing God's work because he loves all his children.  Daniel understands this but still gets very angry when Westboro appears in the news.   He's afraid of them as a group - because picking on people you don't agree with in the name of religion can eventually turn violent.

So this fall when we heard that the UUCG would be part of a contingent of Unitarian Churches that would march in the annual Gay Pride parade, the kids really wanted to be part of it.  The parade was on a Sunday in mid-October and would start at 1:00 p.m.  I had marched in the Pride Parade when Daniel was about a year old when I worked for Actor's Express which was named the "Gay Theater" back then and they were doing The Mystery of Irma Vep.  I even dressed up Daniel's stroller with show posters and streamers and he was a big hit back in 2002.  Now ten years later, I would have both my kids in the parade marching and it would be a family outing (no pun intended).   Max had to work that day but was there in spirit.  

We started our trek on Marta which is the public transit monorail that takes you into Atlanta.   It had been a while since Daniel and Amber had been on it.  It was an interesting combination of riders:  there were the church goers, those going to the Atlanta Falcon game and those either watching or marching in the Pride parade.   Each group seemed somewhat oblivious to the other but the Falcons fans were the loudest.  The kids were fascinated at iconic images of downtown Atlanta would flash by and I kept an eagle eye out for our stop.   Not being sure, I asked a group that seemed to be going to the parade where the right stop was - the bright wigs, sequins, make-up and spandex gave them away.   A young woman in the group said that she knew where to get off and to follow her.   So we got off at the Civic Center and were greeted by a slew of bright costumes, men in dresses, women in over the top costumes and just a sense of excitement and pure joy.   Literally, it was like a very gay Disney Parade but with lots of different types of queens instead of princesses.   It also felt like the happiest place on earth.   For the rest of the year, many of these people probably had to feel like they needed to not be who they were in order to navigate their real life in Georgia even if they lived in more tolerant cities like Atlanta or Decatur.  But today, they could be who there were and no one was going to judge them.   No one was going to tell them they were bad or evil.   Today, we were all there to celebrate the fact that they should have "pride" in who they are and no one was going to take that away from them. 

As we made our way to the Unitarian float, you could feel the excitement in the air.   Our float was lined up with some other more family friendly organizations which included the Humane Society and a very progressive Baptist Church that was there to show their support for the cause.  I was so glad to see that because I didn't want Daniel to think that all Baptist churches were like Westboro and that there were churches of all denominations that would accept gays.    We got in line right behind a group of men's volleyball players who ended up spiking and hitting volleyballs to each other through the entire parade route.   Before the parade started, Daniel asked me if he thought we would see any demonstrators like Westboro and frankly I doubted it because there seemed to be a ton of security and thousands of people down the parade route.   Daniel stayed on the float which was a flat bed trailer with bails of straw in it and a few signs being pulled by a van that looked like something out of a Scooby Doo movie.   We were walking down the parade route holding signs like "Unitarian Universalists Support You", "My Church Supports Gay Marriage," and "UU Churches Welcome You."   It was cool that when folks saw us and the float they started to cheer.   Amber, who usually gets really tired really fast kept on going, waving to the crowd with a big smile on her face.

Then about a third of the way into the parade, we saw them - the demonstrators - a few of which were from Westboro.   So here they were, these hate-mongers in our midst telling us that we were going to go to hell for what we believed.   Rather than getting rattled or upset by these misguided zealots, I saw Daniel on the float mouth the words, "Hell No!" as he grabbed a sign that said "My Church supports Gay marriage" and ran bravely towards them.   Amber saw the demonstrators and ran over as well.   I kept an eye on them - and their sense of righteousness to make sure nothing would get out of hand.  They were not scared and they were not going to back down.   Of course, there was safety in numbers.  There were people from our church around them along with about 10,000 parade goers on the side of gay rights, but in that moment it didn't matter - it was them against a group of bigoted hateful people and my kids were not going to be silenced.   When they saw Daniel's sign, they shouted that we needed to go to another church - Daniel walked proudly by unfazed.  I learned later that Amber flipped them off - perhaps not the most eloquent way of dealing with idiots but certainly in a language they understood.   One of the ladies in our group when over to the Westboros and said repeatedly "But we love you - please come and worship with us."   I liked her approach and vow to use it next year. 

My kids were now fully in front of the float, carrying their signs with me and being cheered by the crowd.   As we got to the home stretch, a man came towards me from the crowd and shook my hand.  He told me that his friend had been a member of a Unitarian Church in the area.  His friend was openly gay and felt very accepted and at home in the UU church.   But times got tough for his friend, he went through a really bad time and committed suicide.  The UU congregation opened the church to his grieving friends and they all felt very comforted and welcome in a way that most churches would not have under the same circumstances.   They were not judged, they were simply allowed to be.   The service was beautiful and he felt the need to tell me how much the church had meant to his friends and him.   I told him how sorry I was for his loss and hugged him.  

I had felt good all day about what we were doing, but that man's testimony helped me see what a resource my church was for those that felt so marginalized.   His friends were able to grieve openly and not be told by a minister that their friend was going to hell for taking his life or being gay or both.  There was a real spiritual connection that we shared in that moment.   I was glad that he told me his story because it affirmed for me that sometimes miracles can happen even in an Uniterian Church where many of the congregants will swear on a stack of bibles that they just don't believe.  For me, I knew that God does work in mysterious ways even for those that might not think they need the help.

We finished marching in the parade and I was glad that my kids had gotten a chance to face the Westboro folks who scared them and stood up to them (although as a mom I had mixed feelings about my daughter flipping someone off - even if they were fear-mongering miscreants).   I was proud of them and best of all, they were proud of what they accomplished.  They are part of a movement that will stand for justice for gays to be treated fairly and to have the freedom to marry who they want.  They beamed with excitement that night as they told their father what they had experienced.  It was a wonderful day full of love, lessons, the middle finger and at the end of it all, my children made their parents very proud - what more could a mother ask for?