Do I Know You?

Like many people, occasionally I find myself sifting through my social media and networking “friends” to remind myself of how I met that person, why I connected with that person, and whether or not I still want to be connected. Given our new president and the current political divide in our country, I’ve found myself doing this a little more often in recent weeks. I’m guessing some of my “friends” have been wondering the same about me since I’ve become more outspoken about recent events. It’s sad, but I admit that I thought some of my friends had more compassion and more courage, enough that they would speak out against a bully or a dictator. And I was shocked when some of my friends made generalizations and assumed I was “one of those” just because I believe in improving human rights for all. In fact, a couple of times I wondered, “Who are you? Do I know you? I mean, do I REALLY know you? And do you really know me?”

Generally it takes me a very long time to make friends but when I do, I make friends for life. So when something happens to cause a friendship to fade, I find myself unsettled. Did I say something I shouldn’t have? Did I not say something when I should have? I find the whole process of a “deep dive” to determine what caused the end of a friendship to be disheartening and disappointing. I have a lot of questions and usually I can come up with answers. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no clear understanding of why a friendship died and I can’t help but wonder if maybe I didn’t know that person as well as I thought.

In my former job, I worked with a few people on a daily basis and got to know them very well. One woman frequently vented (and joked) about her mother’s dementia. Another woman shared her struggles as she tended to her father who was recuperating from a broken hip, then grieved openly when he was diagnosed with cancer shortly after. He died a few months later. She had to take a bit of time off of work during all of that and we all pitched in to carry her load. Sharing those kinds of sorrows create friendship bonds, or so I thought. I guess I was naïve in thinking that because we had “suffered” together, we could continue to be friends even though I crossed over to a different company. But since I am no longer on the team and don’t see those people on a daily basis anymore, they’ve stopped including me. Out of sight, out of mind I guess.

I’m reminded of when one of my brothers went through a nasty divorce many years ago and his friends chose sides. My brother joked about how he was grateful that the divorce left him with six friends, enough for pallbearers when his time would come. I laughed at the time, but stopped laughing when I went through my own divorce and came out with less than six friends.

It’s easy to make friends when your kids are young. They make friends at school and you get to know those parents and you all end up at school events together, or you live in the same neighborhoods and take turns watching each other’s kids or carpooling to games or dances. But what do you do when all your kids are grown? How do you make new friends then?

Perhaps instead of making new friends, I should focus my effort on sustaining the good friendships that I have by reaching out more often. But what do you do about those friends who don’t reciprocate when you reach out and work to maintain a friendship? Some friends are satisfied with the standard, “How are you? Good. Me too. No, nothing’s new. Great catching up! Talk to you soon.” I’m finding that no longer satisfies me. I know we’re all tired and overworked, but aren’t we supposed to be there for each other? Share our struggles and our successes?

What it all comes down to is, I value my friends who share the trivial along with the grand, who are not afraid to cry amidst laughter, who dance with me when no one else is on the dance floor, and who take turns at being the initiator of our conversations. I want the friend who asks me how I am and then waits to hear the answer. And I want to be that kind of friend in return.

November Thanks #22 | A Gift Grateful

A thirty-day exercise in pausing, reflecting, appreciating, and giving thanks for simple things.

There is one gift that I am grateful for every single day and to many it seems somewhat silly. It even causes some to roll their eyes, as if I am being melodramatic. But if you know my history, it makes perfect sense.

This past summer I turned 53 years old. If I live to my next birthday—and I have no knowledge of any reason why that should not happen—I will have outlived both of my parents. Their deaths came when I was a teenager and the loss of them caused repercussions for my entire life. The older I get, the more I understand the depth of the impact that loss had on who I became, on the path I followed, and on my morals and values and beliefs. And the older I get, the more I treasure each and every day.

I am grateful to be alive.

Simple. Silly? Perhaps. But to one who has first-hand experience with the adage “life is short”, this is a profound statement.

Consider Brittany Maynard, the woman who recently fought for death in dignity. Consider Tracy Morgan, the comedian who was severely injured in June of this year when hit by a truck and who now faces a lifetime of the aftereffects of severe brain injury. Consider the friend or family member in your own circle who was diagnosed in the last year with cancer or lupus or ALS or some other debilitating and likely fatal disease. Consider Gabby Giffords. Consider the children of Sandyhook, even the ones who survived. I could go on and on.

Life is short. Life turns on a dime. Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

The April Fool

I had just finished my lunch hour at work on Monday when my cell phone rang. It was my daughter, Rose. She sounded upset and asked if I was still on my lunch break. I told her I had a couple of minutes left and asked her what was going on. She proceeded to tell me about her awful morning. Unknown to me, Rose and Al, her husband of eight months, had been arguing all weekend. They had called a truce when they sat at our table to celebrate Easter, so I had no idea the argument had gone on. It was all centered around a party they had gone to on Friday night with some friends. Rose ran into an old (male) friend at the party and sat and talked to him and got caught up on what was happening in his life. Al didn’t like that Rose was talking to this guy so much and got jealous. When he confronted Rose about it, she just blew it off. That infuriated Al more, and the argument grew. So on Monday morning as Al was getting ready to go to work (Rose had the day off), they argued some more. When he left, he threw $200 on the kitchen table and told her to go to the courthouse and file for divorce. Rose was shocked! She had cried most of the morning and debated what she should do. By noon she had resolved to wait for Al to get home and they could talk, but then Al sent her a text message on his lunch break asking if she had gone to the courthouse yet. Rose was devastated. “What should I do, Mom?” she cried to me.

In that moment, my heart ached for Rose. She said she knew the first year of marriage can be really tough, but she felt Al had taken his jealousy too far this time and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to keep working so hard at making this young marriage work. I struggled to find the correct words to say, being careful to not say something I would later regret. We ended up talking for close to an hour, making the decision that Rose should pack a bag and spend the night at our house and that she should give Al a couple of days to think things through before anyone made any rash decisions or took action on filing for divorce. I went back to my desk and tried to focus on my work but it was pointless. All I could think about was the tears my daughter had cried, the pain she was feeling in her heart, how she felt a failure because she couldn’t make her marriage last one year. Unable to concentrate, I checked in with Rose a couple of hours later. She said Al had called and she told him she was packing a bag and would be at our house for the night. Al had asked her to wait for him to come home so they could talk first. She agreed. A bunch of red flags went up for me and I did my best to counsel her about personal safety in a “domestic.” I told her I would keep her in my thoughts and prayers, and asked her to check in with me later.

My phone never rang. I was worried, but I didn’t know what to do. I could call, but I thought that might escalate the situation with Al. I thought about driving the twenty minutes to their town to check on them, but they live in a third floor apartment. What would I be able to see? I sure wasn’t going to knock on their door and say I happened to be in the neighborhood, what’s up? Besides, my daughter is a married woman and she is twenty-five years old! She’s arguing with her husband. Does that give me a right to barge into their lives? Oh, there was a disgustingly loud symphony of voices going back and forth in my head.

As fate would have it, my daughter Kate called me to check in. “Have you talked with Rose today?” I asked her. “Funny you should ask that,” Kate said. “Dad asked me the same thing.” Whoa! In my mind, there was no way in the world Rose would have said anything to her dad about Al’s behavior. Given the violent past we had all lived with when I was married to him, there was no way Rose would tell her dad about Al’s jealousy. I pressed Kate some more as to what her dad was asking about and she didn’t have a clue. I debated about thirty seconds and confessed to Kate that Rose was having a very bad day. I didn’t give a lot of details, but enough that Kate was willing to call Rose and check in. A few minutes later, Kate called me back. “Everything’s fine with Rose and Al. They’re having a quiet night, watching a movie.”

Take a deep breath, let it out slowly. I told myself that the rest of the night until I fell asleep. How powerless I felt. We bring our children into the world, we do our best at teaching them all they need to know, and then we let go. If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have had any children.

The next morning, I hurried through my routine and called Rose on my way to work. I knew she should be on her way to work as well. She answered right away. Thank God! And then she gave me the worst news possible. The whole thing had been a very cruel and hurtful prank. Al had thought it would be a funny April Fool’s joke. Rose was devastated, again. “How do I erase those feelings, Mom?” she asked. “I was ready to walk away from our marriage. I had had enough of his jealousy and the arguments. How do I put those feelings away?”

Ask anyone who knows me and you will discover that I am the Queen of Giving Second Chances. Someone once told me I am the most optimistic person he knew and I laughed out loud. Some days I am so devoid of hope and full of depression that I cannot stand myself. But this friend said that he will always want me as a friend because I forgive everyone, that I always give people the benefit of the doubt, always allow a second chance or third or fourth….

While some may think this is a fine character trait to have, I believe it is a defect. It makes me vulnerable. And it makes me anxious every year when the first day of April rolls around because I am a gullible person and easily fall for pranks. I hate the day so much in fact, that when my children were growing up and learning about April Fool’s Day, I told them I didn’t care for the day and that there would be consequences for anything mean spirited or hurtful. I must have made my point very clear. They were wise to keep such nonsense out of the house. If they played pranks on friends, I never knew about it. I realize now, my children never had any April Fool’s pranks played on them. Until now.

I’ve been trying my whole life to change my character defect without success. At this point, I’m ready to just give up and accept that vulnerability and gullibility are a part of me. And if someone wants to take advantage of that, then I don’t need to keep that person in my life. Does that sound reasonable?

Love Prevails

I can’t stop thinking about two men. One is my cousin, and one is a classmate from high school. It’s been more than a year that my cousin has been on my mind, and only a week that my classmate has occupied my thoughts.

I don’t know the exact number of years my cousin has been married to his wife, but knowing his age and how long they’ve been together, I’m guessing they’ve been married about 35 years. John and Jenny make an adorable couple. They have three beautiful daughters and a couple of grandchildren. Probably close to two years ago, Jenny suffered a seizure one day after taking her dog for a walk. One thing led to another and she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Since then, John has taken up with journaling about their journey and has compared Jenny’s fight with that of a boxing champ. Think Ali vs Tumor. John has a fabulous sense of humor, but an even greater love for his wife.

I’ve sat back, ringside as it were, and watched John do everything in his power to make Jenny comfortable and to offer support, encouragement, and laughter. The extended family has rallied and circled the wagons with prayers and more support, encouragement, and laughter. Reading John’s journals has given me new insight into what my parents must have gone through when my father was diagnosed with colon cancer around 1971 or so. Then when my mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1973. My mother died in 1975. One year later, my father learned his cancer had returned and he passed away in 1977. I was so young and so sheltered, I had little comprehension of all that was happening in their lives. Reading my cousin’s journals has helped me understand just a little more. I am grateful to John for sharing his thoughts, and all that he has learned about chemotherapy and blood cells and lasers.

My high school classmate has also been journaling, thrust into that role a week ago. Phil’s wife, Shelly, experienced a rapid onset migraine so severe that she was rushed to the ER. Several tests brought doctors to a diagnosis of a rare disorder causing internal bleeding in her brain. As of this writing, the doctors still are not convinced that they’ve figured out exactly what is going on in Shelly’s head. Phil has been by her side nearly nonstop, to help Shelly communicate through her pain and drug-induced confusion, to offer a moment of laughter amidst the fear and the tears. Shelly’s not altogether thinking right, so I suspect Phil’s words are chronicles of the experience for Shelly to read when she is restored to good health. But they are also a testament to how far he will go to provide support, encouragement, and laughter to his wife.

Since Phil and Shelly are close to my age, and have two sons the same ages as two of my daughters, their plight hits a little closer to home for me. I am awed by Phil’s ability to stand beside Shelly and hold her beautiful long blonde hair away from her face as she vomits profusely from the pain and the meds. And my heart cries as I read Phil’s words scolding himself for losing his patience, yelling at a nurse-in-training.

John and Phil were going about their lives when one day, BAM!, everything was turned upside down. They are the healthy ones in their relationships. They are the ones who must hold down the fort and remain strong for their wives and their children. They are the ones who must listen to a nurse or doctor’s report, then summon enough “good thinking” to know to ask questions or seek clarification when something doesn’t make sense. And even though they are exhausted, they still find energy to sit at their computers and research their wives’ illnesses. And then, in the wee hours of the morning when nightmares want to invade their minds, instead they take to journaling their thoughts.

As I’ve watched John from afar all these months and now Phil for the last week, I’ve wondered about my own stamina. Could I do it? Could I offer round-the-clock encouragement and support to my husband? Could I find a morsel of humor to share in an otherwise dark and hopeless moment? Could my husband do that for me?

Surely, I want to believe that if put to the test I could and my husband could. There are all kinds of stories about superhuman strength and resilience people experience when put to an extreme test. The bottom line, I assume, is that love prevails. Love trumps all.

I pray I am never tested as John and Phil, and many, many others are being tested tonight.

Work Bullies

It was May of last year when I was first bullied at work. Caught completely off guard, I really didn’t know how to respond. I guess I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t had to deal with a bully before (I don’t count my teenagers), but that lack of experience clearly had me at a loss. The 40-year-old woman was about to get married (her first) and I quickly justified her behavior to pre-wedding jitters. When Jane returned from her honeymoon, she was even crankier. I had just been called to jury duty, so again, I quickly justified her crabby attitude to the fact that I was looking at an unexpected two weeks out of the office at one of the busiest times for Jane.

As it turned out, I was out of the office a whopping two days not two weeks. I thought that would make Jane happy, but it didn’t. For most of the summer, she regularly stopped at my desk to rant and rave about how dissatisfied she was with the quality of work my team was doing. Honestly, I don’t think we could have submitted “perfect” work; Jane would have found something wrong with anything we did. Her complaints were unreasonable to me, and I tried to tell her that. Wrong move. I explained the situation to my oldest daughter, Kate—a high school teacher—to see if she could offer me some insight for dealing with a bully.

As things escalated, I talked about it with my manager. I didn’t want him to get caught unawares if Jane decided to rant to him. Sure enough, she ranted to him about mid-August, when I took a week off to prepare for my daughter Rose’s wedding. My manager pretty much blew off Jane’s complaints and told me to do so too.

Truly I tried to dismiss Jane’s rants, but they only intensified. Looking back, I realize now that she didn’t get the response she wanted from me or my manager so she notched up her attacks. In early October, she harangued me so badly at my desk one morning that another co-worker heard it. He came up to me later to ask what was going on. He was shocked and he urged me to talk to my manager again. I did, but the tables turned a little and I think my manager saw me as a whiner or complainer. I was smart enough to know I needed to just shut my mouth and do my job.

But Jane kept up her attacks and I was feeling pretty desperate. So I started to chat with others about how cranky Jane was. Some agreed Jane was pretty difficult to work with, others didn’t say much. Through it all, I realized I was the only one being bullied. It was so disheartening. The job I really enjoyed now became a sort of torture. I had to muster up courage to go back each day. And each night I spent hours trying to figure out what I had done to Jane and what I should do to get this to stop. My husband was a great listener, but the best he could offer was, “Don’t take it personally.” How in the world do you not take bullying personally? Jane’s attacks were aimed at me, no one else.

I’m guessing word got around to Jane that I was making comments about how cranky she was. Or maybe Jane was getting so much satisfaction that she wanted to share it with someone else. Whatever the catalyst, Jane took on a cohort. And now I had two bullies. I was so grateful for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. I had a little more than a week off of work and did everything I could to replenish my self-esteem.

The second week of January our business relocated to a new building. As the cubicle gods shined on me and gave me the premium spot in the building, Jane and Barb found themselves without private offices. They were not happy campers. Barb went so far as to bring in a magnetic board, essentially building a “wall” where there wasn’t one. The imagery was not lost on me. And frustrations with all the change only caused Jane and Barb to heighten their bullying. It came at a time when my manager was tied up in meetings for the better part of two weeks and not engaged in daily events. Jane and Barb were asking a lot of questions in emails, painting a bleak picture of the work my team and I were doing. I fought to keep my composure and stay professional as I answered their questions. Emails were forwarded to my manager and he was beginning to buy in to the fact that maybe my team and I were not putting forth our best effort.

So it was, last Monday, my manager called me in to his office first thing and asked me to shut the door. Immediately he started asking some tough questions about exactly what was going on with me and my team. I was shocked at his tone of voice. His words were telling me he had sided with Jane and Barb, and I couldn’t take any more. I started to cry. Wow! I don’t know where the tears came from and I was mortified. I was so embarrassed that I had lost my composure. I was angry at myself, which only caused more tears to flow. And then my manager softened his voice and tried to show me compassion, and that caused even more tears. I wanted to just slink away and never come back. Unfortunately, I need this job. I tried to defend myself and explain what was going on, but I think the tears were too much for my manager. He was as eager to get me out of his office as I was to leave. I went to the rest room and spent a few minutes composing myself, taking deep cleansing breaths, and convincing myself that I would survive the day. It was one of the roughest days I’ve ever had on a job, but I did survive. And for the rest of the week, I did everything I could to smile, cooperate, and collaborate. I was determined to show my boss I was capable in my job despite what Jane and Barb were stating in emails.

And then, the “big slip” I kept praying for happened. Near the end of the day on Friday my manager asked me to send out an email to Jane, Barb, and two others. I was given a very specific message to deliver and I pretty much used my manager’s words verbatim. I sent the email to the four individuals and within about a minute or so, Jane “replied all” with one of her rants. It was vicious, disrespectful, and inappropriate. Finally, I had the first proof in black and white. I forwarded Jane’s reply to my manager with the brief note, “FYI.” I cleaned up my things and headed out, for the first time in a long time with a little lighter bounce in my step. Later that night, I checked my work email from home. I never do that, but curiosity got the better of me. Sure enough, my manager had replied to my email with the statement, “Wow! Is she crabby???”

I spent the weekend contemplating how best to respond. I bounced ideas off my two best friends and my husband. On Monday morning when I got to my desk, I replied to my boss with the simple statement, “This is typical.” No embellishments. And he replied with a statement about how he agrees Jane’s behavior was uncalled for. About an hour later, my manager and I attended a weekly meeting with Jane and Barb and others. He sat beside me, silently showing me his support. And as the day progressed, I sensed a change in the air. Jane and Barb were nowhere in sight. In fact, Jane was hunkered down at her desk, quiet as a mouse. Today, the two of them were even more subdued and avoiding me like the plague.

For the first time in nearly a year, I feel the tides are turning. Is this all behind me? Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve seen the last of the bullying. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I suspect Jane was spoken to about the disrespectful and incorrigible language she used in her email to me on that Friday afternoon. I don’t know a lot about bullies, but common sense tells me that Jane now sees me as an even greater threat. The best I can do is smile, cooperate, and collaborate some more. And wait, as patiently as I can, for Jane to slip again.

Did they take “civility” out of the dictionary?

After work today I had to pick up some prescription medicine. Our pharmacy has a drive-thru window, but it’s barely above zero today and I didn’t want to leave my car window open or the store’s window open while the transaction took place, not to mention leave my car running. So I parked my car and went into the store.

I was third in line at the counter to pick up prescriptions. (Actually, I was thrilled I was only third because lately there have been ugly lines at the pharmacy.) There were four employees (that I could see) behind the counter, and one of those stood at the ready to deal with customers at the drive-thru. Another employee was at the counter where people drop off prescriptions. And two employees were filling prescriptions. So while two of us customers stood in line inside the store politely waiting our turn, one transaction took place at the drive-thru. When that sale was completed, that employee stood and waited. There were no other customers at the drive-thru. Why couldn’t the woman working at the window come help the two of us standing in line? There was a second cash register she could have used. Instead the two of us in line grew to five in line before the first customer’s transaction was completed. But no one else drove up to the drive-thru window during that time.

When I was a teenager, I had a part-time job after school in retail. And I was trained that a customer in the store was much more valuable than a customer calling on the phone. How are retail employees trained today? Are they told to help the person in the drive-thru as quickly as possible? If you’re in your car trying to pick up medicine is your need more urgent than everyone who took the time to come into the store? Do stores really hire someone to stand at a window and watch clouds go by instead of assisting in-store customers?

Another question has been bothering me for an answer too. The home improvement store and the “big box” discount store near our home both have self-service checkouts. The last few times I’ve been in those stores, no matter the time of day, there was only one or two “regular” checkout lines staffed so everyone overflowed to the self-service lines. Calls for “all available associates to checkouts” didn’t bring anyone, or additional staff showed up so late (walking at a snail’s pace) that the swarm of customers was already through with their transactions, frustration and impatience showing on every single face as they headed out to their cars. I rarely use the self-service lines. I’d rather contribute to the need for a real person to have a job, not a computer.

And while I’m asking, where did workplace civility disappear to? The last three weeks have been particularly stressful where I work. Everyone has been dealing with challenges and deadlines. We’re all in it together, except many people can’t handle the stress and start using inappropriate language or they become bullies. I’ve been trying to come up with an appropriate phrase that translates to, “Hey buddy, I’m stressed to the max too so stop yelling at me!” or “Quit pointing fingers at everyone else and do your own job!” On Friday I was given an electronic file for a project, but I quickly discovered the file was inaccurate and I could not use it. I sent it back to its owner and explained why I couldn’t use the file. He was frustrated (because he had other pressing deadlines) and grudgingly agreed to send me a revised file. It’s been a game of Round Robin for the last three days. This morning I received the fifth version of this file and still it was not useable. My deadline was on Monday, so now I’m three days late with my work and this guy decided to yell at me because his file is wrong. Excuse me?

For thirty-four months, from July 2008 to May 2011, I was out of a job. It was demoralizing, depressing, frustrating, and painful. I reached the darkest depths of despair and hopelessness in “my discernment.” It was a supreme test of my patience and an exercise in learning to accept that the only thing I can control is my attitude. Lately I’ve been wishing I could put that sentiment on a sign and wear or carry it with me wherever I go. There are a lot of people who need a little nudge about minding manners and showing courtesy to others.