December 12, 2011

21 Days May Not Be Enough ...

Originally published 12.12.08 on 21 Days of Paying it Forward

I remember this as if it was yesterday. It was cool then … it is still cool now

Last night, my lifelong friend, Victor Wooten, was in town performing at the Birchmere with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. The show was sold out and I had two tickets, but my daughter couldn't join me (she had an invite for the Cirque du Soleil show). As I was sitting backstage with Victor, Bela, Futureman and Jeff - we learned that the show was sold out. I decided to go out in the lobby and 'find a friend'. My goal was to GIVE someone the extra ticket. Having been in the venue since sound check hours earlier, I had literally the best table in the house - so the seat came with the ticket. The band wished me luck and I headed out to the lobby about thirty minutes prior to the show - where I met Brent. He started out thinking he had tickets to sell and ended up with NO ticket at all. I offered him the ticket and he was flabbergasted. At $59.50, this does not happen often. Once we got inside, I told him that I'm a friend of the band and asked him to wait for a second while I went backstage to see if Victor had a second before going onstage to meet him. Brent is a musician and was just beyond words. Ever gracious, Victor met him backstage and took a photo with him. Brent was so shocked he was almost literally without words, I wanted to just cry. It made me feel so good to give him the ticket, but he'd not yet seen our seats. When we walked to the table dead center stage - he just let out a deep breath. I don't know that I've been more tickled to do something for someone so unexpected. He asked me why I did it and I explained my Pay It 4ward personal campaign. During intermission, he disappeared and when he came back, he'd bought the new cd for himself ... AND me. It's catching on. After the show, I got him the set list and the band signed it for him. I gave him a ride to the Metro and headed home.

We exchanged email and phone numbers and promised to keep in touch. We probably won't, that's the way of the world. But for three hours we shared a cool experience and I'm the better for the giving.

21 days may not be enough!!

Update: Brent and I actually have kept in touch ~ kinda. A little over a year ago I got a phone call, looked down at the phone and it was him! The band was back in town (at Strathmore in Maryland) and Brent was calling to see if I wanted to meet him for a pre-performance drink … turns out I was NOT at that show. That night I had something else happening. Months later, I called Brent because I had an extra ticket and wanted to see if he was going to be at the show – he wasn’t. So, sometimes you promise to keep in touch and you actually do but life has a funny way to taking over. Brent and I are bound to be in the same place at the same time again at some point. Regardless, I don’t think either of us will ever forget that night. It was a good one.

Pay it forward and watch what amazingly random and beautiful thing happens that you never expected.

Merry holidays.

December 4, 2011

Who Do You Love? …

rainbow flagThis week has been one for the books. Never in a million years could you have told me that I would have very intimate conversations with two young people about their sexuality. Two very different people grappling with the same issue … how to deal with and talk to their parents about their desire to live their lives authentically. These young people could not be more different – one was a girl and one was a boy – one was black and one was white – one is already an adult and the other is coasting there quickly. A lesbian and a gay man.

We all want our parents to love us no matter what without a set of conditions.

In both cases, I did not see the conversations coming but I knew both of these young people were gay. My hope for both of them was that at some point they would not be living the lies that they had been living.

When someone comes to you and they are in pain you want to make them feel better. As a parent my heart ached as I texted one person and Skyped with another and we talked about their parents, their fears, what they wished would happen, what they thought would happen, etc. All I could think about was how I would want my daughter to know that I would love her beyond any condition she could imagine NO MATTER WHAT.  I told them that they should give their parents a chance to love them and to understand and hear them. My mind raced as I thought about the shock that the parents were about to get (even if they knew it deep down inside). As parents, we commit a million little transgressions every year and hope that we are not going to be financing some psychiatrists villa in the South of France with our kid’s psychological scars in the not to distant future. (**Disclaimer: I have tremendous respect for psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and everybody else in the field. Please, no hate mail!)

All this has got me thinking deeply about the nature of love, parenting, and trust. What is this bond that we have with our children and how do we make them understand that we really are there for them no matter what? In truth, are we there for them NO MATTER WHAT? Should we be? Let me be declarative in stating that I am here for my daughter no matter what. I don’t care who she loves, I don’t care what college she goes to (or doesn’t for that matter), I don’t care what profession she chooses … I care about her happiness. I care that she is a good human being and that she touches people’s lives and leaves them better than when she arrived. I care that she contributes in some way that matters to HER. I don’t give a fig about the the gender of the human being that she loves – I care that she loves and that she is loved in a healthy, good way that sustains her and her chosen ‘other’.

We  bring these children into the world and I think we get confused about whose journey they are on. It is their journey not ours. My daughter is of me but not me. I remember when she was little and if she did not want to be picked up she would do the infamous ‘back arch’ – if you are not a parent you may not know what that is, but if you are, you’re probably laughing. The ‘back-arch’ is the most devious of all the toddler tricks out there, basically your three or four-year-old will arch his or her back like a caterpillar and you will NOT be able to pick him/her up. If you have something in your other hand (like a cup of tea, jar of baby food, etc.) … all the better – TODDLER WINS. The first time my sweet little cherub did the back arch, I understood that this was not my journey, it was hers. We’ve been walking together ever since, I kid you not.

It takes tremendous courage to tell the people you love most in the world, the people whose approval means the most to you in the world, the people who you would like to lose least in the world, something you fear might push them away from you forever. Two very courageous young people expressed to me in language that made me cry that they had to change their lives because they could not keep doing what they had been doing – living ‘in the closet’, hiding how they really felt, and who they really were. I’m proud of both of them. The road ahead of them will not be a smooth one necessarily – but it will be an honest one and that counts for a lot.

Who do YOU love?

October 29, 2011

“I Have A Right To Be Angry”

She was so matter of fact about it I almost did a double-take. There she sat in the passenger seat of the car and this kid of mine looks me dead in the face, unflinching, and I’d even go so far as to say daringly says to me: “Fine, Mom … but I have a right to be angry.” It doesn’t even matter what this was about, let’s just stay focused on “I have a right to be angry.”

Wow. Just. Wow.

Me and the "Liberated One" (aged 6)
I had to think about that one really hard for a lot of reasons. I may appear to be level-headed and measured in these blog entries – but let me admit here and now that I have a fast tongue and curse like a sailor. I’ve been known to cut somebody down with words with nary so much as a backwards glance. While I like to believe that I’ve evolved and am more mindful of my impact there are still times when I know that I need to find pen and paper or just plain stand down. This was a stand down moment. But my beloved daughter was having none of that either.

It seems that I’ve overused the ‘stand down’ strategy and rather than seeing it as a cooling off tactic – my sweet girl views it as a passive aggressive silent treatment akin to water torture. When there are only two people (and two cats in a house), standing down can feel isolating and mean. Tee hee. She’s on to my tricks now. I really hate that she found me out.

*sigh* It begins.

Somewhere between Barney, the Powerpuff girls, making snow cream two years ago, needing two tubes of mascara now, and freshman year … the landscape has shifted. It was imperceptible and somewhat fuzzy at first but it is shifting into focus with crystal clarity now: my little girl is not so little anymore, she is 15-years-old and the game has changed, folks. I can no longer talk her out of being angry or sad or glad or mad. If I thought in the past that I was not doing those things – it is painfully obvious to me now that I was on some level and she is not having it anymore. No siree buddy Bob … she’s a free-thinker and she … ‘has a right to be angry.’ (How plucky of her).

I seem to remember way back in ‘85 the Beastie Boys telling me and my friends we had to fight for our right to party – and boy did we, all over that college campus.

So, now in 2011 my daughter is asserting her rights … and you know what? … I’m going to let it ride. How can she assert her right to be anything outside our house if she can’t assert it inside our house? To keep some peace, we’re just going to have to come up with some rules of engagement because rights or no rights … I’m STILL the boss of her – for a couple more years at least. How bout that?

Ah, parenthood!

September 14, 2011

Remembering Dennis …

It’s been a year since my father, Dennis Sweat, died of cancer – 365 days of my continuing to carry on with my life as he left his behind. He was 65 year old. My life changed in ways big and small the day I received the call from his social worker that he had Small Cell Stage IV Lung Cancer with less than six months to live and has not ever gone DSC_3280back to the “normal” that I once thought “normal” was. Yes, my father was a lifelong smoker – he never believed that cigarettes would kill him, they did. If you are a smoker … please stop.

Without question I could never have made it through the final month of my father’s journey without the gentle but strong arms of the hospice workers around me. Sometimes a disarmingly simple question like, “Have you eaten today, Felicia?” could send me into a gale of silent tears, while helping me to remember to do the most basic of things I’d forgotten for hours upon hours. My strategy to get through this process was simple: use my intellect, strategy and reason to step through it and keep my head about me. What a joke. Had I known the enormity and tremendous range of emotions I would feel day-to-day, hour-to-hour, even minute-to-minute I might never have stepped one foot on the path with my father but I didn’t, and I did, and my life is better for the experience.

Watching someone you love die – right in front of your eyes is almost unspeakable, being present as they exhale their final breath is profound. In our Western society, we gather around to celebrate life’s entry but cannot bear to acknowledge death. The sad truth of the matter is that many of us die alone. The hospice team asked me many times if I believed my father would want me to be there when he died and I never hesitated in my conviction that he absolutely, positively would. My father ceased to speak some seven weeks before he died and while we had not talked about this specifically, I vividly remember a conversation we’d had the year before he died where he’d explained to me that he was never a man who ever wanted to sleep in his bed alone. No, my father was not a faithful man ~ but he was an honest one. A man who didn’t ever want to sleep in his bed alone definitely did not want to die alone. In a quiet room in the middle of the morning, Dennis stopped struggling and let go with me by his side holding his hand and stroking his forehead as Peggy, the Hospice Nurse stood at the foot of his bed monitoring his vital signs. My family said a tearful and love-filled goodbye the weekend before he died … we knew it was close.  

I had to consider decisions made easier by the fact that my father had an Advance Medical Directive, but difficult nonetheless because having the directive does not mean that everybody reads it. As his Guardian of Person, it fell to me to call the meeting with his physicians and point out that if my father could no longer chew and swallow food/liquids on his own – we’d reached a turning point because his directive stated with clarity that he did not wish to be kept alive through means of artificial feeding or hydration. I asked the doctors to remove the IV tubes delivering food and hydration to enforce my father’s wishes. While I had absolute clarity that this was what my father wanted (it was written in black and white) versus my interpretation of what he would want -explaining this to my aunts and uncles, sisters, nieces, daughter,and mother was heart-wrenching. There is no way to ‘spin’ the fact that once you withdraw the tube providing food and water to a person who cannot eat or drink on his/her own – it is no longer a question of if they will die but when. While nobody was angry at me, I know that some in my family may not have enforced the Directive, which is exactly why my father asked that I be his Guardian when he was still able to speak. He knew that I would do what was in his best interest and honor his wishes above my own feelings – hard as it was to do, and it was excruciatingly hard.

As I think back on this journey some lessons shine brightly:
  • The power of forgiveness is even more powerful than the gift of love.
  • There is no substitute for the comfort of hearing the voices and feeling the touch of the people you love – no matter how far away the doctors believe you might be or how far you are on your journey ‘home’.
  • Tears do not make you weak, they keep you strong and are a necessary release. Letting tears flow won’t kill you – keeping them inside just might.
  • Love is all there is.
I have a deep respect and love for the professionals who cared for my father and for my family during my father’s time at the hospital. He received hospice care in the hospital because his health was too precarious to be moved. The compassionate care the doctors, nurses, social workers and others showed my father in every touch, administration of pain medication, gentle hand on my shoulder, and hug left me speechless and in tears day after day. If there are angels on this planet, surely they dance among the people who do hospice work and those working with the terminally ill in a hospital setting.

For some time after my father’s death I felt as if I’d been broken, like some part of me was irrevocably altered – it was, but I forgot that we heal and what is broken often comes back stronger. I am. Many people have asked me whether or not I would do it again, knowing all that I know now. My answer is a resounding, unwavering, quiet but steady … YES.

September 9, 2011

Knit. Purl, Knit. Purl. Life.

*originally posted on WarmHeadsWarmHearts blog.

An interesting thing happened as I was frantically twisting and looping my way towards the completion of the first of my twelve sets of hats and scarves ... it became more.

Warm Heads. Warm Hearts. began out of my desire to meet an essential need of the homeless who live on the streets during the winter ~ warmth, and to do so in a personal way by knitting hats and scarves for them with love. As way leads on to way (in the words of the venerable Robert Frost), knitting has become a metaphor for my life.

As I sit with these pieces in my evenings and on weekends, at the doctor's office, and in the middle of the mall waiting for my daughter to finish a movie with friends - the life lessons just keep coming.

So here's what the loom whispered to me last month:

1. Persistence pays off, always. One knot at a time, a scarf and hat take shape out of strands of individual yarn. My life has become richer and more full over this past year as a result of fantastic people who have woven their lives in with mine, one story, one experience, one laugh at a time until out of nothing deep friendships have evolved.

2. There CAN be perfection as a result of imperfect process. My knitting is not perfect by any means - I won't do a test swatch to ensure my gauge is correct, instead, I just plow forward and make adjustments along the way, believing it will work. Is this how I operate in my life too? To a large extent the answer is yes, I trust my intuition implicitly and often make decisions that appear to others to be haphazard, but much like my knitting - it works.

3. You have to unravel your stuff from time to time, you just do! My yarn gets tangled and I keep knitting until I absolutely have to just stop and look for the loose ends to unravel the unruly mass of beautiful yarn I've created. I find that I try to do one more thing, make one more call, send one more Tweet before I look around and see that I've got an unruly mass that I have to unravel, usually somewhere close by - the laundry, opening mail, having the conversation with a friend that I've been putting off.

I can see the parallels between knitting and my life and delight in them. My life experiences will be inextricably tied, with love, into every knit and every purl of these hats and scarves.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

September 1, 2011

You Are Special ... And So Is Everybody Else!

When my daughter was young (and we are talking really young here, people) she loved Barney. You remember Barney - that purple dinosaur that absolutely, positively never seemed to have a bad day and told kids day after day how special they were? I put up with Barney because, well after all, my daughter was special and the message was wonderful. Here is the problem - it would seem that some grown ups have begun embracing this message as their personal life mantra. News flash people, this is a message for children. Adults don't get to walk around espousing how 'special' they are to everybody within earshot and behaving badly because they are 'special'. I call this behavior 'Special Person Syndrome' (SPS)* and it is NOT cute.

What does 'special person syndrome' (SPS) look like at work? The person suffering SPS at work doesn't believe they have a grandiose personality nor do they think that they are better than everybody else, lack good listening skills, or are unable to work as a collaborative team member. Oh no!! they are just special and therefore different and therefore we just don't 'get them'. We don't know how to work with them and if we could figure out how to work with them everything would be just fine. We are the ones with the problem.

SPS at home? Because 'special people' possess inordinately extraordinary and special skills and abilities, the only way anything can be done properly is if they do it themselves. Why should anybody else even bother trying? - it won't be right enough, good enough or just plain enough. Of course that means that they are always tired and a martyr, but hey, nobody ever said being special was going to be easy.

SPS with friends? When 'special people' look around they often find they don't have many friends but don't quite understand why. They often feel very betrayed by people who have dared to be honest with them about their behavior towards those they deem to be 'ordinary'. Far worse, sometimes they ask for others' opinions and when people who are not 'special' are not smart enough to understand that they do not in fact really want an honest opinion and offer one, all hell has been known to break loose.

It should go without saying that 'special people' have a very hard time sustaining meaningful relationships, so we won't even go there.

The truth is none of us have time to read a care and feeding manual for each and every person that we meet. Each of us is indeed special in our own way. 

If you are suffering Special Person Syndrome you might wonder how you can snap out of it. I would offer the following:  stop thinking that you are the special one and consider that every person you meet is just as special as you are, just as smart as you are, and just as important as you are because guess what ... we are.
*Quasi-Legal Disclaimer: 'Special Person Syndrome' and 'SPS' are purely fictitious terms with no medical basis and are not real disorders that can be found anywhere. I am not a doctor, I do not play one on television, blah, blah, blah and all the other legal mumbo jumbo.

August 28, 2011

Be Your Own Guru

It seems like there are an awful lot of gurus running around today. From the looks of it, we are surrounded by people who know absolutely everything there is to know about absolutely everything. There are ‘life coaches’, ‘mentors’, ‘strategists’ and all sorts of folks to help us achieve our highest potential in space that used to be reserved for therapists, psychiatrists, licensed clinical social workers and the like. There are good reasons to consult with a trained professional when you feel that you need help – let me be clear that I don’t play in the space that says ‘mental illness is all in your head’. In fact, it deeply troubles me to see people playing quasi-professionals in space that should be reserved for trained professionals with people who need professional help. Digging in people’s heads with not a whiff of training is serious business, predatory and unethical. That said, if you don’t need professional help - I also believe it is important to get comfortable being your own guru.

At the end of the day – nobody knows you better than you. Turning to another person to provide ‘the answer’ to questions that you are seeking only works to the extent that you are really willing to be honest about what your questions really are. The truth of the matter is you have most of the answers seek. Sometimes what you want isn’t an answer but rather validation. Validation that something you’ve believed to be true is in fact true. Validation that the path you are on that does not feel right to you is in fact not right for you. Validation that it is time for you to do something that you have been yearning to do for a very long time. You don’t need a guru for that. You only need to decide that you are your own guru, this is your life and you know you best. Do what you know you need to do.

Be your own guru.