Everybody Needs A Buddy

A year and a half ago I had to make one of the toughest decisions of my life (not an overstatement).  Because of various and sundry life changes that I won’t detail here, I had to make one huge domino fall in order for the others to follow suit.  I had to re-home my two beloved dogs, Sebastian and Pepper.  It broke my heart then, and it breaks my heart still.  But a combined 140 pounds of dog wasn’t conducive to apartment living.  It would not have been easy for me, and it would not have been fair to them.

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A lightning-strike solution presented itself with ease and grace, and I believe that their move to a new home (complete with huge backyard and a loving person) was directed by the universe.  But, damn, the loss.  The horrendous, endless sense of loss.  And because it was ultimately a decision, the questioning.  The horrendous, endless questioning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately.  I think a lot of people do during the holidays.  The older I get, the more loss I have experienced, of course.  There is an invisible line I crossed which no one told me about where the brain is more occupied with memories than with planning.  And memories are the currency of loss.

Memories and 70’s music.  When I’m feeling all the feels, I tend to run toward them for a warm embrace rather than trying to avoid them.  So today I’ve been basking in the feeling of loss while listening to Carole King (“You’re So Far Away”), Elton John (“This is Your Song”), John Denver (“Rocky Mountain High”), and James Taylor (just about any song).  The music of that era seems to have been centered around chords and chord progressions that evoke loss — it’s that sweet, happy-sad sound that gives a sense of meaning even to lyrics like “I want to make it with you.”

Memories are the savings account of emotion.  Sometimes they bring a deep and indescribable pain, but they are the evidence of a life well lived.  For me, they hold my dad, my grandparents, old loves, college memories, moments — those moments that would seem insignificant to anyone else but which hold deep meaning for me.   Those people who meant something to me, and even I can’t explain it.  Facebook friends I never actually met who died, and their death ripped a hole right through me.  Celebrities, yes, celebrities whose passing feels like a loss for the planet.  That person I haven’t seen in 30 years who still shows up in my thoughts now and then.

New Year’s Eve is a natural time for taking this journey into yesterday with all its joys and sorrows.  With all its loss.

I am learning to reframe loss in three significant ways.

First, I am choosing gratitude in place of grief.  I miss my father so deeply some days that it feels like I can’t breathe.  But, I have found that I can shift the feeling from devastation to appreciation if I stop and say, “I’m so grateful you were my dad.”

Second, I am only giving yesterday a limited amount of emotional space.  I’m grateful for my memories, but when they start to dominate my internal conversation, I consciously focus on tomorrow and plans and hopes and dreams and possibilities.

Third, I just look at Buddy.  My pup is, without a doubt, the best decision I made in 2016.  That, too, is not an overstatement.  I’ve had lots of animals in my life, but I’m not sure any being has brought me so much joy. Babies always win over loss.

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Actually, there is a fourth thing I do — I change the Pandora station.  Carole King is good for purging, but Abba is good for happy.

“You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen . . .”

True North

A satisfied life requires a few basic elements — love that is undefinable, work that compels, time for whatever expands us, and music, always music.  We could crawl around on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need and toss in shelter, security, and self-esteem, but let’s not go crazy here.

Another core element to a satisfied life is one that often gets overlooked: one or more guiding principles.  Guiding principles are often seen as a requirement for living a good life or a moral life (whatever that is).  The satisfied life, however, is more readily connected with items that fill or nurture us — love, work, time, music — rather than that which directs us.

Guiding principles are the border collies of the spiritual journey.  They nip at our heels when we wander too far into the land of compromise.  They outrun us and come up on our blindside every time we try to turn a different direction.  They guide us into the safety of the barn every night . . . if we let them.

In this age of labels, we can become deluded into believing that the groups with which we identify can provide some of the above services.  But the lines aren’t as clear anymore.   In his essay Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “If I know your sect, I can anticipate your argument.”  But, I’m not so sure that’s as true as it used to be.  Does Christian mean what it used to?  Does Democrat?  Single?  Southern?  Race?

Being a Democrat or a Republican might not guide me to do what is right and good and true, but a principle will.  One of my principles, for instance, is an abiding belief in the equality and unity of all people.  Because of that, I stand against racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, xenophobia, religious intolerance, etc.  I don’t have to make a decision on each of those.  I don’t have to consult a party platform or a church tenet.  I simply have to establish my principle and every decision after that flows with ease.

In an era of fake news and fallacious rhetoric, we need personal principles more than ever. I mean, what if, just what if, we decided that one of our guiding principles was the idea that loving one another was more important than politics?   What if, just what if, we decided that our shared humanity was higher up the priority list than our religious differences?  And what if, just what . . . if . . . , we decided that honoring and respecting each other was more important than winning a damn election?

That just might be . . . satisfying.

Boyle-O-Rama

If you don’t yet know who Susan Boyle is, crawl out from under your rock, go to Youtube, watch all seven minutes of her “Britain’s Got Talent” audition, then come back to this page and continue reading.   A dowdy, 47-year-old, never-been-kissed Scottish woman has turned the entertainment world on its ear and elicited a genuine grin from Simon Cowell.  I believe hell might have frozen over for a few minutes there as well.

Three years ago it was Paul Potts, the British cell phone salesman in need of dental work who opened his mouth on that same stage and made folks across England look twice at their tellies and inquire, “Luciano?”  And now we have Susan Boyle, a woman who could probably sell out a U.S. tour in a matter of moments right now, yet completely unknown just two weeks ago.

What shall we make of this?

Well, I have a theory (you knew it was coming, didn’t you).  Actually my theory is two-fold.  First, I think this phenomenon might have something to do with the aging baby-boomer generation.  Those of us in our late 40s, 50s, and 60s represent a mighty marketing demographic, and we’re just about wise enough now to appreciate true talent over superficial beauty.   Thirty years ago if a would-be celebrity couldn’t appeal to 17 year olds, they weren’t considered viable in commercial music.  Now?  Well, screw the whippersnappers.  Who needs ’em?  We might be stiff crawling out of bed in the mornings, but we can deliver up platinum album sales if we take a mind to.

The second part of my theory is a bit more esoteric.  I wonder if there might be an evolutionary step we’ve taken that has caused us to be more in tune with what is real.  I’m a creative person and value the creative process.  I’ve read “The Artist’s Way.”  But, there are some things you can’t create.  Susan Boyle’s moment in the spotlight was the artistic equivalent of lightening striking, and even the best director or producer would tell you that you just can’t create that.  Sometimes magic happens, whether on a movie set, under a Broadway proscenium arch, or on a talent show stage.  And that magic is when absolute authenticity shines from a pure place.

Susan Boyle might not look like a star, but she’s real.  And that true self she presents to the world is what we crave.  We don’t want to sing like Susan Boyle.  We want to have the courage to be as authentic.

Either that, or it all boils down to Boomers becoming as Youtube savvy as the whippersnappers.