The Ukrainians Know More About Freedom And Patriotism Than We Do

Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash

I have spent some time over the past couple days sitting with and slowly digesting the news coming from eastern Europe. We’ve known for months that Putin was amassing three-quarters of his army at the borders of Ukraine, so the invasion was not a surprise. The exodus of citizens from Ukraine into its free, bordering, neighbor countries like Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania is likewise not a surprise. What has surprised me is the defiance of those Ukranian citizens who are taking on this David vs. Goliath fight. The soldiers on Snake Island who told the Russian warship about to bomb them to go f*** themselves. President Volodymyr Zelensky who, when offered evacuation by the US, told us he needed “ammunition, not a ride.” These acts of bravery are an attempt to prove to the world that, even without NATO membership and support, Ukraine is a sovereign nation worth defending. And this, while devastating, is also amazing.

The news of the invasion made me livid. Maybe it’s my Eastern European ancestry that pushes me to this anger. It’s in my blood. You can’t be of Polish and Baltic descent and not be triggered by Russia and its habit of rolling over entire peoples for the sake of territory. I find solace in knowing the people of Poland are leaving clothing, toys, and food at the border where Ukrainians are crossing. The Poles, who know a bit about being dominated and upended by Russian invasions, are acting from a place of empathy and concern. This morning when I read the Polish national soccer team is refusing to play Russia in their World Cup qualification playoff match, I reflected that it’s these small acts of pushback against Russia’s aggressions that matter. Putin is an authoritarian leader, poisoning and imprisoning his opposition, while masquerading as a duly-elected leader of a “free” nation. Putin will do with the Russian people what he wants. He will use them to invade countries with territory he believes he has some claim to because of history. But the rest of us don’t have to act as if this is normal. We can support the oppressed and push back on the oppressor.

The people who have disappointed me the most during the first few days of this war Russia has instigated with Ukraine are the Republicans who have found a way to defend Putin’s actions. It’s been clear for years that the Republican party we once knew has jumped the shark. When did the party of Reagan become pro-Russia? Would Reagan have been as fond of Putin as Trump is? When Republican political leaders and media provocateurs posit that Putin’s actions are justifiable because Putin was feeling penned in by NATO, I call bullshit. The little man has nukes. The only reason no one has gone against Russia is because of its nuclear arsenal. No one has tried to invade Russia, change its borders, or turn it into a true democracy. Putin didn’t invade Ukraine because he is fearful for his country’s security or because Biden is president and not Trump. Putin invaded Ukraine because his goal is to put the old gang back together. He wanted to test NATO and its resolve. And he wants whatever else his sordid brain can scheme up. He probably does want to continue to divide our democracy, and the Republican rhetoric plays right into that. The Republicans can continue to stand and point fingers at liberals as the cause of this attack, but that is not the reality. The reality is Putin will do what fits his end goals because that is who he is. He cares only about his power. Perhaps that is why Trump lionizes him so?

During this past week, I have vacillated between furious and tearful. Angry at Putin. Angry at the people in our free nation who believe Putin’s aggression is acceptable. Tearful because of the thousands and thousands of families torn apart by an unconscionable war. Tearful because of the outpouring of support from the free world for those families and the nation of Ukraine. I have no idea where this will go, but I do know you are not a patriot if you think Putin’s invasion is justified or if you wish for the region to devolve into a quagmire because you think you can then claim this was all Biden’s fault and “own the Libs.” This war is not a talking point for American politics. It’s life or death, freedom or tyranny for the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians would rather die than be under Putin’s rule. That is what freedom means. Get your head straight or this nation truly is lost.

Have Happy Place, Will Travel

Over my years of blogging here, I have minced no words when it comes to my disdain for Valentine’s Day. I think it is ridiculous. A holiday, dreamt up in cooperation by the greeting card, candy, and flower industries, that makes people either feel bad or stress out. That said, I do buy cards and candy for my husband and sons because they like those things and I like them. I also do send simple greetings to my most treasured friends because I love them and I don’t always remember to tell them that.

As a rule, my husband and I exchange cards. I do not want or expect gifts on this day. Truth be told, receiving gifts is not part of my love language. I would much rather my husband take my car to get the oil changed or drop things off at Goodwill to show me he loves me. Actions speak louder to me than words. Acts of service make sense to me when it comes to showing someone you love them. If I cook your dinner, wash your underwear, and pick up after your messes, I love you. I won’t do those things for just anyone.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked into the closet this afternoon after my morning’s worth of errands and found this:

All the feels

This is my happy place. In actuality, a hammock is my happy place, be it in a park, at a campground, on a beach under a palm tree, or in the country. Somewhere peaceful, where I can enjoy the surrounding views and the blue sky while swaying ever so gently in repose. A seat where my mind, busy with all its overthinking, can take a few moments of respite while I practice my skills at being a human being rather than a human doing. This is everything.

It was apropos that Steve hung this in our closet because that is where I meditate (don’t judge…it’s quiet and no one goes in there). It is also where I go when I am stressed and need to take a pause to breathe and get ready to face life again. I have been in our closet more than usual lately. In the absence of a shady, quiet spot where I can float in a hammock, I will totally use this visual reminder of my happy place in our closet. It will work just fine in between times when I can be in the mountains or a park or on a beach staring at the sky.

Every single day I am grateful for my husband who has given me every good thing in my life and always allowed me space to grow and be the introverted nutball I am. Marriage certainly has its ups and downs, but there are decidedly less of those when you are married to someone who truly gets you.

If Valentine’s Day is your special day, I hope you have a great one. If, like me, this day is just another day on the calendar to you, I hope you get to spend it with people who know how to make your happy place appear when you need it most.

Slaying The Shame Monster

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!” ~Jim Henson

Me at a time in my life when I almost made my shame escape

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. It was given to me by a thoughtful, supportive friend last month, and I’ve slowly been making my way through it. The beautiful thing about Brené Brown is that her struggles and her authenticity seep from the pages of her books, making her words both relatable and heartening. She touches on so many difficult and uplifting emotions in the book that reading it has been equal parts soul-crushing reality and soul-inflating inspiration. Read about shame, guilt, perfectionism, fear, blame, and addiction and recognize how much those habits and emotions define and control you. Then read about hope, joy, play, creativity, resilience, authenticity, and self-compassion and see where you might be able to grow in a more positive direction. More than once while reading I’ve exclaimed out loud to myself in response to what I have read. Holy crap. That is me. I operate that same way. I so relate. I need to work on that. That makes so much sense. I have some work to do. I am really good at that.

The part of the book that hit me the hardest was the portion about shame. I know Brené began her work as a shame researcher, delving into the components of shame and how humans deal with or deflect it and how we can grow out of and away from it in healthy ways. So I fully expected to read about shame in this book. What I didn’t expect was to discover that for the majority of my life shame was my constant companion and operations manager. Ouch.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this discovery. I grew up commonly hearing, “You should be ashamed of yourself” and “You’re embarrassing yourself.” Most of my reactions to events in my life were approached from a shame vantage point. Boyfriend broke up with me? Of course he did. You were acting like a needy jerk. It’s a wonder he didn’t leave you sooner. New job too much for me? Of course it is. Who do you think you are? You have no life experience. You can’t be expected to manage other human beings. Can’t stick to a diet and lose that stress-eating weight? Of course you can’t. You suck at dedication. Struggling with parenting? Of course you are. Your mother always said you were too selfish to raise children and it turns out she is right. Brené’s definition of shame snapped me like a wet, locker room towel: “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” It was through this lens that I grew up and approached my adult life. I was an imposter, one misstep away from everyone I knew discovering my deep secret. To deal with this, I became a perfectionist. (That is another blog post entirely.)

I was continually baffled that anyone would want to be my friend or date me. I couldn’t see what they saw. I only saw my unworthiness. Still, I must have been presenting something else to these people too. They didn’t seem to see what I was seeing. The incongruity was not lost on me, but it never once occurred to me that maybe what they were seeing was the true Justine and what I was seeing was a story I had been sold. It took decades for me to figure that out, and I’m still shredding the pages of that story and working on my rewrite.

Perhaps the most life-affirming part of this book for me has been the section on Cultivating a Resilient Spirit because this is where I shine. I grew up feeling unworthy, less than, and invisible, but I persevered and took risks. Somehow, despite all the negativity and fear, I knew deep in my core I was capable. In my late teens and early twenties, I arrived at a place where I almost was able to recognize the big lie I had been sold. I was brave enough to imagine for myself something bigger. I took steps in that direction. I stepped away from guilt and forced obligation and walked towards autonomy and growth. I stepped up. At age 22, I graduated from a four-year university, the first in our family to do so. By 23, I was starting graduate school. At 24, I voluntarily sought help and signed on with a debt relief organization to pay off tens of thousands of dollars I had accumulated in loans and credit card liability. I was adulting and taking ownership, being resilient, and moving forward.

Then I realized I’d run out of money for graduate school. Rather than rising up and trying to find a way through that financial quagmire, I took my mother’s advice and I quit because I couldn’t afford it. I fell right back into the pattern of being a fearful, self-pitying, self-loathing coward and I stayed there for another two decades, operating from the familiar mindset that told me I wasn’t worthy.

I’ve spent more of my life in that shame mindset than I have spent believing in myself. I let other people’s negativity inform my choices. I asked for advice from the wrong people. I spurned the pleas of the right people who tried to guide me towards my better angels. Now I’m grateful for the difficult day that opened my eyes and taught me who was not to be trusted with my dreams and hopes. I learned to lean towards the people who raise me up, and I walked away from those who make me feel less special, talented, helpful, kind, and important than I am. I ignore those who don’t get me or who think they know me but don’t. I face my shame, talk about it, and deconstruct it. And all of this has led me to a place where I am starting to understand who I am and to like myself.

Shame grows through secrecy, silence, and judgment. Understanding this gives me a pathway out of it. You deny it oxygen by addressing it, sharing your difficult stories with others, and walking away from those who would keep you grounded in it. I am happier more often now, able to be joyful and at peace. I make better choices and I forgive myself more easily when my choices aren’t the best. I appreciate others. I try to apologize when I screw up. I am still working on self-love and I am having a devil of a time beating the judgment out of myself and my life, but I am making progress. I’m embracing my humanity and feeling part of a bigger whole rather than feeling like a lonely pariah. I am proud of myself, dammit. It feels good.

Sharing my darkness and vulnerability is terrifying, but blogging about these shadow monsters here has changed my life. Shame has no power over me anymore because I have named it, gotten cozy with it, and discovered its weaknesses. It will never leave me because it is part of my story, but it buzzes quietly in the background now, just white noise that my brain blocks out.

Mele Kalikimaka Meditation

My morning meditation spot

I christened my day with a meditation. Sitting on a lava boulder, facing the indomitable Pacific, with the actual ocean as my ambient noise and guide. When I meditate, I prefer to do so through mantras. That seems to be the only way my writer’s mind can focus, through words. I start my mediation with an intention, something on which I wish to focus, and I pick a phrase. From there, I let that phrase morph until I land on an organic one that sticks. Then I let that one settle in and carry my intention with it.

Today’s intention was to focus on being curious rather than judgmental, ala Ted Lasso’s advice. I settled upon a Hawaiian image. I imagined myself as a lava rock, washed by the sea, but not changed by it, an immovable object not reacting to the forces before me but simply noticing them. It seemed the ideal way to practice observing other people’s comments and reactions with curiosity without allowing them to affect my calmness and stability.

After a few breaths, my mantra settled in. As I inhaled, my mind asserted “I am a rock,” and as I exhaled, it reminded me “Nothing can disturb my peace.” I focused on that for ten minutes, mentally acknowledging only the sea breeze, the sounds of breaking surf and birds, the hardness of the rock beneath me. (Perhaps next time I will bring a blanket for my rock meditation?)

Any skill comes through practice, which is why meditation is a practice. It’s not something you perfect. Not unlike the ocean tides, it has ebbs and flows. One day, your focus is legendary. The next it is complete horse shit. And the good news is that is exactly as it should be. Sometimes your mind is calm, quiet, and peaceful. Other times, it is rough, cloudy, and choppy. It is what it is to be human. For a long time, I, like many others, thought meditation was a place you arrive at, a destination which only few are allowed to inhabit. Not so. Meditation is a commitment to quieting your mind. That is all. It’s the practice through which you can begin to control your thoughts rather than be controlled by them. It’s available to everyone who endeavors to take the journey. It costs nothing, but yields great things.

So, my Christmas wish for all of you is the strength and perseverance to find inner calm in the chaos of this holiday. I hope you take a moment to be a rock, to pause to observe what is happening around you without allowing it to move you, to be present in the presence of presents. Let the insanity of your crazy uncle’s comments wash over you rather than shake you from the peace that this day represents. You are a rock. Nothing need disturb your inner peace.

With that thought in mind and with any luck, perhaps you won’t have to swill spiked eggnog to enjoy your day with your natural or chosen family. Be strong. Be curious. Inhabit stillness in the midst of noise and wrapping paper and requests and obligations.

Mele Kalikimaka from Hawaii, my fellow travelers through this life!

Peace Lives At 32k Feet

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ~Leonardo da Vinci

Is there anything better than the view from above 30k feet? There is something about witnessing the clouds through an aircraft window, rather than from Earth, that brings me a peace I can’t find any other way. It’s a reminder of how small and insignificant I am. A momentary note about how far we have come, an acknowledgment of our stretching our wings to be more, to see more, to achieve more. It’s a humbling view of the globe in a way that illuminates her possibility. It is freedom. Plain and simple. And I am grateful to be able to venture, to afford the luxury of seeing the world as so many, sadly, never will.

And when the sun sinks, setting the cotton-puff clouds on fire, and the stars begin to appear in the darkest sky imaginable, dozens at a time, there too do I find solace and peace in the heavens, closer than I have ever been to them.

Some people like to feel important, want to leave a legacy, and that is where they live. I feel most alive when I grasp my insignificance in the grand scheme of the planet, the solar system, the universe. That is where I can take my deepest breaths, feel part of something infinitely larger and more consequential than I am. Be detached from the world and in touch with the essence of the universe to which I belong, no greater or lesser than any life that came before or will exist after. I have no fear above the clouds. Only gratitude.

Travel is where I find oxygen. Travel is what unites me with all the other living, breathing entities on this floating ball. Some say there is nothing like coming home. I say there is nothing like leaving home because that is where I find myself,

Electronic Detox

Photo by Rasheed Kemy on Unsplash

I have been thinking that I am due for an electronic detox. I spend too much time on my phone. Too much time spent checking out mentally or feeling the need to be in touch with others or using my phone to check the weather for next week when someone else already knows what the weather is. I keep feeling I don’t have enough hours in the day, but the truth is that I have plenty of hours and am just using them poorly. I would like to read more, meditate more, ride the Peloton more, and write more. I would like to stop being pulled away from my conscious life every minute of the day by breaking news that is not worth my time. I would like not to look like everyone else…head down, staring blankly at a screen, tuned out to the real world. I would like some peace and quiet in my head. And, let’s face it, my phone is not giving it to me.

I’m not sure I could go cold turkey and ditch my iPhone altogether for a period of a week or two weeks, so I think I will maybe try to go electronics free for three hours a day to start. I’m sure it will be difficult. So I am thinking that while we are in Hawaii I will turn my phone off and give it to a family member to hide. That way if I am tempted to sneak a peek at a screen, I won’t be able to. I just keep thinking that if I want peace in my life, if I want focus in my life, I need to train myself to have it. I’m so distractible lately, and I know it is because of electronics.

Has anyone tried this? Did it help? How hard was the detox?

Leave The Door Open And Growth Sneaks In

Thought for the night:

“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” ~Pema Chodron

I ran across this quote on my phone today. It’s one that never really leaves my heart. When I was growing up, my mom told me that if you pray for patience, god gives you something to be patient about. I think that goes hand in hand with Pema Chodron’s thought here. If you are working through something, which most of us are on some level even when we aren’t completely tuned in to it, it will keep showing up in little ways to give you an opportunity to unpack it, understand it, make peace with it, and finally move on.

I used to struggle with boundaries, but it happens a lot less these days because the universe kept sending me people who wanted to test them. People who refused to listen to what I wanted made me even more emphatic about standing up for myself. Through their annoying and troubling inability to understand when to stop pushing, I’ve learned that it’s absolutely okay to ask for what I want. I might not get it, but I should at least feel deserving enough to ask for it anyway. I’ve learned that if I set a boundary and it makes someone else angry, it is likely that the other person was previously benefitting from my not having had any. So, I set boundaries carefully now. They are like the ones that accompany an electric fence. I’ve marked them with warning flags but they are largely invisible otherwise. If I feel uncomfortable with how close you are coming to the edges of them, you will get a warning and then possibly a shocking consequence for crossing them. I’ve learned that I’m not going to please everyone all the time, which is totally okay because that was never my responsibility. And I’ve learned that I deserve peace, and that keeping the peace for someone else at the expense of my own is poisonous. I’ve eliminated some people from my life because I realized that being around them made me less kind, less understanding, less forgiving, and less happy.

I’ve noticed that if you’re paying attention in life, a skill that involves mindfulness and self-reflection, you realize that the universe is constantly providing you with opportunities to grow, expand, and change your life for the better. This doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you or your life. It means, instead, that there is more out there for you. When I was struggling mightily with setting boundaries and wanting to do better for myself in that area, situations kept presenting themselves that required me to figure out what I wanted and summon the courage to ask for them. It was through the practice that I improved, that I found my voice. And it was through finding my voice that I started to feel confident in my choices about my boundaries or my wishes because I’d had to take a few minutes to elucidate them clearly,

The things that keep coming up in your life as areas of struggle, areas where you don’t feel quite right or comfortable, they will keep presenting themselves until you’ve had the opportunity to learn from them. If you struggle to deal with your emotions, you will be put in situations where you have to do just that. If you struggle to ask for what you want, you will keep being given chances to speak up. And if you struggle with patience, you’d better believe situations that require your patience will continue to be a thing you encounter. Once we name our issues and stand face-to-face with them, we can begin to recognize the opportunities we are given to remedy those issues.

At least, this has been my experience, and it seems like Pema Chodron agrees. So, I’ve started to name the areas that I don’t like about myself or my life, and when I do this I become more aware when a crack has opened to give me the chance to work on rising above or putting behind me the negative belief or behavior. I have issues with asking for help because I grew up believing I could only count on myself. I have issues with trusting others because I felt betrayed by those who were supposed to be looking out for me. I have issues with perfectionism because I was made to believe that I was only worth something if I was without fault or flaw. I’ve named these things here now, so I expect the universe will begin to provide me with opportunities to work on these soon.

The good news is, while I may still have areas in which further excavation and practice should occur to help me live my best life, at least my struggle with boundaries has improved. Thanks for offering the chance for growth, Universe. I will keep my eyes and ears open for the next opportunities you have for me.

Peace Is Where You Look For It

“All good things are wild and free.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was raised to be an apologist, so forgive me if I apologize for the short but sweet post tonight. I do try to take time to write, but sometimes you have to take time to live.

All is right with the world when you get to spend time with people you love. My sister is in town from Connecticut with her family, and we took them out for a late afternoon of paddle boarding on a nearby lake. Afterward, there were some non-competitive corn hole games, followed by some long walks. Sometimes you get caught up in the busy business of life and you forget the simple pleasures. I am guilty of this too often.

I’m grateful I took time today to be present with people I love, to get out into nature and feel the cool water on my feet while I paddled across a windswept lake, and to remember what it’s like to be free, to be comfortable, to be loved just as you are. I should remember to do these things more often.

My Tibetan Monk Cupcake Lesson

Image
They were necessary and then they weren’t. Om.

Tomorrow is our youngest son’s birthday. Don’t ask me how it’s possible, but the little guy will turn 12 at 11:18 tomorrow night. When I was pregnant with him, Denver was hit with a massive, March snowstorm. We were trapped indoors with a toddler for three days with 54″ of snow in our yard. Thirty-one weeks pregnant, dying to get out, and stubborn as a mule, I refused to let my husband do all the shoveling and my fat, reflux-tortured, pregnant self landed a sentence of five weeks on bed rest. While I was reclined on the sofa, I would rub my belly and tell the little being in there that he (I was determined he was a he) could not be born before May 21st because I had been promised another Gemini son and this Gemini mother was determined to get what she was promised. I repeated to him over and over the date of May 21st and told him I did not want to meet him before that date. Luke, being a natural-born pleaser with minimal patience, arrived as ordered on May 21st just before midnight. Since then, I’ve spent my days ensuring I am as good to him as he has been to me.

Yesterday, Luke requested birthday cupcakes for his classmates. Noting that one classmate is allergic to gluten, Luke asked that I provide gluten-free cupcakes so George could participate in the party too. I thought about heading to the bakery to purchase cupcakes, but decided that today was a perfect day for baking. It was cold and rainy yet again, and our house would benefit from a hot oven and the smell of baked goods on such a gloomy day. So this morning I headed to Target and swiped up gluten-free yellow and devil’s food cake mixes, butter, and powdered sugar and headed home to commence baking.

I ended up with 48 cupcakes and, while they cooled, I whipped up some homemade, vanilla buttercream icing. I pulled out the natural food coloring and tinted the frosting Luke’s favorite color. Using my pastry bag, I lovingly piped beautiful swirls of orange. I stood back to survey my work. For someone who bakes as infrequently as I do these days, I thought I’d done quite well. As I was getting ready to pack them into cupcake tins so I could haul them to school in the morning, an unwanted thought began knocking on my brain. I tried to barricade the door so it could not get in, but it was powerful and the door came down under its weight. Due to food allergies, no homemade baked goods will be permitted in the classrooms anymore. Son of a bitch.

That was the first of a plethora of expletives that escaped my mouth as I stood there facing 48 cupcakes that could neither go to school nor in my mouth. I had spent three hours mixing, baking, transferring, cooling, measuring, monitoring, beating, coloring, and decorating this confections. Three hours I could never get back. Three hours I could have used wisely on other necessary pursuits. My chagrin escaped in a semi-controlled, adult tantrum, witnessed only by my dog who decided it would be in her best interest to vacate the vicinity post haste.

The meltdown moved on like a fast-moving thunderstorm on a hot summer’s day, and I took a deep breath. I remembered the Tibetan monks who create and destroy sand mandalas as part of their symbolic meditation on the transitory nature of material life. The monks use colored sand to create intricate works of art. For days and sometimes weeks, they work tirelessly as a group on these stunning creations, chanting and meditating over them to bring out the healing energies of the deities represented within the mandala. Once the mandala is finished, in an equally ordered and painstaking manner, they dismantle their work of art, pour it into a jar, and release the sand into a river so the healing powers held within each grain of sand can flow toward the ocean and disperse their positivity.

This afternoon, the cupcakes were my mandala. I diligently created them. And during their birth, I had been fully present in the moment, incorporating all my love for my son into my task. The cupcakes were not about me, and they were not for me. They were an act of love, positive energy, and goodwill. I chanted a mental Om, scraped the superfluous icing into the disposal, washed the dishes, and wiped down the counters. I packed up 24 cupcakes and launched the rest into the trash lest they end up in my belly. We will share the spoils with friends tomorrow. But today I will recognize this experience for what it is, a sticky-note reminder that life is full of discomfort, disappointment, suffering, and change. To find peace, I’ve got to learn to let go and let my inner Tibetan monk guide my thoughts. I wonder how I can get him to the surface more often? Maybe he likes cupcakes?

Relax…Nothing Is In Control

A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise
A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise

“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” ~Eckhart Tolle

I got to take the boys to their ski lessons today. For me this meant a 5:30 a.m. wake up call, followed by a quick trip to Starbucks for a latte to help wash down my Lara Bar breakfast on the ski-traffic-heavy drive to Winter Park. As the sun was coming up, I sipped my daily dose of caffeine and listened to my sons discussing Pokemon…again. I looked up occasionally from the road to witness the sun tinting the snowy peaks the palest shade of baby-pig pink. Colorado is awesome. And, as much as I gripe when the alarm goes off at 5:30 on a weekend morning meant for sleeping in, and as mind-numbing as hours crawling along in round-trip ski traffic can be, I’ve accepted that ski lesson Saturdays are a miracle. They just are. They fill me with inexplicable gratitude.

I skied a few runs with the boys and their ski instructors this morning before taking off to do a few runs on my own. As I was waiting in the singles line for a quad lift at the base of the resort, I made a mental note that it wasn’t going anywhere fast. I looked to the loading area and determined that they had stopped the lift. If you ski, you know lifts get stopped all the time to help load or unload passengers who need extra time. Not a big deal. I looked away to take in the ski racers cruising down the run to the right of me. When I looked back, I noticed that the lines were getting longer and the lift was still not moving. Clearly, this might be something bigger than a stop for a person who had difficulty getting off the lift up top. I was confident it would start again soon, though, so I stayed in line.

While I was waiting, the guy behind me in line got a phone call. I got to enjoy every word of his not-so-private, personal conversation. It went something like this.

“Hey. Yeah, babe. I don’t think I’m going to make it up there in time for the next competition. I know! Well, don’t be mad at me. I want to be up there. The lift is STOPPED. I can’t go anywhere. No. Seriously. It’s stopped. They just brought over a maintenance dude so I don’t think they’re going to get it moving anytime soon. (He began to get more agitated.) What do you want me to do? I can’t fix the lift. I can’t believe I’m going to miss the competition. I’m so pissed. Yeah. This is bullshit. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t miss another competition! (Here he got really sarcastic and caustic.) Hey. I get it. You’re mad. I’ll get there when I get there. No. Seriously. What am I supposed to do? Yeah. Whatever.”

At this point, he disconnected the call, muttered under his breath a five-letter word for the woman he’d just spoken to, and started complaining to another person in line about the lift situation. He was animated, irate, and nearly ready to start a bar-level brawl with anyone who might be in charge of the lift. The lift was still not operational, and I could hear him huffing and puffing in disgust behind me. He could have been a toddler.

While he was doing this, I looked around. There we were. Healthy, fit, and privileged enough to be able to afford the not-entirely-inexpensive sport of snow skiing. It was a gorgeous, sunny, 40-degree day standing there in the unmoving line at the Zephyr lift at 9,000 feet. Everywhere I looked, there were people who were taking a day with family or friends to enjoy a fun activity in the beauty and majesty of the wintry Colorado Rockies on a nearly cloudless morning. It was a perfect day, even if the yahoo behind me couldn’t see it through the cloud of his righteous fury and the fog he had generated with his Big Bad Wolf heavy breathing.

Realizing that it was silly to wait when there was another lift 50 yards away, I backed out of line and skied toward the Arrow lift, kind of happy to be leaving Mr. Grumpypants behind. The Zephyr lift did get started again, shortly before I boarded my nearby chair. On my ride up, I thought a lot about the guy behind me in that other line. It seemed like such a waste to get bent over something utterly out of his control. He was so wrapped up in his world, in his disappointment, in his annoyance, that he couldn’t even take a deep breath and enjoy the situation for what it was…a nice muscle break in between ski runs. End of story. The competition went on without him. And I’m pretty sure everyone’s world continued to spin without him there. Even his.

I recently saw this quote I’ve been repeating as a mantra lately. Relax…nothing is in control. Seems to me one of our biggest flaws as human beings (and yes, I’m sure there is some perfectly rational psychological mumbo-jumbo to explain why it’s imperative to our survival) is our inability to accept that the vast majority of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. You can choose the perfect outfit to wear to the meeting, but not be able to help spilling coffee on it when the light rail lurches to an unexpected stop. You can choose your college major, but not the fact that ten years after you graduate with said degree it may be obsolete. You can choose your lovely suburban home, but not the criminal who decides its contents would look better as cash in his wallet. Relax…nothing is in control is the same as the old, tried-and-true shit happens. It does. And no amount of indignation, profanity, or foot-stomping is going to change that.

Take a look around you. How much of your time do you waste railing against things beyond your control? Where has that gotten you? Take a deep breath and take comfort in the fact that nothing is in control. When the unexpected happens, look for the gift there. You can usually find one. And if you can’t now, hopefully you will be able to someday.