Monday, October 22, 2012

I Know How You Feel

Really? You know how I feel? How do you know how I feel? You have no idea what I'm thinking deep inside, what I've experienced.

What prompted these questions have been a series of incidents that happened to friends. And most of their friends didn't know what to say, so they fell back on these tired old tropes.

Depression surrounds too many of my friends right now. I had a week-long funk where I was so not productive. Finally, I dragged myself out of it through meditation, sage smudging and other activities many readers will shy away from. Too woo-hoo for them. So be it.

One of my friends has been in a deep depression for weeks. No work. Little money. Too many children in the house. I can't help him, but I can listen. I didn't say I knew what he was going through. I've been out of work twice in my life. For that, I've been lucky. He's been out of work for over a year. He keeps looking for employment in his industry, one that is not coming back. I've tried mentoring him into looking outside his comfort zone. Unfortunately, he's not comfortable looking outside his comfort zone. He sits and waits. I don't know what he's going through, but it's a downward trajectory. One that may not end happily.

Another friend, a woman, has been in such a deep depression that she hasn't left her house alone for three years. Her husband drives her wherever she needs to go, but to venture to the post box in the co-op where she lives--no way on God's green earth. She doesn't cook, read, bathe. Most of the day she lies in bed staring at the ceiling, waiting for something. Meds don't work. She's tried them all. You can tell her she needs to try one more, but she won't listen. I don't offer advice. She doesn't want it.

When all hell broke lose immediately following the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, friends with an inclination to depression plunged. This time I know how they feel. It's that cosmic angst thing. Some of us feel cosmic pain. We are the lucky ones. Some only feel their own pain. They are the unlucky ones. With cosmic pain, we can seek understanding of the situation. We can say, "this too will pass," because it almost always does. What I can't say is that I understand how everyone feels. You can't tell me you know what I'm thinking. I share with you only what I want you to know.

Please don't insult your friends by pretending to understand unless you have undergone exactly the same loss and suffered the same grief. You can help by asking a question and keeping silent while your friend talks. The last thing he wants to hear is a story about your great Aunt Sophie who had something similar. When someone or a country is suffering, it's all about the person or the country. It's not about you. Just once, listen before you speak. You might hear something whispered that is important.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Kid Numbers

I don't know about you, but I fatigued by the continually reiteration of kid numbers. You remember kid numbers. "There must be a bazillion names on that wall." "I want a gazillion pieces of candy on Halloween."

I feel that way about the word "trillion." You'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the first state with a trillion dollar budget might have been California. The first US city might have been New York. Now, both run trillion dollar deficits. I can't wrap my head around a trillion.

I listen to arguments from both political parties about trillion dollar spending bills and trillion dollar deficits. The argument falls on deaf ears. I have trillion dollar fatigue. No longer am I shocked by these kid numbers. No longer do arguments to spend more, tax less, cut budgets mean anything. Just a bunch of hot air. I know you won't agree with me. That's your Constitutional right. Blow off your steam. Accuse me of siding with one candidate or another. You'd be wrong.

I'm cranky. Yes, I listened to the presidential debate this week, part of the time with the sound off. Body language made the debate comical. Loved it. When voters tried to get to the bottom of difficult issues, they got sound bites. That's another level of fatigue. Maybe I'm just tired of the whole political process that has gone on waaaay too long.

No matter who wins, we will get the president we deserve. And that's the topic of a later blog. For now, I hope I get gazillion pieces of candy on Halloween.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Compassion in a Global Society

On October 11, I went to hear the Dalai Lama speak in Charlottesville, VA. I've read most of his books, those that have been translated into English, and have followed his teachings for a few decades.

The Dalai Lama's message of compassion in a global society, in a secular world outside of religion, is one of his most enduring teachings. He began his talk with a definition of "global." Most of us might think he would talk about man's inhumanity to man, the horrors of war, injustice toward women and minorities. And most of us might ask ourselves how we can be compassionate in such a vast world.

The message was much more immediate. The Dalai Lama defined "global" as anything outside of our own self, meaning that when we work to be more compassionate ourselves, we can influence the person next to us. We may not be able to change something happening on the other side of the world, but we can be responsible for our own thoughts. While different religions may pray to different "bosses" (his term), he would rather we think of all human beings as our brothers and sisters, to be open to the oneness of humanity itself.

This was driven home recently when a friend lamented that people preferred to be ignorant than to better themselves through reading and education. When I asked what she could do to show compassion to even one individual, she said that individual had to get his nose out of his cell phone and read. Never did I hear her talk about something she could do to help that individual. To do so would have meant she, too, might have to change her behavior.

The Dalai Lama has long been an advocate of meditation and prayer, even when there is no guarantee that our prayers will be answered. He talks eloquently about how materialism doesn't bring inner peace, but thoughts of greed, mistrust, violence, jealousy. None of these help us to be happy; rather, they go a long way to ensuring we will be unhappy.

He talks about how trust is the basis of friendship. I can attest to this from a personal anecdote. Recently, I found out a friend lied about something inconsequential. I called him on it, since we were on the phone when he trapped himself. I now wonder how many times he lied about things that were of consequence. Our relationship may never be the same. Only he can repair it by being truthful going forward.

The Dalai Lama teaches that all great religions are built on compassion and trust. Regardless of your religious traditions, he stresses that his brand of secularism must not disrespect other's religions, but we must respect those who do not believe as we do. Those who harbor negative thoughts deny themselves a sense of inner peace and rest, of loneliness.

I left his presentation with one thought, something his translator said during his introduction. He told a story about being denied access to the Dalai Lama that morning. He'd left his badge at home and the Secret Service wouldn't let him in. In following the Dalai Lama's teaching, he asked himself if this was the time to laugh. Don't get mad. Weigh the message and laugh. He laughed. Most of us who left the pavilion did so lighter of heart and more willing to laugh in the face of adversity.

Now, if he would only turn his attention to compassion in poliitics.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Voting Blocs

I listen to both candidates' handlers and the pollsters talk about voting blocs as if any identifiable group is a solid block of wood. Whites, Hispanics, seniors, women. I got to thinking about where I fit in.

Okay, I'm a fairly angry white woman. A senior citizen. A voter. In the 99%. And now in the 47% of those who live off the government. Let's break this down.

Forgetting the angry part, let's look at women voters. We come in all colors, ages, sizes and capabilities. Do senior women vote differently if they are black than if they are white? Do affluent Asian women vote differently than affluent black women? Do young women just out of college vote differently from retired women? The answer is probably yes, but the pollsters would have us believe that this candidate or that has to get the women's vote to win. Which group of women?

I recently heard a fascinating discussion on this very topic on NPR. It was about courting the Hispanic vote. Again, which Hispanic vote? The Cuban-American vote? The Mexican-American vote? The speaker, a Hispanic journalist in Florida, reminded the commentator that many Hispanics are deeply religious and, therefore, tend to be conservative, yet again pollsters tell us that the Democrats have this bloc locked up. Not sure what the logic is, but if the pollsters say it, it must be right. Right? Not according to this journalist.

He had an very good point about groups of Hispanics not liking other groups of Hispanics. He didn't mean in the Crips versus Bloods sense, but that many Mexican-Americans felt some Cuban refugees received preferential treatment when they migrated to the States. Maybe right, maybe wrong, but his final point was what got me thinking. He asked the commentator to identify the one group of Hispanic-Americans the other hyphenated groups disliked the most. His answer: Puerto Ricans. By birth, they are citizens and don't have to apply for visas. Never thought of it that way.

Still don't know which bloc is mine. All I know is, I will vote. I haven't missed a general election since I was old enough to cast a ballot. Don't think I'm going to start now.

Monday, October 8, 2012

How Not To Lose Money at the Track

In August, my husband Terry and I made our annual trip to the races in Saratoga, NY. We planned the trip so that we can hit the track on Friday and then celebrate our daughter, Aleta's, birthday on the weekend. Gorgeous drive and lots of fun.

We usually put aside the amount of money we are willing to lose. Sometimes we break even; sometimes we lose; sometimes we come out ahead. This year had an added dimension to the spending issue.

Of course, gas is higher this year, so that was a factor. We stay at a local hotel next to our daughter's condo, because she has no room for guests. No biggie. We eat out, so both Terry and I have a mini-vacation from cooking and cleaning.

Our drive to Pine Bush, NY, was uneventful. 500 miles and a great audio book. We arrived in time to walk across the street for a diner dinner. When in New York, it's diner food or Italian. I picked Greek at the diner. The next morning was race day. And that was the day we learned how not to lose money at the track.

We were ready to leave when Terry turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. Dead. The hotel had jumper cables and a nice guest gave us a jump. We figured we could recharge the battery on the interstate, because from Pine Bush to Saratoga is about 150 miles. Should do it. NOT.

We were about ten miles down the road when the RAV 4 began behaving badly. Like turning itself off. Like turning itself back on. Like lurching. We pulled into a gas station. The RAV 4 died without a whimper. We fussed under the hood, but nothing worked. I finally called a tow truck. The nice, fourth-generation owner of Young's Service Station took us back to Pine Bush. 

By now I'm figuring we'd blow off the races, hang at the pool and make lemonade. But, all we needed as a new battery. Off we went, two hours late. We got to the track for the last half of the races, enjoyed perfect weather and several close finishes.

Now don't ask about expenses. No, I didn't lose much at the track, but the towing and the battery more than tripled what I would have wagered. So, if you don't want to worry about losing money, pay for a dead battery and only bet on half the race card. Great day, but not expected at all.