The Letter

“True stability results when presumed order and presumed disorder are balanced. A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed.”- Tom Robbins

I’m an admitted procrastinator and nowhere is that more evident than in my stack of unopened mail. But this weekend it was the last few days before April 15, when annual taxes had to be filed and as part of that process I actually go through the mail stack to find needed tax forms. (Thanks for the Christmas cards, you guys!)

One of those letters was from the Red Cross. I have been a blood donor since I was first eligible to donate in a blood drive in my high school when I was 16. I have given ever since, admittedly sometimes mostly for the snacks when I was a poor college student (free pizza and peanut butter and jelly). I have been a platelets donor for 10 years or so, started because the Red Cross Center was very close to my work site in Winston-Salem.

While I love giving blood, I love giving platelets even more. Having had more than my share of friends and family members need them, mostly due to cancer treatment, I am passionate about it. I have blogged about it before. Yes it takes over two hours of your time, but it’s relatively painless and you get to lounge and watch a movie, and have snacks afterward.

Those who know me know my attention span and over time the folks at the Red Cross and I found the normal two armed version did not work well for me. Yes, I can forget that not just one, but two needles are in my arm. It never ruined a donation, but stopped a few prematurely and caused some “playing with needles” for others. When the Winston office got a one armed machine, they told me to always remind them I needed it. It took a bit longer to donate, but there was less chance for accidents when I had one arm free.

I have a high platelet count and could give a triple bag, so I was a welcome donor. Though every donor is welcome and needed. Platelets are liquid gold. Lives are saved because they are available. Though I have never had children, some people are walking around because of my blood and platelet donations. How amazing is that?

But this letter. It says I can no longer donate platelets. Something called HLA antibodies were detected in my blood. These are not harmful to me, but could cause a reaction called transfusion-related acute lung injury to the recipient. It can cause breathing problems or even cause death. To do more harm than hood to the patient..the antithesis of why I donate. It’s just one of those things…..they don’t know why it happens.

It’s been a crazy roller coaster kind of year for me, but this is probably the biggest down I have experienced. I’ve been able to donate more often than normal lately, and my great niece Sela and I had just talked about donating together again Friday night. She is 18 and went with me for the first time in December. Even walking away with two bruises arms (she had needles in both), she is ready to go again. That’s the bright spot….this special woman two generations younger than me is forging onward and will be able to continue to give.

I am still able to continue to donate whole blood or red cells and I will do that (it is interesting, and heartening, that this is an option). Still I am admittedly sad and disappointed that the “liquid gold” will no longer come from me. If you are able, consider standing in the gap for me.

Each loss in life appears to be replaced with a gift. In this season of disappointments and change to my life, I look with anticipation to what doors God will open next. Internally I am kicking and screaming a bit, but I am ready to transform as necessary. And grateful for the opportunities to live life well, but with a twist.

I guess it’s true that the only things that are certain are death and taxes.

Starting at 18……oh, the lives she can save!
The sticker from my last donation

Putting the Happy in the Birthday

Not to brag, but Google is celebrating my birthday today! They had this picture waiting for me. Thanks Google! You know I love you more than anyone, huh?

So it’s my birthday. I am 54 today. A bit weird to think about, stunning even, but I believe having the opportunity to live a lot of years on this earth is a good thing. I am not ashamed of the age, but instead grateful. Good thing, since there would be no way to escape it. I am surrounded by a lot of people who have known me for a lot of years, and they would gleefully call me out on it if I did!

I’ve had some bad birthdays over the years. Not a lot, but enough that the last time it happened (which wasn’t that long ago) I did a bit of self analysis. I realized I was expecting other people to put the happy into my birthday.

My large family has never been big on celebrating the birthdays of adults (though hopefully every kid has great memories of wonderful celebrations, even if Aunt Kim’s gifts rarely make it to them on the day.) I know without a doubt that my mom will call and sing to me today, and I expect I will hear from most of the siblings (OK…I had better hear from all) and some of the nieces and nephews. But that is the extent to our family celebrations. No complaints here, because I am notorious for forgetting important days in general and I would be a constant disappointment to everyone if  they depended on me to remember and lead the celebrations. There is no pressure in our family for birthdays and I like that.

But I have had a few birthdays that have come around and I realized I had absolutely no plans of any sort of celebration. No one had mentioned doing anything, and it just creeped up on me, and really when I realized it….well, it was a bit embarrassing that I had no plans. What do you do, say at the last minute “It’s my birthday, will someone celebrate with me?” I once thought that would be horrifying, but now I think it would be perfectly appropriate!

When that has happened in the past I admit there are times I had a pity party for one. It made it a day of sadness instead of a day of celebration of the wonderful life I was given. That is not how I now choose to live. (And yes, I believe if you do spend your birthday in sadness, it is your choice. And it is not one of your better choices.)

I am not the only one who has experienced those feelings…..I know! Not that we will often publicly admit it. It is a point of shame. We human beings are quite silly about such things.

While often my lack of plans have to do with the simple fact of being single and everyone thinking I have all sorts of wonderful and exciting things going on (Ha!), others experience the letdown of having spouses, kids, and significant others fail to meet their birthday expectations. Sometimes they hijack “my day” and make it about them. Or just not about us. They love you, or proclaim they love you, but you’re not feeling it. They don’t think for a minute of how you would most like to celebrate. They plan something, but it is what they want to do and not what you want to do. They refuse to leave their comfort zone for even a minute to make the day special for you.

You think I am going to blast them, huh? Truth is, you own your birthday (as you do all of your days.) They are a gift to you from God. They should all be celebrated, and you should plan the celebration, and not depend on others to make it happy for you. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t accept someone else planning a celebration on your behalf….gratefully accept it and enjoy it. Grade them on a curve if it is not exactly how you would do it. People fall short at this for a lot of reasons. It isn’t necessarily an indication of how much they care….or don’t care. Sometimes it is just a difference in how they view birthdays…..or the fact that they are pre-occupied with things that have nothing to do with you. (Yeah, sometimes that pre-occupation is with themselves. It happens. With most of us. We’re basically self-centered sinners.) Sometimes they freeze because they are like deer in the headlights….they know they need to do something, but can’t decide what. Other times it a time to be passive-aggressive, for reasons that may or may not have anything to do with you. Regardless, it is definitely not something to waste much of your life grieving about! (And some of you, of us, have spent valuable time obsessing on this….admit it!) Take back the ownership of your day. Don’t try to force them to make you happy. That’s an impossible task.

The celebration of you by others (or lack thereof) doesn’t have to be the extent of your own celebration. If it is not the way you prefer to celebrate your life, throw your own birthday party. You can even be the only guest! It doesn’t even have to be on the day. Just ask yourself “what makes me feel alive and full of joy and grateful to God for my gift of life?”….and do it!

Really I am not whining about my lousy life here, because as most of you know (and I definitely do) my life is more than wonderful and worthy of great celebration. I am well loved. I celebrate that. Since I have taken ownership for my birthdays, they have become much more enjoyable. Mostly because now I see the celebration as my job and the focus of my day. I will be grateful for all I have been given. I will be happy, I will be joyful. For me, how the hours are spent are not nearly as important as my state of mind as I celebrate them. More than any other say of the year I want to focus on the fact that life is a gift, and is so, so good!

My plans for my day are to get a massage from my awesome friend Diana, and then she is taking me out to lunch. We also plan to get our nails done. Tonight I get to attend a birthday party celebrating my friend Patrice, for whom it is one of those special “end in 0” birthdays. She is a great gift to my life, so what a great opportunity!

At some point today I plan to eat cake. Good cake. Chocolate. One of the “bad” birthday memories that most makes me laugh about myself is the birthday I cried because the day was totally uneventful and I DIDN’T EVEN GET CAKE! Oh, the tragedy! One of those times when I had that moment when I realized what I was doing and I was a bit horrified. I said to myself.  “Really?????? This is what is important to you?” (And my answer was yes. Sort of. But I had to laugh.)
But such “tragedies” are an easy thing to remedy. If I don’t get my chocolate cake today (and I mean really good chocolate cake….bad cake is also tragic), I will prolong the celebration and eat it soon.  I now acknowledge I can celebrate my birthday any day because any day is a good day to celebrate the fact that we were born. Why limit it?
So happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to you. I am so glad we were born. Celebrate your life well…and thank God for the days and the years. You are the gift. Share yourself with the world. And bring the happy to your own party.

Not the Ideal

“Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.”  – George Carlin

“The idealist withdrew himself, because he could not suffer the jostling of the human crowd; he had not the strength to fight and so called the battle vulgar; he was vain, and since his fellows would not take him at his own estimate, consoled himself with despising his fellows.” – W. Somerset Maugham Of Human Bondage

“Rather than adjust his expectations in the face of disappointment, he tended to bury them deeper inside himself and regard the disjunction between his ideals and the worldly imperfections as the world’s problems rather than his own.” – Joseph J. Ellis (speaking of Thomas Jefferson)

One of my former bosses pointed out to me once that I was an idealist…..and he said that I would forever struggle with this and be let down by people as a result.  At first I thought he was being critical, though he was also a friend, brilliant, intuitive and not prone to unkind criticism, so I had to sort through his words for a while and consider whether they may be true.  After much thought, I realized he was right on the money.  Pointing it out to me made me add that to the definition of who I know I am, and now makes me examine life and situations where I get disappointed or discouraged with people by asking myself  “Was I expecting the ideal and not the human?”

What is an idealist?  I would describe it as having the expectation that our world operates in a way where all people do the right thing, or at least that is always their goal.  We idealists view the world as how it should be, instead of what it really is.  We forget the idea that people are human  and by nature don’t always choose to do the right thing.  We also forget that people are dealing with many things in their lives, and sometimes we aren’t their priority.  But when people come up short of our expectations, they disappoint us and break our hearts.  Over and over again.

Idealists are optimists by nature, but if not fully cognizant of their unrealistic expectations, quickly become cynics.  It’s difficult when people let us down to not take it personally… all seems very personal, and very intentional.  But in my life as I have started examining this sort of thing, I have realized it seldom really is.  We humans just aren’t good at perfection.  We have bad memories so we forget about people when they are not in sight and also often don’t see the person right in our path.  We are often not thoughtful, often because we are thinking of ourselves.  Other times we have good intentions, but we fail to deliver.  We over-commit, over-extend and don’t allow enough time for the things we have to do.  We don’t consider the needs of those around us.  We let ourselves and other people down constantly, and while we may apologize on occasion, prefer to overlook it and go on.  It’s much easier that way.  Plus time flies….and we have other things we need to do.

My great vulnerability in life is when people disappoint me.  I always get over it eventually, but not usually before a period of deep hurt and probably a little bit of mourning.  Almost every time in my life when I feel overly emotional, almost every time I cry, it is because someone has disappointed me.  Someone  says something that hurts my feelings, it appears they don’t notice I am there or if they do notice they don’t think my presence is significant.  They don’t seem to care about who I really am, they don’t trust me, or just under-value me.

But really, most of it probably isn’t personal.  Sometimes we perhaps need to avoid people who do this, and choose to surround ourselves with other people who are capable of more.  But other times we need to learn to love them more and better and be gracious and graceful.

I think perhaps we all are born idealists.  Perhaps it is the very essence of faith….God’s plan was for perfection, then sin came into the world, and now we are born as sinners who struggle with what should be and what is every day of our life.  I think most people tend to get over idealism by covering themselves with a layer of cynicism and/or learning not to expect much out of other people.  There are days when I wish I could do that.  I know it would make my life easier, and happier.  But I think that is an impossibility for me.

Most days I appreciate my idealist leanings.  I want to live in a world when people strive to do the right thing.  I want people to care about doing things well, and noticing the impact their decisions have on other people.  I want to see consistency, responsibility, commitments that mean something and promises not broken.  I want kindness to rule, and everyone to feel they are noticed and appreciated.  And I want to spend my life encouraging such things, which means I need to notice when they do and don’t happen.   I don’t have the luxury of falling into apathy.
I need to cope in the world, keep a firm check on reality, and fight the cynicism that can easily overtake us idealists.  I want to learn to be more gracious and merciful, so I can live in reality.   I want to think of others more than myself and get over feeling that it is all about me.  I want to grade on a curve.  I want to analyze each situation, accept my responsibility for my own inadequacies, and be kind as I assess the inadequacies of others. 

I hate when I have to deal with my idealistic nature, but I can’t run away from it.  I have to keep asking the question “Was I expecting the ideal and not the human?” and toss out those negative things that consume my emotions.  There are more important things in life to deal with.  I am an idealist, but I shouldn’t be surprised when people don’t meet my ideals.  My former boss saved me a lot of time when he passed on that nugget.  Not that I don’t still get my heart broken….but the healing time is much shorter when things are in perspective.