Comfort foods sought

It has been an evening of breadmaking, washing dishes and leftovers. I am venturing out by cooking one of the staples of comfort food by cooking hash browns after seeing a friend mention them for months. In the midst of the death of two on this Sunday, I seek comfort food tonight. In addition to the comforts of the kitchen, the internet becomes another salve for me. Similar to the Margaret Mead quote that “each of us is unique, just like everybody else” I turn to the quiet abyss of the internet, trusting that the privacy of my words will be encountered by someone similarly alone, quiet and in front of a screen.

Do we gravitate towards comfort food during times of duress, loss, doubt because it is an acknowledgement that any meal may well be our last meal? I have inquired about the possibilities and proximity of death for some fifteen years, mostly in the inner depths of my own soul. The moment that kicked the consciousness of death doorway wide open was when I was a few hundred meters from coastline with my parents — the three of our heads bobbing up and down in rough waves. As a young man, I had barely embraced the idea that my parents were no longer the infinitely powerful beings that I had known them as throughout my first two decades. As we doggy paddled awaiting a dinghy that never came, I reckoned with the mortality of myself, and feared how long their fifty-something, smoking bodies could endure the turbulence within sight of land. It was then clear to me that my parents were no longer invincible.

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I still recall the light of an overcast day as it passed through the red of my fleece sweatshirt in the fourth grade. It was a day or two after the news of my grandma’s death had come courtesy of the telephone line, news carried from two countries away. Unable to cry at home or in the presence of others in my family in the days afterwards, I finally found the space and solitude to bawl during lunch as i hid (or shielded) my face from all the other students who had the same lunch period. I had no idea whether anyone else saw me that day, which didn’t matter to me as I was unable to come to terms with being alone in such an unfamiliar way. It was fortunate to not have to deal with anyone else at school, just as it had been at home. Rather than being in Colorado, it happened while in the surroundings of a new school with none of my three siblings anywhere around. It was the first death of a family member in my decade’s old life, my grandma who loved me, tickled me and treated me with the fawning adoration befitting of a grandparent to a grandkid.

In the two decades since then, attending to unfinished business, expressions of love, another home cooked meal (that can be either beautifully simple or elaborate) are some of the simple moments that I appreciate in this moment. Rather than subject myself to a tailspin of regret, second guessing and remorse, there is an unparalleled freedom when I readily acknowledged that death is with us all the time. It is all around, and rather than continue to participate in the delusion, avoidance, skirting over or skirting past, I prefer to notice it.

I don’t know that I am befriending it, but choosing to not neglect it feels like a path less traveled.

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Why to Stop Saying Sorry

I have gotten into a new habit over the past year. It is a welcome habit, to discourage people from having to apologize to me. For months, I’ve been done with needing to hear “I’m sorry.” I am just choosing to sit down and blog-reflect on it this first weekend of the new year. (I could say that it is a 2012 resolution, but it’s a change in life that harkens back to summer 2011.)

Apologies are so pervasive that the two-worded combo is oftentimes an email’s first line, the first words of a phone call, and the s-word is what accompanies a hug or handshake when I see someone in person. I would much rather have you express the joy in your voice, or have you tell me what is genuinely on your heart or mind — than have you resort to an over-used refrain to apologize. Being hung up on how long it has been, what you haven’t done or what you should have done does not serve you or me. So let’s choose to be free from it in our vernacular. There are so many under-used and beautiful words, so please express something other than regret.

Apologies have became a de facto salutation in a culture, saturated with the twins of over-extension and assigning blame, which pervades our lives and our work. (Honestly, we are not just overdoing it in the professional realm, we are frantic in our weekends, sleeping patterns, eating and multimedia, too). Self-blame is the cultural triplet, but that writing — of punishing ourselves, or being nasty to ourselves in way’s that we would not dare do to others — is for some other day.

When I told one friend about it in the Fall, she remarked how i had become “the most radical person at this moment of [her] life.” It feels pretty simple. And it has altered how I listen to other people when they blithely state I’m sorry. I prefer to not have meaningless words exchanged if we do not mean what we say, and say what we mean.

I’ve changed my own habit in a few key steps:

  1. To catch myself before uttering the s-word.
  2. Sit with my own discomfort in the awkward silence that follows. It is doubly awkward in a period following that I must have done something to spur the impulse to apologize.
  3. In that in-between-quiet, notice what is actually happening for me.
  4. Then choose to speak or not speak based on what I feel.

These four steps have cleaned up a lot of my exchanges. I embrace silence much more. I no longer feel bad about quiet; oftentimes, it is a welcome relief especially in the presence of other humans. There is a different type of experience when we are in one another’s proximity without having to talk to, and talk at one another. Silence is not scary or awkward like I used to find it.

The times that I fuck up, I acknowledge it in more creative ways than that tired refrain of “I’m sorry.” Some of the different things that I do are that I sit in silence. Or I ask ‘How are you feeling by what I just said/did?’ or simply, “What’s going on for you right now?” Asking questions is a very different way to invite a response. I used to get defensive much more as I attempted to climb out of a hole, yet my talking only caused me to dig myself into a deeper hole.

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Over the years, there were countless times that I have said, “Sorry.” and did not mean it one bit. There are instances when I have apologized because I felt that it was what I thought someone else wanted to hear. I had no clue what was going on inside of that another person, but I said it anyway. I was acting something out (of habit) because I had convinced myself that what I could say was what they wanted to hear. With no real sense that it was what they wanted, or needed, in that moment.

I realized that my apology-reflex over the years was serving me. There have been phases in my life where I was addicted to apologizing. It was the tail-end of a cycle of acting hastily, recklessly and absent-mindedly. Frequently, acting so absent-mindedly resulted in some action, behavior or words that I came to regret. Acting so hastily resulted in me saying more words per day, and being more hasty each day, too. With each day filled with more busyness, I increased the probability of having more things to regret. And regrets were followed by more apologies.

So many apologies that the short sentence of “I’m sorry.” became meaningless for me.

I am delighted that I have slowed that impulse to instinctively apologize. What was unseen and unexplored in my inner psychology has become much more visible than it used to be. I started with myself, and then begin to request it from others. I do not need your apology for what you did — even when it hurt, upset or even when you insult me. I would much rather have to sit quietly, and get to see what I choose to say (or not say) afterwards. In the meantime, if you feel compelled to speak tell me why you did/said/felt what you did then please do so.

Then we can go from there.