It was a helluva thunderstorm last night.
I was lost in a good book about perfume and murder in Paris, in my PJs nested in my comfy bed when the rain began pelting the window and the thunder booms started echoing. I snuggled in, pulling up my favorite light green feather comforter, and read on, feeling safe and happy in the pool of the soft light from the lamp by the bed, the iPhone plugged in on the night stand, and my dog Lila snoring at the end of the bed.
Then there was a crashing sound.
I hate crashing sounds. No good has ever come from a crashing sound.
This one was loud and dull, came several times, and then stopped. Tree limbs on the deck or on the car? Blown over something somewhere now a broken mess?
Before I knew it, I was out of bed, heading down the stairs, dreading what I might find. I stopped at the base of stairway to listen and think about from what direction the sound had come.
I turned on the dining room lights and the front porch light, opened the door, walked out, looking for storm damage.
That’s when I heard the footsteps on the deck. And a muffled voice.
My front porch is connected to a small deck on one side of the house. There’s a latched gate between two. Footsteps on the deck meant that someone had unlatched the gate and was just around the corner.
My heart raced. I ran inside, locking the door behind me. Then the dull crashing sound came again. A thumping really. At the double glass French doors that open onto the deck. Without thinking, I switched on the deck light. And there on the other side was someone.
Right on the other side of the glass. Standing under the eave out of the rain. A thin young woman. Straight blond hair. A pink jacket with fancy leather stitching on both sides. A phone to her ear. Looking directly at me.
“Get out of here,” I shouted. She had no response, as if the sound didn’t travel through the glass. She threw herself against the door and tried to open it.
My mind flooded with the memories of a woman who walked in my unlocked front door one Saturday afternoon in Cincinnati some 30 years ago. Walked in as if she owned the place. Said she was being pursued by murderers. Refused to leave. We tussled. She was strong and scary, broke away from me and ran up the stairs to my bedroom, laid on my bed. Vomited. Ranting the whole time. I finally was able to get on the phone in the kitchen to call the police while Emily (who was just a teenager) kept track of her. I was worried that murderers would come barging in the front door any time to kill her. I’d seen that happen before in Chicago some 50 years ago during another house break in. But they didn’t and cops came, got her, knew her. She was off her meds, she had done this before. “You should keep your door locked they told me.”
So I do, mostly. But not always. But lately, since my car has been rummaged through a couple times over the past year, I’ve started checking the doors and the car to be sure they are locked before I go to bed. I miss the days when I didn’t need to lock the door. There’s a imprudent part of me that thinks that since I have a dog, people won’t come in. Crazy people don’t care about dogs though. And Lila would be the first to run from a crazy person. In fact, she was upstairs sleeping while this current crazy person was right on the other side of the glass, slamming her body into it.
I should have called 911 right then. But I forgot about doing that and instead got my sturdy Alaskan Diamond Willow stick from where it leans against a cabinet in the living room. I held it up with both hands like baseball bat, showing her that I’d be glad to wallop her on the head with it, and made a fierce face. “Get!” I shouted, pointing toward the little gate and the front porch. “Get out of here. Go home.”
She looked at me blandly. Again as if she couldn’t hear or see me. Behind her, a wide bolt of lightning split the night sky and lingered vibrating forever, driving electricity into the earth.
I threatened her with my stick again.
A smirk crept across her face and struck fear me. “I’ve got a crazy here,” I heard her say into her phone. Then, looking directly at me through the glass door, she spoke into the phone in a tiny voice, “Help me, help me, help me.”
My body tingled with fear, my mind throbbed with the surreality of this. The two of us standing body to body with glass between us. I was so vulnerable and visible. I had to get away and be safe, out of the light.
I turned off the deck and dining rooms lights, put the stick on the breakfast bar, and ran upstairs to call 911, But I forgot to turn off the light in the stairway where a newly installed LED super bright floodlight bulb illuminates the entire world. She could still see in, and she resumed throwing her weight against the glass door. Over and over.
What was happening, what did the person look like, did I know her, had I ever seen her before, what was my phone and address, asked the woman who answered the 911 call. I replied quickly and nervously, my heart in my throat, from the landing, afraid to make the turn to the downstairs where she could see me, the blazing light still on and me too thick to turn it off.
“She’s banging on the door hard,” I said over and over, nearly matching the rhythm of the thumping. There are police nearby I was told. Don’t go downstairs. Don’t open the door. Stay on the phone with me until the police get there.
The slamming stopped. I crept down the steps and saw her turn away from the door. Will she leave before the cops come? Will I seem like a crazy old lady when they arrive?
Then I heard her open the screen door on the front porch and try the knob of the front door. Thank god I had relocked the door. I could hear her say into the phone, “It’s locked.”
On my phone, the 911 operator says the police are out front right now, but don’t open the door until I tell you. I open the blinds of the front door, and there she is. The screen door open, her hand on the knob trying again and again to open it. We look at each other through the glass.
Then she turns. A tall uniformed man is behind her. I tell the operator and open the door.
Immediately the cop tells me to close the door. I see a woman officer with a blond ponytail come up on the porch through the blinds. The operator asks me if I am okay and we hang up.
There’s a big, loud conversation on the porch that I can only hear part of, mostly what the cops say. Do you know where you are? No. You are not even close to there. Show me your ID. A real ID. A debt card is not a real ID. The woman who lives is 75 years old, do you have a friend that’s 75 years old? You are causing yourself trouble. Is that your roommate on the phone? Let me talk.
Eventually, a wet young policeman came in through the deck door to write down the facts in a narrow lined notebook. I turned on the light in the dining room so he can see to write and I tell him my tale. Another pokes his head in to see if I wanted to press trespassing charges. When I said no, he disappears. Then the question of do I want her to be arrested if she ever comes back. My mind refuses to decide, the question seems so weird. I ask the officer for a recommendation, and he says that’s what he would do. So I say yes. I asked him if I did the right thing, calling 911. He says yes, and leaves.
Meanwhile out on the porch, things are de-escalating. I open the front door. The tall officer, and the woman officer are on either side of the young woman. He tells me they have called a cab for her and asks if it’s okay for them wait on the porch out of the rain for it to come. And could I close the door, close the blinds, but leave on the porch light.
So I do.
I’m inside alone, my bare feet damp from the water that’s been left on the rugs, standing there with all my cells on alert. I sure as heck can’t go back to bed yet.
I hear the cop ask the young woman if she wants to sit down. Peering through the side of the blinds on the door, I see her on the porch swing.
“Thank you, thank you,’ she says in an exhausted voice. “I know. I just want to go home.”
I hear the officer ask if he should call her roommate who was on the phone. And her reply that that wasn’t her roommate, and his simple “Oh.” Then would she like him to give her a ride home. I hear her say yes, if he’s allowed to do that.
I hear their footsteps on the porch steps. Crack the blind. See the dark police car drive away.
It’s so quiet. The storm has subsided.
Lila comes downstairs to smell the police footprints. I turn out the porch light. Somehow, I feel left out. Uncomfortably invisible. Funny, since that was what I'd wanted to be earlier. Then I feel guilty. If I’d had my wits about me, I could have calmed her down and driven her home myself. But, I guess calling the police, and them doing it, was a better idea.
I pee, go back to bed, and can’t sleep. I’m supposed to get up early to go to a symposium at IU in the morning, but it’s 2 a.m. now. The image of the wet, lost young woman on my porch saying into her phone, “Help me, help me, help me” resurfaces. How she didn't seem drunk, she was eerily alert. And the physical memory of my fear. I was scared of her. A young, skinny, lost, wet woman. Afraid that if I opened the door, she’d be wild inside, that she’d hurt me, a not-even close-thank-you-very-much-to-a-75-year-old-woman. I feel weak. I feel stupid. I scold myself for not making good decisions quickly, for my lack of focus. Digging into big fat slices of humble pie. The silly Diamond Willow stick. Why did I agree to the trespassing thing? What would have happened if she'd been a more fierce intruder? Could someone come through those glass doors?
Then worse, I think of what might have happened to her if I’d been successful in shooing her off the deck, the porch, out into the storm. Of never found Lauren Spierer, the wee hours video image of her walking on bare feet in the alley. And murdered Crystal Grubb, her head bashed in, body found in the corn field. Of Hannah Wilson, snatched from town, her body dumped out on Plum Creek Road. Would I have read in tomorrow’s paper about of the body of this young woman found in the little creek that runs by my house?
I wondered if she’d been dark-skinned, black-haired instead of being a cute light-skinned woman in stylish clothes would she have been given the gracious ride home by the police? Would the situation de-escalated?
It was long time before I went to sleep. And when I awoke, I felt uselessly haunted by this incident. Unresolved and resolved at the same time. I could have shaken off this whole thing by going to the symposium, but I blew it off.
Winter is slipping away, and it hasn’t even really started yet. I can feel it. Before you know it, those daffodils will be popping up and courting me, calling me outside, and I will not be ready.
I love winter. But not why you might think.
Yes, the raspberry canes turn purple, and the browns and grays of the landscape are as subtle and layered as a finely turned Stanley Kunitz poem.
Yes, the sharp clarity of air inhaled clears the viruses and muck of summer from my brain.
Yes, the night stars are as crisp as jewels in the dark sky.
Yes the flannel sheets are cozy, the wood fires are toasty, and the stews are satisfyingly tribal.
But it's the interiors of winter that I love. That's where the warm and broad luscious world of words lives. Cold, sleet, ice, dreary? I never really notice once I let myself go. And I always want to let go before I can.
The yearn for an unbroken fall forward into all the words I can’t get to when I’m digging in the garden or putting up jars of lime blueberry jam is palpable.
It's an impossible situation. I can never get to all the words in any winter (they are so short!) and each winter's already too big allotment of words always expands beyond all expectations as ideas spring off into wild directions, so every spring starts with me undone. Over the summer, words pile up - books unread, New Yorkers and Harper's stuffed and stacked in corners, articles bookmarked in my browser.
The descent into words isn't just a day or two here and there. Not just a few hours. It's a whole indulgent, obsessive, unaware-of-the-world-around-me stretch that is never long enough.
I’m mid-fall right now, a free, wide-armed collapse into the ideas of others and the notions that burst out of my fingers dancing in response across the keyboard. But I stay in mid-fall for so long. Not really totally immersed, and it pains me.
Already November has evaporated. Okay, it was a very mild November, and I was outside. But today was a chilly December 1. And even though it was a disciplined day with some decent progress on my novel and a couple lovely and brain shifting dips into the worlds of Edward O. Wilson and Alexander James Thom, and some good reading over lunch, the day was still taken by half with the clamor of practicalities.
Bake bread . . . do yoga . . . finish finances and put away papers . . . record movies for Cabo vacation . . . make plans to go the art bazaar at the UU church on Friday . . . empty the dishwasher . . .
And I can see more coming right at me. A swelling barrel-wave of fall stoppers: the making of truffles to send off in Christmas packages, trips to the post office, not the mention the holiday jerky and cherry chocolates or the wrapping of presents and general partying. Things I love.
So, I can never quite complete the immersive fall that I need - the time when no chores or complicated recipes or Facebook scanning are of any interest, and everywhere are only the cascades and eddies of words and the explosions of ideas - until after the New Year.
And then I’ve only got about two months (taking a week off to laze on the beach in Cabo) to do what is really a year’s worth of study and writing before the light starts to change and those damned crocus nod their lovely heads.
Tomorrow the balance will shift; it has to, because winter is almost over already.
I’ve been a really good girl this week. It might seem boring to you, but holy cow! look at what I got done:
~The new book manuscript has expanded by 20 or so pages.
~I have reduced myself by about 4 pounds by simply not overeating.
~A few items have been crossed off my to-do list. New insurance for house and car. New drug plan I hopefully will never use for Medicare. Scheduled my "Welcome to Medicare" preventive visit for January.
~A big section of my tightly packed storage closet under the stairs was opened up when I realized that I may never go camping again and gave all my gear to my daughter.
~I managed to visit a book club that had read Leave the Dogs at Home and not make a fool of myself.
~To help me keep my character Connie in my new manuscript in context, I read a 1969 issue of Zap Comix, the little red Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung book, and big chucks of books and articles about the Weatherman bombings in the 1970s. AND I joyfully did a little off-topic reading in the rolling and unrolling essays in The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit - book I’ve been meaning to read for over a year.
~I dedicated a few hours each day to promoting Leave the Dogs at Home and prodding others to chat it up.
~I’ve maintained a healthy balance between sit-your-butt-in-the chair focus and get-your-butt-moving walks, leaf-sweeping, and bicycle riding. I haven’t eaten too much chocolate or had too much beer or tipped back more than one glass of wine in the evening. I’ve kept a happy balance between bread, meat and veggies.
~I figured out how to make my computer quit misbehaving, again.
~I finally wrote a blog post.
True, not everything is perfect.
There is a stack of Paris books and artifacts on the upstairs couch that’s been there over a month. Recipes, magazines, and who knows what are scattered on the dining room table and kitchen counters that really need to be scrubbed down. And, my desk. It's a hot mess.
Out overall, it feels wonderful. This structured life is good for me. My brain is charged and sparky. My gut is less gassy and burny. And Shit is gettin' done.
But that fringe of mess around the house? That's a rebellion brewing in the alleyways of my being. A small collection of cells who want to just go screw around. They’ve started protesting. Marching the back streets with signs held high and chanting, “Hell no we won’t go.”
If I ignore the rebels they will come with pitchforks and sharpened hoes to break down the static structure of my days. Blockade the progress of the new book with day dreaming. Sabotage my balanced diet by gobbling the stacks of cookies I take to my book events.
So this is my secret plan: Give in, just a little. Let the rebels run freely, maybe for a whole day, wear them out so they will go sleep like dogs after a day of romping in the woods. Because without them, without their wild, dynamic chaos, the clamp of structure would closes everything down, and I would have to abandon all for complete rebellion.
How easily we can be deceived about the things we think are solid in our lives. I’m not talking about the big stuff that comes with grating and whining as the gears of the universe grind and clash together and the seams of your life shred.
No, I mean the little things. You think you know something for sure, but you don’t.
You think you know how to bake bread; have baked 100s of loaves. But discover that you've been doing it all wrong.
You think you know the fastest way to drive across town. But managed to miss, for decades, the best shortcut.
You think you know your cat. And I don’t mean, you know your cat’s personality and quirks. No, I mean, you know if it IS your cat or not. But you don't.
Not long ago, I lost my cat Oolong. She was a new cat from the shelter. Slim, small, jet black, with yellow eyes and a passion for being outside and not coming back for a day or two at a time. I had promised the shelter that Oolong would be an indoor kitty, but she watched the door like it was a mouse hole, and given the right moment, would be out like a shot, in between feet and dogs, under the gate and disappeared faster than a loose window can slam shut.
On an October evening, right after I’d had cataract surgery, a big thunder boomer storm crashed around outside. Oolong was out there somewhere. I stood on the front porch, the side stoop, and next to the deck railing and called for her. “OOOOOOolong. Here kit kit. OOOOOolong.” No cat.
The next morning dawned fresh and clean. But the porch was empty of cat.
I decided to walk the neighborhood in a grid, hoping to unearth the cat like a hidden pot in an archeological dig. Above me the colors of the trees were brilliant orange and yellow against an electric indigo sky, startlingly psychedelic after the removal of the gray cataract veil from the lens of my eye. Up and down the alleys that bisect my historic neighborhood, looking under porches, behind garages. My “OOOOOOolong, here kit kit” call sounding much a strange caterwaul. I saw myself, the weirdo, old lady, walking the alleys sounding like a fog horn.
This peculiar behavior didn’t take long to get the attention of my neighbors - all who had seen a black cat somewhere: crossing the street, lingering at the back of the house, or napping in the bushes. And indeed, there Oolong was, lurking just out of reach, skittish. Maybe the storm had spooked her. Being out all night in the driving rain and dangerous winds. I put cat food in my pocket and began circling in on where I had seen her.
The fourth sighting I had of her was in an alley, just yards from busy cat-killer Kirkwood Avenue. She wouldn’t let me touch her, but she didn’t run away, and she didn’t run into the traffic. I sat down in the alley and put one piece of cat kibble down. And then another, creating line of snacks to lure her toward me. She ate one piece. Stopped and looked at me. Moved to eat the next, and the next, and the next. Then in one flash, I grabbed her by the back of the neck as she set up a terrible yowling that continued all the way home. My grip on her neck was tight, her loose skin was pulled back, her yellow eyes bulged wild.
Once released in the house, Oolong darted and dove for the shelter behind the couch. Only four days and nights gone, and she turned feral?
“You are never going out again,” I told her. She hunkered and hated me with squinted eyes.
The next morning, I awoke early to angry and pitiful squalling from behind the living room couch.
I got up, let the dogs Digs and Lila out to pee, and took my breakfast to the daybreak light of the deck. And, up strolled Oolong, with a sweet meow, cozying up and purring, happy to see me. I wondered, how in the heck did she get outside? Decided she must have slipped through unseen when I let out the dogs.
Somehow, she had turned from furious wild cat monster to her sweet self. Lila and Digs nosed and sniffed her from end to end. “Maybe she decided to be rescued from madness,” I told the dogs. Petting her, I felt a large abnormal swelling under boney ribs. Oolong walked in the house to the water dish.
I was amazed at her stunning attitude change and counted myself lucky.
After finishing the newspaper, I went upstairs to my office to call the vet, and there sat ANOTHER black cat on the couch in the office, snarling and furious. This, the cat I captured, was NOT Oolong. Black yes, but she didn’t really even look like Oolong. She was much bigger and not near as elegant or sleek. How did I ever think this was my cat?
Not-Oolong ran down the steps into the kitchen, running into Oolong. Caterwauling ensued and a fight began to loom on the horizon. I grabbed Oolong and put her upstairs in the bedroom, closed the door, and the closed door to the office. I put the dogs outside on the deck and closed the deck doors. I opened the front and back doors to the house thinking the cat would just run out.
I found Not-Oolong on the kitchen counter, a desperate air about her as she was stretching up into a narrow opening behind the wall cabinets.
This would not be good.
I got the broom and tried to shoo Not-Oolong out. She attacked the broom, ripped out straws, howling and growling, she took off up the stairs to the bathroom - I had stupidly left that door. I was afraid. I’d had feral barn cats attack with all four clawed feet before, and knew a threatened cat could be a bundle of hurt.
I wanted to shoo Not-Oolong out, but before I tried, I stuffed a shoe into the opening in the back of the cabinet to take that option off the list. Then I broomed Not-Oolong out of the bathroom. She bolted down the steps and back into the kitchen. I ran after, in my haste forgetting again to close the door to the bathroom.
Lila and Digs were standing at the deck glass doors, eager for a chance to join the shooing but wary of the broom. Not-Oolong was back on the kitchen counter, now looking to jump up to the top of the cabinets eight feet up.
This would not be good.
I cleared a pathway free of dishes across the counter on the side near the front door hoping she would just go, but instead she headed up the steps again, into the bathroom, into the sink.
I broomed Not-Oolong out of the sink, out of the bathroom, fighting and hissing. I closed the bathroom door. Following her downstairs, I found her in the middle of the kitchen floor considering squeezing into the space between the refrigerator and the wall.
This would not be good.
So, I tried to broom her out of the kitchen again. Again, she took off up the steps. But this time, Not-Oolong was cornered on the landing - all the doors were closed. My brilliant brain told me to capture her by throwing a blanket on her. I got one from the bedroom, but, this did not work. What did work was to use the blanket to toro-bull-fighter madator style the cat down the steps and Not-Oolong finally, thankfully, dashed out the open back door.
This was good.
She stopped, threw one more yowl at me over her shoulder, and then headed down the culvert toward the place where I had captured her.
Go ahead and berate me for animal cruelty. First in capturing the wrong cat and second in brooming Not-Oolong out. But the situation - a scared furious cat hiding in my house, my recently returned and injured, very thin Oolong that needed to be attended to quickly (she had an abdominal hernia, likely from being attacked by a dog), and riled-up Lila and Digs - seemed to dictate a quick and decisive shooing.
Not-Oolong left behind an uneasiness that can’t be shooed away. I have always known I had a weakness for me talking me into things. Oh yes, that’s a great business plan. Oh yes, you have gotten up and are getting ready for work (while still snug under the bed covers). Oh yes, I can keep up with three zucchini plants. But for me to talk me into the wrong cat – that’s a whole new level of self-deception. It makes me suspicious of me. What might I be telling myself right now that’s just some fantasy?
I often see Not-Oolong on my neighborhood walks. She always stops, squares up to face me, and prepares for battle. I pause, apologize, and use the moment to take measure of myself for tall tales lurking inside that need to get the broom treatment.
This last summer I was covered up with apple scraps.
The leavings of two five-gallon white tubs of apples picked from the tree that grows next to the vegetable garden I tend. It was only a partial harvest, but it was enough to cause trouble.
I knew what I was in for. Every time I have an apple tree in my life, peeling, coring, cooking, drying, repeat, repeat, repeat, takes over everything for a week or two, right about the same time that the tomatoes demand canning and freezing.
As bags of dehydrated apples multiplied across my kitchen counter, so did heaps of apple core tubes and red curls of skin created by the hand-crank peeler borrowed from Steve (just like the one I sold at auction when I got rid of almost everything before moving to town). Some I cooked down into a nice apple bourbon jelly. But there a limit to how much jelly I want in my life, so I tried my hand at making apple scrap vinegar.
Out on the shady front porch, in gallon pickle jars and an old crock, stinky apple scrap water frothed, bubbled, fermented and transformed into “must” and ultimately into the most exquisite apple cider vinegar I have ever tasted.
The process invites in wild bacteria and puts it to good use.
There are domesticated, predictable bacteria used commercially, and then there are the unruly, wild ones. In the air, all around us. Some good, some bad.
We like the good. They are the power behind sour dough, beer, kimchi, wine, cheese, bourbon, sauerkraut, yogurt, and exotic kefir and kombucha. They fuel the transformation of kitchen scraps to black dirt in compost piles.
We hate the bad. The Clostridium botulinum that causes botulism. The Corynebacterium diphtheriae that causes diphtheria. The Borrelia burgdorferi that causes Lyme disease.
All of them are wild creatures equal in the eyes of nature.
We try to keep our lives in narrow corrals, controlled and domesticated, predictable like commercial bacteria. But life is not that way. It is wild like the bacteria that swirl around us. And we fear the wild, the unknown, and the unforeseen.
Yet it is this very Shiva of wildness, this destruction, fermentation, and transformation of the ordinary and predictable that is the froth of creativity and growth. It is in this wildness, when it appears in our lives, when it bursts open with strange and disruptive horrors, that we can find renewal. It is here when we are forced to drop the precious scraps of familiar, like piles of old cores and peels, to mutate into new, often better, versions of ourselves.
I want to tell people when I hear them mourning the loss of what was, that this collapse can be glorious. That the breaking down of the dulling static opens the universe of the thrilling dynamic. That it is the most natural part of life. That a new form, refreshed by transformation and fermentation, is being offered. To look for that outstretched hand. But I don’t. I know they can’t hear me. The roar of disaster and grief too loud.
Maybe I should just introduce some good wild into their lives. Small gifts of apple scrap vinegar, sauerkraut and kimchi. Loaves of sour dough bread. Or, of course, the traditional bottle of good bourbon.
Outside the small aluminum frame window, the green maple leaves were stirring softly in dappled late summer sunlight. Inside, I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. My guts were churning and my heart was racing. Unsuitable comments swelled like stuck oatmeal in my throat.
Things weren't going well for me in the discussion group. Across the room a woman was talking about something I wasn't interested in. I wanted to dismiss her. Didn't want to listen to her. Wanted to redirect the conversation my way.
I like to think that I've made progress in learning how to respect other’s opinions, listen, make space in my world for doing things differently than how I would do them. And, I have. I am able to pull back, calm down, and absorb in ways that were impossible for me when I was younger.
But not always.
It’s like having an allergic reaction. All my buttons get pushed, all of my alarms go off, and adrenaline surges through my being. I’m rude. I interrupt. Refuse to acknowledge. Resent that person's very presence. Critically judge how and what is done and said. Feel my skin ripple with resistance and impatience.
There are some people who have this response to me. Every word that comes out of my mouth annoys. My very presence in the room, or maybe upon the earth, irritates.
While I was thinking about this the other night, a recent The Atlantic magazine article, “Masters of Love,” popped into my head. It was about what makes relationships work and not work. How it’s really all about how kind, how generous, couples are to each other.
I know, I know. So much pap. But I have to confess since my era of horrible geezer dating followed by falling in love with Steve, my curiosity about what makes relationships work and not work has been high.
The majority of marriages fail, either ending in divorce, separation or chronic bitterness. Of all marriages, only 30% end up in healthy and happy relationships. The other 70% can barely stand to be around each other. Research by marriage therapist John Gottman shows that people in dysfunctional relationships suffer from the fight or flight response all of time.
Contempt, it turns out, is what tears couples apart. Eye rolling, sarcasm, lip curls. The arrogant, angry disregard of each other. Shutting out. The underlying message to the other person: you don’t matter.
And kindness is what keeps couples together. Eye contact, indulgence, a slight smile. The generous, warm acceptance of each other. Making room. The underlying message to the other person: you matter.
I think this applies across the board to all types of relationships.
I was telling Steve about this the other day. His question was: “Why? Why does this happen??”
The article didn't really answer that.
Maybe a few people have a natural inclination to make the space, time and attention needed for kindness. That’s not my inclination. My inclination is to be selfish and focused on my needs. That’s what I know about me, and that’s what I must turn away if I want to harvest all that the world offers me.
I can be selfish and kind simultaneously for kindness is it's own reward, on the physical level. Kindness elevates levels of dopamine in the brain, giving a natural high. It produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body, dilating the blood vessels and keeping blood pressure low and reducing the levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system that cause aging. Kindness positively impacts the vagus nerve which is sort of an electrical circuit that links our heart, lungs, and gut to the brain-base.
I'm pretty good at being mindful and generous to Steve when he is around, and our relationship might be one of the 3 in 10.
I'm not so good at paying attention and being kind when it is really hard. When I’m not getting the conversation I want. When someone looks at me with daggers and dismisses me.
Stop, breathe, and relax. Drop my resistance. Set aside my judgments. What good are they?
Bring a spirit of scanning for what's positive, what I can be thankful for, to each interaction.
Be kind. Really, it shouldn't be that hard.
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