Monday, December 20, 2010

It’s All Up to You

I was reading my friend Becky Gjendem’s blog, Deep Muck Big Rake, the other day and she had written a review of Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. In her post, Becky quotes others and talks about how difficult, how painful – but how necessary – self-reflection is. 

In November, my friend Rachel Lawley wrote "Seeing Clearly Now," in her blog, Wonderfully Ironic, about taking a look at herself and holding herself accountable.

A similar subject just came up this week in Dan Rockwell’s blog, Leadership Freak. In a recent post, “People are Frustrating?,” Dan wrote: “Personal happiness and personal freedom begin when we stop excusing ourselves and begin taking personal responsibility.”

Diane Crim Photography. Used with permission All rights Reserved. RCDC Photography.
All of these references to reflection, accountability and responsibility remind me of a passage in a book I received a lifetime ago from my friend, Renee. At the time, I was going through a seriously rough patch in life (well, rough till that point in my life, anyway). Divorce, job loss, death of a beloved grandparent. It was a sad, ugly chapter in my life.
So, for all those reasons and a variety of others, I started my inward gaze in my 20s (that was 20 years ago, if you're wondering). Looking inward should be a lifelong process, so I try to sit down with myself frequently. As with anything, I'm better at it some days than others.

But even as hard as self-reflection, self-acceptance and self-responsibility are, they also are incredibly liberating. On especially tough days of self-reflection, I always come back to this passage from Paul Williams’ book, Das Energi, that long-ago gift from my friend, Renee.
It’s all up to you.
You are completely responsible for your life.
You are the creator.
It’s an awesome burden and a great freedom.

It’s all up to you.
When you take responsibility for one life, you assume
responsibility for all life.
If you fail to take responsibility for your life, you
do not exist.
Tough, Isn’t it?

When you finally realize how really tough it is, when
you finally accept life, when you finally find there is
no way out but self-awareness and the incredible pain and
loneliness and responsibility it brings, then and only
then will you begin to be alive, and begin to know the
joy of freedom.
 Amen, Mr. Williams. The incredible pain fades. The joy of freedom lasts forever.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Not for Me to Reason Why

It was Dec. 16, 2004, and I was driving to work, looking at the impeccably landscaped golf course near my family’s home, watching mist rise from the ponds. As I admired the beautiful morning, I thanked God for it, and for letting me keep my infant son, William.

The day before, we learned that he did not have cystic fibrosis, a degenerative, debilitating disease that would have killed him young, or required a double-lung transplant – neither of which I had envisioned for our dark-haired, big-eyed boy. I was so relieved my older son Martin would have his brother throughout his life, and that my husband and I would not have to bury our child.  

Diane Crim Photography. Used with permission. All rights reserved
 I thanked God again for sparing my family – my own and my siblings’ – the tragedies I had seen befall many of my friends’ families. Terminal illnesses, suicides, tragic accidents. I wondered out loud how all of that worked. How one family experiences typical life events, while another family suffers tragedy, sometimes many heartbreaks. How two people can suffer the same illness, disease, or injury, and one lives while the other dies. 

Four days later, I learned there is no rhyme or reason. On Dec. 20, tragedy befell my family. Jonathan – my sister’s and brother-in-law’s only child, my mother’s grandson, my nephew – died in a single-car crash on Tallahassee’s dark, dangerous Deerlake Road. He was only 16.

I still thank God. But I’ve never again wondered, silently or out loud, how any of this works; there is no sensible or reasonable explanation. I’ve never looked at the world the same way since. I do try even more to live each day with gratitude, reverence and humility.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Who’s Your Role Model?

I was reading a blog post the other day that my friend Niki Pocock wrote, “My Role Models Aren’t Your Role Models,” about Generation Y role models. In it, she asks, “Who was/is your childhood role model?”

It got me thinking.

But first. I’m not Generation Y. I was born in 1965, on the cusp of Baby Boomer and Generation X. My three siblings are solidly part of the Baby Boomer generation (born in 1955, 1958 and 1959), and my parents are Traditionalists. When I read descriptions of Boomers, GenX and GenY, I know I’m a tiny bit Boomer, a whole lot GenX, and somehow, more than a little bit GenY. That’s my generational filter. 

Hangin' on to Mom, circa 1968.
That said, as cliché as this will sound: My mother was and still is my No. 1 Role Model.

Traditionalist women mostly grew up, got married, and raised their families (and there is nothing wrong with that!). But my mom earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in home economics, worked summers as a waitress at the Tick Tock Inn on Rehoboth Beach, DE, and landed a teaching job after she finished college.

No small feat when you know that my mom’s family (parents and two older brothers) were hit hard by the Great Depression and, when my mother was 5, her father died from complications of pneumonia. Her mother remarried a few years later to great man, and the only grandfather (maternal and paternal sides) my siblings and I ever knew. But her early years were not easy. Still, she managed. And managed well.

Mom started her career in education teaching middle school. She and Dad married in 1952, moved to Tallahassee in 1953, and had their first child (my sister) in 1955. They had their second and third children, both boys, in 1958 and 1959. (Yeah, they’re 360 days apart!)

After staying home on-and-off while us kids were young, mom would return to her career as a teacher and school administrator. She was assistant principal for the curriculum at two elementary schools and a middle school. In between, she oversaw elementary-school curriculum for our school district.

Her career was a mix of Traditional and Generation X. She served the same employer – the Leon County Schools – for almost 40 years, like a good Traditionalist. But like a good GenXer would do, she mixed it up working in a variety of positions – teacher, vice principal, district administrator, and mixed it up more by working at both the elementary-school and middle-school levels.

Mom, summer 2010.
Over her 40-year career, mom (and Dad, a little … he was very Traditional in the sense that he didn’t participate consistently in child-rearing and didn’t participate at all in housework) not only succeeded as a career woman, she was also a wonderful, wise and present mother. There and present at my brothers’ sports events and band concerts, at my sister’s choir performances, at my swim meets and horse shows. All the while, mom kept a robust circle of girlfriends. She is still there and present for us.

Oh. And? Mom always volunteered (and still does at 83). A lot. The Junior Woman's Club, Faith Presbyterian Church, Brehon Institute of Family Services, Alpha Delta Kappa, Faith Preschool, and I’m sure a dozen other organizations I can’t even remember.

OK. She didn’t do it all by herself, which makes her even wiser and more wonderful in my eyes. I’ve always known no mother (or father, for that matter) can or should do it all by herself. Whether her support is from a paid helper, a husband, the kids, or that robust circle of girlfriends, mothers (and fathers) need support to succeed and thrive.
Mom had help from a part-time housekeeper/sort-of nanny, Bessie, who cared for us after school and helped mom keep up with things like laundry, cleaning and cooking. (Mom readily admits to this day that she has no idea how mothers survive today because Bessie was her lifesaver.) As we got older, we kids chipped in, too. My sister (who is 10 years older) watched after me a lot. I cleaned the house and cooked more often as I got older. One brother (who later became a trained chef) cooked a lot of dinners. And the other brother drove me around a lot to piano and riding lessons.

My mom blazed a trail as one of her generation’s first career mothers. And she was great at it – her career and being our mother. My siblings and I are lucky, grateful kids.