Thursday, December 11, 2014

What I Fear Most

Last night I received a very good piece of advice via a kind of unconventional means.

I was listening to a live webinar on my phone, hosted by a renowned author whom I greatly respect. I had gone so far as to message him about a phenomenal book he wrote, but he of course never replied. There were probably hundreds of people on the call, but at the end he said he could take a few questions, and all of a sudden I heard him saying, "Amy from Illinois has a question. Hi, Amy." Wow. So I got to talk to this amazing author and the advice I received changed the course of my thinking as only someone whom I respect could do.

He said simply, "Don't be ruled by fear." Of course, there was more, but in my starstruck daze I don't remember it all verbatim. But what he said resonated with me, because he was right. I was being ruled by fear.

Now, in this context, he was talking about parenting. About not being afraid to do the right thing, bring up a subject that may cause conflict or put my foot down when I need to. Because, see, that became pretty tough for me - the repercussions were unpleasant and sometimes downright frightening. So I quit doing it. I quit out of fear. But he reminded me, because I had forgotten, that fear impedes progress. Fear keeps you from doing not only what you think you SHOULD do, but what you really, really WANT to do. And it's really nothing more than that. If you let fear get to you, it can not only impede YOUR progress, but that of your kids as well.

All those excuses we use day after day. How many times have you said things like:
"I'm not going to discipline my kid for breaking curfew because I want to have a good day today and just keep the peace."
"I'm not speaking up in that meeting because I don't know if what I have to say is significant."
"I'm not going after that job because I'm afraid I'm not completely qualified."
"I'm not going to broach that subject because I'm not sure of the reaction I'll get."
"I'm not going to go up and talk to that person because he might think I'm crazy, or worse yet, boring."

So what happens when we let fear rule our decisions? Nothing gets done. No progress is made. You don't do anything proactive, say anything proactive, or BE anything proactive. And the thing is, what you see as fear can be mistaken in someone else's eyes. To them, you might appear indifferent. Snobby. Passive. When in fact you're none of those things. You're just being ruled by fear.

The same thing that makes me not have those tough talks with my kid - for fear he'll lash out, or we'll have a bad night, or my best-laid plans will be ruined - is the same fear that keeps me from trying new things. I'll give a million excuses why I don't want to show up at a new church or social group when in fact I'm just terrified of walking into a roomful of strangers. Funny thing is, I've conquered that fear on more than one occasion, only to realize that 1) others felt the exact same way and 2) everyone was welcoming and understood how hard it was. And as far as parenting goes, worrying that my kids will go off the deep end if I discipline them - because it's gotten out of hand before - isn't doing them any favors. I need to work to find a way to overcome that fear and stop it from getting out of hand. Because kids are like wild animals - they can smell fear a mile away.

My son is learning about feelings. So much so that a couple of weeks ago I happened to say something to the effect of, "That made me so mad," to which he corrected me and said, "No, Mom, you CHOOSE to be mad." Interesting concept coming from a 17-year old boy, but he's right. I did choose it. I chose it because it was easy. Fear is easy. It's the excuse that is lying at the bottom of the barrel of excuses. But if you think about it carefully, you can choose NOT to let it rule your life and your decisions.

So the advice I received is my advice to you. Don't be ruled by fear. Don't let that ambiguous emotion of what "could, should, might" keep you doing what you want or need to do. As Wayne Gretzky once said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Don't be afraid to take that shot.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Make It So

Every once in awhile, I'll see or read something and think, "I'm gonna put that on my Bucket List." Then I promptly forget about it until the next time I see or read about it. I never actually Make It So. When you write things down, you Make It So. They're there for everyone to see, and for you to be held accountable. Years from now, someone could approach me in the grocery store and ask, "So how's that Bucket List coming?" and I can say, "Well, I've done #3 and #7, and I'm working on #8 - thanks for asking!"

OK, that probably won't happen. But it could.

Anyway, I decided that instead of randomly remembering things I want to do during this interesting and unpredictable life of mine, only to have them slip into the ether of my mind minutes later, I'd write them down, and thus Make It So.

So here goes - in no particular order, because that's how my mind works.

1. Learn sign language. I've always been fascinated by this language and would love to be able to become fluent. Then I'd like to volunteer my skills in helping with those who are deaf. And I'd also like to be able to teach it to my best friend so we can secretly communicate at parties.

Climbing a silo. Not the same.
2. Climb a big rock. I took a rock climbing course at Upper Limits in Bloomington and loved going over there to climb. However, I've lost my climbing partner and don't get over to BloNo much anymore. A few years ago, I looked into a rock climbing course they offer in Southern Illinois - like the real deal. Real rocks. I wanna do that. As soon as I build up some badass arm and leg muscles and figure out a way for my pelvic region to not look all bunchy in a harness.

3. Go to Canada. I have no idea why. I don't even really know what's up there, other than coldness and hockey and maple leaves. But I'd love to go to French-speaking Canada, since I will probably never make it across the Pond. I took a total of six years of French - one year in grade school (an after-school class - how dorky was I?) four in high school and one year in college. Surely there's more than "Comment allez-vous?" and "Quelle heure est il?" in the depths of my consciousness somewhere?

4. Lambeau, Baby. I know, right? This Marquette grad, former Milwaukee resident and HUGE Packers fan has NEVER BEEN TO GREEN BAY.  It's just criminal. It has to happen - preferably with someone who is as much of a fan as I am, because it'd be lame to take someone who was just doing it as a favor. Because it's gonna be cold, yo.

5. Play the bass in a band. Yeah, this prooobbbbaaaabbbbllllyyyy isn't going to happen, but you never know where life is going to take you. When I'm trying to pass the time during a workout or standing in line or trying to fall asleep, I sometimes fantasize that I'm a bass player in this garage band. You know, the one who kind of hangs back all cool like and sways back and forth to the beat just thumping away - most likely while wearing a hat. It's all about the hat. And the swaying. And the thumping. Oh, and maybe some backup singing, too. This one may take some work.

6. Find my go-to volunteer place. My dad has two go-to volunteer places - Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Midwest Food Bank. He's there a lot and is getting to know the people there. I'd like to become a part of something like that someday. The last time I really felt a part of something volunteer-wise was when I was on the board at Charter Oak School. Man - I felt like I owned that joint and I knew everybody. What a great feeling to be around a group of people who all like each other and believe in what they're doing. Too bad Old Lady Lathan put the kibosh on all that. But they're good memories and I'd like to recapture that spirit of giving back and that sense of community someday.

7. Write a book. Yeah, yeah, everyone tells me "You should write a book." That's usually because a) I'm a writer and "don't all writers write a book?" b) because I seem to have an unusually quirky life or b) I have an unusually quirky way of looking at my life. My book won't be fictional - other than names will be changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty.)

I have an immense amount of respect for those who can come up with story lines, characters, plots, and write chapter after chapter over the course of years that turns into - well - a story. I'm more the "extended blog version" kind of writer, and I have far too many thoughts in my head about real life to make room for imaginary friends. (Sidenote: I just read  Carry On, Warrior - The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton - which, if you like my writing, you will LOVE hers. I highly recommend this book.) Anyway, I read that stuff and think, "YES! THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO WRITE! THAT'S IT! SHE GETS ME AND SHE WROTE IT AND PEOPLE READ HER!" And yes, I say it in all caps.

8. Fall in love. Obviously this isn't something I can just go and do, but I'd like to cross it off someday. It's probably more likely that I'll go to Canada. Or climb a real rock. Or learn sign language and how to play the bass. WAIT A MINUTE. Maybe I need to do ALL those things before I can meet my soulmate - a deaf yet musically-inclined Canadian rock climber! That's IT!

I gotta get busy. Make It So.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What is Dying with Dignity?

My first thought when I read about Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old who took medication to end her life after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, was, "You go, Girl."

The Oregon, Washington, and Vermont Death with Dignity laws allow mentally competent, terminally-ill adult state residents to voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication to hasten their death. This is one of many end-of-life care options available in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. - See more at:
Brittany moved to Oregon because of that state's Death With Dignity Law, which allows mentally competent, terminally ill adult state residents to voluntarily request and receive prescription medication to hasten their death. If you haven't read about it, here's her story:

Brittany Maynard, advocate for "Death with Dignity" dies

She was young. She knew she was going to die. And she knew it wasn't going to be pretty. And I'm going to assume that those close to her were on board with it.

A Vatican official denounced it, calling it an "undignified absurdity." My faith and my upbringing tells me that it's wrong, and that we can't play God. That the cards we are dealt is the hand we are stuck with. We don't get to decide when we come into this earth we don't get to decide when we leave. Those are the rules.

Then I put myself in Brittany's place. I don't have a husband, but I have children. If this happened to me, I can't imagine them having to go through all that, even though I wouldn't have had it any other way with my mom than to go through what she went through with her. See my dilemma here? I certainly don't have the funds to withstand years of treatment or hospital care. And I don't want to die a long, painful death if I don't have to. I want quality of life.

That's what my mom wanted. That's why she sought out the oncologist she did, because he believed in quality of life. She knew that he would provide her with the options that would allow her to be treated yet maintain quality of life. And she knew he would tell her when it was time to stop.

And he did. And I often wonder what she thought during those final months. Did she wish for death? Or was she valuing each and every day she had left? Or maybe a little of both? If given the option, I am nearly 100% sure that her faith would have prevented her from taking the measures that Brittany did - but then again, her situation wasn't the same as Brittany's.

So though I was accepting of Brittany's decision, because the non-judgey side of me realizes that I haven't walked a mile in her shoes, I really did wonder how I felt about it and if I would do the same thing if I was ever in a similar situation. Then I read this article, ironically in the Jesuit Post (I attended the Jesuit Marquette University, as did my mother and my oldest brother), written by Jason Welle, SJ:

On Love and Dignity and Dying

In short, the author tells the story of his brother's struggle with cancer and his initial thought of ending it all versus riding it out."I don't know," he tells his brother. "... what I do know is that we love you so much, and we want to be able to love you all the way through this; we would support you, and it would never be a burden on us to be with you and care for you even in your suffering. Tony, please, let us do that for you. Let us love you to the end, whenever that may be.”

Mr. Welle takes offense that the option of taking one's own life, even as a relief from dying a painful death, is known as "death with dignity." That the real dignity "isn’t opposed to suffering; sometimes in suffering dignity reveals its truest face."

I'm not saying this very eloquently, so read the article. It's hard to explain. If my mom would have chosen to move to Oregon to take advantage of this law, I would have supported her. But when she became sick, there was no doubt in my mind that I would go through this with her. I wanted to do that for her. I wanted to love her until the end.

And there was no doubt that she suffered. Were there parts of it that were undignified? Certainly. Did she suffer with dignity? Yes, she did. She made sure of that, her family made sure of that, and hospice made sure of that. Did she die with dignity? Absolutely.

But I get it. I get both sides. And I'm torn. Then it occurs to me, I don't have to be on one side or the other. My heart breaks for Brittany and her family and what they must have gone through and are going through. My heart breaks for the thought process that got Brittany to realize her fate and the bravery (mind you I say bravery, not courage) to publicly make the decision she made, and how many waverings she must have had in her own mind to come to that decision. But again, if she had the support of those who loved her, then that's the whole battle right there.

And if it was me, in her situation, I don't know that I wouldn't have thought of doing the same thing. I just don't know if I could have. I don't know if I could have played that last hand that's supposed to be God's call. I guess it would depend on who was left in my life and the role they played. For Brittany, it seemed everyone was accounted for, so maybe that made it "easier." My struggle, I think, would be with not so much who is left behind, but who is waiting ahead.