boundaries · codependence · service

The management reserves the right to refuse service.

6.21.18Opening this morning’s Oprah/Deepak meditation, I was sorely tempted to skip right past today’s topic: “How can I serve?”  Nope, nope, nope, I intoned aloud.

Though in the end I listened anyway, I immediately turned “How can I serve?” into “How can I be positive?”

As a recovering and compulsive co-dependent, self-abandoner, let me do for you what I will not do for myself-er… I have a complex relationship with “serving others.”

But during the pre-meditation talk, the point that struck me most as, “Oh, here’s where can I learn,” was when Deepak reminded me that, “Giving and receiving are merely different aspects of the same flow of energy.”  Harumph.

This stings because I have a lot of trouble on the receiving end of things, particularly to and from myself.  It’s difficult and uncomfortable for me to treat myself with care, priority, and love.  This compulsion is better than before, but I know the giving/receiving coin is one relationship that needs healing.

Because when I hear the question, “How can I serve?,” I see The Giving Tree.  More specifically, I see that stump at the end of the story who’s like, “Nah, man, it’s totally cool that I’m nearly dead.  Use what’s left of my husk to park your ass.”

Veysmer.

Turning toward filling someone else’s need is a long-ingrained, long-painful pattern of mine, and so when I hear this question, I recoil from it dramatically.

But I know that’s not truly what Deepak is saying (perhaps it is what some religious or spiritual tenets are saying).  I am not being told to give of myself until there’s nothing left.  I am not being told to give away something against my will that I don’t want to give.  I am not being told to over-ride my “Red Alert!” alarm when a soul-vampire is at my door, and invite them in anyway because “they need me” or “it’s the ‘kind’ thing to do,” or because “that’s what a spiritual person would do.”

But in order to hear what is actually being said, I must replace the word “serve” with the words “be positive.”

I can be a positive force in the world.  I can offer a smile, return a text, share my words here.  I can not be a f*cking drag, even though I feel breakuply shitty right now.

I can get out of my head, meet a friend, go to a museum.  That is how I can be positive today.

But I cannot “serve” you.  It’s self-service here, buddy.  Get with the times.

 

 

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boundaries · self-care · service

“You can’t save anyone.”

3.14.18

When ordinarily I’ve heard this phrase, I’ve bristled.  Is it something in me, something wrong with me that I can’t?  If I try harder or fix myself more, will I then be able to?  What if I really really love them?

However, last week, a friend said this declarative sentence to me, and I replied laughingly, “What a relief!”  Phew!  Jeez, that really takes me off the hook now, doesn’t it?

I can’t save anyone.  I don’t have to keep trying, adjusting, modifying, cajoling, coercing, monitoring, mothering.  I can lay it the f* down … and continue working on what I’m really here to work on: Me.

There’s not nearly as much work as there used to be, but certainly a lifetime’s worth.  Which is good, because you stop growing, you start dying!  But overall, I feel healthier now than at many other points in my life.

I feel more able to accept that other people have their own row to hoe, and no amount of my overseeing can change or improve or lessen their work.  I once told my (as of this past week ex-) boyfriend:( that I felt like a sword-fighter against his darkness, and that I needed him to take the sword.  To fight his own battle against his own internal foes.

The rub is, truly, that he never asked me to fight that battle for him, but I leapt in suit of armor and all and said, “Alright beast, let’s go!”  And then I said, “Omigod I’m tired,” and then I said, “This is not a battle I can win. Here, you take it.”

Fighting others’ darkness is a long-earned habit of mine, the daughter of an untreated manic-depressive.  When the yawning darkness of depression descends upon the woman who is to care for you, as a child with few tools, all you can do is set aside your own needs to try to fight her darkness so she can possibly help defend you, too.  And lo, codependence is born:  if you’re okay, I’m okay.

Yet though this is a long-worn caul of mine, that does not mean it fits, makes sense, is healthy, or … is sane!  And it is up to me to stop jumping in to every person’s fight.

Indeed, “coincidentally,” as all this boundary-strengthening/awareness has been taking place in the last few weeks, I’ve had 4 people reach out to me to help them with some self-help work they’re doing (yes, I see the irony there).  At some times, I would have leapt in (Sure man, let’s slay that darkness! How much of me do you need?), but these past few weeks, I’ve taken account of who I know these folks to be and what kind of energy I truly have for assisting them.

And my answer has been, No.  “Thank you for asking, but I’m full up on service right now.”  “I’m grateful you thought of me, but I’m only available to be friends on the path right now.”  “I’m very glad I got to serve for a while, but I need to leave your committee.”

There are voices within that chide it’s selfish or miserly to say No.  But, I imagine that one day, when my boundaries are more firm—when I don’t run for my longsword every time someone says, “Hello”—that I’ll be more able and available for service to people … but for today, for now, saying no to them is saying yes to me.

And that, friends, is progress.

(And yes, home sick with the flu this week—hence no blog—I’ve been reading Game of Thrones and all about longswords.) 😉

 

adulthood · family · love · service

Collecting Grown-ups.

Diane, Manny, Howard, Ralph, Max, Rhoda and Ruth
Diane, Manny, Howard, Ralph, Max, Rhoda and Ruth

There is a curious trend in my social life lately: the appearance of older men.

I don’t mean in a romantic sense, but supportive, creative, interesting, helpful people, who happen to be men, who happen to fall logically into a model of fatherly or grandfatherly figures.

As for my own father, we haven’t spoken in months.  But boundaries, parents, duty, love, and obligation can be another blog… or several.

Yet, in the absence (of my own making or not) of an actual non-judgmental shoulder-to-lean on with wise, bolstering words to live by with stories of travel and far-flung adventure from times of yore father, I find myself being buoyed by just the type of love and support I’ve been missing.

Recently, I helped my 90-year old friend clear out decades of junk from his house and put it up on a craigslist ad.  While I sorted his old china and hauled pieces of moldy ikea furniture to the curb, he stood in the near-autumn sun, white-haired and tanned from his daily sun lamp, and told me about the time he and his wife were picked up by the police in the Ukraine, behind the Iron Curtain, in the 70s.  How a gorgeous Russian woman waltzed into the scene and argued for their release, so that they were then driven, inexplicably, right to the airport they’d been seeking.

He told me how he met his wife over a piano playing Chopin in Berkeley, their subsequent whirlwind courtship leading to a honeymoon trip to a Warsaw house concert in Chopin’s own living room.

My grandparents all passed before I got the chance to learn their stories.  To learn and ask how they met, what it felt like to be a child then, how the world worked before me and this and us.  I feel I’ve collected a friend who can connect me to that wisdom and joy and near-forgotten universe a grandparent can give.

The neat thing to me about gathering these new friendships in adulthood is that they’re…unadulterated…by familial angst and don’t depend upon one person to give me all that I need.  I get to have the love without the drama, the support without the strings, and I feel like I get to give them something they might have been missing, too.

dis-ease · doubt · recovery · serenity · service

"What’s the Point?"

I intended to buy this book I heard about on NPR: Data: A
Love Story. It’s about how this Jewish woman my age, a statistician and
analyst, decided to create her own algorithm to “crack” online dating. In the
end, so it seems, she did. For herself at least.
So, with a wry smile, I went in to ask for it. They showed
me the general area, I didn’t see it, but perused with rare time to kill in the
early evening. I ended up with a book of essays by Ray Bradbury, and this funny
little set of them by another Jewish woman my age called I was told there’d be
cake
.
I am usually loathe to buy books in general, thinking that
the library is one of god’s safest havens. And am especially averse to buying
something I’ll read once for entertainment value and then never pick up again.
But, my entertainment budget for the month hasn’t been touched at all, and I
figure I can pass it along to others, like the sisterhood of the traveling
satire. – After its purchase I actually sat outside reading in the fading sunlight
laughing out loud. What a
rare treat!
There’s one essay in which she reports that she and her
cohort are lost in the first-job abyss, each sector of her friends languishing
underslept, underpaid, underappreciated. And it occurs to her that she should
volunteer. Instead of focusing on herself, despite being the world’s great self-indulger, she decides to volunteer at the butterfly exhibit at the Museum
of Natural History.
Hilarity ensues.
But it struck a chord with me. I’ve been feeling languishy lately, too.
I’ve been feeling, What’s the purpose of it all. Why even try to strive for
anything, what’s the point anyway? Why am I feeding myself farmer’s market
food; buying organic food for my cat; going to the gym; meditating; reading; acting? Why
am I passing my time this way anyway? We’re all just passing time to an inevitable erasure. Why do anything at all?
Reading Cake girl’s
revelation, it occurred to me yesterday that I haven’t helped someone
one-on-one in a long time. I’ve been in a limbo of my own work, and until
completed, I’ve been instructed to wait before I help someone else in this area.
In the meantime, I could be looking to help someone in the field I already
know, but that hasn’t happened.
I hypothesize my own languishing could be offset my a dose of
selflessness and help of another person in the unique way that people with our
set of experiences can help another person.
Enter: Email this morning from a woman asking me to help her
out one-on-one. In the area I’m not supposed to be working in yet.
Hrm.
I’m going to talk with my own mentor about it. I think the
anchor of helping someone else would get me out of my own head, but I also
don’t want to pass along my diseased thinking in this arena if I really haven’t had the kind
of psychic shift that could help.
But. I may lobby for it anyway. Things are
all weird with me and my own mentor, which could also account for some
of this languish. I did ask someone else if they could help me one-on-one, but
I have yet to follow-up to set the actual coffee date to discuss.
Whether I end up helping this girl out or not, it reminds me
that some people actually look to me for help. That there’s something I do
have to offer that is unique in this world, and isn’t that the point in living? Could it be the point?
Not to live for
service, but sort of. Otherwise, I find myself questioning whether I really am
a Zoloft candidate after all. 

community · inspiration · love · persistence · service · spirituality · willingness · writing

Did you live happy? Did you live well?

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I don’t really believe in heaven and hell. I suppose if I
believe in anything, I believe in some kind of version of reincarnation. Not
that my soul gets inserted into some new being on the planet, but that the
anima that makes my heart pump disseminates into other things – surely, the
worms, and dirt, and grass that’ll be fed by me, but also, I feel like there’s
some way our spirit gets to try again.
Maybe not. Maybe we’re all worm food. But I think about the
concept I’ve heard that we choose the life that we’re born into. That
we somehow float cosmically one step outside of this reality, and when it’s
time, we are born into the lock that our life provides the key for – and the
lessons and situations we walk into in life are what turns the key. Toward
what? Who knows. Enlightenment sounds like such a heavy word. I don’t know that
there’s ever any “fixed” or “done” for us. I think that’s part of what our
souls, for lack of a better word, enjoy about the whole thing.
It’s sort of like an infinite book of Choose Your Own
Adventure. We’ve all heard me talk about how the lessons we’re here to learn
aren’t always the ones we want; it’s not like I would have chosen some of the circumstances that have surrounded my life
or the situations that occurred in it. But, on some level, perhaps I have and
did. And perhaps for some benevolence greater than my own. – Or not.
Sometimes I ask my cat what she did in former lives to be a
cat this time. What she was before? And who she bribed to get to be as pretty as
she is?
Sometimes I think about the Indigo Girls’ song Galilleo, and how maybe the being we’re born into next time will
have so much baggage from our fucking things up, or not “evolving” enough, to be
the next great writer and artist, or inventor fixing the world.
Sometimes I sit home sick and watch Saving Grace on Netflix and write a blog about theology. Like
today.
I have heard about the whole Pearly Gates thing, and we (or
Christians, at least) get asked questions. And I wonder if I were asked the
questions in the title of this post, what my reply would be? And if it will
continue to change, as it’s surely changed before.
A friend of mine has a mission statement for herself and her
life, and squares the actions and activities she engages in against it. If it
doesn’t jive, then she finds a way to align her wants with its message: To be
of maximum service to myself and others, for the good of all involved.
The other day, as I was sitting in my car, waiting for
the call with my potential new somatic therapist, I was struck with a phrase for
me and for my life that feels pretty appropriate. It was less a mission
statement at the moment, and more a simple observation of the sum total of my actions & endeavors, at least in
adulthood: To voraciously expand my consciousness of love.
It’s sort of what I have been doing lately, I think. It’s
sort of what I think I want to continue to do. It’s a tall freaking order, for
sure. And it’s uncomfortable and vulnerable and occasionally plain biting, but
at its base, at my base, I think it’s a pretty good mission for my soul to have chosen.
Once, in meditation, I got this edict for my life: To love,
as much as you can. What comes to me from that is that it’s also really as much
as you can on any given day. Do your best on any given day, and that level will
change, and sometimes will be really freaking low. But if I believe, which I
do, that I am here for a purpose, and if I believe today that that purpose is
to voraciously expand my consciousness of love, then it’s sort of like when
they put those bumpers in the gutters of the bowling lane: I’ll never be too far off center. 

adulthood · growth · service

Be of … service?

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When I first started to hear this phrase, and became
conscious enough to hear it and its message, I said: No.
I feared that if I “gave of myself,” if I “give to others
what was freely given to me,” I would have none left. I feared that if I gave
to you what I had, there wouldn’t be any left for me.
Imagine a channel, a tube, a pipe, and into it is being
poured all the light in the world. For the first time ever, the owner of that
pipe feels what it’s like to feel grace, held, helped, hope. The owner of this
pipe, however, has blocked off the bottom. Pinched it off like a garden
hose—No, I will not let it spill out the other side. If I do, I can’t be sure
that the water will fill my portion, I can’t be sure that my side of the
channel will be full. I can’t risk not having what I have now. No.
Something happens, however, when you block up a hose like
this—what’s inside the hose begins to turn and spoil, it loses some of its
luster and charm. In the end, what you sought so hard to save and keep has
rotted because you sought so hard to
save and keep it.
I still fear that if I give of my time or attention or love, that I won’t have enough for me. Even despite all the evidence I’ve gathered as I slowly loosened my grip on the nozzle and let some of what I was receiving
open toward others. I have plenty of evidence for the benefits of giving, and yet I still get
scared.
I could also point to the outpouring of love and help I received when I was sick—and I
don’t think that depleted my friends… Well, actually some it did, and one was
able to say as much and I respected her need to back off from helping so much;
and one was
unable to say she was
being depleted, and instead our relationship turned to one of resentment, and
eventual distance.
I mean, I guess there is a way where giving can be
depleting, and I think that’s where my sense-memory barges in to tell me to give
of myself means to give away myself.
But, I think this is a different manner of giving than the one intended by the
“be of service” mantra. The kind of depleting giving is one where there is ego
involved, and an expectation of something in return—approval, appreciation,
reciprocity. Or, you give in a certain way because that’s the way you think will get
you the order you want, the result you want for yourself or the other person.
The kind of help that I think I’m supposed to offer is the
kind that really is “freely given,” demanding nothing in return, truly having
no expectations of how the other will receive, or even reject, what I offer.
I don’t really know why I bring this up today, why it’s on
my mind, except perhaps my review at my job happened last week, and I’ve been
thinking about some of that feedback.
Actually, that’s probably a lot of it. A mentor of mine
intones to me near constantly about my job: Just show up and be of service.
And to her, I say, F’ service.
It is hard for me to show up and be of service at my job. I
know that it is, and it comes out in resentful ways as impatience,
procrastination, neglect of detail. “I don’t know how,” is really my answer to
her advice. I don’t know how to be of service at my job. I don’t know how to
appreciate every interaction I have. My job exhausts me. Being the front face of
every phone call, every person at the door, everyone who wanders by the front office all.day.long.–and I can’t give all the time.
I just can’t, and so I protect myself and my energies by being less than
welcoming – which is the feedback I heard last week.
So, I found an image online from Elf, the Will Farrell Christmas movie. It’s of him wearing a huge, manicly excited grin, and
the words, “I just love to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.” I pasted a copy under
the receiver of my phone, and behind my computer monitor. It reminds me to
smile, but not because of service. More because of sarcasm and irony. More
because of contempt and rebellion.
I don’t know how to be of service at my job. I know I do
tasks well enough, and so, I do. But, if there is a way to unkink my hose and
allow some of the grace I know I have and have been given to even trickle a
little more throughout the day, and not just toward my favorite people or
assignments, … well, I suppose I’m open to learning how to be of service
without getting dried out. 

community · faith · friends · generosity · gratitude · help · Jewish · love · service

That 20/20 Thing.

I guess I should tell you about the miracle-y things that have been happening during this time. There are two major
ones, and here they are:
One: My Job
(It’s funny, when I was home sick with strep prior to going
to the hospital, I emailed my boss about my home-sick-from-work status with the
title of the email “I thought Job was a later chapter” – little did I know!) ;P
So, as some of you have been reading, I’d been unemployed
since graduating with my Master’s in May. I’d been actively looking, thinking
about moving back home, applying to anything and everything, with no luck for months. Then, I got the job I now have at the synagogue in
Berkeley.
When I got this job, I was resentful. I was thrilled to
increase my bank balance from $3.98, but I felt ashamed that I had worked so
hard and arrived at what I considered to be an entry level position in the
front office – somewhere I’d been many times before. You heard me gripe about
it, be the opposite of humble about it, and generally kinda be a dick about
having finally gotten a job when I so desperately needed one.
So, here’s the “oo ee oo” part. I got sick. I got really
sick. I will be in and out of the hospital for the next 5 months or so, mostly
in. So, I can’t work, obviously.
My boss’s son had cancer when he was a child, and his son is
alive well, and just had a kid of his own. My boss has had empathy for my
situation from the beginning, and as this started to go down, he said to me
that they would have a temp in until I came back – that they would hold my job
for me. …
At the time this was said, I still didn’t really know what
all this cancer treatment would look like – how long it would be. So a few
weeks later, when I now knew it was going to be 5 months, not one, and my boss
came to visit me in the hospital, I hemmed and hawed – would they still keep my
job for me, knowing how long it would be ‘til I came back? Should I tell him?
Should I not and just hope for the best?
Well, I ended up telling him. And you know what he said? “I
know how important job security is at a time like this, and your job will be
here for you when you’re ready.” WHAT THE HELL? How are people so nice?
And here’s the miracle part – IF I had gotten a job with any
other company, I can’t imagine that they would be a tenth the amount of
understanding. I mean, a bottom line, deadlines, emails, someone needs to be ON
IT. If I had gotten any other job, I
can’t imagine that they’d hold my job for me ‘til I was healthy, let alone come
visit me in the hospital as several of my BRAND NEW coworkers have, and the
others who are planning to.
I couldn’t have planned this at all – and I was so pissed! So, hindsight is 20/20 and all that, right?
Although, there’s the part of me that’s like, um, hey G-d,
you OBVIOUSLY saw this cancer thing coming, having set me up like a champ here,
couldn’t we have gone a different route … but, it is what it is.
Two: My Apartment
I used to work for the property management company that
manages my apartment building here in Oakland. When I worked for them in SF,
they helped me get my apartment in SF, and when I moved to Oakland, they were
equally as generous in helping me with my apartment here (which, by the way, is
a 5 minute walk from the hospital at which I’m being treated…).
I left that job under not the most admirable circumstances,
and earlier this year, I emailed my former boss to say as much and to apologize
for not having been the worker I could have been. He emailed me back to say, yes actually, I could have handled that better, but that
he “had my back” if I needed a reference or anything.
Later this summer, however, I emailed him when I was in my mania of “do
i move back to New Jersey right now??” and I asked if I could give two-weeks’ notice on the
apartment if needed, instead of a month. He emailed one word. “No.” And his
assistant emailed me a form for the 30-day notice format 😉
So, I had no idea where I stood in his shit books or not
when my mom called him early in October and said, basically, my daughter has
leukemia and isn’t working, what can we do here?
Cue the “oo ee oo” once more. My former boss said … he
himself had leukemia two years before. He asked if I’d applied for disability
(if I’d have any income at all), my mom said yes. And he said, Don’t worry
about it. Just keep me informed, and we’ll work it out.
What? In SF Bay Area? Rent is a “we’ll work it out”??
Miracle. He told my mom that I’d helped him out when he’d needed it, and true,
I drove his dad to dialysis three days a week for a period while I worked there
(although, I think I got more out of that one – I learned a lot in those
conversations with that man).
My friend said recently to me that we get what we put into
the world, and all the goodness that’s coming back to me is simply that. I’m
just getting back what I’ve put into it.
It’s a little weird to think like that though, because my
immediate thoughts are, it’s not like I am nice on purpose, it’s not like I’m keeping score of how great a
person I am as I go out into the world. I just am how I am. So it feels weird
to feel like, in a way, I’m being
rewarded for that “just the way I am”ness.
However, I was contemplating that ridiculousness the other day, and I
thought to myself, Molly, I don’t think cancer is a reward. 😛
The bottom line of the above two amazing stories is the
generosity of the human soul. It doesn’t really have anything to do with me.
I was talking with my current boss the other day about how
many people are wanting to help and do things for me, but there’s often not
much to do. I mean, I don’t really need much, except for some cards, and
visits, and on occasion a ride to the doctor or a grocery run. But only one
person at a time needs to do that. So there’s not a lot for people to do, and I
feel that desire they have – to want to do something. To want to take some aspect of my own burdens away
from me, because there are going to be many things that only I can and will go
through by myself in this process.
So, I’m going to try to think on what people can do that’s
concrete, that gives an opportunity to help and feel useful. Because this is what I
said to my boss – these days, we rarely get the chance to help each other
anymore. We’re all so independent, and I can do it on my own, that as a society and a people, that no one seems
to need help anymore.
In a way, my being sick gives others the opportunity to help
– to allow them to feel that good nachas
(Yiddish) from doing something for someone else,
just out of the
kindness of their heart
. Not for gain, or
to check that score card I talked about. But just to help, because you can, and
because you want to.
The capacity for human kindness shines very much in this
portion of my story. Which, really, isn’t Job, because I’ve got a lot more
support than he ever did. And I never owned any goats.