The List of Things We’ve Done

I went to a memorial yesterday. When you step into a church that was built in the 1960’s, the first thing that hits you is the smell. A dusty paper smell that invades your nostrils and manifests silence as you make your way into a solitary pew in the third row. People are crying, sharing stories and then there is the list. 

Mrs. Jane So and So was born on So and So a date and went to Junior United School. She enjoyed horseback riding, and driving her car way too fast down the road. She had a puppy named mittens and every summer would go fishing at Wintercrest Lake. She worked at such and such a place so she could provide for her two lovely children. 

It’s a list of the things we’ve done. We all will have them at the end of this ride. And that scares me. The places I’ve worked are many. The people I’ve known are many. But what I have to give and what I have to share? How often does that list feel like I’ve come up short? 

Everything that I have done is nothing compared to how I want to help, and there I feel that I’m short on what really matters. Every creative thought of a project I have started or not finished, every community opportunity I haven’t taken, every dinner I haven’t shared with someone I love.

They then opened up the conversation to the crowd. Anyone welcome to share a memory, a story, a happy thought. This is where things grew more dimensions. There was talk of a whole person with dimensions – someone who was always there for her neighbors, someone who loved her family very much, and someone who gave all she was to make sure that the kids in her neighborhood had fun and felt safe. 

People forget the list of things you’ve done. They never forget the way you made them feel. All the days of my life I hope to make everyone around me feel loved, respected and cherished. I hope to skip the list and go straight to the generosities, the details, the times when it came down to how unity mattered over difference of opinion. I hope that we have the chance to make the things we’ve done matter less than the people we’ve healed. I hope that everyone has the chance to let go of what they were expected to do before life got in the way, and reconnect with those who matter most and those who need most urgently. 

Sat Nam

Carl

I made someone cry today. In the middle of Starbucks. Personally, I hate crying in public and the fact that I put someone through that seems a little heavy. It started because I needed to plug in next to him, and we ended up sharing a table. He told me he liked my nose, but it was probably just because it was a nose that looked like his. 

I know what you are thinking – He’s hitting on her. He’s a psychopath. She’s naive. She doesn’t understand dynamics of men and women. She thinks this is neutral. She’s too trusting. He’s too open. Well let me address this before I continue – to a certain degree yes to all of these. But there is a grey area in between where, if no one is doing harm to the other, real conversation can happen between strangers. 

If for whatever reason, you feel safe opening up to someone and know in your heart they won’t take advantage? Do it. Practice vulnerability and magical things will happen. 

I mean, come on people, you fell for that black and white video of strangers making out, but someone chokes up in a Starbucks in front of a stranger for a real reason, and you are skeptics? Read on. 

Today is the anniversary of Carl’s father’s death. Carl’s father was the pastor, he his son. Carl’s father was hard on him, in his own way, he tried to show love. Carl would disobey, try to change his father’s mind and his dad wouldn’t change. My nose was his father’s nose – the Norwegian (yes, I am half Norwegian) nose that he recognized but couldn’t talk to…it was something he wasn’t expecting.

Nor was I. 

I never know what to say in these situations. I’m not a therapist, guru or advice columnist. Earlier today, a religious group knocked on my door and asked me to consider if money was the root of all evil, and if I would be willing to look at pamphlets. The unemployed sass monster in me wanted to tell them that if they had any evil lying around, I would put it to good use. But I don’t want to hate on people who feel so much joy in something they feel bound to share, so I politely told them I wasn’t willing to listen today. 

I NEVER want to be one of those people who forces their lifestyle or beliefs on others. I don’t want to pretend like I know the answer to everything, because like our conversation life seems to exist in a grey area of right, wrong, intimacy and truth. I don’t want to pretend like my answer to how I deal with problems is the universal answer, the universal healer. Because I don’t think what works for me works for everyone else. 

So I told him what I was feeling. Lucky, because I have two parents who are still alive and healthy. Blessed, because I know people who, right now who are setting an example of how to be a solid partner when someone goes through times of grief.  And I told him he should go home, tell his wife a sincere and truthful compliment because of all the sincere truths that his father gave him. In honor of the relationships lost, he should value the relationships present and blossoming. 

Carl didn’t seem too convinced. I texted a therapist friend of mine and asked how much I should charge him. She told me to bill him $100.00 an hour or repo his car. As an unlicensed solicitor of free advice, that just doesn’t feel right. But still, we live in a grey area.

May your day be filled with random connections that open your eyes. May you open up to someone and say what you need to say. May what you do to feel good be shared in a way that doesn’t limit, but open everyone’s pathways to kindness. May what you do to feel grounded and safe allow you to make positive changes in yourself and the lives of others. May you find ways to connect to people that you never thought possible. May you live through change. May you be at peace.

Sat Nam 

When We Mourn Celebrity

My RSS feed fills with the very sad news of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death. The tragedy of addiction, the anger at being robbed of his performances for the next however long, and the amazing talent that left us too soon. Now, I believe that all of this is true. But none of it has anything to do with Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

See, mourning is a process that we have been doing together for centuries as human beings. The viking funeral, the open casket, the spreading of the ashes in some sacred place. We come together as a community to support those closest to the death, in hopes that someone might do the same for us. Same as with weddings, only difference is no one wants to admit they hope people come to their funeral. That would be too vulnerable, too openly admitting that dying is close to all of us whether we know it or not.

Which leads me to Mr. Hoffman. When an actor dies, especially a talented and beloved one, everyone sounds off on social media. Shared articles, youtube clips of favorite scenes he did, interviews where he revealed a bit more about the actor’s craft and art. But here’s the secret: an celebrity is never mourned for what they truly are, but what we secretly hope we could be.

We get off on the idea that being mourned by millions could happen to us. We join in the noise on the internet, but that’s the closest we get to contributing to the memory.

Do any of us really know Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a person? Have we had coffee with him? Did we send him a handwritten note wishing him well and Merry Christmas? Did we attend his wedding? The majority of us did not, and yet we feel gut punched by his demise. Millions of people all feeling the sting of his loss, because the story we felt was not quite over. We felt we deserved more of him and yet we didn’t know him at all. I am not marginalizing the tragedy by any means, but how close do we claim his tragedy as our own because of his celebrity?

When I was younger, I attended the funeral of someone from my high school. A person I had never even spoken to in class, nor interacted with on any level. And yet, being there with his family in the front row, the entire football team laying their jerseys on the casket and people vomiting out of grief? I cried and mourned for someone who didn’t even know my name. Who was I to cry for someone I barely knew, out of empathy or not wanting to seem like I didn’t belong to this community? The humanist inside me will say the former reason, but the truth is probably the latter.

I will say that there is something about actors that changes the dialogue. An actor’s job is to transcend, to go beyond his form as himself and become something grander than anyone could imagine possible. To expose themselves in front of us, naked and honest. When a beloved actor dies, we almost think he’s playing a trick on us. That this “death” is just a job that he’s doing and eventually someone will spot him at a Starbucks somewhere in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Yeah, tell that to his actual family and friends that “dying was the greatest role he ever played on any of us…so exposed..so REAL”. That’s messed up, and anyone with half a brain would tell you to stop speaking like you knew him.

We feel like we own these celebrities, their bad outfits, their meltdowns, so why are we only present with them as human beings when they die? Why does Phillip Seymour Hoffman with a needle in his arm make him suddenly our best friend, when we ignore the homeless man on the street who dies right in front of us, every day. I’m not saying one death is more tragic than the other, but when dealing with addiction and dying it seems like we are willing to take up the cause of someone we’ve seen in pictures rather than help the person next to us.

Which leads me to my point – when we mourn celebrity, we are really mourning for the part of ourselves that we believe could be larger than life. The exact same way Mr. Hoffman was, and the exact way he dove into every amazing part he played. So when addressing anyone’s death on social media, speak about the parts you admired and knew but don’t pretend like he was your favorite teacher in school. Recognize the artist for who he is…the one who inspired you to do great things. And then DO them, because what better way to remember someone’s inspiring life then by having one yourself? Why not become someone ten times greater than Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but in a way that only you can do?

I do hope that those who knew Mr. Hoffman intimately find peace in the passing times. But as for me, someone who admired his work but did not know him? I hope that if my destiny is to be mourned by millions when I leave this planet, that I will handle that destiny with grace. If I am to be mourned by one, may that person be TRULY changed by my being in their life. May we all follow our path in this life with strength, caring and compassion for those around us. May we experience loss in our way but recognize when we are lost in the noise of what loss really is. May we recognize the truth in our own lives and stop borrowing the sad ones from others. May we live happy, healthy and holy.

Sat Nam.

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman_l

 

Phillip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014