Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Your Opinion Counts

My 10 year-old daughter has a friend who never answers in the affirmative. If I ask if she wants a cherry popsicle or a grape popsicle, she answers that either is fine. If I try to find out if she prefers to spit her watermelon seeds or remove them from the melon before eating it, she shrugs. If I inquire if she wants to spend the night at our house or would rather go home to hers, she says she doesn't care.

I suspect that she actually does have an opinion about something. I also suspect that her mother has told her to mind her manners, say please and thank you, and behave agreeably, which is why she never lets on that she has an opinion. Southern women have nobly suffered like this for years.

But I'm a hostess and I want my daughter's guest to have a lovely experience when she's with us. I want to make her feel welcome and comfortable. Without any indication of her likes and dislikes, however, that's a difficult task for even the best hostess.

When I take a hard look at my own self, I see a lot of me in her. Though as I've grown older, I feel freer to express my opinion in appropriate ways and circumstances, as a child, adolescent and young adult I worked hard to never rock the boat. In the months before I was getting married, a lady from our church offered to have a luncheon in my honor. She asked me what foods I liked and what I might want her to serve. Being my polite southern self I told her, "Anything you prepare will be wonderful. Thank you so much for thinking of me," which stranded her cooking up the menu all on her own.

Which left me cutting beats into tiny slivers so I could choke them down. I spent fifteen minutes sliding green aspic surreptitiously around my plate, hoping some of the gelatinous substance would melt away so I wouldn't have to put all of it in my mouth. Therefore, I tell you, my response when asked for my opinion may have been polite, but it sure wasn't prudent. I suffered nobly.

While there are some southern women who throw their opinions around loud and proud, like Greeks throw dishes, whether asked for their thoughts or not - we call that common, by the way - there are other more refined ladies, like ourselves, who would just die. How many times have I, as a guest in someone else's home and, when asked if I would like the fried chicken or the baked chicken, responded that either would do. I really want the fried chicken, but I don't want to insult her baked chicken or take the last piece of fried chicken or ruin some image she has of me as a baked chicken eater or a thousand other ridiculous reasons for not answering affirmatively one way or the other.

Here's the truth; the real truth. If someone asks us for our opinion, she really wants to know what we think. Yes, it's entirely rude to push through life wielding our barbed, thoughtless comments and demands like a battle ax, but it's also rude to not give a definite answer when it is requested of us. The only thing that keeps us from the fried chicken is fear.

Your opinion counts. My opinion counts. Don't let erroneous politeness get in the way of it.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: You must first have an opinion to give one. To have an opinion, we've got to know ourselves: What we like; what we don't; what we value; what isn't important to us at all, etc. In your Book of Lists make a list of the foods you enjoy, your favorite vacation places, things you would never spend money on, items you would pay top dollar for, and any other self-defining lists you can conjure. It's a great start to having an opinion, when asked.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Climb the Hills

I've been training for a 5K race. Not because I love running. Quite the opposite. I detest the jogging motion. Living by two principles, (1) only run if someone chases me and (2) if I don't run then no one can chase me, I've fared very well over my lifetime, without the nuisance of running.

But then my children and my husband started yammering on about how they thought I couldn't run, meaning I wasn't able, I didn't have the skill or the lung capacity for it. They didn't believe I was capable of running at all. So, in a moment of delirium I vowed to show them.

My vow resulted in training for a 5K race. I don't think this is what people call having the last laugh.

The hardest part of my training has been the hills. Did you know that 90% of the world can only be accessed by going up hill? This fact came as a revelation to me when I found myself on foot looking at what lay ahead and thinking I better go on home the way I came because I'll never master that monstrosity. I even said it out loud: "I'll die before I get to the top of that hill."

Despite that nay saying, loudmouth voice, I dug down deep and discovered the smoldering ashes of determination. I discovered How to Climb a Hill:

Shush the nagging voice telling you that you can't do it and that, even if you can, you don't have to.

Quit looking at the top of the hill or the long incline leading there. Seeing how far you have to go will overwhelm you.

Quit thinking about all the hills waiting beyond this one. There will always be a next hill to climb. It's best to focus on the one at hand.

Make getting to the top your singular goal.

Relax your shoulders, your arms, your jaw.

Put one foot forward and then the other foot, and so on, not stopping.

Concentrate on each step, only one step at a time. Every step toward the goal is a success in and of itself. Celebrate each one.

The process mesmerized me into forgetting about the size of the challenge I had taken on. It made what I thought was impossible for me completely doable. Before, I feared every incline in the road ahead. I would change my route to avoid upward runs. Nonetheless, another hill was usually right around the corner anyway. Try as I did, I could not escape these bumps in my road.

Fear, however, was holding me back from what was waiting on the other side: confidence and accomplishment. Had I never summoned up the guts to get up and go I would have never experienced the thrill of running down the other side. And, oh, what a feeling that is!

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: What hill is holding you back? What hill are you avoiding because you think you can't climb it? How has this complicated your life and your routines? What's on the other side that you're missing out on because of fear? Today, start climbing that hill, one step at a time. You can do it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Are You Rushing?

On November 15, 2010 I took this picture of this yard filled with Christmas crap flung corner to corner. The homeowner, who caught me stopped in front of his house taking pictures, informed me that he isn't finished yet. I wanted ask him does he not have anything for which to be thankful? I wanted to tell him there's no book titled Skipping Thanksgiving.

But I'm passive and he was proud and a confrontation over out-of-season decorations really wouldn't have done either of us any good. He probably wouldn't have said, "Oh, ma'am, you're right. We haven't celebrated Thanksgiving yet. I didn't even consider how I'm cutting the glory of fall short. Let me go right now and pack up all this junk until after we eat turkey next week."

More than likely, he would have told me to get my bah-humbug butt the hell off of his lawn.

But truly, why the rush? Why the hurry to get to the next destination, the next holiday, the next big event, instead of allowing the season to unfold in its given time?

We all do this. I'm as guilty as the next girl of rushing something; of wishing away days of my life because they're between me and some future event or goal, failing to recognize that the between is pretty darn important in its own right. The between is time I'll never get back.

We rush our babies to walk so we don't have to carry them. We rush our weeks to pass so we can get to the weekends. We rush through books so we can find out what happens at the end.

Rushing on to the next thing doesn't necessarily ensure I'll enjoy it anymore than if I wait for it to arrive at its scheduled moment. For example, I've noticed that people who rush the Christmas season, pack up their nativity scenes and throw Santa back in the garage on Christmas Day or the day after, never even giving the Wise Men a chance to arrive and discover baby Jesus in the manger. They don't know that the best days of Christmas come when all the pressure of presents and parties ends, when we can sit around and enjoy the tree and each other in the warm glow of Christmas lights.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: What are you rushing? If it's a holiday, go take down those decorations and concentrate on what you have to be thankful for, like a second chance to put them up again. If it's something else, start today practicing patience. Resolve to enjoy the "between," and everything else, in its own time.