Answering The “How Are You?” Question

Over the years, I’ve often thought about these three little words–how are you? They way they are tossed around so easily from one to another, to friends and complete strangers we meet. I often wonder what people expect for an answer when they ask. My first inclination is to smile and answer back, “I am fine. Everything’s fine” regardless of whether that’s the complete truth or not. Who wants to hear how crappy things are going, especially for someone they’ve only just met a few moments ago?

But there have been times when things weren’t so fine, of course there have been. No one is fine 100 % of the time. (If they are, I want to know their secret.) But in all honesty does anyone really want to hear that someone is going through a rough patch and that life isn’t, at the present time, a bed of roses?

As a society, it’s only normal to wish others well. And hearing about the brighter side of other people’s lives makes us feel good. We want to know that all is well with our friends and loved one.

But here’s the thing, this How are you? is just a nicety, something people feel obligated to ask to anyone, even people we don’t really know. It’s a way to start out a conversation. An ice-breaker, if you will. We’re conditioned to it, to ask and pretend we really want a truthful answer from some stranger over the phone.

Let’s be honest, whenever we ask the question of others about how they’re doing, most times we really don’t want to hear about negative things. We’ve probably all done that at one time, asked the question only to spend the next half-hour listening to someone unload their problems. That is the real problem with the How are you? question. We don’t want to hear about someone else’s health condition, financial woes or about the family member who is making their life miserable. Unless of course they’re someone we truly care about. When it comes to someone we’ve just met in person or over the phone, we want to hear about the new pair of shoes they bought or the trip they took, the nice thing the neighbour did for them. What we really want to hear that everything is fine.

And of course many of us have been conditioned to reply with a light-hearted answer because we either don’t want to burden others with our problems or else we want the whole world to think that our lives are perfect and nothing ever goes wrong. Or else we’re sparing them the “gory details” as one person liked to say.

But life isn’t perfect. No one’s life. There will always be pickles along the way. Whether they be big pickles or small pickles, they are still pickles and can cause us grief as we work toward a solution. The thing about life’s pickles is that eventually we get to the bottom of the jar. And while that jar may stay empty for a time, sooner or later another jar will come along to take its place, jam-packed with pickles galore.

So, in the meantime, I sit here contemplating the truth in the How are you? question. What are your thoughts on this? Do you ask the question out of habit because it seems expected or do you only ask when you want a truthful answer? For me, I’d say it’s a bit of both. There are times when I sincerely want to know (in the case of friends and family) but I’ve also asked the question of people I don’t really know just to start a conversation.

As they say old habits die hard but on the other hand it doesn’t mean they’re impossible to break.

Saying Goodbye to November

We’re getting a light dusting of snow her in Nova Scotia this morning and it’s hard to deny how beautiful it looks. It’s not the first snow we’ve seen this month, but so far we’ve seen nothing substantial.

From my back step I can see the lake, so I snapped a quick picture. Brrr…

I was reminded today of how everything around us changes. We sometimes forget this. We think things can stay exactly as they are, maybe even wish they can. Life is transient, forever changing. Just as the season’s change, nothing around us stays the same. It’s impossible. The changes can be so subtle that we might not see or notice, until we have reason to slow down and reflect.

I’m not a huge big fan of winter. I have other seasons that I prefer. But it’s on it’s way. It’s inevitable. Today was a reminder. Here’s hoping the winter won’t be a harsh one.

Tomorrow will see the start of a brand new month. Winter will officially arrive. Another year is beckoning to us. Who knows what is waiting for us in 2022.

My Rainbow

Rainbows introduce us to reflections of different beautiful possibilities so we never forget that pain and grief are not the final options in life. ~~Aberjhani

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I like to think that rainbows are kind of special. And when one touches down in the lake where you live well maybe it means something….

This weekend I went to a celebration of life for a friend of mine. I’ve been thinking a lot about her since she passed away, remembering her laugh, the way she’d crinkle her nose and give a little sniff, and the times when she’d wag her finger at me and jokingly say, “Listen here little girl.”  We didn’t see each other often, although at one time we did work together, but some people you feel a certain connection to even when you’re not exactly sure why. Times like this I’m reminded of how fleeting life is and how, at the end of the day, we are the memories we leave behind in the lives of the people we’ve touched. In this journey we call life, it is the most precious gift we can give to those we leave behind.

Peace to you, my friend, as you continue to live on in our memory. Your journey is not over.

You will be missed.

Twelve Lessons From 2015

For my first post in the New Year I thought I’d share with you some of the things I learned in the past year.

I firmly believe that life is all about the lessons. (I’ve said that before on my blog.) Some of them come easy, some not so easy, but like it or not, they still come. And thank goodness they do. 2015 wasn’t what I’d call a spectacular year, but there were some very precious moments sprinkled along the way. Lessons were learned (or sometimes came a second or third round as lessons often tend to do.) All we can do is deal with what’s presented to us and be thankful that we have a lifetime to try and figure it all out.

So here are twelve of the lessons that came my way last year. One for each month. Hopefully, there is something here that you can identify with.

1. The story isn’t finished simply because you think it is. Last year I finished the same novel about three times. This year, I hope to finish it only once. *Note I said hope.

2. Insensitive people don’t intentionally do hurtful things. In fact, they usually don’t take the feelings of others into consideration at all. What’s more, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Either accept them for who they are or give up being their friend. They probably won’t notice either way.

3. The only thing better than the birth of a new grandchild is the birth of two. I mean, why settle for one when you can have two I always say?

4. Not everyone will appreciate the things you do for them—true story. I’m not complaining, just stating facts. If you can’t do something for others simply out of the goodness of your heart don’t bother. Expecting praise for the things you do only puts a price tag on your good deed. Try doing something anonymously for a change. That’s when you truly know you’re not just looking for praise for those kind deeds of yours.

5. A good book will teach you a lot about the person you are. If you don’t think that’s true, join a book club, open yourself up to discussing topics you’ve never discussed before. Find out what your thoughts are on various issues, how they make you feel, what your thoughts and ideas say about you as a person. You might be surprised or even amazed!

6. Some people you just won’t like in life and they won’t like you. Believe me, it’s not the end of the world. For years, I was unwilling to admit when I didn’t like someone. These days I’m more honest with myself. We can’t possibly like everyone we meet. But so what? There are plenty of people out there to like, people who bring a smile to your face or a warm feeling in your heart. Cherish them.

7. You can’t be everything to everyone. Seriously, take care of yourself. Fill your own cup first. Fill the cup for others with what’s left over. That’s not being selfish it’s being realistic. There’s only so much one person can do and do well.

8. Even a new computer won’t make dial-up any faster. Rural Nova Scotia—what more can I say?

9. The email comes when you least expect it. Funny how we can spend time waiting on things, hoping for things, and then right after we give up on it, poof , something totally unexpected arrives, maybe even better than what we’d hoped and planned for. I had a few wonderful surprises this year that totally came out of left field. (In fact, as I write this, I just received one such email…Blows my mind…go figure!)

10. We are given just so many days in this life. Use them wisely. 2015 saw the loss of some people in my life who were far too young to leave us, but instead of spending our days mourning their loss we should honour their lives with the happy memories we shared with them. Sometimes this is easier said than done.

11. There are far too many books on the planet and you can only read so many. Sad but true. Each year my TBR pile seems to grow. Too many good books, people. Too many good books!

12. Sometimes you just need to let go. That’s a difficult one. Letting go of the things we have no control over takes some doing, especially when we allow that “thing” the power to tie us in knots. Letting go gives us freedom and peace, but it often takes time for us to come to that place.

So there you have it; some of the lessons I learned in 2015. Of course there were many more than the twelve I’ve listed and no doubt many more that I failed to recognize as being lessons at the time.

I hope 2016 is a memorable year for you, a time for you to grow and learn and come to appreciate the lessons that come your way.

Did you learn any great lesson in 2015 that you’d like to share?

We Call it a Book Club

And it is—sort of.
Each month we choose a book to read and then gather together to discuss it because that’s what book clubs are about. Right? It sounded so simplistic in the beginning, just a fun thing to do. It was all about the reading and well, many of us like to read, some of us would like to read more. We started out with goal. A book a month.

And so the East Dalhousie Book Club came into being.
The first one of its kind. Now that’s remarkable! I like firsts.

And so we called it a book club.

And it is—sort of. But it turns out it’s much more than reading. It’s about taking the time to slow down and spend some alone time with the person you should know best in this world—You. We make ourselves be too busy-–yes, make. We hurry from one task to another. We agree to take on too many things for fear that we’ll let someone down when the person we’re really letting down is ourselves. We don’t take time to dream or to daydream or to pretend. How can we expect to create things in our lives if we don’t dream them into being first? Thoughts come first. Every thing that is created in the world first begins with a thought, an image, a desire, a want, a wish, a hope. We sometimes forget all the things that we refer to as the “little things” in life, although I’ve come to understand that most of the “little things” really amount to big things if we’re being perfectly honest. Books allow us to dream, to think, to imagine, to desire, to want, to wish, to hope. All those big “little things” we push aside because we’re too darn busy.

We call it a book club.
And it is—sort of.
It’s an exchange of ideas, the expressing of one’s self through the spoken word about the written word. It’s communication and the gathering of people who might not otherwise find a reason to gather– to speak, to express, to examine, to find out exactly what your view is on a particular subject. We don’t always know what our thoughts are about something until we open ourselves up and start talking. It’s about discovering who we are, our likes and dislikes, the things that make us happy or sad or angry. All these things we give voice to during our book club discussions. One voice is as important as another. We share.

What I have learned is that even if a particular book isn’t my cup of tea, the themes within that story are things I can relate to on some level. I believe that no matter how our lives differ, we all can relate to one another at least on an emotional level. We all experience emotions even though we all follow a different path in life. We’ve all experienced sadness, happiness, joy,fear. As a child growing up I had the sense that certain emotions were a bad, the ones that were looked at as negative. I thought it was wrong to say that something made me angry or caused me to shed tears, made me afraid. But I know now, we can learn from the negative as well as the positive because sometimes life doesn’t always give us the results we’d like. We can either give in and call it quits or we can dig deeper and keep trying until we finally get the intended results. Sometimes the lesson we learn need to come from those failed attempts.

We call it a book club
.
And it is—sort of. Because life is more about the unseen than the seen. Always has been for me at least. It’s not about the amount of stuff we acquire or the job we do, but the lives we touch. It’s about taking the time to listen, to offer compassion; it’s about lending a helping a hand, and being a friend, giving without looking for recognition. And above all it’s about love. And when we explore who we really are on the inside we are much more effective in the world. We learn. We love. We live.

We call it a book club.
And it is—sort of. It’s about opening your mind to new ideas, being willing to learn about something you know nothing about. It’s about learning to bend, to accept that ours is not the only way. It’s about challenging our beliefs, our thoughts, and our morals.

We call it a book club, because everything has to be called something, and book club is much shorter than the post I’ve just written.

Do you belong to a book club? How has that experience been for you?

Author Unknown

Have you ever wondered who Anonymous is? Now, I’m speaking about Anonymous in the literary sense. You know, those  people who penned the perfect poem, the absolute sublime quote that gets to the heart of our very existence. The internet is filled with these lyrical expressions that all go under the name of Anonymous or Unknown, or Author Unknown. But that is impossible of course. Someone somewhere knows, or knew, who that unknown scribe was, the scribe themselves if no one else. Words do not miraculously appear into the world all on their own. There has to be someone behind them.

A bit of poking around and I quickly discovered mountains of anonymous quotes. Here are a few that I kind of like. Seriously, the list could go on forever.

“Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.” 

 “Everything has been figured out, except how to live.” 

 “Life is not what you live but what you love” 

 “A wise man can see more from the bottom of a well than a fool can from a mountain 

 “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” 

I’m sure there are instances where the writer didn’t start out as “Anonymous” but somewhere along the way someone used their quote without remembering who the author was and, presto, they suddenly became “Anonymous.” But for the most part I think of these anonymous writers as people who perhaps wanted to draw more attention to their words of wisdom then themselves.

I do think there is something to be said about the anonymous writer, who can set their inner most thoughts down without fear or judgment of those around them. Writing is one of those professions that really puts the writer out there under public scrutiny. You only need look at some of the book reviews on Goodreads to know what I’m talking about. I’ve read some pretty despairing comments about some of my best beloved authors and books that I absolutely loved.

Expressing oneself though the written word is a little tricky by times— words of course being as powerful as they are whether spoken, written or thought. It is our way of communicating, of showing others another way of viewing the world. While some try to force their idea onto others, many people use words as a vehicle to put their ideas, believes, values, and thoughts about life into the world, and hopefully, others will appreciate what the author has to say. Some writers do this by creating people, places and events, and if we take time to examine the words within those stories we’ll often find some hidden treasure. Other writers don’t shy away from what it is they wish to express. They can get down to the real nitty-gritty of what’s on their minds. And thank goodness for that since not everyone is interested in treasure-hunting nor do they have the tools to unlock those buried nuggets. Some of us simply read for the love of a good story, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I have wondered from time to time what words would surface in my writing if I were anonymous. I do think that it would make a difference in the stories, or even blog posts, that I might produce. I’m sure there are times when many writers pull back, even a little, for fear of what others might think or wonder about them. I’ve had people say, “I don’t know what thoughts go through your head” or that my thoughts even scare them. Honestly, I think we all have our share of scary thoughts that go no farther than our own minds. Writers put these thoughts on paper for everyone to see, and that’s where the difference comes in.

Anonymous brings freedom with it, the shedding off of people’s judgment of our words and perhaps we’d be more willing to share the thoughts of “Anonymous”, hand down those precious words though the ages than, say, some writer with the last name “Best.” That’s just an example, I’m not insinuating that my words are profound or at all inspiring, but you know what I mean.

Have you ever given thought to the “Anonymous” writer? If you were “Anonymous” do you think it would change the way you express yourself in the world?

Farewell

Farewell deare flowers, sweetly your time ye spent,

Fit, while ye liv’d, for smell or ornament,

And after death for cures.

GEORGE HERBERT, Life

My mother-in-law grew peonies. The year we were married she dug some of her bulbs out and gave them to us to plant. Young and busy at the time, we didn’t fully appreciate the gift. They were planted in front of the house in some fashion but didn’t came up the following spring. We gave them little thought after that.

The year she went to the nursing home we dug out some of the bulbs, planted them properly, and waited. It was a sad time as we struggled with the memories and emotions involved when emptying her house, and packed what things were to go with her. During that time the peonies suddenly took on new meaning for us.

Their subtle presence in our lives, the memories they evoke each time they come in bloom, brings a smile to my lips, a warm tug to my heart. It is all the proof I need to know we live on long after we have left this earthly  abode. We touch more lives  than we are aware of, without ever knowing the importance of our actions and words. We leave a myriad of sweet memories in our wake. We bring tears of sadness and joy with us in everything we do. We come into the world with nothing, what we leave behind in the minds and hearts of others is what gives our lives meaning.

Farewell Frances, you still make us smile…

The Jesus T-shirt

I should probably put a warning on this post. “Content is highly controversial.”

Now I know that there are two taboo subjects that we should never bring up, politics and religion. Understand I didn’t write this post to spark any religious debate. What I’m curious about is your feelings on freedom of expression.

“Your Life is Wasted Without Jesus”

These words, written on a t-shirt, have been the centre of a controversy this past week at a high school here in Nova Scotia. The student wearing the t-shirt was suspended from school for a week, after being asked repeatedly not to wear it, as some of the students found it offensive.

From an outside perspective, it seems to me that the purpose for him choosing to wear this t-shirt could have been to spark such a controversy— and that he did. It made national news.

One article I read on the issue stated that the t-shirt was simply rude. I was amused by one comment that ripped into the writer for calling the t-shirt rude while at the same time defending the student’s right to express himself. I mean really, if we truly believe in freedom of expression we can’t, in turn, criticize others for expressing their opinion just because we don’t agree. If the writer found the t-shirt rude then so be it.

I’d like to think that in this day and age we are all at a place where we respect the beliefs and opinions of others even when we don’t agree. While I’d like to think that, I know it’s not the case. Many of us will fight to bend someone’s thoughts and beliefs to match our own. We do it all the time. We become angry when someone can’t see things the same way we do because we know we’re right and why won’t so and so just listen. Okay, so I’ve been guilty of that in the past. I’ll admit it.

My question might be, if this student truly wanted to express his religious beliefs was it right to do it in a way that could be interpreted as an insult to other religions? But then, we need to ask if that was even the student’s intent in the first place– something we really can’t know. We can make assumptions, but assumptions are often far off track. Was the student actually suggesting that all other religions are a waste or has the whole statement been misconstrued? Media can do that.

In contrast, I am curious as to whether or not this same student would find a similar t-shirt offensive if it said, for example, “Your Life is Wasted Without Buddha.” How do I know, maybe he’d welcome a fellow student wearing such a shirt?

Was it right to suspend the student? (I don’t believe he was suspended for the t-shirt per se, but his refusal to listen to authority.) I’m betting with all the publicity the school is rethinking its actions. Perhaps the whole situation could have been handled differently.

I’ve been giving this subject some thought. While I agree with freedom of speech and expression, I do think there is a time and a place for everything. Being respectful of others is not mandatory, but seems decent and moral. As a society we draw invisible lines when we judge what is acceptable and what is not. The problem with invisible lines, however, is that we’re never really sure where those lines are until someone crosses them. Only then do we immediately know what offends us and what doesn’t. Not only that, those invisible lines are as varied as we are. Wow! So much to think about.

I just want to say it was a t-shirt that some people found offensive, one that obviously hit a nerve across the country. Turning this whole story into a huge controversy managed to spread this student’s message far and wide. Who knows, maybe this was his intent all along. If so, he succeeded.

Truthfully, I believe one of the best ways to express our beliefs is to lead by example. I can tell you right now that someone walking in peace and harmony, spreading love and joy, doing acts of kindness is going to influence me far more than a few words written on a t-shirt.

Some tough questions for discussion.

 

Do you find what was written on the t-shirt offensive ? Do you believe in freedom of expression regardless of the circumstances? If you would place restrictions on freedom of expression do you know what those restrictions would be? Do schools have a right to place these kinds of restrictions on students? While we’re on the subject of freedom of expression, do you believe in banning books?

Amidst Life’s Sad Moments

“The word ‘happiness’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” Carl Jung

It’s only human of us to want to take someone’s sadness from them, but sadness is a part of life, a part that can’t forever be ignored. We think of sadness as a negative emotion, something that we shouldn’t feel. I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

What I have discovered this past week is that it’s okay to feel sad. Sadness in itself is not a bad thing. It is a part of life. In fact, it shouldn’t be ignored especially when we have a truly valid reason for our sadness. I’ve discovered it is best to allow ourselves to feel these emotions before moving on. The quote from Carl Jung speaks of balance and it makes sense to me in many ways. I’m almost certain that in order to experience happiness we do need to experience sadness. Otherwise how would be come to appreciate those happy times to their fullest? Happiness would be a continual state of being, not something to be cherished. It would just be.

The amazing thing about those times of sadness are those flashes of happiness that exist and persist, those little moments that arrive unannounced right out of the blue whether we wish them to or not. We, of course, have to be open to recognizing those flashes for what they are. If you’re not paying attention you could very well miss them.

I’ve experienced some moments this week that have gladdened my heart and made me smile, made me forget the sadness I was carrying for a brief time—a robin in the early morning struggling to pull a worm from the ground, the little story my granddaughter told me over the phone about a bunny, the peonies from my mother-in-law’s garden coming up through the ground, the kind words and acts of family and friends.

Death has a way of opening our eyes to life, giving us the opportunity to reflect, to examine what it is we want for our own lives. It gives us a time to retreat for a bit and contemplate the meaning of each day, and what we have to offer the world.

Thank you all for your kind words and cyber hugs. Everything’s going to be okay.

If I can stop one heart from breaking

In memory of  Frances Lillian Best  Sept. 9, 1918-  April 15, 2012

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

Emily Dickinson

I found this poem a few days ago and I was struck by it’s meaning. It seemed appropriate at this time.

I’ve been off line for most of the week. I’m not ignoring you all. I simply needed to be some place else.Some day I may blog about these past five day, but for now I need some time to surround myself with happier memories. I’ll be back later in the week.

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