Trying to Judge Not

I judge others, sometimes quickly and harshly. As my time and experiences in this world have expanded, my cynicism towards and judgment of others have as well. I realized recently that my judgment and the anger and frustration I sometimes feel as a result was holding me back and hindering me from being the person I needed to be, and I had to let it go to move forward.

A couple of weeks ago I stood in the kitchen, my arms crossed with a scowl on my face, in full judgment mode. I was irritated and trying to wrap my head around the situation K was presenting to me. Our friends had decided to give up their dog Juno after five years, and they planned to take her to the shelter, simply because she had become an inconvenience.

IMG_0708This dog is timid, quiet, mild-mannered, well behaved, listens, is house trained, and gets along with anyone. She is a dream dog! Her shy personality in conjunction with her age and large size would work against her in the shelter, not to mention her physical characteristics indicate that she is likely a mix of multiple breeds associated with aggressive behavior. There was no way we could sleep at night while this sweet dog sat in a cold, dark cage cowering at the shelter, alone and heartbroken.

So I was angry. I was angry that someone would do this, that people I know would do this. I was angry that they could so easily shirk their responsibilities and cast their dog aside without any accountability. I was angry when I learned that the dog was flea-infested and hadn’t been to the vet in years. I was angry that they were making their problem our problem. We already have three dogs of our own!

But this was the reality of the situation. I had to move on from my judgment and anger in order to show feelings of love and acceptance when K picked up the dog and brought her to our house. Dogs are sensitive to human feelings and behavior. The last thing this dog needed was to feel like she is just another problem. I wanted her to feel safe and comfortable and welcome. I also did not want this situation to drive a permanent wedge between our friends and us. I realized that my judgmental attitude had left no room for empathy, and as hard as it was, I tried to see the situation from the other side in an effort to be more understanding and forgiving.

Many people are not responsible pet owners. I have had my own learning experiences as IMG_0744a pet owner and I understand the challenges. Many people do not form bonds with their pets the way others do, the way I do. This doesn’t make them bad people.

The lifestyle of our friends is very different from my own and is one to which I cannot relate. Much has changed for them over the past five years, many of those changes leading to added stress and overwhelming obstacles and obligations that I know would be difficult for anyone. I would like to think that I would continue to care for and nurture my dogs no matter what happens in my life, but I suppose I cannot be sure until something truly challenges that value. I hope something like that never happens.

Despite my disagreement with their overall care of Juno, our friends did call K and I before opting for the shelter, and we are grateful for that. We have had Juno for just over a week now. She is still adjusting, but she plays with our other dogs and likes to run around the yard. I think she’s homesick and maybe a little sad, but we try to mitigate that will lots of love and attention, and of course, treats.

K and I are thankful that we have the means to provide a home for Juno to keep her out of the shelter. We hope to find her a new home soon where she can live out the rest of her years with a loving family who will love and cherish her. In the meantime this is her home, and we dote on her as much as we can.

I know that I make mistakes. We all do. We all face situations in our lives that are hard and in which we make less than ideal decisions. We can judge each other for our actions, but those judgments reflect back on us as well, often in the form of anger and frustration. Letting go of those feelings allowed me to move past my judgment, keep my friendship intact, and focus on the more important tasks of making a positive difference, showing kindness, and providing a home for Juno.

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Social Scene

It’s a Saturday night. What’s on the social calendar? The hubs and I can opt to go to a party, go over to a friend’s house and hang out, or spend the evening with just the two of us. We choose the latter. We almost always choose the latter.

Social scenes set the stage for all the various versions of ourselves to surface. We show different sides of our personalities depending on the situation. When K and I were first dating, we socialized with others frequently. We were getting to know each other, and spending time in a group is a guaranteed way to get a stronger line on someone’s character and personality.

However, a friend once told me that one of the biggest challenges in a relationship is other people. They influence your interactions with each other. Just like the atoms that make up our world and everything in it, when under observation by others, we have a tendency to change. We’re susceptible to our environment and who is around us.

I remember the first time I saw another girl openly flirt with K in front of me. I heard a rushing sound in my ears and my heart started to pound. I got mad. I was apparently a little jealous and possessive of K as I learned in that moment, and it influenced my social interactions the rest of the evening.

After the initial stages of dating and getting to know each other, K and I found ourselves spending most of our free time with just the two of us, and we have continued that habit since moving in together and getting married, not simply because it is convenient, but because we enjoy each other’s company. We are best friends. We are also both introverts. We like spending time alone, and we like spending time alone together. So why hang out with other people?

There are quite a few reasons actually, reasons that I have discovered as K and I have recently been slowly but actively seeking out new friendships and better nurturing our current ones as a couple.

There are many opportunities to learn from other people, but those opportunities only present themselves when we actively engage with them. Every conversation I have with someone leaves me a bit wiser in some way, whether it’s in regards to newfound facts or in the art of reading people or making successful small talk. Every interaction is beneficial. Social interactions open our minds to new things, new ideas, and we experience that as a couple. Our discussions with others add to the topics of conversations we later have just amongst ourselves.

In social situations we also learn to read each other’s body language and facial cues. I become hyper aware of K when he and I are with other people. I feel even more conscious of his presence and find myself watching him and his mannerisms, looking for any indications that he is uncomfortable or bored. It’s important that we make sure our partners are included in the conversation and that we remain aware of each other’s feelings and comfort levels in the situation. We have to work together to stay united, to not embarrass each other, play off of each other’s discussion points, joke casually and easily without giving too much away. These situations allow us to practice and become better at looking out for each other, reading each other, and being better partners overall.

We also see different sides of each other’s character as part of social interactions.   When at dinner with my longtime friend who K was meeting for the first time, he asked questions and cracked witty jokes. I could tell he was trying hard to make a good impression, and make a good impression on her, and his efforts meant a lot to me. When we spend time with our friends with kids, K plays with the little ones and makes them laugh so much they can hardly breathe. It’s a light and silly side of him that warms my heart.

I know that when we walk into a room, we are in it together.   Social scenes have become adventures on which we embark together, and we are letting more of the world in a little at a time. We are growing and learning and having a great time. But I think my favorite nights will forever be the ones we spend with just the two of us.

Be the Change

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
-Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

Some days in this world are harder than others. Some days there is more uncertainty and unrest. We shake our fists at the institutions, at the broken systems, and at each other. We rage against the injustice of it all. We yell and scream, unleashing an exhaustive amount of negative energy that wraps us in a fog and seeps into everything around us.

We draw lines in the sand. We distance ourselves from our family, from people we once called friends.   We subject ourselves to demoralizing media, and we feel isolated, powerless, and scared. We act out, set things on fire, and hurt each other. In our misguided displays of loss, anger, frustration, and fear, we deepen the darkness of the time. We make things worse.

If we want change, if we are inspired to take action, we have to start with ourselves. We have to take a step back and take a long hard look in the mirror. Are we behaving like the people we think others should be? Are we practicing what we preach? After all, we can’t expect others to follow a way of life that we do not follow ourselves.

The key is to set the example. If you want to influence change, do and be all of the things you think others should be. Lead and show others the way by exemplifying the character traits you value the most, such as honesty, integrity, tolerance, and kindness. Hold yourself to the same, if not higher, standards that you hold others.

When we are angry and frustrated, we want to be heard. We want others to listen to us. But when we feel those words and actions swelling up in our chests and rising up ready and desperate to explode out of us, it’s time to take a step back to gain some clarity. If we want others to listen, then we must do the same. Take deep breaths and listen to the wind, to the birds, to the rustling leaves. Listen to the sounds of home and comfort, to life happening around us, and calm your thoughts.

Then open your mind to the thoughts of others. One of the greatest things about being human is our ability to discuss ideas, to share and debate opposing viewpoints rationally and without raging at one another. Wipe away those lines in the sand and reconnect with others. Listen to your loved ones, your teachers. Talk and share your thoughts and ideas, but also listen. In listening, we open our minds to new possibilities.

Attempting to understand the perspectives of others helps us grow and gain insight. We are all walking our own unique paths, trying to follow a way of life that we believe is the best way. We make decisions based on the knowledge and experiences that have contributed to our individual perspectives and that have formed our ideologies.   We cannot all be wrong, and we cannot all be right.

If we believe others should practice tolerance, then we must practice as well. It is important that we look beyond the point immediately in front of us and try to understand the viewpoints of others, their experiences, their passions and belief systems. We then begin to better relate to each other.

We don’t like what we don’t understand. We are scared of the unknown, and we allow fear to push us in whatever direction it wants. Sometimes it pushes us to run away, but no matter how far or long we run, fear will be right behind us. If we want others to be brave and seek to understand, we have to do the same.

We have to face our fears. Fear is a powerful tactic, and throughout history it has been used as a tool of influence and control. We cannot let fear goad us into thoughtless action. We cannot let fear dictate who we are. We cannot let it lead us down a path of hatred and judgment and anger. We must learn about the things that scare us or that we don’t understand, deconstruct them and put them back together.

We are all fallible and must take responsibility for ourselves, even when we feel inclined to blame something or someone else. None of us like to be judged, especially by others who lack the knowledge and proximity to understand us. None of us feel good when we are treated as anything less than what and who we are.

It is the golden rule of human interaction to treat others as you wish to be treated. If we crave more kindness and compassion in this world, then we have to create it. We start by simply being kinder to the people we encounter. Love and kindness have a ripple effect. When we experience it, we are more likely to pass it on to others. The energy we put out into the world increases exponentially and eventually makes its way back to us.

Positive change starts with ourselves, but there are many direct social and community contributions we can make. Rather than let feelings of hate, fear, or self-righteousness control and weaken us, we can share and spread messages of love, kindness, and tolerance. We can teach our children to be tolerant and brave and guide them along the pathways of morality and compassion. We can educate ourselves on the needs of our community and take action, volunteer our time and skill sets to causes we believe in and wish to positively influence.

We must aim high and practice becoming the people that inhabit our visions of an ideal world. Bit by bit we can transform, and all of that love and light will radiate outward and warm the people around us. We have to channel our passion and energy into the things we believe in, and we have to do it in a positive way and productive way. Then we can influence change within our communities, our neighborhoods, our cities. Together, we can influence the world.

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The Best Ships are Friendships

We travel though life with others by our sides for a few days, a few months, a few years. Some people are just passing through while others stick around for a while. We become co-travelers on the same journey, even though we often go in different directions.

A decade ago my life intertwined with the paths of many others, brought together by our desire for change and adventure, by our thirst for life, the sun, and the beach. In the city of L.A., which is known for its fleeting and shallow relationships, we built bonds that have kept us connected through time and space.

Though we are now scattered across the country and find ourselves in different phases of our lives, I recently traveled to reconnect with three of my favorite friends in person, in real time.

After my flight landed and I arrived at baggage claim, seeing D standing in front of me was surreal. We first met at a show in Hollywood. My friend’s band was playing and D was there as a scout for a record label. Until that moment at the airport, it had been 7 years since we last saw each other.

We walked along the falls and river, enjoying the rush of water and lush greenery around us, talking about who we were, who we are, and who we want to be. We both miss the L.A. lifestyle but are finding our way through the unique urban pockets intertwined with suburbia. We wandered around town, stopping at hidden gems along the way, happy in the simplicity that is our friendship. D is in the process of shifting his center of gravity, and he reminds me that life is only as hard as we make it. He reminds me to revel in the things I love and to not waste time on the things I don’t. I told him about my blog, and he told me that he’s proud of me.

Next I arrived at the home of my friend F, her greeting expectedly warm and sincere as she welcomed me inside. I do not remember the moment I first met F; she just seamlessly fit into my existence as if she had always been there, a gem of authenticity and honesty. We used to spend hours playing tennis, bouncing both the ball and our thoughts back and forth to get a handle on the things in our lives that were holding us back or holding us down. She is strong and fearless and never settles for less.

Now F has a family of her own, including a baby. She marches forward with such confidence that you’d never know she is figuring it out as she goes. She refuses to give up the simple pleasures she enjoys, like scrumptious Saturday morning brunch at an overcrowded organic café, just because she has a baby. Her tiny blonde frame hoists the baby carrier in front of her and pushes through the crowd to a table at the back, making no apologizes along the way. She tells me about the big job on which she has set her sights. It’s a huge leap, but she knows she can do it, and she is fighting for it. F is inspiring. She shows me that I can do it, too.

N arrived on a later flight and was waiting patiently for me and F to show up. When she spotted me in the crowd, she practically leaped into my arms with an embrace that lifted my spirits a mile. I remember first meeting N at a backyard party by the beach. She was all glowing smiles and open arms, the same as she is now. She is warm and open and incredibly trusting. After the birth of her first son, almost immediately upon seeing me, she invited me to hold him.

What most defines N is her huge heart. She loves hard and only wishes for love in return. She gives of herself tirelessly to her husband, sons, and rescue dogs. She cares so deeply for the world around her that I think it hurts her sometimes. On our way back from a girls’ night out of dinner and dancing, N. aimed her face out the car window and into wind, staring at the photo of her boys on her phone. She reminds me to love fiercely and whole-heartedly, no matter what.

I wish we all still lived in the same city. Though my wish will never come true, my heart is full of gratitude that they are still part of my life, that we have found a way to stay connected. Life is short and time steals itself away from us. Spend it wisely and intertwine your life with the people you love. Don’t let your friendships float away.

 

Whole

“Love is not about two halves making a whole. You need to be whole on your own.”
– My Mom

I got my first boyfriend when I was in kindergarten. He could run faster than anyone in our grade, and his dad worked at the zoo. Needless to say he was quite a catch.  We held hands at lunch, and I told my mom I was in love.

Through the years I teetered between serious relationships and the casual dating life of a single girl.  My mom’s words had rung clear and true in my mind, and I maintained a strong level of independence throughout it all. I never looked to anyone else to define or fulfill me as a person. I experienced deep connections and intimacy that tempted me to change course, but instead I always stayed true to myself.

Until I didn’t.

I landed in a relationship that was hard, really hard. In my determination to make it work, I sacrificed and gave away too much of myself. Despite my mom’s wisdom and my intention to follow it, I ended up immersed so completely in someone else that I had begun to disappear.

I had enough sense of self to finally leave the relationship behind, but being single again and looking in the mirror, I barely recognized myself. So much of me was missing, so I started rebuilding. I focused on finding the missing pieces and put my self and my life back together.

The experience allowed me to see what the right kind of love and relationship should look like, and while putting the pieces back together, I met K. He gave me the space, time, and support I needed to focus on myself while we got to know each other. He understood the importance of being and feeling like a whole person.

K. and I are married now, and I still take time for myself and focus on fulfilling the important aspects of my life both with and without my husband. No matter what happens, I know that I can stand on my own. I know who I am and I rely only on myself for fulfillment and happiness.

Love is not about two halves making a whole. It is not about completing each other. It is about two people coming together to intertwine and share their lives together. You have to be whole on your own.

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In response to the Discover Challenge:
A Piece of Advice

The Beginning of a Love Story

You meet someone and there is a spark. You feel a connection and a magnetism that neither of you can deny nor ignore. There is mystery and intrigue and excitement. The experience imprints into your memory, and it becomes a part of you forever. Over time your relationship levels out, shifts, and changes, maybe for the good or maybe for the bad, but you always have the enchanting story of the beginning. Here is one of mine:

I stared out my windshield at the cloudy sky. “It’s definitely going to rain,” I said into my cell phone. “Maybe we should just meet up another time.” I took my foot off the break and inched closer to home in Friday rush-hour traffic. “I don’t think it’s going to rain until late,” K. countered on the other end of the line. “We can leave the dogs at home, and just you and I can meet at the park for a walk instead.” I was nervous about this plan, but his determination to keep our date despite the chance of rain convinced me to agree.

I use the word “date” but truthfully, I wasn’t sure what this was. K. and I had met through a mutual friend and had chatted casually at a few social events. We learned that we lived only a few miles from each other and that we both had dogs, so after a particularly festive night out with friends, K. sent me a Facebook message suggesting we go for a run sometime. He included his phone number, so I texted him, and thus began our five-day text conversation. We asked each other personal questions, shared stories, and began flirting. The format of texting made it easier for us to open up. Plus, he was quite witty and intriguing. Then came his invitation to meet at the park and take our dogs for a walk together.

Only 5 months earlier I had surfaced from a long and disastrous relationship and had decided to focus on work and school and plan my move back to L.A. I was not interested in any type of pointed dating situation. But this wasn’t necessarily a date, right? This was just a casual meet-up of two people with shared interests.

I stood nervously on the park path waiting for K. to arrive. The setting sun was a faint glow just below the horizon and the air was thick with humidity. When I saw K., we greeted each other and fell into a natural step, walking side by side down the path.

The path was a 1-mile loop around a large scenic pond. We lost ourselves in endless words, awkwardness, and laughter, ignoring the light rainfall and finally pausing after 5 loops around the pond (yes, that’s 5 miles!) to realize we were hungry. We got some fajitas and margaritas at the Mexican food place across the street and then returned to the park for 2 more loops.

Throughout all of this, I knew I was giving mixed signals. One moment I was flirting and giggling, and the next moment I was trying to create a some distance. I did not know what I wanted from this blossoming friendship, but I knew I liked this guy. It grew late, and it was time to call it a night. K. walked me to my car and there it was – the inevitable final moment. He asked if he could kiss me, and I said yes.

One word: Fireworks! It is not a cliché. It is not an urban legend. It’s a real phenomenon. When K. kissed me for the first time, I closed my eyes and saw fireworks.

Two years later at the same park, once again taking a stroll in the rain, K. asked me another question, to which I also said yes.

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This month we are celebrating our 1-year wedding anniversary. Every day I feel lucky to have K. in my life. He is accepting, open, and has a big heart. He gives me space when I need it, crowds me when I don’t, and pushes me to be better. He makes me think and teaches me not to take life so seriously. He is my best friend. Reflecting on the beginning of our journey and our time together so far reminds me not to just appreciate him but to show it freely and often.

It is so easy to take our loved ones for granted, to grow used to their presence in our lives. Daily distractions get in the way of what is important. We forget to say thank you. We forget to express our gratitude and our love. Sometimes we even forget why we came together in the first place.

Think about the beginning of a meaningful relationship in your life, maybe with your best friend, or life partner, or someone with whom you have reconnected.  Remind yourself of the things you love so much about that person, and openly show them your appreciation and love. Remembering our beginnings and how we came together reminds us to cherish what we have. After all, our time together is limited.

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A Rescue and a Birthday

I didn’t even really want her at first. I didn’t want the commitment or the responsibility. I’d never had a dog, but I gave in, and I’d do it all over again. Rescuing Cora from the shelter was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. She has made me a better person, and six years later we celebrate her “birthday,” the day she became part of the family. 

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Getting a dog was my boyfriend’s idea. We were living together in a house with a nice, spacious back yard perfect for a dog. I was very reluctant, but he finally convinced me to take a trip with him to the shelter. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and I burst into tears as soon as we got back in the car. All of those homeless dogs with no one to love them – it was hard to see that. But I was sold on the dog idea. I could give one of these dogs a warm, safe, and loving home and would never forgive myself if I acted otherwise.

The next weekend we went to the Humane Society. I brought gum this time to help distract me and fight back the tears more easily. There were so many dogs. They stared longingly into your eyes, pawing the cages, barking and crying, begging you to take them home and love them forever. I handed a piece of gum to my boyfriend. He was fighting back tears, too.

I wandered slowly among the kennels, greeting and petting every dog one by one through the cages. The bigger dogs were in the outdoor kennels, many of them barking as much as possible to get attention. I got to the end of the row and there she was. She was a small white and ginger dog who clearly hadn’t had a haircut in a long time or possibly never. She sat quietly looking at me with sad, shifty eyes. I didn’t understand why she was outside with the big dogs given her stature. Perhaps the shelter ran out of room inside? I saw from her paper work she had been there a month.

I found my boyfriend wandering in another section of the shelter, and we compared notes. So many dogs we would love to take home! We made our way back through and stopped in front of the white and ginger dog again. I knelt by her cage. She looked at me with her sweet face, leaned back and sat up on her hind legs. I immediately fell in love, and we adopted her.

Cora and I bonded fast. She was my shadow. I worked hard to pay attention to her dog language and ways of communicating. I have countless stories of her intelligence and her sassiness, but I’ll save those for future days. When my boyfriend and I split, one of the first questions everyone asked me was, “You got Cora, right?”

When I look at Cora, I know she sees the best version of me, and thus that’s what I strive to be.

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Here are a few things Cora has taught me and continues to remind me:

1) Forgiveness is always possible.
2) Love wholeheartedly.
3) Peanut butter is the best food in existence. Broccoli is a close second.
4) Be patient.
5) Be resilient. Pull that sticker out of your paw and keep going!
6) Take time to enjoy nature.
7) Keep your promises.
8) Nap time is good any time.

Not only do I still have Cora but I also have Toby and Haley who came as a package deal with my husband.  While I am brand new to blogging (this is official post #4), I predict that my dogs will show up in future posts since they are part of the cast of characters of my life. Thus, I may as well introduce them now.

Cora: My sassy shelter dog Cora is an introvert. She enjoys napping in the sun, chewing holes in her blanket, eating broccoli, yoga, doing gorilla impressions, car rides, and Toby.

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Toby: This is my sweet boy Toby using his cuteness to sucker me into giving him a treat. It’s his favorite pastime (because it usually works). Toby also enjoys barking at dogs on TV, eating pizza he drags out of the trash, tap dancing, and cats.

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Haley: Don’t let this sweet face fool you. Cray cray Haley enjoys running zig zag laps around the yard, practicing her high jump, snacking on bird seed, licking you incessantly, making the bed, chasing balls/squirrels/lasers/cats, and cuddling.

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Three dogs can be a real handful, but they are worth it.  Every day they remind me to enjoy life and not to take it too seriously.