Rough Draft

First thoughts. Scribble. Napkin notes. Stoplight scrawl. Jot and go, revise later.

I grow tired of being my own rough draft. At almost 73 shouldn’t I be pristine, polished, more than blurb? Not.

Every day is a do-over. Every day is a lesson learned. Words come out that bang against a sensibility known yet not really understood. More words choked back, lost in weakened courage. Ideals buried by a moment’s pragmatism. Beliefs constantly challenged by what actually looks like reality. Memories swallowed for fear of tarnishing the memory of loved ones.

If I kept a daily journal, it could be devastating showing me exactly how rough the draft, how little gets any polish. Maybe that is why I have about a zillion attempts at journaling and zero successes. Kind of like yoga–looks simple, stretches hard.

When I was a kid and into young adult, I did the recommended Catholic daily examination of conscience so I could really get a handle on that catalog of sins, chart my progress. So odd what passed for sin: skipped morning prayers, inattention at Mass, a stray thought, a question better left unasked.

Maybe this rough draft thing is carry-over, a way to catalog all the failures-to-communicate with self. Maybe it really is the gift of do-over, trying again to live it right. Reminds me of a nonsense from long ago: The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

Advertisements

Her Journal

About a year before Bob died, an acquaintance experienced the death of her husband. Because we shared an ongoing activity we also shared many conversations about her grief. She told me that she started a journal in which she wrote about every aspect of passage.

For this blog, her name is Karita. She is in her seventies, has grown children, attends church, is a constant volunteer and reaches out with open friendship. Her husband, Ray, with no advance warning symptoms, died at home.

When Bob died, Karita opened her journal. The writing is harsh, angry, filled with pain. Her attempts to excuse what she perceived as abandonment by friends does fail her even as she tries to understand with compassion. There are even pages of self blame as she wrote about her failure to adequately express her needs.

As expected the early journal entries poured grief and loneliness onto the page. Fear and uncertainty overshadowed everything but most days ended with comfort, a list of names offering “Whatever you need, just ask. You are in our prayers.”

“But I don’t know what to ask…I am too lost to figure out what I need…help me…do something…do anything but do something…don’t pray for me…help me…give me your friendship, your time…damn the words you give me about time and tears and triumph…I gag at your audacity telling me that I will find a new normal while you do nothing to take me there…don’t speak to me about anything except about what actions you are doing to show me that my pain is important to you…cram the cheerful stuff…I need help.”

Karita never told her friends how she felt. She told her journal holding little back as she learned to understand that friends spoke the words, did not rally but moved back…moved away from her emotional needs.

Karita took my hand, blinked back her tears and spoke with a softness that only pain can produce.
“You are alone”, she said. “Your old friends won’t speak it, but they have no room for you now. You have become casual to them. You have family and maybe some neighbors, but your old friends are old now…gone except to use platitudes and then pretend like you don’t exist. Don’t believe? Count. Count what you have experienced as you hoped for their help.”

Karita invited me to a grief support group. I went once. Last Tuesday. Tonight should have been the second time, but I am here. Not there. Not in a room full of strangers gathered to talk about an unavoidable human commonality…death. I cannot build on death.

Now, Do It Now

There are many clichés to cover the idea of’ reading between the lines, of mindfulness  in awareness, of reaching out before a need is voiced.  This is a good day for that.

We all know people who struggle, short-term or in a sort of perpetual depressive state.  Some struggle with loud bumps and moans letting the world know that this is a bummer.  Some struggle with times of being overwhelmed, drowning in details and no life-preserver in sight.   Others struggle with a quiet, “Fine–I am fine” when we know fine does not cover the pain.

So in case anyone is listening, this is Now, Do It Now Day, a day to put our personal concerns under the stack and take an action that will surprise and soften the life of someone in our prism.  A note, a phone call, handling a task that isn’t getting done, anticipating, understanding with true compassion and taking action.

Multi Isn’t More

You know when it is happening.  What you thought was a real conversation was about 1/4 of expectation, maybe less.  Without a visual, you absolutely know the computer is on, the keys are clicking and your multi-tasking friend is mini focused on you and the rapidly changing screens.  Gone are the tenets of active listening that made the scene a few years ago.  Inserted are odd pauses, replies that don’t fit the question, and comments simply dropped without notice.  Never mind sharing a narrative that is important to you because the importance ends when the words leave your lips.  Time and multi-tasking are twins that steal interactive conversations.

We drive and phone… eat and stare at  the TV screen…exercise and text…walk the dog and phone…phone a friend who continues to surf…read a book on the screen because turning pages is too slow…and all because our lives require multi levels.   There isn’t time for one-at-a-time.

Some research has shown that it takes 24 minutes to return to full concentration once the focus is interrupted.   Simple observation is enough to demonstrate the degree of concentration per activity when multi-tasking is intense.

Guess those roses will continue to bloom whether we notice or not.

Friendship

Kahlil Gibran said, “Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.”
Isn’t that beautiful! Friendship becomes a force–a sweet imperative for a rich life. But more…so much more. Responsibility takes friendship out of the modern concept of both networking and good times. Responsibility puts friendship into one of the most important commitments we can make. Nurturing a friendship is a nurturing  never to be taken lightly.

Often we read that a true friend will accept us totally, the part we show the surface world and the part we cover in shadow.

Maybe.

But the shadow part cannot surpass the boundaries a friend holds as inviolable.  There are limits of acceptance. Many friendships strain against lines unknowingly crossed.     Even mundane social mores can become that line in the sand.  In parts of society caring for the friend as one cares for self  isn’t going to happen.

Sadly, some of us accept the ministrations of friendship as due, but  pass over a quiet plea for help.   It is easier to receive the care from friendship rather than be the provider of shelter in those darkest times.

Maybe the process of friendship is ongoing…takes a long time to become…has name but not substance for extended periods. Maybe we need a new word that fits between acquaintance and friend…a word that honors the becoming but does not presume the result.

Exploring friendship, we can discover those who truly listen and care about the voice in which we speak. We find those who let us unfold one conversation at a time accepting differing points of view as a building process and not as personal attacks or arguments.

If we are very lucky, we share a great deal of laughter and support as savor to the sweet responsibility.

Skimming Takes The Cream

Email is convenient, quick and inexpensive. Users can dash in/dash out, choosing both time spent and length of message. Doing business on email allows easy access to information and almost instant response time. Some users type all lower case letters and forgo punctuation so the process is even faster.

We have all learned to skim through our emails, noting what requires an action and what is quickly deleted. There are spam deterrents to save more time, to trim the waste. Even the ‘friendly letter’ email often gets the skim. And so we loose the richness, the cream.

A friend may write with a true need to communicate, to share at this moment. But that need might be buried in the email and easily missed as we skim for ‘just the important stuff’. The cream of the friendship is watered down to the barest communication.

Recently, I received an email from a long time friend, someone from high school days. Much of the email was the catching-up kind of communication, like long ago chatting over coffee. Tucked in the middle was a message that I missed because I was in skim mode and hurried though the text. Later, as I worked to delete old messages, I decided to reread his email.

There are ‘thud’ moments.  There are moments of feeling a weight on the chest…a weight of failure. This was one of the heaviest kind of thuds. My friend was asking for a part of our old friendship, a dollop of cream to soothe a current need. And I missed it.

My follow-up email apologized. I truly meant the apology and did my best to give the support that was needed, but I knew my message was diluted by carelessness—by too much hurry and too little caring.

Preserving the cream of family and friend communication has to be worth the few extra minutes it takes to read with interest and concern, taking care to hold a hand that is stretching towards us.

A Cautionary Tale

Early marks of gentlemen and gentlewomen were hand written notes delivered by a servant.   Society, commerce and safety communicated by nib and ink.

The tide of distance brought ship-board bundles  often handed off to Pony Express.  Letter writing was both tether and art.  Invention moved us to today’s texting, emails, blogs and instant messaging.  With a few clicks, we communicate in seconds.

A loss, a huge loss, in this new communication is the art of conversation.  The nuances of eye contact, body language and voice inflections cannot be emailed.   Words on a screen have led to many misunderstandings.

And we skip and skim, confident that we can pick up key phrases, understand the message and reply in seconds.   Details get lost in the need to move to the next of multiple messages.  Then, of course, our reply is off.  We reply to something that wasn’t typed, wasn’t intended.  Misunderstandings grow.

Sorting helps.  Handle the short, toss-away emails first.  Delete the mess of forwards first and move on.   Handle the personal emails in the manner of handling the family member and/or the friendship.  Much of the steel of friendship is that gut level feeling we get in the presence of the friend…how that person makes us feel.   We probably forget many of the words, but we build a friendship on the feelings emanating from the communication.

Email, like every tool, works best when used with confidence and caution.