Monday, December 20, 2010

Acceptance

I’ve been having trouble finding the Christmas spirit this year. I struggled a bit last year, but nothing like this. It’s been a tough year and it hasn’t left me with much in the way of magic feelings. I’ve pined away the days leading up to Christmas, feeling like the Grinch and lamenting my lack of internal joy. I’ve watched Christmas movies and cried, not because the content made me feel sentimental, but because I “used to” feel the joyful, nostalgic feelings expressed in the movies and this year I don’t. Well, at least I didn’t up until late last week. Late last week I had an appointment for a massage and I was whining to my massage therapist (there’s a reason they’re called therapists) about my lack of Christmas spirit when Nicole said to me, “Well, Debbie, I think the first thing you need to do is practice a little acceptance.” Acceptance? What the heck did that mean? She went on to say that perhaps I needed to just accept that the Christmas spirit thing just wasn’t happening for me this year. Just accept it; quit fighting it.

Immediately after my massage I went for my 52-minute walk (a minute a year) and I thought about what she’d said. I realized that I had, in fact, been enjoying the holiday activities happening outside of me – enjoying each as they were happening. However, leading up to each activity I stressed about my lack of holiday joy and following each activity I stressed about my lack of holiday joy. So, the majority of my time was spent worrying about this internal lack instead of appreciating those things that were going on around me. As I walked along the waterfront trail on an unusually cold, sunny day, I decided that I would focus on enjoying that which was happening around me and just accept that, internally, something was lacking. I enjoyed the sunshine and the crisp December air; I enjoyed the squirrel that ran across the path in front of me; I enjoyed waving to the engineer of the freight train that went by parallel to the trail. I thought about each of the holiday activities I had participated in this month and each that was to come and I enjoyed the thought of each of them. And do you know what happened? As I focused on enjoying and feeling grateful for the people and events external to me, I uncovered the joy inside of me. By the end of my walk I felt that my attitude had made a 180-degree turn. I’d gone from feeling like the Grinch to realizing that it is a wonderful life.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Storytelling

Humans have been passing down stories for as long as we have roamed the earth. However, during the past few decades, as life has sped up, we’ve found that we often don’t have the time to share stories. Older generations usually don’t live with younger generations and there isn’t time for talking around the dinner table or on the front porch. Several projects have been started to encourage people to document the stories of their elders. Starbucks even has stories as its theme this holiday season: Stories are Gifts – Share. For Christmas several years ago I gave my uncle a tape recorder and blank tapes, asking that he use them to tell me the stories of his and my father’s youth. They had a harrowing story of leaving their hometown in their teens to return to Finland, their parents’ birthplace, and finding themselves, instead, in Russia, starving and cold, with no money. They eventually returned to the U.S. without their mother, who had not yet become a citizen. I’d heard bits and pieces of the story as I grew up, but I really wanted to hear from him the entire story, with more details. When my uncle died, I found the tape recorder and tapes – untouched.

Stories are part of the root system we pass on to our children. I’ve always understood that the stories I was told as a child helped me to know who I am, but I’ve always looked at the storyteller as being the elder, the one with the experiences. Last week, as my daughter-in-law and I were discussing the Christmas tree she and my son had picked out. My daughter-in-law said, “Debbie, I would like it if sometime you’d come over and explain to me all about Jarrod’s ornaments because he doesn’t know their stories.” Each of my children has their own Christmas tree as they grow up and ornaments are added each year. When my oldest son married, we no longer put up his small tree and, instead, passed his collection of ornaments on to him and his wife. I was thrilled that my daughter-in-law wants to know the stories behind the ornaments, but this was definitely an OMG moment. Like it or not, feel like it or not, I am the elder! I am the keeper of the stories.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Just Call Me Old-Fashioned

On our drive back from the last Oregon home football game, we were desperately looking for someplace to get a quick, late dinner. We had hoped to find a Burgerville, since that is our fast food stop of choice, but the Albany Burgerville was packed and we couldn’t find the Salem Burgerville. Finally, we decided to just pull into McDonald’s. Once inside, we found a line of two people waiting to order and two people waiting for food – not bad. However, the place was dirty. Napkins were strewn around the floor, tables were left unbussed and garbage was flowing out of the containers. The woman behind the counter was busy putting together orders and did not acknowledge the people waiting in line to order. When she finally handed out food and then went on to take orders, she never made eye contact, never apologized for the wait, never even smiled. She obviously felt overworked and it was clear that each new order was just seen by her as additional work she would have to do.

After a lengthy wait for our food, I realized that she was finally assembling our order, but it was on a tray, not in a to-go bag. I went up to the counter and said, “If that’s our order, we’d like it to go.” Her snarly reply: “Well, you didn’t say you wanted it to go,” to which I replied, “You never asked.” (That’s supposed to be the first or last thing they ask when taking an order). At that point, I could no longer contain my disgust with her attitude and suggested that it wouldn’t hurt for her to trying being polite. She then went on a tirade about being busy; doing the best she can, blah, blah, blah.

While I’m sure this McDonald’s, just off the freeway halfway between Portland and Eugene, had, in fact, been busy throughout the post-game period, it was no longer all that busy and I counted at least five people working in the restaurant (all of whom had the same sneer as our counter attendant) and none of whom seemed to be making any attempt to be pleasant or to clean up the dirty floors, tables and garbage cans. On the way out of the restaurant, one of my sons said to me that I shouldn’t have said anything to her because she’s in a dead-end job, being paid minimum wage and can’t be expected to be nice under those circumstances. When I responded that I’d had similar types of jobs in my youth, he said, “Yes, but that was thirty-some years ago.” Really? Has it become old-fashioned to do a good job? To be polite and welcoming as an employee at a public establishment?

My parents taught me to always do my best, regardless of the situation. Have a class you don’t like? Get through it and do your best. Teacher’s unreasonable? Do your best. Job boring? Do your best. The summer I turned fifteen I found a job at a small café in the coastal tourist town where I spent my high school years. It wasn’t a popular place and didn’t have much curb appeal, so business was often slow. I had to be at work by 3:30 a.m. all summer and, often, there would be only a dozen customers throughout the day (except for weekends when we sometimes had people standing in line because of the tourist business). I hated the job. I was bored most of the time, the hours were terrible and, because of the light level of business, the tips weren’t great. I remember complaining to my dad about it, but he just said the usual: Do your best. He suggested that I find things to do when I was bored: sweep the floor, clean the shelves below the counters, polish the pie displays. I took his advice and made it through that summer and the next year, when I applied to the manager of the local “hip” drive-in, I had a great reference from the café’s owner. Later, when I worked at as a teller at US Bank, busy days were my favorite. Sure, it was hectic and exhausting, but it became a game to see how many people I could serve and, of course, I did it with a smile because I had to “do my best”. I went on to a management-training program within the bank and was a Vice-President when I “retired”. I have to believe that “doing my best” had something to do with my career success.

If it’s true that it’s now old-fashioned to do one’s best, regardless of the circumstances, how do people ever expect to advance? To ever have opportunities? To ever feel self-satisfaction? If this is the current state, just call me old-fashioned.