Mirror Mirror: Help me see how I want to be #dignity Part 1 of 3

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“I don’t believe dignity is something you’re born with…” 

           Miriam Webster defines dignity as, “a way of appearing or behaving that suggests seriousness and self-control: the quality of being worthy of honor or respect”.  Dignity is described as a noun, not a verb; therefore, it’s not an action one takes, but a presence of being and, by description, not something you can possess by simple existence.  I’m not sure dignity is something I was keenly aware of until a very mature age of my life and, my recollection is becoming aware of the genuine ability to have dignity by observation.

There has been one common thread amongst the people in my life who I have observed and believed to possess dignity.  Dignity, being a noun and not a verb, dignity does not require work to maintain, but persons possessing it have more of an inner spirit that drives them to respond to the world and those around them in a particular way.  There is an ease in decisions of consciousness, decisiveness, convictions, and those dignified individuals whom I have known of during my life seem to face situations of existence that would terrify most, with a calmness of soul, and a serenity and an acceptance of fate as the universe would have without questioning the Almighty with “Why?” as some people would.

This is my reflection of three such wonderful souls.

“When I realized what genuine dignity looked like, I thought Wow…”

            My first real glimpse of utter dignity that I recall was the last few weeks of my mother’s life.  She was 80 years old, had survived stage I lung cancer ten years earlier, as well as a multitude of other geriatric health issues, only to then find herself with a late diagnosis of terminal liver cancer.  The rather radical surgery removing a portion of Mom’s left lung saving her life ten years prior required a long hard recovery.  At that time, Mom said she would never undergo such treatment again, and especially when she felt perfectly fine before they cut her open.  It is my belief now, that her conviction some ten years earlier, was the reason why we found ourselves with this late diagnosis.  In other words, my mother was sick for along time and simply ignored the warnings until she became hospital bound, and a diagnosis was made much too late.  She didn’t wish to be diagnosed and feel obligated to undergo treatment she didn’t want to have.

To say cancer defined my Mom would not be telling the whole story.  The truth is my Mom was a lifelong survivor of many trials some would consider a reason to give up.  She was the youngest of three children in a family with an alcoholic father and mother with epilepsy when there was little treatment available.  Mom grew up with tremendous responsibility in a chaotic house with a mother she felt hated her.  Mom loved her father a lot, but he was apparently a mess and died young, and Mom eventually brought my grandmother to live with our family until she passed.   Not having much of an example, Mom married an alcoholic, and while they did their best with three children, history repeated, and Mom was left with most of the responsibility for our family.

Through all of her trials and tribulations, Mom was a strong woman, who was determined to appear like she had it all together, even when the world was crumbling around her.  I can only speak for myself when I say that her cavalier attitude was often off putting to me when I wanted her to crawl in the pot of pity with me when I was feeling bad about what life wasn’t giving me.  For Mom, it was all about appearances.  Don’t show the world your weaknesses, and they won’t be able to pick on them.  She never complained about being sick, even going to work with a turtleneck on to hide the fact that she had caught the mumps from me!  Mom carried this will and grace to her grave.  I really wish I had learned to appreciate it more while she was still alive.

Fast forward to numerous admissions with complicated illnesses.  Even then Mom went to the hospital by ambulance.  She never wanted to go to the doctors or a hospital.  As my brothers and I surrounded her to comfort her during delivery of the news of her liver cancer, Mom looked at all of us wide-eyed and calm.  We looked at Mom, waiting for the moment she would break down.  There were no tears.  Mom had been told there was no treatment that she could tolerate at that point.  She had anywhere from weeks to months to live.  We’re all tearing up, and patting her and asking if she’s ok.  The silence in her glare was puzzling.  Then she calmly looked around at all of us, and God is my witness said, “Well did you think I was going to live for ever!  For God’s sake, I’m 80 f*****g years old!”  Needless to say, we all just sat there frozen in place, not knowing whether to laugh or cry for her.  I mean she was right.  Mom was 80 years old, she led a decent life, she had happy times and sad times, she was loved and adored by many, and the fact was, she was sick as hell.

A decision was made to move Mom to hospice care, as she was ready to stop all life sustaining medications.  She starting refusing food almost right away and within days she slipped into a peaceful coma, drifting out of our lives on the tenth day.  Mom was in a beautiful room, surrounded by cards, notes and flowers from all the people who loved her.  This was her choice, her terms, she was ready to go and, she even refused morphine for comfort claiming she had no pain.  I remember sitting in Mom’s room the day before she left us, and thinking that I only hope if I had to make the choice she did, that I could leave the world so peacefully.  My mother was many things good in her life and, yes, a few bad things too; however, I can say without hesitation, she had dignity and I am so blessed that I got to live in the presence of it, grow from it, and admire it.

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Mirror Mirror: You Must be Joking

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223, that’s my number.  Sadly, it is not a joke.  Everybody has a number, and when we are adults of a certain age, it’s pretty important that we know what that number is.  I mean, there are a lot of numbers that rank us throughout our lives, and we are trained from a very early age to accept this ranking system as part of our self-persona, or esteem building ego system.  Some of us are raised in an environment where we embrace the ranking system, and naturally aspire to be on the top of the liter board. While others resent having the liter board stuffed down there throat, and simply choose to ignore the natural ranking systems of life, giving very little regard to what their number is.  It is my belief that our approach to the ranking system can be a direct result of how we were raised, a genetic pre-disposition to certain behaviors, as a result of life experiences, or perhaps a combination of all of these things.  After all, I really don’t think anyone is born with the fuck-it attitude!  Surely something happened that got us there?!

Regardless of what our approach is to the ranking system of life, surely it is those choices that we make in response to our rankings over the years that will ultimately decide our future rankings.  (See my blog entry on choices if you have any doubts of my opinion on this topic.) My earliest memory of being scored or ranked is kindergarten.  Four or Five years old is far too young to be scared with grades of A through F, so of course we were treated like the precious little treasures that we were, and received metallic stars to denote how we performed.  Those behaving and achieving exceedingly well would receive gold, next level silver, then bronze stars on projects or home reports.  But everyone got a star, so everyone could feel like a star.  To be honest, I’m positive I was born a diva with a Champaign pallet!  God Rest my mother’s soul, if she was still alive, she would certainly attest to the fact that I by gosh always wanted that gold star.  I somehow just knew it was better, even when I was 5 years old!!  If I received a silver star on a project, it was a don’t even pretend it’s close to a gold star, and a bronze star, just pitch it in the garbage and start trying to cheer me up with a milkshake from McDonald’s.  Aw yes, a little over achiever was born.  I don’t think my parents had a thing to do with my over achiever attitude, I blame that damn ranking system!  Why didn’t they use primary colors instead of precious metals?   The Commodities market doesn’t lie!  Everyone knows gold is worth more than silver and silver is worth more than bronze!  I digress.

You see, there are some children that might figure out that parents like mine, are in some ways rewarding the bronze star by giving you a milkshake to cheer you up, and they might give less effort, but fake disappointment to reap the outcome!  My feeling is that we simply make a choice how to get what we want from life. These choices pile up with time, and do affect future outcomes, and are harder to reverse!  My number, 223, is no accident, but an accumulation of behaviors.  As a natural born over-achiever, even I had to learn that you couldn’t earn a gold star on everything.  For instance, I wanted to be a sprinter on the track team, but I had to settle for competing in the 440 dashes.  When I realized I really wasn’t ever going to get that freaking gold medal, even in the 440 dashes, well let’s just say the track team and I were no longer one.

To this day I prefer to participate in things I feel confident I can be number one in.  Good Lord, I even convinced the paycheck delivery guy that our company needed to be first on his delivery route, just because I like to sign in the number one slot!!  All it took was a story about never loosing site of how good it felt when I won the state cheerleading championship in 8th grade, and still wanting to be number one.  The delivery guy momentarily reminisced about a similar event in his life, and do you know he would proudly show up first thing Wednesday mornings to show me I was in the number one slot every week!  Poor guy actually apologized when he told me he was changing jobs and could no longer guarantee that I would be number one on the route anymore.

There are two important things to be learned about me from this story.  Point one is that I have formed a habit of very casually leaving situations that seem like they will not place me in the appropriate commodities category.  Point two, I will work very hard, and be pretty manipulative at the things that I think will yield an easy, but profitable return to my ego.  The fact that I have spent the last couple of years ignoring both of these things about myself is exactly why I find myself with my current number of 223.  Life has been hard, money was short, and let me just go ahead and be honest; I stopped worrying about diet and exercise.   Besides that crappy diet I indulged myself in, I just stopped making myself care about exercising.  Next week became next month, I will join the gym when I catch up my bills, I don’t have time to do the P90X, and so on.   I know you must be thinking that my number is my weight, but it isn’t.  The fact is that I have weighed exactly what I weigh right now, and my number was only 176.  The difference, I was in much better physical shape.  Working out almost daily, strong, muscular, watching my diet.  My mother’s side of the family all had heart problems, I’ve had high blood pressure since I was 35, staying in good physical shape, and keep my cholesterol low is essential for me.  If you don’t know it already, cholesterol over 200 is not good.  For someone who only weighs 138 pounds, cholesterol of 223 is horrible!  Somewhere over the past couple of years I lost site of my lifelong goal to keep my number in a healthy range, and now it’s going to be a good deal of work to get back in the healthy range.  But really, the diva in me won’t be happy until I get that gold star report from my doctor, so there’s no time like the present to start!!