January is the time of year when we think about making new year’s resolutions. New goals are made because we want to improve our life in some way. We begin with good intentions but often do not have enough resolve.
Goal setting often fails because they are made without careful thought and planning.
If we do not take into consideration how they will impact family, work, relationships or finances, we can easily get discouraged and abandon them.
When goals are too general, we don’t follow through because the end result is too far in the future and we haven’t put in place reasonable steps to reach that end result.
While finishing the last touches of decorating, buying and wrapping presents, we might experience feelings of sadness and depression instead of happiness.
My last blog spoke to how losses can impact our Christmas. Those losses include pets that were a major part of our families.
It isn’t just recent losses that can influence our feelings.Holidays remind us of magical childhood moments when we were spellbound over lights and the promise of unwrapping that special present we wanted more than anything.
But holidays also remind us of strained relationships, broken promises and a past filled with pain and disappointment. It can remind us of a childhood where the dreams of a happy family were constantly shattered.
When painful emotions from the past surface, we often medicate ourselves with drugs or alcohol or endless shopping sprees to dull the ache. We lose ourselves in parties so we don’t have to feel. But deep inside a tiny voice pleads, “I am tired of running away and feeling sad. I want to feel peace and happiness. I want to experience that childlike wonder of expectation and anticipation this Christmas.”
Thanksgiving is over, the beautiful fall colors have been replaced with red and green and twinkling lights. We have entered a new season, the season of Christ’s birth.
The namesake of this holiday is so often forgotten, pushed aside or replaced by a jolly old man in a red suit, congested malls and holiday specials you can’t afford to miss.
We are bombarded with ringing bells asking for donations, food bank requests and impersonal checks made out to special organizations.
But wait – Christmas is more than mulled wine or eggnog flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon. It is more than concerts and festivities and Christmas shopping.
Tires hit hard on the tarmac as Flight 460 lands at LAX, gradually slowing as it turns toward its assigned gate. Debarking, I become part of the melee of jostling people who are hurrying to grab their luggage off the carousal. Re-positioning my shoulder bag, I hurry to join the fray at the curb jostling to hail a cab.
Welcome to Los Angeles – the city of angels – and life in the fast track.
But there is another fast track few are aware of and no one wants to encounter. It isn’t the race track or the board room of high stakes businesses, but the ambulance entrance to the ER. This Fast Track gets fast attention from the medical staff. This is the fast track I am headed towards.
My unexpected and unplanned flight brought me into the world of hospitals, CT Scans and an unwanted diagnosis. Within 24 hours my days had shifted from a usual work day to sitting beside the bed of my son well into the night after he was admitted to the hospital. His flu-like symptoms had turned into something more sinister – an aggressive Stage IV pancreatic cancer. I had moved from the Fast Track to the slow, methodical world of testing and waiting.
We are governed by laws and rules. Speed and you can get a ticket. Steal and you can go to jail. As children we were given rules to obey or be punished. As adults we put in place personal rules to manage our lives but then insist everyone else must follow those rules as well.
Unenforceable rules are often at the center of most of our relationship problems. Within these rules we find the words, should, must, or ought to. “You should send your mother a birthday card. You ought to give your wife flowers on her birthday. We have to spend all holidays with family.” We expect others to treat people as we do. We assume our neighbors will take care of their yards and pets as we would.
Marriages often suffer the most from unenforceable rules. Each partner brings their bag full of expectations that are never discussed and we assume the other should automatically know. They involve how we parent, how we deal with in-laws, finances, how we express love and concern for one another, etc. “If you really loved me, you would….”
This can’t be happening. There was no warning; no time to prepare. When we look around at the carnage that remains, we are numb, our mind is reeling and we ask, Why? Why has this happened?
And we are left to struggle in the darkness of the night with the tremendous loss that has smashed into our existence. We were not prepared.
But is there ever a way to prepare for the tragedies that occur – that snatches away a loved one before their time or turns our world upside down and inside out leaving us feel as though we have fallen into the surreal world of Alice in Wonderland.
Throughout our lifetime there will be moments of despair when we look at the remains of a life we have worked hard to construct that has been destroyed by a senseless act, an unexpected accident on the freeway, or an act of violence that took the life of a loved one. Perhaps we have been told our child has an untreatable condition, or that our spouse has an aggressive cancer, or a troubled family member has taken their life. Perhaps we hear the words, I want a divorce, or our finances have been wiped out. The list goes on and on. The world as we knew it has come to an end.
And in the darkness of the night we struggle to believe and understand. Why? Why Lord? It doesn’t make sense.
In London’s underground stations you hear a mechanized voice say, “Mind the Gap”, as you board a tube train. That “gap” between platform and train is usually quite small and as a tourist, after the novelty wears off, you take for granted the need to watch your step and the recording simply becomes one of those endearing facets of the London experience.
Neil Gaiman, in his book, “Neverwhere,” artfully creates a more sinister reason for “minding the gap” in his fantasy story about London above ground and the London below.
The “gap” no longer is a small precautionary hazard but one of lethal danger as an invisible cloud-like “black smoke” rises out of the crack, wrapping around the ankles of its targeted, unwary traveler, ready to drag him into oblivion.
Gaps in our Lives
It is easy to overlook the “gaps” that occur in our lives because most of them are simply little daily obstacles we step over. But sometimes, those gaps take on the proportions of huge chasms, larger than life and so threatening that we remain rooted in place and stranded on the station platform while the train moves out.
We live in a world of high power marketing. Technical advances have been rapid and we struggle to keep up with the changes. We are told, covertly or otherwise, that we cannot live without the latest gadget – in fact if we aren’t using all these modern “conveniences”, we are living in the dark ages.
Many technology advances have made life easier with instant access to information and connections. But is it prudent to keep purchasing the latest and most advanced gadget that does everything except bake a cake when you are struggling to make ends meet?
Separate wants from needs.
Put on hold tantalizing wants and shop carefully for what you need. Become a wise consumer. Let the fun stuff go until you have a firm budget in place.
It is critical to take into consideration our future and preparing for unexpected changes. Do I have a savings account established? Do I have an easily accessible reserve account should I need funds quickly? With an uncertain market place, have I updated my resume? Have I adjusted my budget to include rising costs? We not only need prudent spending habits for today, but also how today’s spending habits can affect our future.
Years ago I worked for a company contracted to help injured workers in chronic pain recover and re-enter the workplace. Some had been injured on the job even with all the safety precautions.
As part of their rehabilitation and recovery program, they attended a two week all day class. Most were not happy to be there; in fact some were downright hostile.
Yet after one week, we began to see a transformation of attitudes, mind-set and way of thinking.
It was always amazing to watch this metamorphous from hopelessness, despondency and despair to one of possibility, hope and motivation.
Once again, as so often in history, the world seems to be rising up in violence and protest. The struggle between freedom and domination has always been evident in the lives of men, so while it is not new, it seems to have become more consuming and prominent.
Maybe it’s because technology puts world events on center stage with the flick of a button. So we witness violence and revolts as they happen from the comfort of our homes as though it were a movie.
Central to this world chaos seems to be religion. So wouldn’t we want to stay away from religions and instead rely on our own intellect and reason?
Beliefs and Character
Central to character development is examining our beliefs. But answers for developing character are not found in religious practices, but in the principles and truths that religions focus on.
If you believe that destruction and chaos will serve who you follow, your life will demonstrate that. If you follow reason and intellect, which philosopher, humanist or current enlightened culture will give you the answers that endure over time?