Relationships matter

After a day of couch surfing, crying, feeling sorry for myself, I finally picked myself up and got annoyed enough with something else. So I got started deep cleaning my shower, which led to decluttering the countertop in the master bathroom. And more crying. One of our final interactions we were looking at apartments for friend J and I was fretting over the size of the bathroom – the vanity was single sink, barely any counter. But being a guy and a minimalist guy at that, what the f**k did the countertop or bathroom size matter? It has a toilet, sink, shower – all he needed. Medicine cabinet over the sink was a bonus.

Made me smile.

But after a couple of hours of frenzied deep cleaning all through the house, I feel better. M came home from a day of running and trail sweeping and I got irritated with him for tracking in crap on floors I’d just steam cleaned and wiping his feet on entry rugs I’d just vacuumed. Not his fault, of course, but I’m trying to burn off my funk and feeling cranky because of it. Essentially it was one of those pissy days in our household.

As I wait for a final load of laundry to finish washing to be loaded into the dryer, my alternate thought spin cycle has begun making its rounds in my head.

Work is for the most part going very well. I’m busy enough and engaged enough with the clients stable I’m serving already, but they bring me projects with quick turnaround deadlines and it keeps things especially interesting. I have no real complaints and am enjoying this aspect of my life.

Or I was, until Friday.

As you may recall, my former firm was bought out by a much larger corporate firm and I was given a damn generous severance package. My former bosses are still consulting and working cases that were continuing at the time of separation, and my former boss’ corporation remains a client of mine as we wind things down. It’s a win-win situation, because I do really enjoy working with them. I also remain close to my associates who are still working for Big Corp Firm (BCF) and meet them for lunch or drinks/dinner at least once a month. These people are my friends and the relationships are important to me.

Over the last couple of weeks I have gotten calls from BCF about various issues. I rarely answer the telephone when the regional operations coordinator phones, because as far as I am concerned, they instigated the separation, tried their level best to screw me over before and after said separation, and are therefore completely untrustworthy. Our communications are always going to be on my terms, not theirs. This does not mean I am so unprofessional as to completely ignore their email inquiries or telephone calls; it just means I do not jump when they snap their fingers. Kind of a childish control issue, I admit, but they are not nice people and treated me very poorly.

Anyway, the questions they have been asking have been very routine, stuff we went over several times before I left. I’m not impatient with them, but I find it tedious when someone who is supposed to be intelligent and in charge of a business group asks me the same questions in different ways over the course of a week. I learned during the Friday meeting with the partners that the problem is not so much a misunderstanding so much as it is a conflict with a couple of very fussy clients.

The partners asked me if I would consider a limited consulting engagement with BCF for these few specific clients with very particular issues and a much healthier respect for me and how I dealt with them. Just to get things transitioned completely. Had BCF treated me more professionally, I would do so up to a specific number of hours each month without charge. But I know their coordinator knows there is a huge amount of distrust and resentment toward them, because I have stated it in those precise words with very specific reasons for my feelings.

But relationships matter. My relationship with my former bosses/present clients are important to me, as is my reputation among the BCF, even if they think I’m scarcely more than a clerk for not having a law degree. Refusing this limited engagement with BCF will ultimately hurt my former bosses, because they do reap a share of the revenue from these ongoing cases until they are settled once and for all. Everyone also knows that the request coming from them is impossible for me to refuse.

Even if I dislike my choices in the matter or the people I will have to work with on the grind of getting the relationship repair work done, it’s business. I am probably more upset about being put into this position, because completely hiding behind my mask of professionalism will be almost impossible in this situation. But they need me, and the greater good for people who do matter to me means making the best of the situation. I cannot even charge them a premium because of the circumstances to make myself feel better about it.

The bright side is that I’ll get to be back amongst my peeps a few times each month, and I have missed seeing and interacting with them on a routine basis. It is also a limited scope thing, something that will likely only last through the end of the year. Biggest bonus is they need me, not vice versa. My irritation with them for their big corporate practices is greatly tempered knowing that they are under enough pressure to address the concerns of a client that they had to try and recruit me back to help them smooth things over.

Framed that way, I feel very vindicated. Perhaps I will even come to enjoy the time spent with the vipers of BCF. I doubt it, but I have to retain a facade of optimism about the relationship and situation.

Malaise

It’s been 2 weeks since my close friend J died. During that time I have primarily carried on as normal, albeit with more crying and feelings of sadness and grief. But work has continued, my exercise and better health quest carries on, the immediate paperwork and document filing associated with someone’s passing have been handled. The list of personal bequests was fulfilled.

And today I could barely drag myself out of bed and through the shower. It was a struggle and a fight to get dressed and start thinking about going to the gym. Knowing it would likely make me feel better did not motivate me to get my ass in gear and going. The List was not especially difficult, but even the lighter weights I was using felt heavy. For the first time in a lot of months, I felt disconnected, uninspired, and completely dejected about the work. I did see my son in passing – he cruises by to use the shower after his marathon training group – and that made the sun shine again for a few moments. It was a brief fly-by, but when I get the blues this way any ray of sunshine helps.

External distractions are not really working for me today.

So I’ve wallowed. I’ve cried. I dropped and broke not just a glass but also a glass bowl that I brought home from my mom’s house after she died. I cleaned it up  and cried harder, so frustrated and angry with myself. Then I got out the stainless steel cup for a glass of water because I obviously cannot be trusted with anything more fragile.

I did some listless grocery shopping for the week, came home with ice cream, ate it without any guilt or any joy either. I cried while eating it, too. And after months of no dairy and minimal sugar, I’m paying for it with an upset stomach on top of everything else.

Which makes me angry at myself, for being so ridiculously stupid and eating crap that I know is more likely to make me sick than anything else. Sparking anger is somehow better than sitting here crying over things I cannot change. Anger tends to inspire me to action, rather than lying around waiting for lighting to strike me down. Since it’s over 100 degrees again today and I’m inside the house, that lightning would have to be a self-directed strike from Mother Nature herself.

Yep, it’s been one of those kind of days. Completely unlike me anymore, I have done little other than lay on the couch reading depressing news and feeling the big giant void.

After 2 weeks, the anesthesia of shock has worn off and the malaise of grief has overwhelmed me.

I miss him so much. My world is such a smaller place without him in it, and I continue to marvel that life does go on so normally all around me.

I am mostly functional most of the time. I work hard. I exercise and eat the same boring foods over and over again. I have a lot of fun with my friends and my family. And life goes on, and mostly I’m really glad. Because to hurt this way 24/7 is beyond my ability to cope.

Until it doesn’t proceed as normal, and I have this day of wallowing in my sadness and loss and struggle to gain some ground on the concept of coping.

Practical me knows this too shall pass. But reality bites in the midst of it all.

Grief really sucks.

Hopeful realism

After starting this post during lunch and scanning it quickly just now, I recognize that shock of sudden death is starting to fade and I am in full-on processing mode, albeit the scenic route.

I live a small life. It’s not big, not flashy, not glamorous. But in the ways that are important to me, mine is a big, bodacious, overflowing, bursting kind of life. All good things.

What I value, I prioritize. My relationships – with M, my kids, extended family tribe, friends, clients and business associates – all are important to me and somewhere on my personal hierarchy of values scale. Work is on that scale somewhere as well, and not just for the financial support and stability it provides us. Accounting is not a flashy profession, and the type of work I happen to do is not as lucrative as being on the career track of a national or even a prominent local firm. But it’s infinitely more satisfying to me. The clients I have know me as a person and trust me to tell them the truth, no matter how much they don’t want to hear it. I have also come to care about them as people and experts in their own fields. There is some sort of new classification where the professional respect bleeds over and becomes a personal friendship as well. Having worked in larger corporate firms, it is so unlikely for me to have developed a work-life balance that blurs and blends into something that fulfills my need for mental challenges and stimulation as well as the emotional security of not having to hide myself behind the professional mask many hours each day.

From the work M and I both do, our basic needs are met. We have a nice home, an abundance of food, transportation, health insurance, employment, and money in the bank for our even older and grayer years. We have many wants as well, yet none that burn so hot that we are left feeling deprived and unhappy for its absence.

It’s the bigger losses that we cannot recover or replace that leave us sad and wistful for a different outcome.

I do not feel especially ambitious about travel or vacationing right now. If anything, I am enjoying being at home when I am not working on work-work. There is so much to do around our homestead, between decluttering and maintenance and planning/negotiating future projects. Just a few examples:

  • The dining room set we recently purchased used – $150 for an oak table with 2 leaves and 8 chairs – requires a good scrub and polish to make it our own. Then we need to move it from the dining room, put a newly purchased rug on the floor, and toss out the ugly old one presently residing there to protect the laminate.
  • There is more tree trimming to do, then the growing pile of dead branches need to be loaded in the truck and carted to the dump. But it’s been so hot; such outside tasks are lower on M’s to-do list.
  • Then there is our garage, a weekend job of organizing and decluttering all on its own. Again, the heat is a factor in this project; it’s difficult to get either of us motivated to take care of this crap when it’s 100+ degrees outside and not much cooler in the garage, even with the doors wide open.
  • Installing shelving in our laundry room. Part of this is just making decisions about how much shelving to put in there, purchasing and installing the materials, but it’s been low priority. However, my latest born-again zeal for getting rid of crap and doing a better job with available space has me eyeing this more critically and wanting to make get busy planning to make it happen.
  • Our hallway linen closet needs to be reorganized. This is currently the favorite dumping ground/stash location for anything and everything we’re not sure what to do with.

Left to my own devices much of this would likely already be done, either hired out or boatloads of crap tossed or donated long before this. Unfortunately, being married, staying happily married means some negotiation about how the shit gets done. With the way our lives and work/life balance tends to work, I only have small pockets of time to work at a project before I have to go out for a meeting or be at my computer working or am simply tired and in need of a recharge. Both M and I have health and fitness-related activities that consume their own chunks of time and are highly prioritized for each of us. Hardly matters if the trees are trimmed or crap we want/need to retain is stowed properly if our health is so poor we can barely do much for ourselves.

What often times judgmental me feels is lollygagging on both our parts about projects outside the scope of essential housekeeping or work-work tasks, the reality is our lives are full of commitments and responsibilities we desire to pursue or are part of the continuity of our lives. The projects on our lists will get done, eventually. Or we will relent and throw money at the problem and hire it out, something M is loathe to do if he himself can eventually get it done. In my impatience defense, I only suggest hiring out things he likes doing less than others, or that would take him on his own an extraordinary amount of focused time. Painting the exterior of our home immediately comes to mind. While M could most definitely do it and do it very well, I’m not sure our marriage could survive it. For such a big, time-consuming task, I would much rather there be a licensed contractor overseeing and doing the actual work, because when I reach the point of screaming because it’s not being done right, they are not showing up as promised, or it is taking too long because of the first two factors, a contractor can skulk off and escape my wrath at his own home. M, not so fortunate. I see this as a win-win as well because M, with his perfectionista tendencies, can follow along behind our painting contractor and either point out what he wants changed or touch-up to his heart’s content.

The point pounded home to me again and again, all this stuff means less than a hill of beans where grief is concerned.

This heartache is fresh, raw, and hurts dreadfully. Yet, even down here and squirming in the trenches of the freshness of pain, I know it will pass, heal over, scab and then scar. Life does go on, no matter how awful it seems in these moments.

I am not now nor will I ever be one to compare pain or wounds with other people. We feel what we feel in the ways that we feel it, and we are each unique beings. Talking about pain or happiness or other emotions is comparing apples and oranges, and I nether win nor lose any coveted prizes for hurting more or less that someone else experiencing loss. Loss hurts. Grief sucks. And life continues as if nothing of any significance happened in the world at large.

Such is my reflection of the smallness of my life. Someone significant in my world died, and I am learning to navigate this new normal. It has not turned me more cynical, dark, desperate, or depressed me into paralysis. I take it as a reminder that life is precious, our expiration dates unknown, because the future is not promised. All those cliches and platitudes designed and deployed to try and make us feel better about a fact of life we cannot change are true and yet they do not make me feel much better.

Mine is a hopeful reality. I love and lost a dear friend, and it hurts me deeply. He was among the first folks I would always want to share good news, on speed dial when I was troubled. Our email correspondence is epic, and like me, he seems to have saved every one ever exchanged. It’s precious to me, and even the mundane, day-to-day reporting leaves me feeling a little lost as to how I adjust to a world without my best friend in it.

Thing is, I will adjust and life continues. I still smile and laugh and extract full measures of joy in my days. And how quickly, how easy it still is for me to forget he’s gone, and when the thought flitters through my mind of how I will frame the funny moment or tiny victory, I feel the ice pick in my heart as I remember he’s not here to share with anymore. And all over again, it hurts and grief sucks.

The life I have built for myself, the world where I personally dwell is a beautiful and amazing place. It was before he passed and remains because of the zillions of memories  created. And going forward, I still see a lot of beauty, life, brilliance, humor, and love.

It’s a fresh, new, raw wound, one that may take a lot more time and resources to heal than I can presently predict or imagine. But I think mine is a long view, mixed with a dash of something akin to faith that we will meet again. For now I am living my life, feeling my pain, enjoying my joys. Hopeful realism at its finest.

Gone KonMari crazy with a little weep

For about the last 18 months, I have been on a mission to declutter. I mean, it seems like I am always decluttering my closet (that infinite space that reproduces even more crap the minute I close the doors). But I’m more serious this time. I’m even openly attacking Mark’s clothes, albeit rarely worn dress clothing that was once worn by the much bigger man version of him. Really easy to tell him he’s absolutely NOT wearing dress clothes he wore when there was almost 40 lbs. more of him a few years ago.

My friend C told me about her volunteer job – a thrift store boutique that specializes in high quality, exceptional condition and very gently used donations. I had been in a quandary as to what to do with my stuff, because it felt like it was too nice to just drop off at my local Goodwill. I could have tried selling it online, but honestly, it does not seem worth the effort to me. If I were still doing eBay selling regularly (something I did during my last major purge a few years ago – handbags alone netted me over $2,000) I would probably be more inclined. I rarely to never even look on eBay for anything, and for clothes the FB group sales will consume my available time and generate a disproportionate amount of resentment. Nope, C’s mention of her volunteer job is a perfect solution. I do believe my donations are a close match to what they are seeking and this stuff will soon be out of my house.

So, thus far 5 large shopping bags of clothing. Due to my physical person downsizing, beloved workout capris, leggings, tops, sweatshirts, and light jackets have been neatly folded and now bagged. There are also skirts and dresses I have saved and maintained well but now find are too big for my evolving frame. I’ve also packed up some of M’s slacks, dress shirts, even ties. In another bag there are handbags, wallets, gloves, knit hats and scarves. If they accept them, I also have several pairs of worn once or twice (or not at all) running shoes waiting, plus athletic bags of various sizes that I had tucked away in a box and forgotten. I also have more dress shoes to sort out if those are something they could find useful.

A lot of stuff I have worn, loved, maintained well. It is good to pay it forward and let it go to its next owner and perhaps generate some income for a good cause.

But I am far from done with my decluttering. Next I am back in the kitchen and will be ruthlessly weeding out items we no longer use. Tomorrow, perhaps. Today was all about clothing and accessories.

I cried while doing a lot of this activity. Not at all about the items I am releasing to others so much as grieving the loss of my friend. My heart seems to shatter again each and every day. It’s hard learning to accept the finality of such change, a lesson I must learn, relearn, learn again daily. While it’s only been a week, the leaden weight is so heavy it feels like months and years.

I am grateful for any and all distractions, including going through all my stuff and seeking out that “spark joy” feeling. While I feel broken and sad inside, I am a master compartmentalizer and so much of life still sparks joy. Frequently tiny sparks build into something bigger, and in this, in the aftermath of loss, I have no choice but to be patient and wait for events to unfold. In the meantime, it gets tucked away in its box through day to day demands and responsibilities and taken out so I can bawl over a functional sun hat that I do not even like very much and am actually delighted to be shedding.

This process reminds me again that my needs and wants are actually pretty simple and continuing to filter and simplify as I mature and move along. Yep, still have a drawer full of clothes for the gym, but as it’s my new hobby-obsession, it feels relatively justifiable and almost required. The rest of my closet is FINALLY looking like I have decluttered. My business clothing closet is manageable, my supply of jeans, shorts, and weekend casual tops still quite flush with things I wear all the time. I do have my next clothing purge in the planning stages, though, because I think there are some jeans and pants from winter that will be too big this year. But when it’s hot outside, even in the comfort of my air conditioned home I do not want to be trying on flannel lined jeans, wool slacks, sweaters of any weight.

For someone who is not much of a fashion follower or clothes horse, I have a lot of clothes. Since I am not a slave to fashion or the trendy sort, pretty much everything I own has simple lines and is consider classic pieces. All good, as I believe it makes reselling relatively easy as well.

I won’t miss a single item that I have bagged or boxed for donation. I probably will not think about a single thing in any of those bags or boxes after I drop them off. But my friend has become as much a part of this home as the foundation and the house itself. I miss him terribly and I resent his death and the rollercoaster of emotions it has unleashed.

M and I went to his pod late yesterday, allowing ourselves only an hour to gather some specific, personal bequests to pack and ship to other friends. It is a bittersweet act for me, but one I take seriously and feel compelled to complete as quickly as possible. It’s written down, on a list, and I want to get it resolved as quickly as I can. I recognize the actions as something within my control, versus everything else well outside of it. Idly, I wonder how I am going to feel when the list is cleared and there is nothing left for me to do. Will I feel better? Worse? Relieved? Still angry?

Unpacking and repurposing stuff – it’s part of life, I suppose. The adventure is sorting out the emotions attached to the experiences as I move through it.

It is a challenging balance. Decluttering is good. Grief sucks.

Dinner bell

It has been a rough week, but into all sadness a little levity sneaks.

I put some chicken in the oven tonight for dinner through the weekend. Nothing fancy – just a simple, roasted chicken. Since it was cooking for 45 minutes, I stepped outside to chat with M about projects he is working on with pool and tree maintenance. My phone was in my pocket, because I thought I had set the timer to get the chicken out on time.

Working outside is not my strength, but we have been working on cleaning up old crap from my mom’s home and that we have had for years and years and apparently carted to and from various houses and storage units. Our efforts at downsizing continue, but it’s a long slog. In the back deck area, we’ve had boxes of stuff to be sorted out, some to donation, some to trash, a select few item to keep. I got started on the last few boxes – almost all ended up in the trash can – but since I was sure the timer would be going off for dinner, I completely lost track of time.

Next I know my phone is ringing. It’s our alarm company, which apparently we have some sort of sensor – either a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide monitor that had alerted them. When we did not answer them on the interior speaker, they rang my phone. Conversation was something like this:

Alarm Monitor: Hello, this is alarm monitor. Is everything okay?
Me: Of course. Did the alarm go off?
Alarm Monitor: The fire sensor thing went off and you did not respond to our call.
Me: Oh SHIT! (ripping open slider and smelling the burning dinner)

And that, dear friends, is how homemade charcoal from chicken is created. It is no wonder we tend to stick with the grocery deli rotisserie chicken when we want actual roasted chicken.

I ended up eating a sandwich and M had some canned chili for dinner. Could have been so much worse.

 

The thing about life … and death

I lost a friend Sunday, probably my very closest and best friend. While he had been seriously sick and recovering for the better part of a year, he was improving. He was able to travel and come home. We had 5 glorious days of talking, laughing, arguing like siblings, just being. While there is no blood relation between us, whatever mysterious ingredients create the dynamic that begets family ties, it was us.

And now he’s gone.

As I finish this post, it has been a few days since that fateful Sunday. Whereas before I could not imagine a world without him somewhere in it, my new normal is painfully uncomfortable learning to cope with that reality. Our guest room still has the bed he slept in, his clothes neatly stacked where he left put them, the hamper with his clothing to be washed still has items in it. I see his shoes where he took them off, cherished books on the table by the bed. Only his laptop and phone have been disturbed so I could get the notifications done.

His final requests were simple, yet painstakingly described in a matter-of-fact, step-by-step descriptions including specific sources and contact information. In life he was an accountant, an auditor, and his sharp attention to small details defined his death and what came after in his same clear and direct manner. He wanted no funeral, no memorial service. His body was to be offered to a specific medical facility for research and if they declined, a local medical school. Failing that, he wished to be cremated and scattered somewhere peaceful. No public tributes on social media, which he abhorred and avoided.

He always enjoyed when I blogged about him, and I know he’d understand my methods to process my seemingly endless well of grief.

The list of people to contact was long, 38 people, and those 38 had similar lists of people they would be contacting to ensure his many friends and acquaintances would hear he was gone. It has been hard for me, because of those names I knew or have met less than a third. The rest – a bunch of awkward and uncomfortable and emotional conversations. But I got them done as quickly and efficiently as possible, then the follow-ups and the reaching out communications. It’s been overwhelming in primarily good and positive ways. But my compartmentalization has its limits.

Thankfully the initial shocking communications and halting, stilted conversation, the emotions are scaling back to manageable levels is fading now. There is still a lot of questions, few answers, and so much emotion attched. I admit – I am so mad at him for this circumstance, for leaving me with all this administrative paperwork and not being here to let me verbally rail on him about it. I have cried silently off and on through my solo practices at the gym and may continue to do so, the most unfettered time where thoughts and memories sneak in and take my breath away. I am not sleeping well.

It’s hard. Grief sucks.

The thing for me – life goes on. As much as I want the world to stop spinning to let me catch my breath and just be infinitely sad, the day-to-day business of living my life continues and persists. I have deadlines and commitments to clients, I am determined to continue with my better health quest, our fluffy-butted kit-cats would not understand why the food ceases to appear on schedule and treats are not dispersed at usual time periods. So I’m sucking it up much of the time, while being grateful for enough life to fill up the empty space and good reasons to push my sadness aside and keep plowing ahead.

Managing his possessions, his stuff, and specific bequests starts for me today and for M and I this weekend. There have been several generous offers from friends to assist, but until I get the very specific items and very specific bequests fulfilled, I am reluctant to accept their kind and generous offers. My reticience – for me, it feels like a sacred trust and will leave me with deep regret if I falter or fail. There are moments when I’m grateful for my hyper-responsible proclivities; I am not 100% certain now is one of them.

I know there is time. I know I am in good health and less likely, hopefully, to be maimed or injured or die myself before this portion of his requests are completed. But I want to get it done, off my own very long to-do list, and receive some respite from the shade that cloud of responsibility. While I know it is not all on me, a great deal of my sense of self is my reliability. In these final tasks and requests from my old friend, I know there is a great deal of comfort and joy and feeling good about myself in my ability to see them through.

So I’m sad. And I’m mad. Mostly I’m glad. A life well lived is to be celebrated, but the light and spirit that has left this world – it is hard to accept that I will not bask in it again.

Peace, privacy, maintaining positive relationships

I am just barely involved with social media. I have a Facebook profile, but mostly I use it for looking at photos and things that my few online friends like and share. I am involved in a single Facebook group. And that’s it. Other than my blogs, which are hardly controversial or divisive, I am remain pretty low-profile, practically anonymous. And I prefer it that way.

A few of my work-related associates and clients wonder if we are social outcasts of a sort because we are not public participants in the social media world. Of course, they are millenials and grew up entrenched in this environment. Whereas I am an old dinosaur and very happy with my quiet life. I was also a fairly late Facebook joiner.

Their reasons for flying under the radar are exclusively professional; they do not want to be too public with details of their lives and personal opinions or open themselves to scrutiny from potential clients, employers, adversaries in business. I get that. Mine are more practical: I find Facebook and social media a complete time-sucking waste 98.8% of the time, and other 1.2% is devoted to pictures and events in my kids’ and friends’ lives and photos or topics of interest to me shared or liked by people whose thoughts and opinions I respect. Between work and the rest of my day-to-day life, I rarely have the luxury of enough time to cover all that I want to do and still get enough rest. I try hard to maximize my productivity and not be clicking through page after page after page of stuff I either barely want to think about much less care about reading.

A close friend has zero social media presence and rarely to never publishes pictures of himself and asks that others more active in such forums respect his request to stay offline as much as possible. His preferred method of communication is email; he is even a very spare texter. While far from a Luddite or technology adverse, his thought is that it is far too easy for the ignorant to feel powerful without basis or cause for their opinions and ideas and life is challenging enough without becoming involved in an online spat. If anything, he himself has been guilty forming an opinion too quickly based on a quick scan of information on current topics and having to backtrack and rethink his opinions.

All told, a pretty careful, thoughtful person.

In today’s emotion-charged public discourse, I long for the periods of my life where more measured tones were used within the context of public debate. I miss the days when newspapers and television news reports could be trusted in their reporting of facts and observations and witness accounts. Such reporting was verified independently and the writer’s personal bias and opinion was either excluded or ruthlessly edited from the published piece. Corrections, when needed, were published discreetly, but at least mistakes were admitted and corrections issued. These days? Fake news is an industry into itself. Reporters are pundits and their personal bias colors nearly everything written under their byline. In this era of social media and no-holds-barred instant access to off-the-cuff opinions and remarks, there is less thoughtful discourse and more victimization for any and all perceived wrongdoing against an individual or group or villainizing of those whose thoughts and ideas fall outside of lock-step agreement with the majority of the larger, more vocal masses. Being righteous and advancing the agenda is the only thing that matters; bulldoze opposition, silence dissent, beat anyone standing in the way into submission. The agenda is the only thing that matters.

It now seems to have become part of dialog within my own family, where we almost shout each other down and call it debate. I am disheartened by such behaviors, and when cooler heads prevail, an honest conversation about how we interact on hot-button topics needs to take place. I am not looking forward to that, yet I know it’s necessary to maintain healthy, open dialog with other adults in my family. The volatility of today’s political climate seems to either build healthy debate or aggressive erosion of relationships. The polarization is killing life as I prefer it.

M is as guilty as anyone, and while I tend to believe we are all intelligent and thoughtful people, he is far more sensitive to being discounted and disrespected than I am. M is far more entrenched in a traditionally moral, Christian perspective than I am, and while I respect his opinions, I also disagree on many fundamental issues. Yet from a values perspective, we are more alike than we are different. However, it seems easier for me to accept that the world is changing, probably too rapidly for my comfort, but the next generations think differently and are influenced in ways we were not. When demanding respect for us as individuals and well as the values and ways of life we hold dear becomes the driving issue, the conversation becomes incendiary and not at all relevant to the topic under discussion. The dug-in opinions of being absolutely correct become more important than the mutual respect and affection we share as a family.

It saddens me that the antics of the lunatic fringe on both sides of the debates are monopolizing and becoming the entire dialog about governing, and I am so disappointed it has now become a thing within my own family. I have disagreed with a lot of things our leadership has done most of my adult life, and sometimes my disagreement seems so futile. Yet I know staying completely silent, not voting, not participating and letting it roll right over me is not an option either.

I am reading, listening, trying desperately to discern what is real, what is fiction, what is primarily the shrill agenda of those with the biggest megaphones and/or the quickest to use their fists or any sort of violence to make their point. Anymore, it seems important to use care when expressing an opinion. For whatever reason that saddens me. How can we become closer as a family, as a community, as a country, if we cannot have talk openly about our differences?

We have new neighbors who think M and I are nearer to the antichrist than we are normal, rational, thinking people because of the chasm between our political beliefs. M and I have agreed that for the sake of peaceful fences, in the future we must refrain from discussing current events or politics with people that living so close to us. We own our home, as do they, and we have no desire for the next 20 or 30 years to be cold detente every time we happen to cross paths. We already have a contentious relationship with the elderly couple directly across the street, but then again, so does everyone else living nearby. None of our neighbors are our best friends and with the exception of one couple unlikely to even be on our guest list for a backyard bbq, but they are part of our geographically closest community. If we must adopt a don’t ask, don’t tell to maintain a sense of peaceful tranquility, surely we can just do that and all continue with our superficial getting along? Unless they start hosting strident rallys or protests that are disturbing to us, I think it is a small price to pay to pleasantly coexist.

It comes up today because our newest nextdoor neighbor has installed a flagpole and has a rainbow flag flying from it. When we first met them M looked up their Facebook profiles, which are locked up tight and completely private. Makes perfect sense to me – he is a financial planner and she is a school counselor. Personally I don’t care about the flagpole or the rainbow flag, but M finds it particularly annoying. It seems in tune with his general peckishness lately with the craziness of the news reports and the furor over Charlottesville. I remind him that these are not our friends, barely acquaintances; they are neighbors, nothing more. And really no worse that the Harley enthusiasts that lived a few houses down when we moved in and would host hordes of bikes for parties a few times per month. While these were yuppie bikers, the noise from the motorcycles got annoying when trying to enjoy a peaceful Sunday at home.

But more and more, I am starting to think my privacy-enjoying pal is on a better path. Maybe more restraint from even logging in and scanning the headlines would bring more serenity to my life. Perhaps then I would be more open to listening to the thoughts that come forward in my discussions and able to find a way to agree or disagree more productively.

But I know me – I’m not very capable of completely disengaging. The search for balance continues.