Getting More Comfortable with Ambiguity

People who have a need to control are having a very difficult time these days. So many things are outside of our control. They really always have been, but we have sometimes been under a delusion that we had more control than we actually have had. Not so lately. There are so many things that have happened in the past year that we could never have predicted, and that have taken away any illusion of control that we might have had. One of the results is the need to get more comfortable with ambiguity. Ambiguity, the unknown, results when we cannot anticipate with any certainty what is going to happen next. That is exactly where most of us are, not being able to anticipate with any certainty what will happen next.  

The most obvious happening we have experienced is COVID. We cannot see the end in sight. Our daily lives have been disrupted by this pandemic and we do not know how long it will last. It seems that we are at least months away from any widespread solution to this, such as a vaccine. In the meantime, we will experience very different Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Many of us are physically distanced from our extended families in a manner that we have not been before during holidays.

Sometimes we just need time away!

Additionally, many people are struggling financially.  Also, we should not forget that many people have family members that have suffered from COVID, some who did not survive the disease. COVID has disrupted our lives to varying degrees, but we have all been affected. The ambiguity that is still with us as a result of this pandemic makes our daily lives feel out of control, and they are.   

Then there is the recent presidential election. Whether your chosen candidate won or lost, or whether you believe we do not yet really know who won or lost, the ambiguity involved in still having a country so divided continues to threaten our sense of stability. Even when the decision of who has been duly elected as our next President is known, the division in our country will still be with us, and we do not know for how long. Regardless, we have to go about our daily lives trusting that the wheels of our government will take us where were need to go. The ambiguity involved in this can create a lack of trust in our institutions that will make it difficult for all of us.

In addition to those mentioned, you have your own list of happenings outside of your control. Some are dealing with serious illnesses, some even death, not related to COVID. Some are dealing with job losses, not knowing how they will support their families. Some families have been broken apart; the stress created by the other happenings being the last straw in already fragile relationships. 

My afternoon cappuccino centers me.

We should not fail to recognize that there have also been positive happenings. Babies have been born. Some have been cured from serious illnesses. Engagements and weddings have happened, and others are planned. Some families have gotten closer and stronger, choosing to stay together. But even the positive happenings, when we feel they are outside of our control, create ambiguity. The ambiguity created from positive happenings is more desirable than that created from negative happenings, but both create a level of stress that can be difficult to manage.

So, what can we do during these times that there is so much outside of our control?  When thee is so much we can’t control, it is even more important to focus on what we can control. What we can control is our attitude and behavior. These are always within our control.

We cannot control the behavior of others! We can only control our own behavior.

During difficult times it is very important to insulate our hot buttons, those things that get under our skin, and that can create a negative response in us. People need our best at these difficult times, as hard as that can be.  We need to doing whatever we can to stay centered and calm. Recognizing that our loved ones will remember what we say in moments of anger, even if they forgive us our outburst. Once harsh words are spoken, they can’t be taken back. It is especially important for parents to show their best to their children during these times. Our children get their sense of security and stability from the adults in their lives, especially their parents.

Our behavior needs to stay positive, as positive as possible. We should remain productive. One of the positive benefits of COVID is the recognition of how meaningless some of our “stuff” is. Now that we have been home for longer periods of time, we are now clearer about what matters, and what doesn’t. This can help us transform ourselves from people of consumption to people of creation. Doing so is not easy, but easy is not what we are called to. The lessons of this time should not be wasted on us, we should embrace them.

The attitudes and behaviors that we can control are an important focus for our attention. There is not one road map for all of us in this regard. We need to spend time going within to figure out which attitudes and behaviors are most important for us to control. If we do, we can manage the ambiguity in a manner that allows us to be our best.

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Fear and Feelings

We continue to live in an unprecedented time.

As of this writing, the final decision of the U.S. Presidential election is not known. There are predictions, but no final decision. The news is filled with vote counts and predictions. While the outcome is becoming clearer, it may be days or even weeks before the election results are finalized. I suppose it is safe to assume that we will have a duly elected President within a month, and likely sooner than that.

The pandemic is still with us, and predictions are dire for the upcoming weeks and months. Many people are preparing for a different and smaller Thanksgiving holiday, putting their concerns of safety over their desire to be with large groups of family and friends. Our extended family of 65 people will celebrate more locally in much smaller groups this year. Mike and I will travel to Georgia to be with our daughter’s family there. This will be only the third time in thirty-six years (it may be thirty-seven years, but who’s counting?!) that we have not hosted our family’s Thanksgiving. The young cousins will especially miss being together. Hopefully next year will find us all together again, pandemic free.

There is much about these times that troubles our souls. It is easy to let fear take hold. Our economy, while robust for those who are wealthy, finds many who aren’t wealthy struggling financially. Many jobs are in jeopardy. Many businesses have closed, and many more will. Safety nets have disappeared for many Americans. Feelings of loss are normal. Loss of normalcy, loss of safety and security, and loss of many things that made our lives feel stable.

We cannot change our current circumstances. We do not know when we can expect things to improve. We cannot control what is happening around us, or even to us. Our current reality is outside of our control. The only thing we have any control of is our response. We can control whether we allow our feelings of loss to become feelings of despair. We must guard against that. As long as we have control of our mind, we have control of our emotions.

Reading helps during these times.

Some quotes that can help us.

“The greatest of all virtues is courage.” Joe Biden’s mother.

Find the joy in every day!

“We should listen with the same passion that we want to be heard.” Harriet Lerner.

“Are we willing to show up and be seen when we can’t control the outcome?” Brené Brown.

“All you can do is the best you can do, and the best you can do is enough.” Said by a nurse at a spiritual retreat, and told to me by family friend, Kathy Monahan. 

“Love people for who they are instead of hating them for who they aren’t.” Jason Sudeikis.

Mike had a birthday this week; 11/5. Can you guess which one it was?!

Hopefully at least one of these quotes speaks to your heart. Hold tight to those that speak to you and allow feelings of hope to carry you through. Through the election, through the pandemic, and through all of your challenges.   

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Controlling What We Can Control

Our mountain get-a-way in Blowing Rock, NC.

As I sit in a lovely condo in Blowing Rock, NC on a three day get-a-away with my husband, the rain from the remnants of Hurricane Zeta is pounding all around. It is predicted to rain most of the time we are here. As a friend of mine has always said, “We can’t control the weather!” While I know that, I am still disappointed. The rain will keep me from doing some things that I enjoy while in the mountains, such as taking long walks. But not completely. I did walk for almost an hour yesterday soon after we arrived, in spite of the rain. I channeled my friend’s words, the same friend who said, “We can’t control the weather!” When I have complained about rain affecting my walking routine, she has said many times, “You are not made of sugar, and you will not melt!” MoMo’s wise words rang in my ears as I experienced a walk in the rain. Thinking about not being able to control the weather, other things came to mind that we can’t control, and some that we can.

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What the World Needs Now

Have you noticed that many things take more time lately, lately meaning since COVID-19? This is especially true when you call a physician’s office or a pharmacy. Once the phone is answered (not by a live voice, of course, but with an automated message) you might as well put the phone down and pick it back up five minutes later. By then the automated message about COVID precautions, address, directions, hours of operation, etc. may be over and you can then try to figure out how to get to the right person or department to answer your question. I am amazed at the waste of time involved in all of this. By the time a live person who can answer your question is on the line you may be so frustrated that you have forgotten why you called! After having this experience again today I thought it might be appropriate to think through how we navigate these experiences and remain calm.

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Making a Big Impact

“Your actions do not have to be big to make a big impact.” This is a statement I heard recently from the woman who started Lasagna Mamas, a movement gaining momentum across the country. This group spreads good will by preparing and delivering lasagna meals to families in need. What a wonderful idea. It is heartwarming to hear that some people do such good deeds. 

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Values and Commitment

This relates to more than Halloween!

When I am happy, I write. When I am confused, I write. When I am bothered, I write. This week, I am confused and bothered. So, I write. Perhaps clarity and peace will come once I put my thoughts on paper.

My current state is a result of hearing of a third family in crisis, the latest of which is a former politician running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He is a politician that I have voted for before and planned to vote for in this election. He was predicted to win in one of the most important races, if not the most important race, other than that of the highest office, in the country. A few days ago he admitted to sending sexually explicit texts to a woman who is not his wife. More recently, it has become obvious that there has been more to that relationship than texting. The impact of this news on the election is unclear. The impact of this news on my vote in this election is just as unclear.

This news follows the news of two other families going through the same or similar family crisis. These are not politicians running for office, so the damage isn’t as public, but all are tragic. In one of these, the other woman has surfaced. In the other, no “other” has surfaced yet, but I predict will. My theory is that a man does not leave his financial security, all of a sudden no longer happy in his marriage, unless there is an “other” involved. The same is often also true when women leave their marriage, but I don’t think, to the same degree.  Since the purpose of this writing is not to focus on “why” one of the marriage partners decides to leave the marriage, or the differences between men and women making these decisions, I will not continue with the “why” one leaves. My focus is “why” one stays.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must acknowledge that I have personal experience with this subject. I was divorced in 1980 after almost ten years of marriage. The details of that are a private matter, although known to family and close friends. 

After being single again for four years, I remarried. Mike and I have been married for thirty-six years. I have lived long enough to know that things can happen in life to shake the foundation of marriage, even after 36 years. But I am not expecting that the foundation shaking will crumble the structure of our marriage. The reason I believe this has something to do with what I think is lacking when most marriages dissolve, especially those in which there is an “other” involved.

One chooses to stay in a marriage due to values and commitment. Not because it is easy to stay. Not even because one is superhuman and thus never tempted. One chooses fidelity when one has a value of fidelity and commitment. Being true to oneself and those whose lives our decisions most affect makes it possible to remain committed, even when, and maybe most especially when, one doesn’t feel like it. Committed people do not base their decisions on feelings. If feelings governed behavior, we would all be obese couch potatoes. When we get off of the couch and take that walk or work out, our commitment has kicked in and overtaken our feelings. When we eat healthy and a reasonable portion, our commitment of health has kicked in and overtaken our feelings of comfort. Commitment is the difference, not feelings.    

The most recent news of the inappropriate relationship of the politician and the other woman, more than the situation of the other two families, is why I am confused and bothered. I do not know either of these three families well, and not the politician at all, other than as a voter. While I am saddened by the family disruptions in all three, (and the countless others out there,) I am not really touched personally by them.

The situation involving the politician affects me because it creates a dilemma for me as a voter. I am definitely not a single-issue voter; life is much too complex for that. While I am opposed to infidelity, my concern with infidelity as a voter is not based upon what I think about that on a personal level. Although the personal is political, this is a practical matter to me. What do I now do as a voter given the developments with Cal Cunningham? I cannot make this decision based upon how many other politicians have behaved in this same manner. Not John Kennedy, not Bill Clinton, not John Edwards, not Donald Trump. I am not voting for them. I will be voting for Cal Cunningham, or not.

This was written by our eight-year-old granddaughter, Virginia, about her mom. They were working on similes and metaphors in school. This is an example of some of the daily happenings that can be missed when family is not the priority. I am so grateful that Virginia’s dad and mom are committed to each other and the children.

I now have to decide if Cal Cunningham’s dishonesty in his marriage implies that he will be dishonest in what he has promised the voters. How is he to be trusted with the lives of the electorate if he has been so careless with the lives of his family? How do I know?

There is no way to know. I just have to determine in the best way that I can whether Cal Cunningham’s values represent the commitment he needs to make to those he must serve. My decision cannot be made based upon my personal opinion about his failures. It must be based upon values and commitment. Not my values and commitment, but his.

While I do not yet have peace about this decision, I do have more clarity.         

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90 Years and Counting

Uncle Barry celebrating his 90th birthday with a celebration hosted by his niece Judy and friends.

Uncle Barry, our family’s patriarch, turned 90 years of age on September 29, 2020. Due to COVID, we have not seen him since last Christmas. But a birthday of this magnitude needed to be celebrated, although the celebration was on a much smaller scale than we would have liked. Mike and I travelled from Raleigh to Suffolk, Va. to visit with Uncle Barry on his birthday and took him out to dinner. It was a sweet visit. Although I did not want to “interview” him, I did ask him a few questions about his life and his recollections.

I asked Uncle Barry if he ever thought that he would live this long. He replied, “I had hoped that I would live until the turn of the century.” That obviously was 2000, twenty years ago! Longevity is in his maternal genes, his mother living until she was 87. He had four brothers, all of whom have passed away, and most at older ages; one at 93, one at 81, one at 76, and one at 34. He had three sisters, one who died at 91, one at 89, and one at 84. The brother who died at 34 died from an accident; all of the others were from “old age.” Uncle Barry’s father passed away at 62 from a heart attack. His parents were divorced, and although Uncle Barry knew his father, he never knew any relatives on his father’s side.

A humbling thought!

Uncle Barry is my uncle by marriage. He was married to one of my mother’s sisters, Aunt Bebo, who passed away in 2000. He and Aunt Bebo helped “raise” me. He was the most constant male figure in my life and cared for me as a daughter. He and Aunt Bebo had two sons; his oldest passed away years ago at 40 years of age from a heart attack. His youngest son lives a few hours away from him and is in good health.  

Uncle Barry at Oak Island five years ago.

Uncle Barry has always been a worker, serving in the military for four years, working for the FAA for many years, and having a lawn care, lighting, and irrigation system business for many years as his last career. At 90 years of age he still services some of his irrigation system clients.

I asked him if looking back from this age, is there anything he would tell his younger self? Never being one who “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” he only had one answer to that. “I learned the importance of finishing what you start at a later age. I didn’t learn that until I was in my 50’s. I wasted a lot of time until then. It is important to finish what you start.” We can probably agree to that.

Uncle Barry and Mike

Uncle Barry still maintains his home, living alone in an area where there is little family nearby. Since he is with our extended family for holidays and other events, Mike and I have talked about needing to prepare for the time when Uncle Barry needs to consider moving closer to us so we can care for him as needed. We have talked about that with him previously and discussed it again this week. He is open to this. He had already told us that he has “my affairs in order for when I pass .” The time until then is where our focus with him should be now. These are not easy decisions for any of us to make, but not making them early enough is a mistake.

Good advice for enjoying our life’s journey, however long it is.

It is likely that many reading this are much younger than 90 years of age. Regardless of our age, none of us know how long we will live. Since we cannot determine the quantity of our years, perhaps it is time well spent for us to focus on the quality of our years. The answers to a few questions can help us do that.

I think one of Uncle Barry’s secrets to living a long life is his Joie De Vivre!

Are we living the life we want to live? Are we able to spend much of our time doing things that bring us joy? What would we tell our younger selves, perhaps with time to change some of what we want to change? Maybe not easy questions to answer, but we will answer them, just when? Will the answers come while we still have time to course correct?

Happy 90th birthday to Uncle Barry. He has earned his celebration.

Through all of the days of your life!

Today we enter the last quarter of 2020.What will we do with these three months that are left of this momentous year? Pandemic or not, it is time to make whatever time we have count for more than obsessing over masks and social distancing, as important as those are. It is time to make sure we are being our best selves, living our best lives, for however many years we have.   

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Travelling Again

The Key West shops do have some good messages in their windows!

The pandemic has changed many things about our lives. For us, one of those things is whether or not to travel. While we stayed close to home in the spring, we began to venture out in early June. As we have done so, we have been careful about wearing masks, social distancing, and minimizing our exposure to others. But we have begun to travel again, although on a more limited basis than is our norm.

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Managing Stress and Conflict

Many people are dealing with a level of stress that is at epidemic proportions. The pandemic has accelerated what was already problematic for many in our society. While we may not be able to relieve the stress for others, we should at least not add to it. What we say and how we say it can hinder or help.

It is so easy for some to judge, and to sound judgmental when talking with others. If we could just listen more and better and hold our comments until the other person asks for our opinion, we would have less conflict. Instead of doing this, too often some become directive, telling the other person what they should do. Instead of acting upon the knowledge of “Walk a Mile in my Shoes,” and showing more empathy to others, some become arrogant, giving others unsolicited advice. This is not helpful, and in fact, can be hurtful.

My afternoon cappuccino in this mug, a gift from oldest granddaughter, Mary Grace, nourishes my body and soul.

Dr. Laurie Santos, the Yale Professor whose “Happiness” course is the university’s most popular course, lists the following tips for living a life of well-being: 

  1. Practice Deep Breathing
  2. Do Acts of Kindness
  3. Focus on What You Control
  4. Exercise, Eat Healthy, Sleep Well
  5. Actively Practice Gratitude
Yoga, calming for some, is not for me!

These tips for living a life of well-being can help us manage stress and conflict when dealing with difficult people and situations. 

We should find time to play, like Drew and Virginia.  

#1, “Practice Deep Breathing” is always good advice. When one hears something from someone else that could precipitate a reaction, breathing deeply can turn that reaction into a state of calm. 

#2, “Do Acts of Kindness” is one way to get outside oneself and help others. Nothing helps us to overcome the stress of life more than reaching out and helping someone else.

The beauty and peace of the ocean

#3, “Focus on What You Control” has direct applicability to managing stress and conflict. While we may want to, we cannot control the behavior of others. When others are difficult, we do not have to get caught up in it. What we can control is how we respond, and what power we allow the behavior of others to have over us.

Wonderful memories of our trip to Steamboat Springs in February 2020, before the pandemic kept us close to home.

#4, “Exercise, Eat Healthy, and Sleep Well” are important in keeping us physically healthy. When we are physically healthy it is much easier to be emotionally healthy.

#5, “Actively Practice Gratitude” helps us to focus on our lives, being grateful for what we have, all of it; even our problems. We only have to think of someone who is no longer alive, and who would love to be, to know that life itself is the greatest gift. Being grateful for life is our duty. We owe this to those no longer with us.  

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Moments and Memories

With cooler mornings and the days beginning to shorten, we will soon ease into fall. It won’t be long before the leaves turn into vibrant oranges and gold. This particular season shows us more than any other how wonderful change can be. Many of us start to prepare for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We are engaged in moments that create memories. An advertisement recommends “Spend More Moments in the Moment.” What a wonderful message. Too often we are so busy going, doing, and acquiring that we fail to be present in the moment. But all moments are not the same, even when they create memories. And all memories are not good memories.

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