What We Learned From What We Lost


Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness…

…Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

     —from “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye

In 2008, the city I live in experienced a catastrophic flood. It surprised us, the waters rising fast and destroying so much of what made our town unique. I’ll always be haunted by the memory of cresting the hill on the south side of town, after the main flood waters had passed, to discover the very heart of the city enveloped in darkness. The sorrow and loss of it.

For eight years, many people labored to not only bring the city back but to make it better, stronger, more distinctive until you could literally feel the energy of creativity and new growth.

And then the unthinkable: another flood threatened the city in the very same way. This time, we had some warning, a little time to prepare. And the people, remembering, rolled up their sleeves and got to work saving our city and each other. It was inspiring, and it was humbling – and it was an example of what we are capable of when we forget our differences in the midst of what we share.

We still have our differences. We still have our critics. We still have our imperfections. (I myself will still complain that there’s not even a decent cup of coffee to be had after 4:00 p.m. on Sundays.) However, what we learned from what we lost is ours now – we own it, and it has changed us for the better.

What Rob Lowe and I Know

A few days ago I found myself clicking on an article from Oprah Magazine that popped up in my Facebook news feed: “Ten Things Rob Lowe Knows For Sure”. I can’t say I was pining for an article showcasing Rob Lowe’s personal epiphanies, but I also can’t say I wasn’t curious once the opportunity to learn them presented itself. Since Rob and I are both featured in Oprah in May, I thought I would take a page from his book (or O’s magazine) and share some things I know for sure. I don’t have as many on my list (Lowe shared 10) and mine are likely to be less succinct – but then, these items are being written by me (unlike Rob’s, which are tagged, “As told to…”).

1. We all have a nasty voice in our heads that speaks to us in horrible ways. Telling it to “shut the @#$* up” until it can be respectful is one of those practices, like meditation, that we know is good for us but is really, really hard to do. Do it anyway. None of us is perfect. Letting that voice call us stupid, ugly, incompetent or worse doesn’t change that. Instead, it undermines our resilience and self-confidence. If you don’t want to channel Stuart Smalley, (aka Senator Al Franken!) that’s ok. Start by noticing when your inner voice is bullying you and take a moment to say, “Stop!”

2. Eating five slices of Casey’s pizza and chasing it with a bag of Easter candy isn’t the end of the world. Is it a great choice? Probably not. But it was the choice you made and there’s no point in dwelling on it. The good news is, it says nothing about your ability to make better choices in the future! It has been five years since I began serious efforts to live a healthier life. I haven’t reached a point at which I feel ready to say I’ve achieved all my goals; however, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and that I continue to move forward. I’ve learned that staying the course isn’t about never straying, its about always reminding yourself that you’d rather get back on the path.

3. Being happy and feeling happy are not the same things. Learning to differentiate between the two is an important aspect of self-awareness and self-discipline. Seeking the high of feeling happy in every moment leads us to take the easy road, to settle for lack of personal and/or spiritual depth, to flit from one person or experience to another in hopes of feeding the happy. There’s nothing wrong with feeling happy, of course. But right relationship with others, with our life’s purpose, with ourselves is what makes us deeply happy – and achieving these things takes us through tough times and difficult moments.

4. It isn’t all about me – neither how others behave toward me nor how I behave toward them. Remembering this allows forgiveness and compassion to flow between us. Especially if we both operate under this assumption!

5. What I know for sure is flexible, adaptable, malleable. It is these things because what we understand changes as we grow and as our life experiences inform our perspectives. At 18, the list of what I thought I knew for sure was long and adamant. Not so at 52. Now, I feel grateful for this lifelong learning process – I’m enjoying being surprised when life shows me new things. Which brings me back to Rob Lowe, who says,

“Staying young is an inside job. Look at what kids are. They’re curious, they’re excited, they’re interested—all of the very things that, if you’re not careful, you’re not when you’re old.”

And that, friends, is something both Rob Lowe and I know for sure!


Rob Lowe

Contemplating 300

One of the great things WordPress does is keeps stats for its users. I can always click on my stats page to see how many people have visited Jenion on any given day (or ever), how many comments have been shared, etc. When I posted Flashback Friday last week, I happened to note another statistic that really got me thinking: it was post #299 since the inception of this blog. Which means that this very post you are reading is #300.

Three hundred posts later, what thoughts can I share about this blog or the experience of blogging? To say that it has been a life-altering experience may, on the face of it, seem dramatic. However, it is no more than the truth. So, below, are my reflections on what I have learned from maintaining Jenion.

What I’ve learned about form:

  • There are many ways bloggers try to appeal to their readers: photos, catchy catchphrases, polls, weekly/daily features. When I (briefly) experimented with daily blogs, I tried some of these. What I discovered was that sometimes they were just too gimmicky. I attempted a Triple Word Tuesday – but let’s face it, I’m not good with brief and pithy. What works best for me are posts that reflect my personality – which isn’t stylish or trendy, or the blogging equivalent of cheerleading.
  • That said, it doesn’t pay to be too rigid in style. You end up boring yourself, not to mention anyone kind enough to regularly read what you post.
  • It is way more difficult to write funny than to be funny. In life, being funny just happens sometimes. In writing, it rarely ever happens without forethought and rewrites.

What I’ve learned about content:

  • I used to think that people weren’t interested in what I had to say. That no one ever listened to me carefully enough to understand me. The unexpected truth I’ve learned over the course of 300 blog posts is that people can’t listen to what you’re not saying. As an introvert, I wanted others to intuit what I was feeling, based on my minimalist approach to conversation. That doesn’t work interpersonally, and it definitely isn’t a successful blogging technique. However, when you speak up, and what you share is authentic, other people will connect with it. They will want to talk about it, offer support and encouragement. They will respond in big ways and small, and in so doing enrich your life.
  • Saying what you mean isn’t as easy as you expect it to be. Sometimes, this is caused by a lack of skill or facility with the language. Other times, your self-censor prohibits direct expression. In either case, it can be frustrating to have something unique and nuanced to say, only to find yourself mired in trite platitudes. (True, Molly?!)
  • Despite my best efforts, I’ve learned that, no matter how “transparent” I hope to be,  I always hold some things back. Even those of us who have a propensity to shout publicly what others would, with difficulty, only whisper to themselves have our limits. Even we have our secrets and hidden places into which we prefer not to invite the light of blogger’s day. The extent to which I am willing to uncover these in my writing, though, determines the extent to which others connect with what I say. Apparently, the things we don’t talk about are the things we have most in common with others.

What I’ve learned about myself:

  • I love writing. Ok, I actually knew this before I created Jenion. But I had mostly forgotten how much. I’d forgotten the joy of crafting a sentence or paragraph. Of finding just the right word to express a moment or sensation. I love editing and paring back and even, on occasion, scrapping the whole thing and going back to a blank page.
  • What I didn’t know before this blog was that I also love readers. The format of a blog makes it less nerve-wracking, in some ways, to put what you’ve written in front of others. You just press a little button that says “Publish”. Not scary at all. But then the most amazing thing happens: someone reads what you’ve written and comments. Or not – but a year later sees you in line at the grocery store and says, “I love your blog, I can’t wait for Thursday every week!”. Or cuts your hair and says, “What the hell happened to Flashback Friday?” Every now and then, someone says, “I didn’t know anyone else ever felt that way.” And suddenly, the writing that you’ve always loved becomes something that brings you into dialogue with the world and people around you. It is no longer an endeavor by and for yourself.
  • For perhaps the first time in my life I truly understand the concept of humility. Yes, I am proud of my blog. Yes, I have enough ego to hope others like to read what I’ve written. But I have never felt so acutely that something bigger than myself is at work. In writing about my own experiences, feelings, journey I sometimes receive the gift of touching someone else’s hurts or struggles in a helpful or healing way. And while that makes me happy, I am completely conscious that it isn’t my doing.
Three hundred posts. When I began, I was engaging in a challenge which had me committed to the blog from Thanksgiving to Easter. 18 weeks. I wasn’t sure how I would fill the pages for that length of time. It wasn’t long before I realized that something unlooked for was happening. I had found a way to open up my closed life and let in some fresh air. Seems like a contradiction, like writing these reflections is a way to let things out rather than bring things in. But that paradox is at the heart of why blogging has been life-altering: as soon as you let something out in words, you create room for new things to rush in. New people, new experiences, new words and many new observations to share.
(Note: Do not be concerned: I will publish Sisterhood, Part II next time. I just couldn’t pass on the opportunity to celebrate my 300th post!)