humor

The Must Be Nices

It was another bright, sunny day in Bend, Oregon as I cruised down the main drag on my way home after a run. I passed the local elementary school and saw a dozen parents standing outside. I glanced at the clock: 2:30pm.

I came to a slow stop as a man leisurely crossed the street in front of me. Every parent was decked out in expensive, athletic-inspired clothing, and looked about 40 or older. They were all tall, thin, and their skin glowed. Any one of them could have graced the cover of I Ski a Lot, Have a $2,000 Skin Care Routine, and Never Had to Work a Crappy Job and Put My Kids in After School Care magazine.

“Wheeeee! Our parents funded our ‘whimsical taco holder’ start-up and it made millions – both of which we didn’t need in the first place!” (Photo by Eirik Uhlen on Unsplash)

“Must be nice,” I thought. Gah! No!

I stopped my inner monologue dead in its tracks. I had just had a discussion with a friend about the “Must Be Nices.” Those friends or family members who just can’t bear to celebrate other people’s successes. That neighbor or coworker who takes one look at the surface of someone else’s life and assumes that every aspect of it is easy breezy.

Oh really, Claire? Your boyfriend just flew you to Italy so you could stage this photo for InstaChat? (Photo by Kate Hliznitsova on Unsplash)

We all know that person, and we’ve all been that person.

WOW, Chad. I’M SO HAPPY FOR YOU. (As seen on Monday at my local market.)

A few weeks later, once again on the way to my go-to running spot, I pulled up to a red light and noticed a man standing on the corner, holding a cardboard sign:

NEED WORK / FOOD / MONEY.

I had seen him before, and many other men holding similar signs, on that same corner. Over the past year, this sight had become more and more commonplace all over town. I felt a pang of shame and guilt every time I drove by or avoided eye contact.

La-la-la, if I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

I used to wonder why on earth people would stand on street corners all day when surely there were better, safer methods and resources available. In the past, I’d felt fear, and even resentment, when passing by someone holding a sign asking for help. Why should I have to play by the rules and slog away in Cubicle City just to give my money away to someone who didn’t earn it?

After my jog, I popped into Whole Foods. When I pulled away, a woman was sitting in the grass near the exit, holding a sign that read, “Every bit helps.” I suddenly remembered I was carrying cash – a rarity when I’m out running. I pulled over and quickly jumped out, praying I wouldn’t get rear ended for stopping in such an awkward spot. I handed her what money I had.

Over the next two weeks, I couldn’t get her face out of my mind. Why didn’t I do that more often?

I mean we can’t take it with us.

Why was it so easy to focus on what I lacked instead of what I had? No matter what my circumstances, didn’t I have the power (and arguably, responsibility) to create a more just world through positive thoughts and actions? “A rising tide lifts all boats,” as they say.

In spiritual terms, as in tithing, I’ve often read that benevolent acts are returned tenfold. For every hug, encouraging word, and generous gesture you put out in the world, you get it back times ten.

While I’d hate for that to be my motivation, where else can you get that kind of return on investment?

After I handed the woman outside of Whole Foods money, we smiled at each other. She looked right into my eyes, and with more warmth and sincerity than I can muster when the line at Starbucks is too long, she said,

“May God bless you tenfold.”

What she didn’t say?

“Must be nice.”

humor

Before 40

Last week, I turned 39. So it might seem strange that I’m already thinking about my next birthday.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to age out of childhood. I was always more comfortable around adults, so naturally, I wanted to be one. I fantasized about being one of those cool older women, with gorgeous gray hair, rock climbing into my 60s, kicking ass and taking names.

Never mind that I’m terrified of heights and have never rock climbed a day in my life. IT’S MY FANTASY, OKAY?! (Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash)

What I didn’t anticipate was that I’d start having a midlife crisis in my 20s. By 30, my master plan of aging gracefully came to a screeching halt. I was freaking. The. Freak. Out.

What am I doing with my life? What’s the point of it all? What if I never figured “it” out?

The crisis, in many ways, continues to this day. Perhaps suggesting we have more of an existential, versus midlife, one on our hands. This can’t be it. This can’t be all there is. Accumulating baggage and trying to unload it. Accumulating more baggage, attempting to unload it. Over, and over, and over. An endless series of life lessons, distilled into messages that read like a crappy, floral-covered mug.

Love is the answer. Live in the moment. Breathe.

My 39th birthday was filled to the brim with love and celebration. It always feels deeply humbling and bittersweet to be on the receiving end of so much kindness. Face in the sunshine, puffy white clouds, heart full – full of gratitude, but also the knowing that every puffy white cloud casts a shadow. Darkness and light. Hope and despair. Two sides of the same coin, forced to exist together to hold any value.

And maybe that’s at the root of all of our crises. The idea that there’s anything to hold onto. A certain person. A certain age. A certain weight. A certain feeling. A certain bank balance. A certain outcome. In the quest for certainty, we miss out on so much.

So over the next 11 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days, as I wind my way towards my biggest milestone birthday yet, I’m going to try something different. I’m NOT going to sit here and type out a list of all of the things I want to make happen before I turn 40, which was my original plan.

I’ve already checked countless boxes. Hiked/run/biked all the miles. Surpassed my own To Do lists. If any of that held the Key to Existence, Oprah would have interviewed me by now.

Annnnd still waiting.

The coming year will be as likely filled with promise as it is with heartache. There will be picture perfect moments with people who raise my spirits, and lonely nights with a bottle of wine that whispers, “You’re unlovable.” Suns will set and rise, and laughter will come and go, and instead of trying to hold onto any of it, this year, I’m just going to ride the waves.

F&@*. That sounds like a floral-covered mug.