Category Archives: Coping

Of Cucumbers, Pickles and People

Roses and pickles“When does a cucumber become a pickle?” asks a Louise Penny character trying to figure out when her happy boy turned into a surly teenager.

When did my heart strengthen?  Sometime between March and August of this year, my heart returned from an almost fatal level of heart failure to nearly normal functioning thanks to a specialized pacemaker, newly available medication and cardiac rehabilitation.

Awesome.  Amazing.  Fantastic.  I’m grateful.  This is my best hope come true.

Exactly when did my heart strengthen so much?  When had it weakened in the first place?  Like a cucumber becoming a pickle; each was a process I barely noticed, a change I couldn’t date.

At what moment is a runner ready for a marathon?  When do patterns become habits and habits a way of life?  At what point does a student become an artist or a character become rooted in honesty and integrity?  At what point does healing occur or relationships fray too much to be repaired?

No one can say when, during his years in prison camp, the late John McCain changed from a hard-partying naval brat into a man of courage and honor. It was a process.  No one can say exactly when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford became a strong enough survivor to tell her story of sexual assault to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee considering Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court.  It happened over years of hard work and healing.

We change our clothes in minutes.  On the other hand, internal change–physical, emotional, spiritual, and attitudinal–happens over time.

When does a cucumber become a pickle?  Cucumbers become bread and butter pickles in a week.  Dill pickles need six months.

For pickles and people, the finished flavor is a matter of time in the brine.  If we soak ourselves in distrust and disdain towards others, we become judgmental and sour people.  If we repeatedly respond with bitterness or entitlement, we cannot help but develop a nature of such attitudes.

But if we repeatedly behave kindly, we become people who instinctively respond with kindness.  If we act repeatedly with courage, honor and integrity we develop character imbued with these qualities.  If we intentionally pause each day to give thanks, we become gracious, grateful people.

The good news is that we can dump out our brine and start afresh.  Choose wisely and trust the process.

Ten Tips to Keep from Showing Your Feathers on Thanksgiving

In the hope that you and I will not add to the number of turkeys present at our Thanksgiving feasts, here’s a reprise of my Top Ten Thanksgiving Tips .

  1. Ask others about their life more than you talk about yours.
  2. Say, “It’s good to see you,” instead of, “Wow, you’ve gained weight.”
  3. Ask the host(s) periodically, “May I be helpful in some way?”
  4. Say, “You look fantastic” instead of, “Wow, you’ve lost a ton of weight.”
  5. Ask someone in a painful life circumstance, “How are you doing these days?”  Most people appreciate the inquiry, even if they choose not to share.
  6. Cut up your food, not people.
  7. Advocate for children not to be pressured for hugs and kisses.
  8. Avoid the turkeys in the room – except the bird on your plate.
  9. If you become a turkey, apologize and eat humble pie.
  10. Most important:  Put a pebble in your pocket and, each time you touch it, give thanks for something. Gratitude is the best antidote for feathers.

    Photo credit: http://bpdbd.net/turkey-bird/

Home Runs and Hail Marys

As the heat rose outside to 102° last weekend, I chilled in front of my television, cheering on my home teams:  The Dodgers, Angels, Trojans and Bruins (Los Angeles, Anaheim, USC and UCLA, respectively).  I am still in shock as I write.  “There is no joy in Mudville.  [All my teams] struck out.”

Nevertheless, the don’t-ever-give-up attitude of the Cardinals, Royals, Razorbacks and Utes (St. Louis, Kansas City,  Arizona State, and University of Utah) inspires me.  Each was expected to lose.  Three fought back from significant deficits.  The fourth – Kansas City – was a dark horse.  None of them lost heart.  They played hard until the end of the game.

Here are the basics:

  • The Dodgers were ahead, 6 – 2 at the beginning of the seventh inning and had the country’s best pitcher on the mound.  St. Louis scored eight runs in the seventh, including a three-run homer.  St. Louis won, 10 – 9.
  • The Angels, with the best record in baseball, were playing Kansas City for the division title.  The Royals had not played in the post-season for 29 years and were the odds-on favorite to lose.  Instead, they won the first two games and did so with home runs in the ninth innings.
  • In college football, USC expected an easy win over Arizona.  They were so far ahead that, at one point, I felt sorry for the Razorbacks.  When Arizona scored three touchdowns in the last four minutes, my sympathy evaporated.  Arizona won with a  jaw-dropping 46-yard Hail Mary pass to the goal line in the final second of the game.
  • In my final blow of the weekend, UCLA lost to Utah Saturday night.  UCLA was down at the half (7 -17) but rallied for what eventually looked like a certain victory.  The Utes refused to give up.  In the last minutes, they scored again.  UCLA missed a field goal with 34 seconds remaining and Utah won, 30 – 28.

After winning Game One of the series, Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals, said,  “It’s fun to be the underdog — you don’t have anything to lose.”

I wish I had known that as a child.  I grew up with two older brothers against whom I don’t believe I ever won a game of Monopoly, Risk, or Ping-Pong.  I didn’t have a chance against razor-sharp brothers who were four and eight years older than I.   But I was gullible or delusional, because I kept agreeing to play.  About halfway through each game, I usually gave up and resigned myself to losing.

Years later, I still hear those tapes in my head telling me to pack it in.  I know what it is like to be in the shoes of those who look at the scoreboard and see a chasm.  It takes guts, resilience, and a devil-may-care attitude to persevere and play hard to the end.

Sure, my teams suffered what were for us, heart-breaking losses.  But by the fourth time I watched a team battle against the odds and win, I was not only depressed.  I was inspired.

Yadier Molina, the Cardinals’ catcher, said, “When we [were] down 6 – 1, it seemed improbable.  What else can you do?  Just keep fighting . . . . We really had no other choice.”

Yes they did.  Many people choose to give up.  The Cardinals made a choice and chose to keep fighting.  My take-away for the sports weekend:  Play hard with all your heart until the last whistle blows.