Before You Know Kindness

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross –

This morning has ushered in a lot of reflection and as with most stories, this should also start from the very beginning…

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
― Albert Einstein

Leave it to me to want to come into the world on a Friday morning.  In 1984, through a fantastic stroke of genius – and after 18 years of marriage,  my parents finally had their first (and only!) child and from day one, I was immersed in a world of strange coincidence and wonder.  My name had already been chosen for me – Amanda Pearl – partly because of the simple beauty, and partly because of family history.  My mother was the third in a line of amazing, strong African American women named Lola and would be damned if I was the fourth; which is where Amanda comes in.  The direct translation from Latin is “Lovable; one who is loved” and my family made more than sure of that.  Middle names have a good and long tradition of being lineage based – and mine is no different.  My parents couldn’t be more different from each other and it has very little to do with their ethnic background – but, that definitely plays a significant hand! When they went down to the courthouse to apply for their marriage license, they were asked assorted bits of information, including parents names, maiden names, place of birth, etc – and all of a sudden, they got the strangest question: “You two aren’t…related…are you?” As it happens, both of their mothers have the same maiden name – Pearl.  If that wasn’t weird enough, I just happened to pop into the world on Pearl Harbor Day.  And if those weren’t enough coincidences to handle on the day of my birth – my mom shares her maiden name with the street I grew up on.

My first word was “Hi” and it couldn’t be more fitting – I used to crawl, then skip and frolic, from table to table when my family would take me out to dinner.  I was an extrovert by nature and as social as they came; playtime was my favorite, and as an only child playtime with friends was even better. But the more I would interact with others, the more I became aware – even at a young age – that the world was cruel and slightly unfair.  To their own credit – and absolutely nothing to do with me – my parents separated before I was 2 and got a divorce shortly after. When I was 3, my father’s dad passed away and as the stories go – I sat there with him in the hospital on his last day, and asked where he was going.  He told me he was going to a much better place, where he would be better – and all I could wonder was could I go there to? I remember the look in his eyes – partially bewildered and taken back by my question, partially amused by the workings of a child’s mind.  When he passed away, the void he left permeated physical space – it crept into my heart; but at the time, I lacked the words, maturity or knowledge to express any of this.

As with most people, growing older meant growing stranger – growing wilder, growing weirder.  It took a long time for me to grow into myself – and as I sit here at 28, I can’t say much has changed.  The “big glasses”-“big braces”-“big hair” snafus that seemed to be singular occurrences for most girls hit me like a hat trick in elementary school.  I was highly intelligent…which meant I was peculiar, learning long division on my own and with my head in the books.  Social, sure – to a point; but as with every other consecutive phase in my life, I got along better with teachers, aides and instructors and found it increasingly hard to relate to people my age.  I went from being a fan of mud baths and minimal clothing to a math-nerd, book-worm, and then thanks to both coaching and coaxing from my family, an athlete.  I choose my schools based on academic and athletic merit…leaving the school district I grew up in for al all girls middle school, then twice in High School – once to play basketball and the second time, to escape it.  And each time, I had a similar thought: I had built these support systems like ecosystems around me only to disrupt them by leaving.  The only constant seemed to be me – moving on, moving forward and lamenting on what I saw in the rear view mirror.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” 
― James Baldwin

As a child, I always found myself to be of the more “emotional” variety and I think my parents would agree 110% – as a child, the news would make me upset.  I’d frequently find myself in tears without much of a rhyme or reason – and when your parents are bombarding you with statements like “If you don’t know why you’re crying, you need to stop” life can get pretty frustrating. When I was in elementary school, my parents noticed that I would get sick with far more frequency than the other kids – I would end up in the nurse’s office with a sour stomach, begging to see a doctor.  I now wish I’d been more specific – after finding out I had ulcers, I was also placed in therapy…in 5th grade.  In a few weeks, I’d grown absolutely sick of the phrases “Well, how about you draw us a picture.” and “Let’s see if you can put this puzzle back together…” – why wouldn’t they just let me talk about my feelings?!  The coup de grâce was in 6th grade when a close friend of mine passed away – I’d just started on a competitive basketball team and we were about to leave for my very first away tournament; to this day, I still feel like I don’t have closure – but it’s also helped me process death differently. The school therapist was the opposite of helpful, and  bless her soul, my sixth grade art teacher – and granted, art was my least favorite subject at this point – became my safety net.  Through her guidance, I learned that the arts were created to embrace the emotions, and there was no shame in that.  There is a confidence that we ought to possess, for life possesses us.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.”

–  نعومي شهاب ناي –

It’s not often that I’m at a loss for words; but a year ago to this day, that’s exactly where I stood: mouth gaping open, head in my hands and tears forging a river from my duct to the floor.  Losses, I’m told, come in threes – and this situation was no different.  First, there was my great uncle who passed away, natural causes mind you but that’s of no importance to me; a loss is still a loss, the world is always dimmer in the moments we suffer.  Then I got the news that a friend had his life taken in the strangest of circumstances: whether it was his own doing or there was foul play, the circumstances are upsetting to say the very least.  Last but not least, was the toughest blow for me to take…

My step mom has been in my life as far as I can remember, and best friend, Jan, has been like an Aunt to me.  Being a product of divorce, I was given wisdom at a young age that family isn’t determined by blood – it’s determined by heart, and my step mom’s love for me is a shining beacon of an example.  Jan has been through more than any one person should have to endure in a lifetime – and I’m not just flippantly saying that; how many people that you know have survived brain cancer…twice.  That said, I’ve heard from a young age that God doesn’t give us problems that we can’t handle – well, Jan may as well be Job reincarnated.  A year ago, the unthinkable happened – her granddaughter’s husband opened fire on his two children, shooting both in the head and then himself.  Bless their souls, one of the children survived – but we waited weeks on pins and needles for the news.

In that time, I’d gone into myself and had refused to resurface; I wasn’t the bubbly girl skipping to her cubicle with a smile on her face anymore.  I was sad.  I was 28 and afraid of the world, and I’d never felt so alone.  But loneliness is like drowning, it can’t consume you unless you let it: so I reached out.  I put my pride aside and – slowly, one by one and over time – I came face to face with my fears.  What I needed to remember was that verbalizing the truth doesn’t make it any more or less true, but it makes us human.  To reach out and be touched is the human condition and by no means should we deprive ourselves of it.

As painful and tragic as this week was last year, at the end of it all, I have to – we have to – remember that even in tragedy life is magical, precious and beautiful.  It’s true that people cannot hurt us if we don’t let them into our souls, but if we don’t open up – people can’t love us, either.  The battles you’re fighting in your head – those demons you struggle against, have the courage to fight them and the tenacity to talk about them.  People – strangers, family, friends, mentors – they’re  kinder and stronger than you think, but they’re also just as broken as we are – and there’s no telling what they’ve been through…

“Put away your pride: be kind to strangers, love your neighbors, hug your friends.
Cherish the people close to you and remember that everyone is fighting their own battles;
but if this year has taught me anything, its that we don’t need to fight them alone.” 

-Amanda Pearl

[So This Is Growing Up] Are There Expenses in Never Land?

When I was little, maybe 3 or 4 – my dad’s father would take the liberty of filling my head with silly puns and hilariously awful jokes.  You know the kind: instantly invoke eye rolls, knee slaps, and sighs .  One of his favorites to tell was about a man, roughly my dad’s age.

There was a young businessman that worked day in and day out; he didn’t have many friends so he decided to adopt a dog for companionship.  One day, he took his dog to the dog park to get some playtime in and a young girl ran up to them.

Oh, he’s adorable! she squealed. Thanks, he replied getting back to his newspaper. What’s his name? His name is Tax.  She laughed, Tax?? You’re weird, why’d you pick that name?

His reply – Because when I call him, in-come-Tax!

At the time, I just thought gramps was being silly – what the hell does tax mean?! My grandfather, bless his mathematically inclined heart, passed away shortly after this and my dad became the punny one in the family.  So I would hear it every other year – it would grace the table at Thanksgiving, maybe make an appearance at a birthday party or four, and then come around for the holidays when the family was all around.

Between my academics and athletic endeavors, I basically had little to no free time – but when I did, I did what most teenage girls do: stimulate the economy. I’ve always had an urge to buy glitzy makeup, upgrade my wardrobe and collect high tech toys.  Unfortunately, there was one minor issue: money. My parents detested the idea of holding down a job during the school year because according to them – school was my jobEverything changed the summer between my Sophomore and Junior years of high school.  For the first time, I wasn’t on swim team, I wasn’t playing basketball and I wasn’t taking summer school for shits or giggles – I was free!  So, I decided it was time to be a bigger kid and earn my keep and my parents, in concurrent fashion, thought it was time to teach me about bills, paychecks and taxes.

At the end of the conversation, my dad turned to me to tell me a joke. “It’s an old one from your grandpa Harry.” He mused excitedly,  “I don’t think you’ll remember it.  Okay, so – a businessman decides he wants to buy a dog….”  For the first time, I got it. By the end of the joke I’d managed to simultaneously roll my eyes, cackle and slap my knee at the same time. It’s one of those horrible kind of jokes that the masses groan at; but do you want know what’s worse?  Doing your expenses for the first time.

First things first, let’s get some facts out of the way.  Yes: I am (almost) 28, my parents are smart and taught me how to balance a checkbook, I can add and subtract without using my fingers and I’m fairly organized; the keyword there being fairly. The problem with most of my generation, including myself, is that we’re in no mood or rush to get up, get out and get ours; we care more about things that fall into our laps and less about things we truly need to work for. Don’t get me wrong, putting in a valiant effort and then reaping in the rewards – whether it’s self-confidence, admiration, respect or a raise – is amazing.  But so is doing absolutely jack shit to get the same result. Meet my generation.

Yes, yes – this is a grotesque, overreaching, insidious generalization; unfortunately, for you the technical term for this condition has been around for roughly 2000 years.  The original term coined by Ovid was “Puer Aeternus” – which translates into eternal boy.   Psychiatrist Carl Jung took this idea and ran with it, developing it as an innate behavior model, or archetype, in the then newly founded  field of analytical psychology. Out of these, what’s now known as  Peter Pan Syndrome developed.  Granted, Peter Pan Syndrome is something ascribed mainly to men in their 20’s through 50’s – but I’m a firm believer in gender equality and am fairly positive Women have their own equally common ‘Wendy complex‘.

For a good number of people, the idea of economic and emotional autonomy is nerve wracking.  The financial climate of this country is currently, well, horrendous – unemployment rates are up, graduating classes are large and there’s a fierce amount of competition in the work place; the unfortunate fact of the matter is that it’s driving many people to move back home.  The problem with being back home, is psychologically it is easier to revert back to older, younger and more immature ways of both thinking and behaving.  On the flip side, are the people who have moved out, gotten a job but because of monetary instability are still somewhat reliant on their family.  So almost either way you spin it, we still haven’t been forced to grow up – yet.

Lately I’ve been hounding myself into it – thankfully, maturity doesn’t have to happen right away and it certainly doesn’t have to be all at once.  But little by little, piece by piece – I’m finally generating these proactive urges to get my life together and get on with all of it.

The first step for independence was figuring out my expenses.  Each time I’d sit down and try to do my expenses these three thoughts would cross my mind: (1) This is so important, I can’t believe I’ve never done this before and I can’t wait to see what happens; (2) I spend a lot of money on things that aren’t part of my long term, bigger picture – what the hell?; (3) Oh my god, I’m a hot mess and my brain hurts – this experiment is over!  Right around that time I pound a beer, go on my porch and lament about forcing myself to become older and wiser.

I don’t know what got into me last night, but I printed off my last banking statements and started highlighting, sifting and sorting through the wreckage.  Then I had a few unsettling epiphanies…

  • The price of one lunch at the Whole Foods deli is about the same as I pay for most of my fruits, vegetables and herbs for the week from Cochran Produce.
  • For every two nice beers I buy out on the town, I could buy a six-pack for my kitchen.
  • Each meal that I’ve had delivered from Nakkara (and let me tell you, they make the best Peking Duck Rolls ever) is equivalent in  price to my juices, meats and dairy products for the week from Trader Joes
  • My lunches when I go into work are actually cheaper than my lunches when I work from home.
  • Last, least and most unfortunately: concerts, DJ sets and shows are expensive.

Like most people I know, I’m learning the hard way: I’m learning how to make smarter, economically conservative decisions; I’m figuring out sooner than later that I can’t exactly afford to maintain this seemingly lush life that I’ve been living; and finally, I’m learning to be conservative with my time, money and energy.

My college friends and I have been lamenting lately that we can’t party like we used to; but I think it’s more than that – we’re not willing to sacrifice our current stability for things that were fun once upon a time.  We’ve lived, we’ve learned, and we’re not trying to backtrack.  We have 9-5 jobs that pay the rent and our bills; we have a firm understanding of our position within society and aren’t willing to sacrifice it to remake mistakes, regardless of how fun they were.