Category Archives: Uncategorized

The slingshot, adultery, and forgiveness

No matter what your religion of choice, you have most likely heard the story of David, the boy who slew the giant Goliath with a slingshot and grew up to ascend the throne of Israel and become its king.

But if that’s all we remember about him, we miss so much of what made this baffled king worthy of the title.

David was no saint. In the Olympics of sinning, he is one of the Bible’s gold medal winners.

God constantly tested David to bring out the best in him. In the process, it also brought out the not-so-best in him. 

David was already king when he faced — and lost — his greatest battle.

He’s the one who inspired Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah.” 

His faith was strong but he needed proof
He saw her bathing on the roof

The bathing woman was Bathsheba, and David just had to have her!

But there was one small problem. Bathsheba was married. David, however, wouldn’t let that detail get in the way.

So, he did what was in his power to make the problem go away. He sent Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to the front lines of battle so he would be killed. 

Problem solved.

“But wait,” you say. “I don’t like that David. I prefer the little guy with the slingshot. Why did you bring up that lying, cheating, murderer and ruin the story for me?”

Why?

Because it’s by “ruining” the story that you learn its greatest lesson.

It’s later in the narrative, when David recognizes what he has done, that he becomes an even greater king. 

But the road between recognition and repentance is littered with guilt and regret.

It’s a cold and it’s a very broken Hallelujah

In a secular translation: Recognizing his sin and vowing to never do it again, leads David to the peace and purpose he had been so desperately seeking. 

He must also recognize that God put temptation in his path and allowed him to sin for the very purpose of bringing them closer together.

God does the same for us. She uses our humanity, our flaws, and through the trial by the fire of Her unconditional love, transforms us.


Love is not some kind of victory march; It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

You don’t relate to the God thing?

OK, let me again translate this lesson so you can understand it in a secular context to which you can better relate.

If we never do really, really “bad” things — if we never miss the mark (which, by the way, is what the word “sin” means) — we can never have compassion for those whose humanity leads them to stumble over and over again.

“The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song,” its composer said. “So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.”

I’m not advocating committing a moral misstep so that you get closer to God. But I am suggesting that you shed the sins of your past, and know that it’s by accepting your flaws that you touch the unconditional love of Eternity.

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand right here before the Lord of song
With nothing, nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Give thanks. Embrace your flaws. Rejoice in them. Because it’s only those who are most flawed who can fully open themselves to receive Life’s gifts.

Hallelujah (k.d Lang) – words and music by Leonard Cohen

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That Person …

… who pushes buttons that open the door to the great unknown within you.

That person who leads you to touch the edge of Heaven, then plunges you to the depths of Hell while you’re trying to find your way back to the comfort and safety you once knew.

That person who simultaneously inspires you and strips you of inspiration. 

That person who refuses to see things the way you see them because once she does, you will stop seeking answers to the deeper arguments within.

That person who dangles the keys to both happiness and despair in front of you then snatches back the one you choose, knowing the other one is the better choice.

That person who dismisses you with indifference, then comes back just as you’re ready to give up on the lessons she was brought to teach you.

That person who stirs unimaginable passions within you and shows you that fear is nothing to be afraid of.

That person who understands everything about you but loves to pretend she doesn’t know you at all.

That person who will never meet you in the middle because it’s there that life becomes safe, bland, and meaningless. 

That person who is seeking answers from you as desperately as you are seeking answers from her.

When you find that person, hang on to her (or him) for dear life, because the journey on which she invites you is the magic carpet ride to everything you’ve ever wanted.

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My Second Panic Attack

I had my first panic attack while in a dentist’s chair when I was about 7 years old. Surprisingly, I have no fear of dentists. In fact, she was the first doctor I visited once I was vaccinated against COVID-19.

It was my second panic attack when I was about 12 years old that had the biggest impact on me. It’s the main event on which I continued to build upon the spiritual foundation that a Catholic school upbringing — sprinkled with exposure to other religious beliefs — had begun building years earlier.

Thanks to my father’s library of books, and his way ahead of his time spiritual beliefs, I was exposed to different religions at a very early age. Among my dad’s cool factor attributes that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time, is that he taught yoga to a group of friends one night a week in our family’s apartment on Carroll Street in Brooklyn.

I was grounded in my beliefs in God, heaven, and was sure the afterlife was real. I questioned nothing of what I was taught in school … until that day in the 8th grade when the priest who taught religion planted a seed of doubt in my mind. 

The specifics are foggy, but the impact was real. This priest — this man who was supposed to be an authority on all things God related — was asking questions that in my 12-year-old mind, priests were not supposed to ask. He was expressing doubts that a “man of God” wasn’t supposed to have. 

For the first time in my life, a religion teacher was asking questions, instead of giving answers. He was acting very much like a human being, nothing like a man of the cloth was supposed to act.

The room spun. I couldn’t catch my breath. Reality was replaced with what I was sure was my imminent death.

I don’t know how I made it through class, but when the lesson ended and our homeroom teacher came back, she could tell something was not quite right with me. My mom came to pick me up. 

I was sent home, and my life would never be the same.

I was blessed with parents who didn’t make a big deal out of my episode. Mom took me to the doctor who found me a perfectly healthy soon-to-be teenager. He and my mom exchanged a look of “knowing” that I didn’t understand until years later. 

Hormones and life were battling for my attention. 

Eighth grade ended, and my years at St. Brendan’s High School began. It was there that I met the cool nuns and priests who were nothing like the ones I had known before. 

There was Father Cowan who we called George because well, that was his name. There were the nuns who didn’t wear habits and were young enough to be the daughters of the nuns who had taught me in elementary school.

Best of all, there were the spiritual retreats at St. Gabriel’s Retreat House on Shelter Island, where I confronted the demons who prompted my 8th-grade panic attack and recognized they had been angels in disguise.

I realized that questioning my religious beliefs was not the end of my faith, but the first step towards true belief.

Today, my panic attacks are few and far between. But instead of fearing them, I recognize them as imminent breakthroughs. That doesn’t mean they don’t scare the shit out of me when they’re happening. But knowing there’s light at the end of the panic tunnel, makes the darkness not only bearable … but welcome.

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I Will Miss The Pandemic

Photo by Barbara A. Besteni

Nearly 16 months after it began, the pandemic prompted by COVID-19 shows signs of loosening its grip on what we once called normal and allowing us to return to how we once were.

But do we really want to go back? Do we want to retreat to the comfort of what once was and risk losing the possibilities of what can be?

A pandemic is defined as an “event in which a disease spreads across several countries and affects a large number of people.” Finding a cure for that disease is a noble cause. However, to “cure” a disease by forgetting it existed is to plant the seeds of its return. And once it does, it can be deadlier than it once was.

If we look beneath the surface and consider COVID-19 as a symbolic representation — a metaphor — of the challenge we call life, we find the cure for the virus known as living.

Hidden within the challenge of that virus is the whisper of its cure. But are we disciplined enough to quiet our minds and pay attention to the still, silent voice within that is patiently waiting for us to listen to its cry?

The new normal awaits

Once vaccines became widely available, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lifted the mask mandate for those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, the world moved one very big step closer to “normal.” And while this brought much joy and celebration, it comes with a huge dose of bittersweetness, one that even a spoonful of sugar won’t counteract.

The normal we are now entering is nothing like the normal we once knew. Hopefully, many of the habits we adopted to keep us and our loved ones safe from COVID-19 will stay with us long after herd immunity has been reached.

Regardless of where in the science vs. conspiracy theory side of the aisle your opinion on the virus and the world’s response to it fall, some things should stick around post-pandemic.

Things like:

  • Curbside pickup: Nothing quite compares to dining inside a restaurant, but there’s a lot to be said for popping your car’s trunk and having someone put your meal order inside. Not having to get dressed for the occasion is like eating dessert before dinner.
  • Instacart grocery deliveries: Enough said.
  • Sanitizing surfaces, especially when dining outdoors: You don’t realize how much dirt is still on a table at your favorite restaurant until you’ve wiped it down after your waiter “cleans” it.
  • Making sure our hands are clean: How many times did you sing Happy Birthday during the past 15 months?
  • Working from home: It doesn’t get much better than this.
  • Unexpected visitors during Zoom meetings: Cameos of cats, dogs, and humans in pajamas reminded us that important work meetings lose their importance when the Zoom squares on your screen utter a collective “Awwwwwww!”

These things might stay with us post-pandemic, but unless we remain vigilant, others are in danger of fading into the distance, making us forget the gifts living in quarantine brought us.

The gifts of quarantine

Although living in quarantine had its share of challenges, I chose to look at the opposite side of those challenges.

For example, making sure my 93-year-old mom was well taken care of and entertained was a struggle, to say the least. But praying for those who were kept from their parents and families because of the inability to travel or because the places where they were living forbid them face-to-face human contact, kept me thankful and humble.

I may also have temporarily lost the ability to socialize with friends, but I got closer to my immediate pack of family members, the people who will stop whatever they are doing at a moment’s notice to make sure I am well cared for — and for whom I will stop at nothing to do the same.

I learned to appreciate the meaning of home. Coincidentally, or not, I was at Miami International Airport ready to board a flight to Buenos Aires when we went into lockdown. I never left Miami. I could not be more grateful for having made that decision. 

Throughout the pandemic, I laughed harder than I had laughed in a long time. I mean, seriously, when nature calls while you’re out enjoying a drive through the empty streets, and the closest thing to a public restroom is a porta-potty left behind by a construction crew, you have no choice but to get creative. I now know of at least a half dozen places in South Florida to do your business outside without the risk of being seen by a security camera. 

I learned that bras, shoes, work clothes, and most of the items in my wardrobe are not necessary. Combing my hair is an option that can be left for Zoom calls. And if I can’t get to a comb in time, saying my computer’s camera is “acting up” is an acceptable excuse.

I learned that staying in on a weekend night, alternating between binge-watching and napping through the Netflix series du jour and eating takeout right out of the box, is a luxury I will never be able to live without.

I experienced small-town living in a big city; no people, no chaos, no distracted drivers to run me over during my morning bike ride.

I discovered the beauty of masks – because when all you can see are people’s eyes, you are blessed with a glimpse into their souls. 

On the lighter side of the mask mandate, now that I have a facial covering to go with just about every outfit I own (thanks to my life’s traveling companion), I’m finding it difficult giving up this wonderful fashion statement.

I also continued my journey into the road less traveled known as sobriety. (You can’t drink socially if you’re not socializing.) It was a road that began with a 30-day no alcohol challenge nearly 900 days ago, and one on which I have chosen to stay.

While so many people struggled with addictions or chose to drink away the pains of the pandemic with a glass — or six — of their adult grape juice of choice, seltzer with lime was — and continues to be — my go-to beverage.

COVID-19 may fade into the background of history, but like any great teacher, the lessons it taught us, and the gifts it left behind, will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Sharing those gifts with others is the greatest gift of all.

It’s the one time re-gifting is not only an option, but a necessity.

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Filed under Alcohol, Barbara Besteni, COVID-19, Pandemic, relationships, sobriety, spirituality, Uncategorized

Thinking Inside The Box

It has been nearly one year since we’ve been living inside the box known as the COVID-19 quarantine. And while the initial restrictions brought about by the pandemic have eased somewhat, we are still very much stuck inside, longing for the days when we can move freely around the cabin of life and get back to “normal.”

We have spent the past year living inside our homes, working from home, teaching our kids from home, learning from home, and fixing or replacing the myriad of things that have broken down or worn out thanks to stay-at-home overuse.

This has kicked nostalgic longings for mask-free dining, hugging friends, and travel into high gear. It has also given those patient enough to notice the silver lining time to look inside our souls, minds, and hearts and ponder life’s big questions.

Questions such as:

What’s so wrong with the box that everyone thinks we should think out of it?

“Normal” as we once knew it is still beyond our reach. Perhaps we will never be normal again. So maybe it’s time to take a look at the tired, old phrase of “thinking outside the box” and look around inside to see the treasures that lie within.

Breaking Down the Walls

To think outside the box means to break the bonds of the status quo, the mental prison that limits our ability to acknowledge our power and live the purpose for which we were created.

“That’s great! Let’s go.” you say as you kick down the walls of stagnation and step out into the fresh air of possibilities.

Hold on a minute.

Thinking outside the box also implies abandoning everything that’s inside. And while leaving behind the pain and frustrations that have kept us trapped inside, we also leave behind the lessons and wonders that have gotten us this far.

We are then in danger of creating a new box with the same limiting beliefs that kept us from going anywhere.

Two years ago, I knocked down the walls of alcohol consumption and entered the box of sober curiosity. It was liberating. And, oh, so sweet!

Literally.

I jumped out of Total Wine & More and into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I no longer drank alcohol, but Willy became my BFF. We packed the pantry with dark chocolate (because, after all, it was heart healthy), and used the mid-afternoon sugar crash as an excuse to devour bon bons by the bagful.

I had given up booze, but had forgotten to take with me the lesson of how to ditch a bad habit. Once I realized this, I ran back to the old box, left Willy there to fend for himself, and grabbed bananas, grapes, and a bunch of berries to sustain me through the rest of my journey.

My mind, my mood—and let’s be honest here—my mid-section are all the better for it.

This is just one small example of how throwing the contents of the old box away can hurt you in the long run.

Thinking outside the box is an adventure. But embarking on an adventure just because crowd mentality tells you to do so, leaves you unprepared for the obstacles you may face along the road.

It might be a little chilly outside the box, so grab a jacket before you venture out.

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Sober Is The New Cool

On Jan. 30, 2019, at 11 p.m., I unceremoniously finished a glass of wine, said goodnight to the friends with whom I had been having dinner, and went home. That’s how my journey into “I’m not drinking today” began. There was no big announcement, no fanfare, no idea that my dry spell would keep going, and going, and going.

On the eve of that date’s 2-year anniversary, the dry spell continues.

Although I don’t have many filters, I have been relatively quiet about my journey into sobriety. I hate that word and all the other words used to label those who, for whatever reason, have chosen to hit the pause button on their alcohol consumption. Whether that choice is for one day, one month, one year, or one lifetime doesn’t matter. The labels and connotations are the same.

But until this new cool becomes “so last year,” the word sobriety will have to do to describe this very private and personal journey. While I have shared a few details now and then through the pages of this blog, it’s not something I have discussed in great detail, mostly for the same reasons others like me don’t like to share their sobriety stories.

“Oh, you don’t drink. You must have a problem!” is the conclusion to which most people fast forward when you tell them you have chosen not to drink. But if someone told you they no longer eat jelly beans, I doubt you would think they have a jelly bean problem.

Then there’s the other side of the coin.

“Wow, you don’t drink! That’s amazing. Good for you!”

I’m no a superhero. I just stopped putting alcohol into my system because I didn’t like the way it made me feel, physically, mentally, and emotionally. That’s it. End of story. There’s nothing good or bad about it. It just is.

But two years into this AF thing (for the purpose of this article, AF is an acronym for alcohol free, not the other thing), some of those who have heard of my choice to go AF are approaching me with questions about how to do the same. Some of the questions are subtle, some not so much.

At first, I brushed them aside, thinking there were enough experts out there whose stories of sobriety were much more interesting. I am not an authority on drinking. I hate giving advice on the subject because I have no idea how or why other people drink. The reasons are as varied as there are people.

I only know why I choose not to drink, and how I am able to continue on that journey.

I also hate the “I will never drink again” prediction. One of my concerns has been that giving advice and then drinking a tiny sip of anything with as little as 0.5% alcohol will somehow negate what I have accomplished and invalidate all the advice I have given. (News Alert: Orange juice has 0.5% alcohol, so there’s that.)

Most of all, I didn’t want to be THAT person. You know, the one who breaks a habit and then becomes a holier-than-thou, judgmental bitch who turns her nose up at those weaklings who aren’t as evolved.

Slurring isn’t sexy, but neither is self righteousness.

But more and more people have started asking me about my choice to not consume alcohol. And the questions have come from those whom I least expected. I feel I owe them an honest answer.

So, on the eve of my 2-year sobriety date, I share with you how I stay on my current AF journey, and my why for doing so.

My decision to share is also because in the past pandemic-challenged year, the memes and jokes on social media about drinking—especially about women drinking—is cause for concern. The 5 o’clock Mommy Juice hour is starting earlier and earlier, and there’s nothing cute about it.

Among the most dire post-pandemic predictions is the one that says people may survive COVID-19, but will be left with addictions they acquired to deal with the challenges of the pandemic.

A few weeks ago, a friend who was celebrating a milestone birthday posted a photo on Facebook showing a bottle of Grey Goose in the center console cupholder of her car as a sign that she was ready to celebrate.

How is this even remotely funny?

The comments cheering her on underneath her post were even more disturbing.

No Labels, Please

Before I tell you a little bit more about my story, I have just one request. Please drop the label. You know the one — alcoholic, and the stigma attached to it. That blanket term which has been attached to anyone who drinks too much or too often is inaccurate most of the time. At best, it is outdated.

I often wonder how many more people would chose to go alcohol free if the label did not exist … if the judgmental looks they get when they tell the waiter they won’t be partaking from the bottle of wine everyone else at the table will be sharing didn’t scream, “Oh, you poor thing.”

I have a plethora of handy comebacks for those looks, most of which are NSFW. 😉

Most drinkers don’t fit the stereotype of the alcoholic, a disheveled person on the street, begging for money, sleeping on park benches. The fact is that the majority of people who drink too much are professionals with jobs, families, and good salaries. They dress well and have money to buy name-brand wines and spirits and travel all over the world to sample the latest vintage from the winery of their choice.

Important Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be an expert on the subject, but according to what I’ve read, alcoholics are physically and emotionally addicted to alcohol, and they can no longer control their drinking. There are lots of in-betweens, which you can research on your own. It’s not my intent to provide medical advice or rehash what a Google search will reveal if you’re interested in finding out more.

This is my story. Any resemblance to the stories of people living or dead is purely coincidental.

If you are an alcoholic, or if you even suspect that you will suffer physical withdrawals by going cold turkey, this article is NOT for you. Please seek advice from your doctor, your therapist, or someone who can help you detox safely.

But if your drinking has escalated to the point where happy hour is no longer as happy as it used to be, or it has become so automatic you just reach for a cocktail without even thinking whether or not you really want one, then maybe my journey can help answer some of the questions you might be asking yourself.

In other words, if you’re sober curious, read on.

This Is How And Why I Do It

I do it by just doing it. No therapy, no doctor, no detox, no rehab. I just stopped. The support of my life’s traveling companion and my mom were instrumental in keeping me stopped.

I do it because I no longer wake up in the middle of the night with a dryness in my eyes and mouth that would be the envy of the Sahara Desert.

I do it because waking up with a clear head is more fun than a hangover.

I do it because a 6 a.m. 25-mile bike ride before the world is up on a Saturday morning is much more exhilarating than that first sip of Amarone ever was.

I do it because even though I love rituals, there are other rituals besides opening and aerating a bottle of wine.

I do it because the clarity is amazing. I am much more creative sober than I ever was attempting to imitate Hemingway in his prose and his drinking. Contrary to popular belief, drunken angst kills creativity.

I do it because drowning my emotions — whether happy or sad — in alcohol doesn’t make the bad ones go away, and it prevents me from being fully present to enjoy the good ones.

I do it because my relationships are stronger, and my emotions are under control. Alcohol-fueled disagreements can escalate into relationship-ending arguments very quickly. I no longer choose to engage in arguments that are going nowhere. I pick my battles, which are fewer and fewer these days.

I do it for a host of reasons. But the reasons themselves are not important. Like brushing my teeth, being AF has sewn itself into the fiber of my life, and the why no longer matters.

It Wasn’t Easy Until It Was

Now, at the risk of having you think my first journey into the AF world was all no wine and roses, think again. I tried going alcohol free many times before it finally stuck for this long.

Why did it stick this time?

Because somewhere along the line, there was a shift from “I can’t have a drink and I’m missing out on something” to “I don’t want to have a drink because I don’t want to miss out on anything.”

This lifetime nerd is officially one of the cool kids. Call me cool AF. And this time the acronym does not stand for Alcohol Free. 😉

What about you?

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Mom: “Don’t Lose Your Friends Over Politics”

We had been having a conversation about politics, something my mom and I rarely talk about. Who am I kidding? My mom and I never talk about politics, because … well. we have more important things to talk about.

But on that particular day, I had been sharing the posts on my Facebook wall with her, and it wasn’t long before the funny memes, inspirational sayings, and photos of cute dogs and cats gave way to vile, offensive, and angry political rhetoric. And it wasn’t long before my sharp-as-a-tack, 93-year-old mom pointed out that some of my normally calm and rational friends were posting less than happy responses to some of the posts we were reading.

While I really don’t do politics, during this past election period, I paid attention. I also let my feelings known on social media, although I tried with all my heart to do so respectfully. As a trained journalist — otherwise known as a fake news liar, truth hater, left-wing communist pig who deserves to go back to Cuba where she came from and not insult the real Cubans who came to this country to embrace freedom — I read everything from the New York Times to right-wing extremist blogs. The founder of one particular publication I read believes he will one day guide all deserving earthly beings back to a higher spiritual planet where Democrats (or Demon-rats as non-Republicans are “affectionately” known these days) don’t exist.

(I wish I was making this up, but I’m not. Friends actually sent me articles from that publication to counter the articles I sent them from The Times and other sources they claimed were fake news meant to distribute Chinese and Russian propaganda.)

“When all of this is over, the politicians who are now enemies will be embracing each other,” mom said as she carefully perused the posts from people whose names she recognized … some who know her so well, they refer to her as mom. “Politics is not worth the loss of friendship,” she said.

Case in point: Ted Cruz, one of former President Donald Trump’s fiercest supporters, who as of this writing is facing backlash for his part in the Jan. 6, 2021, defiling of the U.S. Capitol.

In 2016, Cruz had this to say about then candidate Trump, against whom he was running.

“This man is a pathological liar, he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies … in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying,” Cruz said. “Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it … the man is utterly amoral. Donald is a bully … bullies don’t come from strength; they come from weakness.”

In 2020, however, a bearded defiant Cruz (who bears a striking resemblance to a young Fidel Castro) was ready to defend Trump to the death.

What About Us, My Friends?

To all of you with whom I have not seen eye-to-eye politically during the past few months, let me reassure you that it has not affected my feelings for you. Because as my mom says — and Ted Cruz’s example reminds us — tomorrow the politicians will be all lovey dovey, and those of us mere mortals who have disagreed with each other, will be left with nothing but the memories of love lost over pettiness.

While my love for you is intact, your opinions shone a light on your passions and your way of thinking. They may have provoked an occasional, “WTF led you to that conclusion, you blind-as-a-bat , naively ignorant turd?” But as for my love for you, it may have been challenged, but it hasn’t gone away.

If you feel differently, then so be it. Rest assured that the very essence of who I am, the me you had come to love, remains the same. I simply spoke up and disagreed with you — perhaps for the first time — but friends are allowed to do that.

My silence in response to your anger and point of view is not apathy. Neither is it an agreement with everything you believe. It is simply an acknowledgement that the most productive way to “argue” is to say something productive. But if while I’m attempting to share with you my side of the story, you raise your voice and insist on defending your argument by belittling mine, it’s clear that you have already made up your mind, and you are not listening.

If your goal is to convince me that you’re right, and indoctrinate me into your way of thinking, the bully method won’t accomplish that. And if you use an agreement meter to measure friendship, let’s see how many of the people you now call friends because they agree with you will be there when you don’t agree with them.

If my mom is right, Cruz and Trump are probably together on the golf course right now, while friends who were torn apart by opposing political views are left with the sadness and emptiness of knowing that perhaps whatever it was that tore them apart won’t matter as much as the memories they had created together.

We all want the same thing. To be loved, to be recognized, to be validated. Our paths may sometimes diverge, but our destination remains the same.

So while we’re all waiting for Hugo Chavez to rise from the dead and lead us onto the food lines controlled by Communist China, while Marxist manifesto-inspired leaflets dripping with socialist ideologies rain down from MiGs flying overhead, ask yourself this:

As you lie on your deathbed, what memory do you want as your guide to eternal peace? The satisfaction of knowing you were “right” even though you lost friends you never really convinced? Or the knowledge that despite conflicting beliefs — or perhaps because of them — you take with you the only thing worth taking … their love?

Mom and I did not vote for the same candidate last November, but Mom is always right, even when we disagree.

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The Diamonds and the Food Line: A Look Back at 2020

Prelude: When they first arrived in the United States from Cuba, my maternal grandfather gave my grandmother a three-diamond necklace. It was passed down to my mom, and although I wore it on special occasions — my high school senior prom, weddings, and other formal celebrations — I always returned it to my mom for safe keeping.

In January 2020, the necklace disappeared.

December 26, 2020: My life’s traveling companion and I were on our way to the Seybold Building in downtown Miami to have the diamond in my commitment ring reset after it had suddenly fallen out of the band a few days earlier.

We had exchanged the custom-made rings in May of 2008. Our trip to downtown Miami’s famous jewelry emporium the week after Christmas 2020 was meant to be a simple in-and-out deal, followed by picking up a curbside lunch and finding a secluded place to remove our masks long enough to eat our meal in peace.

The Universe, who never misses an opportunity to teach us a lesson, had other plans.

“This diamond is cracked,” the jeweler said as he began cleaning it.

I found out the hard way (pardon the pun), that despite their strength, diamonds are vulnerable if they are struck with force at certain angles. (I save the symbolism in this for another post.)

Bottom line: The diamond would have to be replaced, and although Santa had already come to town, she would have to come back in two days to pick up and pay for a new stone. The old diamond would be re-cut, and depending on how much could be salvaged, I could choose between having it placed on a small pendant or a single earring to upgrade the one my traveling companion had given me on our first Valentine’s Day together. (I have an odd number of piercings. It’s as radical as I get.)

On our way to lunch, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things that had broken in 2020 and how much money we had spent to have them either fixed or replaced. I was lost in thought when I saw what looked like a huge traffic jam just off to my right. Although traffic was moving, the line of cars was going nowhere. It went on for about six blocks, turned a corner and continued as far as the eye could see.

A quick Google search revealed its purpose. While I was busy feeling sorry for my cracked diamond, hundreds of people were lining up for a box of groceries to feed their families.

My choice of having to choose between a diamond pendant or a diamond earring seemed pathetic at best.

Lesson learned.

A Look Back at an Unprecedented Year

For me, 2020 began with a lot of promise. After three years of semi-retirement, I was offered a full-time job doing what I love to do in an industry that was totally foreign to me. I happily accepted the challenge.

On March 11, 2020, things turned on a dime. For most of the world, March 11 was the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. For my traveling companion and me, however, it was the day our dream trip was denied. Moments after we arrived at Miami International Airport, the President of Argentina — the first stop on our trip — announced that anyone entering the country from the U.S. would have to quarantine for two weeks before being allowed to continue their journey.

Instead of an international vacation, we went home to tour the rooms of our house and follow stay-at-home orders for the next who knows how long. It really wasn’t a bad deal. Other than the postponed vacation, working and living together 24/7 wasn’t all that bad. We had worked at home together for several years. This was just a continuation of same movie.

And then lightning struck … literally.

“WTF WAS THAT?”

We were working at our workstations on a quiet overcast afternoon when we abandoned our computers and raced to identify the source of a sonic boom that had shaken the house.

Lightning from a storm that was a prelude to 2020’s record-breaking hurricane season had struck one of our neighbor’s palm trees across the street. Other than a few startled palm fronds, everything seemed to be OK.

An hour later, I glanced out the window and noticed that the pool vacuum was not working, and the pool pump was eerily quiet. I’m not an expert on lightning, nor do I play one on TV, but according to our electrician, the electrical charge of the lightning bolt had made its way to the junction box where the pool pump was connected and turned it to toast.

A few phone calls, several days, and quite a few dollars later, everything was fixed.

Life went on, until …

The House’s Water Broke

It began as a trickle coming from underneath the water heater in the garage. It took two plumbers and about six weeks to identify and fix the pinhole leak in the wall that was the source of Niagara Falls’ temporary move to our garage.

To show the garage leak who was boss, the ceiling in the dining room joined in the fun and also sprung a leak.

The morning after the garage stopped bleeding water …

An Appliance War Broke Out in the Kitchen

For no good reason at all — other than it was 2020 — our perfectly good glass stove top cracked in half. A replacement one was ordered, but it would take three months to arrive. As visions of three months of barbecues danced through my head, the igniter on our never-had-a-problem-with-it-before BBQ broke.

Not to be outdone, a huge scratch appeared on the refrigerator door, an injury no doubt prompted by the appliance war. In addition, one of the refrigerator door shelf dividers cracked in half. We think this might have happened as the poor shelf cowered in fear while the war was raging.

As I loaded dishes in the dishwasher one night, I looked around the kitchen and wondered what else could possibly go wrong. The next morning I awoke to a flood on the kitchen floor. The dishwasher had read my thoughts and answered my question.

But, hey, I could deal with all that as long as I had coffee every morning. But coffeemakers can read thoughts too, and mine was no exception. One morning I poured water into its receptacle to brew coffee, and it all leaked onto the floor.

Pass my credit card, please.

Plastic Pellets, the Platform Bed, and Random Inconveniences

Since one of the joys of quarantine is getting to know the other rooms in the house, let’s move to the master bedroom where out of nowhere, the platform bed began raining tiny plastic pellets and scattering them throughout the bedroom and master bathroom.

One tiny pellet, two tiny pellets, 3,000 …

When they made their way into the dining room, it was time to call the manufacturer and find out what was going on.

Would we add a new platform or mattress to our 2020 casualty list? Thankfully, no. The pellets were coming from a ruptured anti-moisture bag that the installers had neglected to remove when they installed the platform … three years ago!

That night, we identified another victim of 2020’s antics. Our not quite 1-year-old television in the bedroom was fried. Binge watching in bed was on hold.

The Rest of the House Joins in the Party

While we were dealing with the “major” casualties, small inconveniences popped up to keep us entertained.

The high hat lights in the kitchen pantry, the hall closet, and the living room went out … on the same day.

The paper shredder that has worked like a charm since the day we got it, was taken out by a single sheet of paper. Always the optimist, I saw this as a Universal symbol that 2020’s shredding of life as we knew it was about to come to an end.

Which begs the question …

Was 2020 really different than any other year? Or did the fact that we had too much time on our hands to focus on these things make them seem bigger than they were? Stuff breaks all the time and we fix it. But in 2020, we had nothing to distract us from these “tragedies” that were really nothing more than the inconveniences of modern living.

But 2020 forced us to wake up from our unconscious life and start giving thanks for what we have.

The world suffered a plethora of tragedies in 2020 … real tragedies. But hidden beneath the sadness and pain, 2020 also brought us a gift.

Focus on what’s important … on the things that once broken can’t be fixed or replaced. Give thanks for what you have because one day those things you most take for granted could suddenly disappear.

Epilogue

On Jan. 1 2021, I got an early-morning call from my mom. We had chosen to spend New Year’s Eve at our respective homes, and treat NYE like any other day on the calendar. I had struggled with this, but had accepted it, knowing the Universe would send a sign that we had made the right decision.

Mom’s call sealed the deal.

“I have great news,” she said. “I was looking through one of the drawers in my nightstand …”

I knew what was coming.

“… and I found a box with your grandmother’s diamond pendant.”

Call it coincidence, call it a miracle … the Universe doesn’t care what you call Her gifts. A simple “Thank you” is Her only expectation.

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Heal Yourselves!

The musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” was playing on Broadway during the time when my spiritual beliefs were maturing. The play was powerful but very controversial.

Its creators, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, seemed to take a bit too much creative license when it came to telling the story of Jesus and the events that led to his crucifixion. To believers, the narrative was more “cruci-fiction” than biblical fact.

I was raised Catholic, and although I had attended Catholic school during my primary and high school years, I was blessed to have had a family and teachers who were very progressive. They believed that the best “religion” is the one that allows us to believe in a personal God … a God whose relationship with us evolves as we evolve as spiritual beings. A religion that’s meant to guide us through life, rather than something to be discarded when we go into the “real world.”

And so, even though “Jesus Christ Superstar” was way off in terms of biblical history, I saw through the controversy and found my own truth. I was also very much into music in those days, and the soundtrack was amazing.

One particular phrase has stuck with me throughout the years.

There is a scene during which a crowd of people surround Jesus, asking Him to do for them what He has been known to do for others.

See my eyes I can hardly see my purse, I’m a poor, poor man. I believe you can make me well.”

Jesus, although He is clearly uncomfortable, says nothing. That is, until the human part of him overtakes the God in Him and he exclaims …

“There’s too many of you; there’s too little of me. Heal yourselves!”

Bible scholars point to the inaccuracies in the script, while those raised in strict Christian traditions are offended that Jesus would even think — let alone speak out loud — those seemingly cruel and selfish words.

“Heal yourselves!” is not something their Jesus would ever say.

But Jesus was also human, and I find comfort in the possibility that a very tired and frustrated Christ could have said those words.

Of all the lines from the songs I remember from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” ‘Heal yourselves!’ comes to mind every time I am frustrated or overwhelmed when too much is expected of me. It’s that point when I want to run away and be by myself to recharge my battery.

How many times have you tried to comfort someone, to give them advice, to teach them by example, to offer words of encouragement … only to be met with cynicism, or worse, to be attacked for the very act of trying to help?

Heal yourselves! So I can heal myself. That’s not selfish. In fact, it’s the very opposite of selfish.

We are told to love others as we love ourselves. But if we don’t love ourselves enough to take care of our own needs and heal our own wounds, we won’t be able to love or help anyone else.

In a secular example, everyone who has ever flown on an airplane knows that you put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on others. If your pass out from lack of oxygen, everyone will too.

And every lifeguard knows that the way to save a drowning person is to stand close and let them get so tired of fighting that they surrender to the help you’re trying to offer. Otherwise, you will both drown.

The power to heal ourselves, the road to spiritual fulfillment, the journey to carrying out our purpose, and all the answers we seek live inside each of us. Reminding others of that fact is part of our purpose. But pausing our growth for the sake of others helps no one.

“Heal yourselves!” the Jesus of “Jesus Christ Superstar” said.

It may be the kindest advice you can offer anyone.

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How to Find Peace During the Pandemic

That’s a tall order, but it got your attention, didn’t it?

Full disclosure … this post has nothing to do with the pandemic. As a lifelong journalist, I learned to use headlines as a way to get attention.

Now that I have it, I want to tell you about a few of the things I’ve been pondering during the pandemic. Things like … well, peace.

Peace begins when you stop comparing yourself to others and start comparing yourself … to who you are.

… not to who you were. Because who you were is the foundation that helped shape who you are.

… not to who you can. Because who you can be depends on who you are.

Peace is all about who you are.

Because who you are is perfect. Right here. Right now.

Who you were got you here.

Who you can be sets up expectations that can be less than what you were meant to be. It inhibits your growth.

As to comparing yourself to others, that’s their journey, not yours.

It’s like having a ticket to travel around the world, but trading it in for bus fare to your neighbor’s house because the new car sitting in their driveway looks so amazing.

Go. Travel the road less traveled and enjoy yourself!

But despite all our best efforts, we do tend to compare ourselves to what was and what will be. The silver lining is that comparison eventually leads to acceptance.

Once you stop comparing your past and future self, and start accepting your present self — knowing it’s exactly who and where you’re supposed to be — you begin to focus on the now. And that, my friends, leads to peace, to the delicious reality that now is all there is.

Stay for a while and enjoy.

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