Dharma South Philly Style or How to Make an Omelet

Over the years my husband and I have developed a tradition of writing down our resolutions along with a few goals to help us start to move in our chosen direction…some are joint, some are individual. This time last year I have to admit we were both fairly miserable. My husband was in crisis mode at work, barely home, and when he was, he was sleeping. I was six months into my Leukemia treatments, weary of needles, blood draws, and endless doctors’ appointments. I was tired of being “strong” and no longer interested in putting on a brave face to the world. I was tired of being home alone. Our “New Year” discussion led us each to our own new resolution. My husband’s was about finding balance and my over-arching resolution was about letting go.

New England Seaview

New England Seaview

My resolve was tested early on…this notion of letting go…because what I REALLY wanted to do last year at this time was RUN AWAY…literally. It’s all I thought about. How can I get away from everyone and everything? I wanted to move to a remote island in Maine, have food delivered, and not talk to anyone for months. In my mind I imagined some peaceful cottage near enough to the ocean that I could hear the waves rolling in and out all day like a meditation tape on replay. I would take long walks while pondering life and death and of course there would be a desk overlooking the water where I could write down all my brilliant thoughts. But alas, that was not my reality; there would be no Julia Roberts Eat, Pray, Love experience for me. Let it go I told myself. Time to find peace of mind in South Philly.

Part of my letting go process had to do with disassociating myself from people and events. Not being so available to friends and family. Not being so good at returning emails and phone calls. This was not easy for me…it’s still not. I came to realize that this inattention was not about whether I cared for a person or about a circumstance, but rather realizing that whether or not I cared was not the issue. Think about all the things we each take personally, the things that cross our path on a daily basis—a cross word from a co-worker, a perceived slight from a friend, an emotional story on the evening news, an irritating talking head debating a hot-button political issue (lots of those!)—we take these things to heart and in some cases hold on to them with an iron-grip.

Gradually I tuned out the 24-hour news cycle. I greatly reduced my exposure to “news” in general. This was very scary. I don’t like to feel uninformed. But I found the opposite to be true. When I was interested in learning about a particular topic I researched it. I continued to read particular magazines (like the New Yorker)…but I found once I got rid of all the chatter, I was able to stay relatively informed on the major issues without subjecting myself to all the daily end-of-the-world-hyperbole. I still stayed connected to social media, but on my own terms. I only focused on the positive stuff (well, mostly…I have of late slid into discussions on health care…but I’ve stopped myself more times than not.) I was also much choosier about the movies and television shows I watched and the books I read. Do you know you can now search for movies on Amazon Prime by mood: Bleak, Exciting, Suspenseful, Scary, Rough, etc? For me, when it comes time to watch a movie there is really only one category I look in: “Feel Good”—and no this does not limit me to animation and musicals—I’ve seen some really amazing uplifting fare this past year.

Of course it doesn’t matter how I insulate my life at home, the “real” world is always at your front door. You can pretend you are not home when certain irritating people come-a-knocking…but sometimes you just have to deal with individuals you’d rather not. And that is when you truly learn the lesson of “letting go”…and you come to realize that the people and situations that annoy you the most are precisely what you need in your life at the moment they arrive.

Which leads to my husband’s side of this post: In an effort to make a change and find that ever-evasive balance in this life my husband had sold his logistics company the year previous. He stayed on to work for the new entity under contract. Turns out there was no “balance” to be had. While he was no longer the principal of the company, he was still working ridiculous hours and answering the phones 24/7 with no relief in sight. The pressure got worse with the out-of-state home office requiring extra paperwork and untenable demands. The beginning of 2013 saw my husband nose-to-the-grindstone working harder than he ever had in his life. (Yep, basically his resolution never got off the ground.) Not surprisingly in situations where a previous owner stays on and works for a new entity, my husband was blamed for all the woes and credited with none of the successes. When things got tough, the new owner screamed louder. And then things got really ugly. Our lawyer would advise me not to go into details…but let’s just say contracts were broken, money withheld, and threats were made. And earlier this fall—after my husband refused to sign a revised contract (including a debilitating non-compete clause) as advised by our lawyer—he was fired for cause (of which we still do not have knowledge), denied unemployment, and our health insurance was cancelled.

At this point I will say there are two useful things I am VERY grateful for. First is Cobra insurance. It took a month to reinstate it, but of course, by law, we could gain back our health insurance. Whether we could now afford the $1000 a month premium was another story. Which leads me to my second gratitude, the Affordable Health Care Act: In ANY year previous to this, after our Cobra coverage ran out, I would NOT have been able to gain new health care insurance due to my pre-existing condition. I would have been screwed. Royally. With no way to pay for the 100K plus Leukemia medication that is keeping me alive and healthy. THANK YOU social safety net.

So, you all might think I’m pissed at the new owner of the company, “the” man who caused all this turmoil. The man who made my husband’s life miserable, who took away his income, our insurance, and cheated us out of money he owed us for our company. The man who so thoughtfully had our health insurance cancelled before our Cobra information was sent to us (late). The man who continues to work to prevent my husband from receiving unemployment benefits (ongoing). The man who didn’t give a thought about my health condition during this process. The self-proclaimed loving Christian, family man, who in his FAITH should have been able to see that even if you believe you are in “the right” there is a difference between being right and doing the right thing. The man who had many opportunities to show some kindness, but chose vindictiveness instead.

Finding Dharma where you are

Finding Dharma where you are

And yes, of course I’ve had my moments of anger. But I quickly recognized my anger was really fear. Fear of having no money in the bank, fear of not being able to pay the mortgage, fear of not being able to access the medication that keeps me alive. Once I recognized my fear I was able to start letting go of the rest. And I remembered a universal truth—the third law of motion in physics—which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This simply means that whatever you send out into the universe it will come back at you—full force. And I thought about the man who has taken away our income, attempted to deprive us of our benefits, attempted to smear my husband’s reputation and prevent him from working elsewhere—and I realized that there is no reason to be mad or to rail against the injustices of the world. No one says it better than Alice Walker’s character Celie in The Color Purple… “Everything you done to me is already done to you.” When you are careless and vengeful, that’s what will appear in your own life. I don’t even need to know what “thing” this man has invited into his own life by treating my husband in this manner, I just know IT will arrive right on time at the most appropriate moment.

And really and truly, none of this is personal. I know that for sure. If you asked this man his side of this story I’m sure you would be told “her husband brought all this on himself.” And I’m sure he believes it. And the truth is we are not “people who matter” in his world-view because we do not live in his world. He is a Conservative-Christian-Texan and we are East-Coast-Liberals-Who-Voted-For-Obama. So to his mind we have gotten what we deserve. And as much as we serve as “characters” in his world-view, I admit he does the same in ours. I realize in his manufactured rage, this man did not stop to think about what he was doing to my husband or me, or that he was literally putting my life on the line.  He was simply a man on a mission.

Each day I look at a quote by the Dali Lama that resides above my dining room table: “don’t let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” And I think to myself if this man crossed my path one more time what would I do? What would I say? There’s a part of me that would love to tell him what an asshole he’s been, but then I think, no, that doesn’t serve me. And I would say nothing at all. Instead I will silently thank him: “You don’t know this but you were quite a teacher in my life this past year. And not in any of the ways you might imagine. You did not teach me your Christian values (of which you incorrectly believe I have none), rather your actions reminded me that it is up to ME to decide whether or not I am at peace. Thank you for reminding me how amazing it is to live each day with joy (rather than in fear). For you have not destroyed the peace and joy in my life, your actions have merely amplified them. Your example has reminded me of all the things I do not want to be. All the ways I do not want to live my life. Because of you I am more open. And I am more aware. I am most especially aware of how exquisitely loved I am. Thank you for reminding me just how good and loving AND generous people can be. Like Mr. Rogers, I look to the helpers—those incredible individuals who show up for me every day.  So, really, thank you for making things so difficult. Uncomfortable. Impossible. Because of you my husband now has the opportunity to find a position that will honor his gifts, his dedication, and his loyalty. He always deserved better.”

I have come to realize that when you face major health issues, unemployment & unpaid bills, or even a highly unpleasant (vengeful) person, it goes beyond that simple adage that “the universe only gives us what we can handle.” I’ve always disliked that saying. It’s bullshit really. There are many days I look around and shout “ENOUGH!” It’s not at all about what we can “handle” as if we are some pack-horse awaiting that last bit of straw that will bring us to our knees. Rather it’s about letting go. And yes, cracking open. Like an egg. Giving yourself permission to transform. To realize your world has changed irrevocably. The trick is to not feel like a runny yolk spattered across the kitchen floor. Stepped on. Smeared. Instead you must give in to it. LET GO! Scramble things up a bit and add some seasonings. Allow the heat of the moment to turn your new reality into a big fluffy yummy omelet.

Turns out I did not need to escape to a remote island, a Buddhist Monastery, or some other peaceful locale to learn a big life lesson. South Philly had everything I needed (including great Italian food!)  Transition is never easy…and I know my husband and I have a way to go yet (January’s bills?)…but I am really looking forward to discovering what lies on the other side sometime soon.

Summer in South Philly

The view from South Philly

6 thoughts on “Dharma South Philly Style or How to Make an Omelet

  1. Jenny Jacobs

    You never cease to inspire me. I love you my friend and am in constant awe of your strength and the humility you posses that allows you to always be seeking growth!

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  2. Virginia Branch

    Your innate ability to reach for greater understanding and to concisely express the exploration and the resolution is what draws people to you. I’m grateful that you have chosen to write it all down. And I am grateful for your friendship. Keep a light on.

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  3. Reuben

    Wow! So beautifully and clearly expressed. It turns out this is just what I needed to remind me of what I know to be true but can’t always keep in front of me. About 10 years ago I sat next to a bible thumper on a plane who was determined to teach me something. A thought occurred to me then, which I expressed and which silenced him; I am not a Christian, but I love the teachings of Jesus.
    Thank you Mickey

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    1. mcherr Post author

      thanks Reuben…I like what you said to your seat mate! Thanks for the feedback and I’m glad my thoughts served as a reminder to what you already know!

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