I got a letter … from the future?

The Time Tunnel …. Deliveries from the future now offered!

Gee Willikers! I got a letter from the future? Hopefully you will find something of interest in this most unusual missive whose origins will be revealed following. 

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At last! It has taken me quite a bit of time to be able to share these thoughts with you – time being the key here.  Because … this letter is from the future.  Your future.   You can’t imagine how many strings I had to pull to get the ok, and yes, of course, there were all kinds of edits by the powers that be – but I felt it was urgent to make the effort because – you need to hear these words today.  Now, more than ever. 

I know the future right now seems pretty … unpredictable? Maybe at times – bleak. You always were a worrier.   But even though you may feel like there is nothing you can do today to impact the future – You are wrong, so very wrong.  In fact, this is a turning point for you – and others in your life.  

What you do today matters so much, so much more than you know.  And it is a time of hope!!  Just … not the hopes you had before this started. Sure … you thought you knew how things were plotted out – and … hey, you were wrong.  A lot of people are feeling the same way right now.  Your plans – gone.  What you thought was certain … wasn’t really.  

Fact is, all those things that seemed so important … some were, some weren’t. What you though you wanted to have happen – well, it doesn’t come to pass.  Not exactly, anyway.  Of course, I can’t tell you the details – you’ve seen enough time travel movies – they do get some things right.  And I know you have a lot of fears that pop up right now, like those stupid arcade games you try to bash down with a hammer, they just return – I will say, focusing on those is a TOTAL waste of time (pun intended). 

This isn’t a time for fear … it’s a time for dreams, for choices, for hope – and so much more.   This is the moment you get to hit pause and say – where do I want to go from here?  Don’t snicker – I know there are limits to choices.  But it is time to think about choices maybe you have lived with for a very long time – longer than you remember even thinking about them, so that they seem like reality.  

Choices about character, honesty, openness … how much you share of your heart,  how much do you value belonging over authenticity … and what is your place in this world?  Things have changes so much, seemingly overnight … where do you belong?  What lies ahead?   Funny thing, sort of anyway,  is that the answers don’t matter as much as asking the right questions.  Of yourself.  Kind of like picking out what star to navigate by, back when there was no other way to find your way to where you were headed.  

 

This is just the start line … no map for the road ahead yet

I know you have already gone through a lot of changes, more than you thought you could handle, I do remember.  I know it was tougher, tougher than others around you could see, and you felt lonely. Afraid, uncertain.   You recognize now that pretty much everyone around you is in that same boat, in one way or another.   

You want answers to the big questions – so does everyone else. Well, most do.  Some stopped even asking, maybe that worked for them – not for you though.  So here’s a preview – you don’t get all the answers.  Even in the future, we still don’t have those answers.  But keep asking those questions.  The questions lead you to making the choices that lead you at least toward the answer.   Kind of like candles on the path. 

Heres the thing.  We were brought up in a time and place to believe certain truths.  Yep, the “big” TRUTHS!!!   Time passed, and life didn’t seem to operate the way we were taught – it didn’t really fit.  And others … they had different ideas.  I remember all the years of soul searching and wanting to “know”, wanting “Be sure” … well, I can tell you, absolutely, there is a TRUTH that you can count on, right now.  Especially, now. 

You are loved.  You always were.  Even when you were at the deepest places of pain and could never believe you had what it took to be worthy of love – you were, and are, and will be.  There is a source of that love outside you – one you cannot understand, or fully know, or explain – and all the people who say they know the Truth, well, they probably know some of it, but not all of it.  And that’s just how it goes.  The thing is, knowing that truth isn’t just for you to hold on to like some magical wand that makes everything ok –  because it isn’t just for YOU, of course! THIS is WHAT YOU NEED TO REMEMBER RIGHT NOW. 

Every day for the rest of your life, you can be a channel of that love!   You know this now, but hey I am just reminding you, ok?  You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to have answers for anyone – just … reach out.  Reach up, outside yourself, open you heart, close your eyes … receive that love that comes from the source of all you know and feel … .wash in it, dance in it, sing in it …. Wrap yourself in it … and then …. Give it away.  Give it away.  Give it life, in the way only YOU can do – not having to be anyone else, in any other place, with any other changes in your life.  Today.  Now.   

Don’t be discouraged …. the way will become apparent as you move forward

It’s ok to not have the answers, not know what is ahead ….. it’s how we walk through the passage before us that makes the difference.   Trying, failing … asking forgiveness, and forgiving … most importantly accepting ourselves and others right as things are today, not perfect, never will be … and doing it together.   In love. 

The very best you have to offer those in your life, now and to come, is the deepest part of your heart.  The part that some told you to hide, to put shields around, to try to conform to what someone else said you “should” be.   It’s time to break out of that cage, because that’s the only way to let that love pour through you like a river of light and life, step out of the shadows, sing and dance and welcome tomorrow. 

We get through this.  Yes, we.  Sure …  not everything ahead is candy and ice cream. That was never the idea, you know.  There’s some more hard times – and like they say, the fire refines.  I know.  I know, because … yep, of course, I am you.  The you that lies ahead, that your choices today bring into being down the road.  I’m waiting for you to catch up – it’s going to be great! The time you have ahead is time of joy.  Joy to share with others. The discoveries you make …. The growth … it’s all good.  

Have faith … even when you can’t see those lights.  Hold on to hope … and share it with everyone you can, even just a little – somehow, giving it away brings it back to you.  And …. Love.  Doesn’t have to be perfect – just from the heart.  Love, always.   

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Back to July 2020! As I write this, we are just over 100 days since CCC (Covid Confinement Commencement). I’ve been posting here on “The New NormL” just short of 3 months, and a lot has happened (and not happened) in that time.  Originally, I’d planned to start months before – but my perfectionist nature had a hard time determining exactly what I wanted to write about. I just had a deeply felt sense that I needed to find a way to put my experiences and thoughts “out there” in hopes they might help some who, like me, was trying to find their way through to a better place.  Over the years I had written periodic little missives to friends and family – generally at holidays – and after all the changes in my life, a blog seemed to be the “next step” in whatever path was calling me.  When I registered the site in late 2019, I was happy with the name –long before we heard the phrase repeated incessantly- but still didn’t feel I knew how to bring out what I hoped to create.  

So I wrote the “letter to the future” to introduce my blog to all the people I hoped to stay in touch with, all the walks of my life.  But as I reviewed it, I realized – it was pretty selfish. Perhaps too cheery. Perhaps- not really what I needed to say.  Ultimately, I set it aside and never shared it to announce my new blog.  

Now, after months of awaiting what we used to call a return to normal, it has been getting to me.   I haven’t wanted to write as much – the accumulation of imminent dooms assaulting us constantly, whether through the news, zoom meetings, the crises that family and friends are experiencing, or nightly fireworks for weeks that invade an already restless night.  I know I am not alone in facing the internal voids which a “busy life” somehow helps us pretend don’t exist – but now are felt more deeply than ever, perhaps.  My personal belief is that openness about what I call my “expensive lessons” may help others somehow; that even though your own challenges, or those of someone you know and love, may be very different from my own – we all share certain commonalities. I am not a paragon of faith or optimism, but ultimately I would like what I share here to offer hope, even though I often struggle to find that myself. 

My June 12 post, “Quiet words of hope to a stranger”, had mostly been written years ago. A friend asked me after that post whether I had looked at it over the years since then – years that changed by life perhaps not completely, but significantly and rapidly – and seen the value in those words still for myself.  The truth is – I wish I had.  Perhaps all writing is primarily for ourselves to some degree, but I try as much as possible to pull out from my writing something that can speak to anyone. If you hear or feel or think about something from a new perspective because of some story I share here, I cannot ask for a better reason to continue – and I do plan to find my voice, to dig deeper, and to continue to build the new NormL. Perhaps this “letter from the future” somehow needed to reach me today, just as the letter to a stranger still echoes lessons and foundational truths that seem fresh again when brought back into focus have a long way to grow and go ahead.  The chasm between who I long to be and who I know myself to be seems to grow larger with the years, but we keep easing on down that road. 

We have a wonderful neighbor who shared with me recently (from a distance, masked) that she sends herself flowers every Friday – a gift from her present self to her future self, with an encouraging note. What a wonderful concept! So perhaps my own “letter from the future” is something you might like to try your hand at as well – just for you. Be aware, though – you may realize something about yourself that you had buried or forgotten, and you might discover something new – but it’s worth the effort. Sometimes the voice we need to hear the most really is our own, it just needs to “break through” all the noise that has buried it for too long. 

Music has always lifted my heart, and somehow the old songs carry with them not only the beauty they held when first discovered, but like fine wine, the memory and realization that our lives have come a ways, and we have much for which to give thanks.  Here is a link to a song from the past that perhaps will awaken renewal of hope for you as well.  

It’s not too late … let’s put our hands out in time ……

My next project- a letter from today me replying to my future self. I have no idea what I will be saying! But I will do my best to be there in the future and hear it when that day arrives. There is a tomorrow. We will meet there one day. Let’s keep climbing, together. Until then – as future Norm says – love, always

Johnny Prisoner: Patrick McGoohan - The Man Behind The Bars
The Prisoner”, Patrick McGoohan – “Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison to one’s self”.

“Sometimes I cry when I see the boys”

Memorial day weekend, 2020

What do we gain by looking at the past?  Some might say, very little.  Yes, we live in the present, and hope and plan for a better future – but the past still speaks.  It tells us stories – sometimes in words, in letters, more recently in videos, and silently in photos, in eyes that gaze into our present from times we never walked in, and people we never knew in life.   

Perhaps you, like myself and many others, look back on your childhood and feel a combination of gratitude, nostalgia, and yearning – some things you treasure, some you wish could have been different. Although we cannot change what happened –sometimes, life gives us an opportunity to see the past through new eyes.  I was given that opportunity, and it helped me understand my heritage, my family, and life in ways that I would not otherwise appreciated.  I feel today’s attempt to share how this came to pass for me will not be fully successful – too long, too personal, perhaps – but if you are willing to come along, let me try to share how seeing the past anew helped me build a better future. 

My Parents – in their only “Non wedding” picture together …..

This look back begins with a stack of letters in the 1960’s – from probably my age four to age 8 or 9.  My Mom, as she did with so many things, kept the letters – some would I know question the wisdom in that, but I am grateful she did.  They are undated, for the most part – all but a few typewritten, from my Dad to my Mom.  He would type them at work, I believe – some even on the stationary of the “correctional institution” where he spent his career.  Although I have wonderful childhood memories, I have few of my parents being together; they divorced when I was 7, being separated much of the time before then.  So they are my father’s words, not my memories.  Whether my Mom wrote back is unknown, but I doubt that she would have. 

Here is the beginning of one from I believe 1964, just the first stanza of a poem from my Dad to Mom – 

Ten years ago today, you became my wife

My pledge of love to you was for all of my life

Our honeymoon I remember, so well, so very well

Why did it have to change and become a living hell.

The poem, titled “To Nancy with Love”, continues for 7 more stanzas.  One page, brimming with regret, anger, sadness, pleading – like all of the roughly 2 dozen others.  My parents had married in 1954, my brother born the next year, I in 1958.  She had worked at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, her coworker’s husband worked with my Dad at the state prison at Terminal Island; they met, dated and were wed at her mother’s home. They honeymooned in Ensenada (she kept the napkins and matches from the hotel) and ultimately moved into central and then Northern California as my Dad transferred to different correctional facilities, eventually returning to Southern California, where family remained and where I grew up.  

Wedding Day, May 1, 1954 – Long Beach, California

Dad’s letters are filled with pain, but vary wildly, sometimes even within the same letter – one five pages long, typewritten.  Dad revisits arguments, his attraction to other women, medications, group meetings, talking with doctors and counselors and even the priest at the prison; feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, apologies.  Promising that he has always loved her, always will; in one, he blames Mom for the most recent incident, whatever that was, and points out her “unhappy life with your father”, which was true.  Her parents had divorced in the 30s, when that was quite rare, and I know she was scarred by it.  But he also admits to his problems with drinking; of physical violence between them; of emotional abuse. He talks about leaving our home after a heated argument, emotionally upset, and driving the car off the freeway.   “I often cry when I see the boys”. Yes, I realize, he truly did cry.  Nearly 6 decades later, I can feel the pain in his words.  He wanted a better life, but he didn’t know how to make it happen.  

Of course, all these letters were written while they were separated, and in some cases even after the divorce.  Some letters touch on problems at work, staying with his older brother whose wife had died, his ailing parents, his mother’s stroke and hospitalization and his father’s decline.  In his later years, Dad told me stories of his own father’s alcoholic issues – about his mother sending him to “get his father home from the whorehouse in time for Sunday dinner”.  One letter includes a detailed budget, with the notation – “Since there isn’t any money, I will have to stop drinking, but not because of your dramatic performances and emotional feelings”.  She was emotional; she also had severe health problems, exacerbated by rheumatoid arthritis that developed after my brother’s birth.  They struggled financially, like many families.  And I am sure there were other families in our neighborhood dealing with alcoholism, or worse issues.  

It is somewhat revealing to read Dad’s thoughts about my brother and I, referencing regret about missing my birthday, our first Christmas apart, and other events.  In one, he says my brother has “much better control of his temper” and that I am “still full of the devil but is growing also”.  There is a note about taking my brother camping for the weekend with the neighbor boy (their father was a local attorney, also divorced).   In one he talks about plans to go to Disneyland “soon” – I remember a trip, perhaps that was a seed that led to my own love of “the happiest place on earth” – a place I saw as a  refuge from my own pain in adult life, when I had not yet realized the answer to the loneliness and isolation I struggled with, like Dad, lay within, not in escape from reality.  

The only pic I have of me with both my parents together

Mom also had stacks of letters from attorneys; issues about his owing fees, the ownership of the home and property; and Dad’s handwritten will leaving his property to my brother and me.  One attorney letter advised Mom that Dad was going to tell the state, who had financed the home mortgage under a veteran program, that he was abandoning the home and to take action against her; in another, her attorney indicates that Dad was representing their divorce was “off” due to “conciliation” – but that was not to be.  Their divorce was final in October 1965 after years of separation.  In the end, the home was awarded to Mom, along with $150/month alimony and $100/month child support for each of us – $350 a month. Mom’s physical and emotional deterioration continued; she never returned to work.  

In 1966, when I was 8, my Dad married a wonderful woman who did what she could to include both my brother and I in their lives.   We went on vacations to Pismo Beach and Arizona, I spent weekends visiting them a few blocks away.  In time, they had a son, and he and his family continue to be a blessing in my life.  My Dad did all he could, I believe – within his ability – to provide for my brother and I, to support us.  I remember the weekend visits, the trips to work, watching “Seymour presents” and “The Outer Limits” on TV together, and later, support and encouragement in other ways.  But no one has all happy memories. 

Friend, I do not want you to read these words and be downcast or depressed.  But something inside me quietly whispers that whatever value my experience has to offer others is dependent on understanding the depth of what came before.  I literally have only one memory of my parents being together – my coming home from kindergarten with classmate Tina from down the street, to find my father screaming at my mother outside the home, her on the porch crying, and then him driving away.  I suspect it was a form of self-preservation that the rest was erased from my memory.   In a home with little money for anything other than food, I grew up feeling different from all the children in my classes; I remember the pain of 5th grade open house when I was the only child with no one coming to participate, and the loneliness of not being able to talk about TV programs with others because we had no TV in our home, and no car to go to school events. And, in time, I became aware of the other difference, the one that was not allowed, that caused my isolation to become even deeper – from others, and from myself.  I buried my soul so deeply that life without hope, and intimacy, seemed normal. 

We put together photograph albums, we set them aside, with the pretty pictures, the smiles, the happy memories.  They are wonderful to revisit, and good to preserve.  Personally, I do believe there is just as much, if not more – to learn from our family’s struggles and losses.   Growing through them.  Understanding them, perhaps – and maybe, using those lessons to chart a better path ahead.  It may seem contradictory to expectation, but for me – coming to understand the flaws and challenges and disappointments of the past gives me hope.   

Trying to see the world through my Dad’s glasses … even then

When I first found these letters, I was 40; my Mom was in a care facility as I began the nearly 8 yearlong process of what I now call “reclaiming” my childhood home.  She had a bedroom, their bedroom, filled with boxes and things she had shut away.  In them, I found the letters, and … treasures.  Photos of family I never knew.  Family I reconnected with.  And in time, that led to sharing, stories – healing. 

My Dad and I had a difficult relationship for many years.  My own journey seeking help – for a long time, for the wrong problem, unfortunately – led to separation from most of my family other than my Mom.  During that period, I found the letters, and I learned to see that my understanding of the past was, like all of ours, incomplete – I came to a point where I realized that forgiveness was the only door that led to hope.

It took years, help from others, and pain – but in time, I made peace with my Dad. I dare to say we became close; my stepmother passed in early 2006, and my Mom a few months after. Dad outlived them both, and I am glad I could offer him support and care in those days.  After they were gone – I continued to gain insight into their struggles, and mine as well. Eventually the desperation of my own emotional isolation and embedded shame brought me to a place where I found – acceptance, of them, from them, and for myself. Recovery, hope, faith – and love.  And, in a way, I feel closer to both of them now than ever before.  I know them differently today. 

One letter is different from all the others – Dad wrote it to my brother and I at Christmas, with a note that he asked Mom to read it to us.  In it, he writes – “I know that you both will someday have children of your own and my fondest desire is that you will become good, strong men who are loving, and will love your wives and your children. Never become mad or hateful as you only hurt the ones you really love and yourself”. Is that not the wish for every father for their sons?  My mother has two grandchildren, my father four; none from me, but in my imperfect way, I try to share with all four the love that my parents had for their fathers, and I.  And, thank God, I have come to know love, not in the way my parents wished, but one just as real and alive. 

I close the file on these letters from the past; but I do not destroy them. They have shared their lesson with me, and perhaps hopefully with you.  Parents and children, spouses and lovers, hopes and disappointments, sorrow and joy – like the rhythms of waves washing into our lives, generations repeating the longing of our hearts.  With forgiveness, we have the chance to begin again, and build life anew – together.  It is not easy, but there is a way to seek it, and to give it, for us all.  I am thankful I found that doorway, and the life beyond and ahead.  

Clark Kent has left the building

Perhaps you have a secret identity … perhaps we all do. 

I have watched Superman most of my life, starting with the 50’s TV show – black and white repeats at my Dad’s house with the “mole men” and other threats to humanity.  Later, taking my little brother to see Christopher Reeve – about a year after Star Wars, sitting in the theater at Tyler Mall in Riverside – I remember it so clearly, it’s amazing.  Since then, it has been a parade of actors, some pretty bad movies, a few good ones.  They all shared one fascinating ridiculous pretense – that when Clark Kent left the office, no one recognized him as Superman – usually just because of a pair of glasses (although I guess the colorful tights might have distracted some).   No kid wanted to be dull, forgettable Clark – they wanted to fly, be faster than a speeding bullet, and muscles til next week.  I particularly wanted to have destructo vision – still waiting on that. 

But, whenever Clark was gone, no one wondered where he was, usually.  Even smart Margot Kidder set aside her suspicions.  He never seemed to miss deadlines or have performance reviews, or worry about job security.  

And of course, he never retired.  

Perhaps these days you dream of retiring, not having to go into the office (although right now that may be a few feet away from the kitchen), being “free” to do whatever you want.  And, you may worry about money being enough, or health insurance – I did.  My plans didn’t include retiring before 65 – but I reached a point where, for a lot of reasons, I made that choice.  I took the leap – without a cape, without the ability to fly, and without a job – it was just time to stop looking and move on.  This month, my first “early social security check” will arrive, and hopefully that will cover my health care for the few years left before Medicare kicks in – if those programs survive.  And, of course – if I survive.  That IS my intent, but … hey, is your 2020 going as planned? 

What I didn’t realize in this process – from the point where my job search, my dream career in my new home, didn’t seem to be “taking flight”, to the soul searching about budget and goals and what would be best for my new marriage and our lives together – is how much my sense of who I am was tied up in my job.   That it was … my identity.  So much so … it surprises me. 

The past few weeks I have been shredding.  Not the “muscle building” kind, the paper kind.  Destroying records of my past – financial reports, resumes,  representations of the care I put into my work over the decades.  Job reviews, applications; cover letters, offer letters, acceptance letters – resignations.  Going back to the 80’s when I never EVER would have predicted where I would be and what life would look like now.   They all become pieces of trash.  Decades of records that have no ongoing purpose.   

Then, I finished going through my hard drive deleting files … deleting the electronic footprints.  My career, all the efforts to convince someone to hire me, all the reports to demonstrate my contributions; the reference lists that, for the most part, were never called.  It is sobering, a reminder that we have to sell ourselves to strangers, to package our skills and strengths and make it a glossy ad for everything we offer to solve the needs of our employers.   Stacks of “certificates” to show I completed my required education for professional licensing going back more than 35 years … now, all – meaningless.  All those bytes of energy, effort and stress – Zap!!     

The eternal wisdom of Calvin and Hobbes ….

What remains? Of all the things I did in my jobs, the ones that matter most are the lives I touched – the people I hired, or worked alongside to help, to coach, to encourage.  Their careers, their families, their dreams continue, and I am glad I could be a very, very small part of it.  I am also grateful to everyone who had faith in me – in my potential, my contribution – usually they believed in me more than I did myself, hopefully I delivered on their expectation – but whatever the outcome – the door is closed, the desk is cleaned; the “trash” file on my Mac with the old files is empty, the shredder refuse going into the blue barrel. 

That identity – what was so central to my being for decades – is now, just a memory. 

Every stage of life – retirement, unemployment (I’ve been there), every door waiting to be opened –   holds an opportunity to become – maybe not a superhero, but, to go after your dreams.  What I have now that I didn’t while working – is time.  You can earn money, but you cannot earn – or buy – time.  That clock is ticking, and no one knows the final closing time.  What do you want to accomplish before you “leave the office” of life?  If you don’t know that tomorrow will come, how do you live today?  

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping … into the future ……

Perhaps it puts things into a bit of a different focus; maybe not.  I am certainly adjusting my focus (again, where is that destructo vision, please?).  In all this I remind myself that I have much to be thankful for, and the opportunity to share, with my love, good things ahead – quiet good things at home daily, and hopefully, adventures yet to come, in places we now only dream of visiting one day, together.  I am no longer defined by a job description or pay rate, there’s no resume on file, and pretty soon, the suits, ties and Florsheims will go to charity.  Like Clark Kent, I have left the building, but I have no phone booth to change in, no secret identity – but I get to form a new one.  NormL, the new release.  I get to work on choosing it, within limits.  And that is pretty cool.  I hope you too will see that your future still holds amazing promise. 

Will I fly?  We shall see.  But so far, I haven’t bought a cape.  

Look, up in the sky …. who knows what you might find, defying gravity?

The can without a label

There was a time that I studiously reviewed nutrition information for diet control.  It was a lot of work, trying to achieve some balance, consistency between protein, calories from fat, carbs, and all the rest.  It did, in fact, produce results – if I took it seriously.   Then there were the labels on files, whether the card catalogs in the library of my youth, or the tabs on the decades of files I created during my career that went into drawers to be carefully preserved, then just as carefully shredded.  Or the warning labels on weed killers and solvents, insect repellants and medicines, that protect us from misuse and harm.  All these labels help us make good choices.

Then there are the labels that bring … other results. 

In 2013, I stood in front of a high school audience. My nerves were convulsing, heart pounding, my uncertainty whether my words would have meaning for anyone there was only growing greater as the faces of teenage strangers stared up at me, older than most of their parents.  I was trembling, and I probably gave one of the worst presentations of my life.  

I held up a can with the famous Campbell’s logo of red and white, and asked if anyone knew what was in the can – and of course, a few voices spoke out – soup.  But then I removed the label – one I had attached – and held it higher for a moment before I asked – now what is in the can?  Is it the same as the label?   How do you find out? 

Living in a society requires us to use labels for ourselves, and for others.  Some we get from the day we are born – gender, race.  Some our families apply, as roles; others, we are given by our peers.  They can lift us up and tear us down.  They can change – but sometimes we absorb them, cling to them – they become our identity, who we see ourselves as “being”, which may not be anything close to what we try to present to those around us.  We learn to pretend, to stay in our boxes, and – we learn that some labels are to be avoided at all costs.   I am sure you have a list of your own, one you keep deep inside.  Even “forgotten” – their power may resonate in our lives for decades. 

I cried a lot as a young boy, in the mid 60’s; there were reasons.  The pain was real, and I felt very alone.  I remember very clearly once my mother calling me a “pansy”.  That wounded me; she was a loving mother, but also a product of her time and era, and human.  But it stuck with me, branding me as somehow “not what I was supposed to be”.   I remember in 6th grade the other boys in my “mentally gifted minors” program (where girls were the majority) excluding me because they felt I didn’t belong with them. Of course that happens to most of us – but I took in that labeling deep into my soul. In a way, as I went through adolescence and then into college and career, I began to weave those labels into my being.  They were labels that brought shame, that needed to stay hidden. Eventually, I was hidden away too – buried. 

There were labels I tried to display for the groups that I wanted to “belong to”.  Trying to live up to expectations of my family, school, church, classmates – carefully sewing those “labels” deeply into the fabric of the “clothing I wore” for others to see. I didn’t realize others felt the same way, excluded, unacceptable; I thought I was alone. And I learned to I use labels to blame, to exclude, to justify further retreat, burrowing deeper into the dark cave where I had made my hearts home. 

It took decades, a lot of help, self-honesty and pain – but I found my way out of the cave.   It was a long, hard climb.  I perhaps in some ways am still leaving that cave behind – and big part of it was losing the labels.  The labels others had attached to me, the ones I had clung to, and – the ones I slapped on others like bumper stickers.  Losing them all – peeling them off, ripping them out.  They stick deeply in our vision of ourselves and others – you have to keep on pulling away the scraps, the little pieces that cling – to clean away the grime. 

Back in 2013, standing in front of a bunch of students as a fairly new members of the Gay Men’s chorus of LA, really not having a lot of friends even in the chorus because I lived 60 miles away – I felt pretty alone, still, on that stage.  I had only been “out” for less than a year.  But I told them – the best I could – that labels limit life.  Not just labels that are given us, or we take on ourselves – but also the ones we put up to block others away, to keep them from hurting us.   But – we don’t need to allow other’s labels stick to us, nor must we use labels on those near us. Unlike a can of soup or a chemical table – we are more than just a list of names, characteristics, measurements.   No one is a “fixed value”, unchangeable; sometimes the journey of discovery is about letting ourselves come forth. And learning to let others reveal themselves outside the boxes and labels we use on them.  Together, we become something different over time, through choice, and especially through our relationships with one another.

Today, our journey brings us to a place where things we took for granted seem uncertain. Perhaps this is an opportunity as well as a challenge. Every one of us has a universe of possibilities ahead.  Every single one, even if we only have today to live.  Letting go of the walls we put around ourselves – the limits we set by embracing some idea that we do not measure up, we are not good enough – so what?  We are walking miracles.  Your very existence today, the fact you are here, is a wondrous mystery, swimming with promise – perhaps buried under years of labels that you have lived with, but it is time to tear down.  To toss away, not just for us – but for everyone in our life.  Those around us we have boxed away with our judgments and set aside because they didn’t meet our standards, they don’t look the right way or vote the right way or believe the right way – those walls keep us from becoming what we can, together.   When we stick those “unwanted cans” in the back of the cupboard – we all “go hungry”. 

I doubt whether my little speech to those students registered, and my time with the Chorus was short – but it was a step in my becoming.  We can work towards becoming more like the labels that we want to live up to. Yes, there are labels worth using, and worth keeping.  Yet, perhaps it is worth taking some time to reconsider whether some of the labels we “wear” in our thinking – and those we have “stuck” to others in our lives – need to go.   There are enough limits in life without them.   If we can look beyond them, perhaps we can discover new flavors, new possibilities, and new life.  Together.  

Forgetting what was not

Wow, April is just barely half over, and it’s already been a very busy month!  We started off with our monthly “Mah Johng” group dinner and play – it’s not the easiest game to win but we do have a lot of fun and have made new friends there.  Then we attended a wonderful live program at the newly restored Presidio theater – a tribute to Billie Holiday – preceded by a delightful dinner at “our” restaurant, Arguello’s (we had our wedding near both).  The following Tuesday, I finally saw the famed “Book of Mormon” which Bob had seen more than once – it was hilarious, and we really had a great time.  The next weekend brought the 150th anniversary of Golden Gate park – I had volunteered to help with a very memorable “AIDS Quilt” display and will share those pics another time, it was very moving, and I am so glad I could support it. We enjoyed a visit with our friends from So Cal that same weekend, and took just a few days off before seeing a local production of the 50’s musical, the rarely seen “Pajama Game” by 42ndstreet moon – I had seen it once when my 6th grade class went to the Corona Civic Center to see our teacher, Mr. Compton, in the lead role.  Love that “Hernando’s hideaway” number!  Bob enjoyed the NY Met Opera streaming of Tosca, one of his favorites, and this weekend we will be attending the SF Symphony as they welcome a very special international orchestra – part of our subscription that has really been a great experience.  We really need a break from all this fun!   Before the month ends, we have a special tour of the Sales Force Tower complex by SF City Guides, a weekend getaway to nearby friends, and yes, a dentist appointment (ugh!)

Of course … all that was only on our calendar. They were our plans for the month – but, they never happened.   Most never will. Along with your plans and all the routine, ordinary events of what we considered everyday life. What we took for granted.

When I established this blog several months ago, I wanted to share my thoughts about life as I dealt with constant changes.  As I became the “new Norm L”.   But just weeks ago, no one really envisioned how drastically life would change and how soon.  Now, it seems like there is some sort of expectation that people want to hold on to – I know I do – that things will “return to normal”. 

Time to let go of that expectation, at least from my perspective.

In order to take hold of something, first, you must have a free hand.  Letting go of hopes, expectations – long held dreams and goals – is almost like a loss.   But letting go of what your life was already like – all the things you took for granted, that seemed guaranteed to just be the way they were forever – that is a different kind of difficult.  My friends, we MUST face that challenge, individually and together, to build a new life that has meaning.

Our future will be much better, and we will find our way to it easier, by not expecting it to be “what it used to be”.   What do you, or I, need to release from our expectations?  Maybe that is worth thinking about for a while.  Because being a prisoner to what “ought to be” prevents us from enjoying what is, and what can be.  It takes strength to hold on – and strength to let go – but it takes wisdom to know when to do either. And faith.

It is not easy to practice gratitude for things that aren’t the way you want them to be.  But for me, this is the time to do just that.  To be thankful in the midst of all this, to express hope for an uncertain future – that is a light in the murky greys ahead.  A light for now, and for tomorrow.  

Welcome to – and from- the new NormL

What on earth am I doing?

This is a deeply personal blog – that I am sharing publicly.  Why? And why NOW??  Read on. 

Most of my life, I just wanted to be like everyone else.  To be what I was “supposed to be”.   To meet the expectations of those whose approval I so craved but felt I never lived up to – family, peer groups, social norms.  

But try as I could, I never felt … good enough.  I never lived up to what I though was my potential.  I suffered from depression, low self esteem, loneliness – those grew into other behaviors that drew me further away from really connecting or belonging.  I was always trying to be … someone I wasn’t.

“NORMAL”.     

As the one panel comic once illustrates in 50’s advertising style, with a mother telling her daughter … “oh honey, normal is just a setting on a dryer”. 

Over the years, I have been through a lot of change.  Not always the change I sought, not always the destinations I would have picked.  Some would say I grew, matured; some would say I lost my way and strayed from “the Truth”.   One thing is for sure … my life is very different now.  And … a lot better. Not all easy, but … on the right path, finally.

So, in late 2019, I decided I wanted to start a blog.  A place where I could share whatever lessons my life had to offer, and my adventures, and maybe some humor.  Over the years, when I have written from my heart to family and friends, there have been times I know my words somehow touched them, and I guess my ego was nudging me to put whatever I had “out there”, perhaps in hope that the life education that came at a high price for me might have benefit to someone, somewhere. 

I decided, since my last name  starts with L, that I would call my blog … the new NormL.  Not trying to be normal … but learning to be me.   To somehow through my small little voice among the billions of words flying through consciousness, say something that might help others going through the same questions I was.  The big questions.    Dealing with change, reconsidering priorities, sharing discoveries.  

Being somewhat of a perfectionist, one who never achieved anything close to it but still deludes themselves into the illusion of it’s possibility, I put starting off  “The New NormL” for several months.  Truth is, I wanted to present my blog with all the bells and whistles, learn all the keys, make a splash.  Like we all do with dreams …. Wait for a better day, when you can do it right.  Wait until it’s too late.  

Then, in the last month for many of us, abruptly – our world changed. Maybe, as some say, “the universe” had a different plan.  Maybe not.  Bottom line … all that was before stories started to circulate about an illness in China.  And you know the rest.   

So most of us are holding our breath right now, spring 2020 … waiting.  Waiting for answers.  Wondering what life will look like on the “other side” of all this – will we return to normal?  Well …. Were we ever there?   Or did we accept what was, as what “should be”??   Whatever the truth is about the world before 2020 … I don’t think anyone can honestly say it is going to be the same, someday down the road.  

So now … my blog is finally kicking off without me having learned how to use the software or graphics, without backgrounds and really without much of anything except my thoughts.   This is a place where I am going to write about what I am learning in life, and what I think I learned – in hopes it might help some out there dealing with change.  Maybe you. Maybe someone you love. It will be worth the effort, the honesty, the openness if what I paid a high price for can bring good to another life, in some little way. Change is possible but it doesn’t come easy, and it doesn’t happen alone – but with the love and support of others.  If there was ever a time we cannot ignore the need for change, it is now.  

So, here we go.  I have no plan, just lots of ideas, thoughts … a place for me to share, and maybe for some of you to get something out of what I put out here.  Whether you come along from the start or discover me down the way a bit,  I hope you find your way to your best and truest self – because that’s what our new world needs.  I’m working on it, just like you.  Love always.