Tonight, a good friend did something very special for me.  They went out to dinner with me to help me process my grief about Andrea’s death.

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My Helpful Friend is something of a subject matter expert themselves on this matter, having recently had to deal with a death themselves. 

So we met. We sat.  We talked. I almost-cried a few times. I ate steak. It was good.  

One super helpful thing my friend described to me is that I would run into two sorts of pain in my grieving.  

  1. Punches to the head
  2. Punches to the gut

Type 1 punches are the things that make you think, that make you dig in, obsess, dredge up grief you thought you had already worked through and revisit it.  

Whereas type 2 punches are those quick, sharp, knock-the-wind out of you experiences.  Something catches you off guard, and you suddenly don’t quite know how you feel.

Here’s the thing though.  While experiencing these punches doesn’t feel very good, it’s normal and kind of good for you.

Andrea, she carved this special place in my heart, in my life.  I’m utterly, incontrovertibly changed by our friendship.  I don’t want  that not to matter.  I welcome  both the pain and the pleasure of how much she meant to me, and still means to me, even in her death.

I know that that’s uncomfortable.  I know that it’s not easy, not for me, and not for you.

 I’m grateful for the discomfort. And I’m grateful you’ve stuck around to share in it with me.

In a way, that was at the heart of my friendship with Andrea.  On the regular, we challenged one another, called each other on our bullshit.  My friend I had dinner with tonight helped me with some of that too, as we ate, commiserated, and connected.  It was damn fine.

I’m grateful for such good friends, those now gone, and those still with me.  

 

Posted
AuthorMako Allen
CategoriesgratitudeNow

Spoiler alert:  it’s me. 

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I was walking to lunch just now. This morning I had a meeting with my boss, to do my review. It went pretty well. 

I got into a talk with him about what matters to me, technically and professionally. That in turn got me thinking about who I am in the rest of my life. 

A huge portion of who and what I am as a person is hinged upon exercising my creativity. Whether it’s writing code in my day job, writing fiction, creating podcasts, writing code for my business, I’m constantly making something from nothing. 

Plus, a big part of my creative urge has to do with making the world a better place for those around me.  I like problem solving, like providing support, solace, and comfort to others. Kindness is my default. 

I see myself as one drop in a limitless ocean, which contains everyone and everything. I enjoy the effort to  make that ocean a better place. 

I’m grateful to be happy with who I am.  

 

Posted
AuthorMako Allen
CategoriesgratitudeNow

So, recently there's this particular someone I've found myself saying no to a lot.  

"No, you can't borrow my shark shaped hyper spanner."  

"No, we're not cleaning the EPS conduits."

"No, you cannot take an away team down to the planet's surface."

(I've also, consequently, been watching a lot of Star Trek: Enterprise, which I really enjoy, but that's a whole separate topic.)

Often when this particular ensign (go with me here, Star Trek metaphor) kept coming to me, I got the distinct impression that they saw me as the Captain of the ship, or maybe ship's counselor.  Some sort of senior officer, anyhow.

But I'm just a crewman, like anyone else.  Sure, I put together the shark dive on the holodeck, sure I'm willing to take a few minutes out of my duty shift to tell people an awesome zen story in between servicing warp coils, sure I led that infamous game of fizbin in the mess hall that went on for 72 hours straight.  Yes, yes, yes.

(Are you getting that I really like Star Trek here?  Because I really do.)

But I'm still just one guy on the ship.  Not THE guy.  And sometimes I need my sleep.  Or to catchup on my personal log.  (How the heck do star dates even work?)  I'm just a person.  

Still, saying no to Ensign Needhelp over and over was starting to feel really bad to me.  

Here's an infamous 15 minute long compilation of Security Chief Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation getting told no, getting shut down, over and over in various ways.

When I first saw this thing, years ago, it made me howl with laughter.  Lately I find I can watch about 5 minutes of it before I have to tap out.  Go on, give it a try.  Or feel free to tell me no.

I've been realizing something important, working on it for a bit, about that No I keep giving the ensign.

The no for them isn't about them.  It's the complement to a yes for me.

A who-what now?

A complement.  A thing which of necessity is required for balance and wholeness.  Like the way a coin has a heads side and a tails side.  You can't have one without the other.  "Oh but head and tails are opposites, mako?", you might say.

Sort of.  But also complements.  When I say no to something, I'm saying yes to something else.

So, everybody knows the yin-yang symbol, the taijitu, or "supreme ultimate."  Big swirly circle, two sides, two dots, Yin and Yang.  The reason the dots are there, the reason the sides are swirls is that they contain one another, extend one another, and define one another.

Kinda like this:

A gorgeous taijitu, showing a sunny day, with a green flowering tree by an ocean, with a hot sun in the sky, next to a barren tree, by a windswept snow covered hill top, with a wan little winter sun in a cold sky.

A gorgeous taijitu, showing a sunny day, with a green flowering tree by an ocean, with a hot sun in the sky, next to a barren tree, by a windswept snow covered hill top, with a wan little winter sun in a cold sky.

This is much more what I'm going for.  During the whole year there's not one instant where you're not heading toward midsummer and away from midwinter, or just the opposite.  Every minute, of every day, you come closer and closer to that pivot point.  

Just in the same way, when you say no to things you don't have the energy, time, interest, or whatever-is-required-to-do-it for, you're also saying yes to other things.  Everyone is.  All the time.

It's beautiful.

Today I explained some part of this to that particular ensign, and made sure I was clear because I wanted to be understood.

It felt good.

So there's this supermarket not too far from where I used to live.  I used to stop in there many mornings on my way to work, for a breakfast sandwich. 

There was this lady behind the counter, I'll call her Polly.  When I first started going to her counter, I was not particularly thrilled with Polly.

I was often in a hurry, and Polly never seemed to acknowledge that. She would take her time doing whatever sort of sandwich or coffee related chore had her attention before giving me the time of day.  She would happily grouse with her co-worker about all sorts of unpleasant things about her job, their boss, the market price of Chilean Sea Bass in a turbulent economy (okay, that one I'm making up), all sorts of things, rather than just get me my damn sandwich. 

And, she seemed so very, very grumpy. 

Then I had an epiphany. First, I realized that it's not about me , and that perhaps her job really wore her out. Maybe, I reasoned, people all morning long treated her like some sort of breakfast-sandwich-ATM, instead of a person, and that she found it ponderous and terrible.  

So, the next day I resolved to talk to her, be thankful, kind, polite, and just treat her like a person.  

Everything changed. Her face lit up. She opened to me, and we really connected. Polly became kind, sweet, and real.  

I began to really look forward to seeing her, and she did the same. When I would walk into the store, she'd meet my eye and smile. She would get a spring in her step. It would make my whole morning, too. I'd carry the good feeling of seeing her with me all the way to work.  

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So, today.

I haven't been going there for many months now.  I moved not too far away, but enough that going there would be out of my way.  One of the few times I did stop in, looking for her, I was told she had been moved to a different job in the store, and that she didn't work the café anymore.

But today I had an errand nearby, and stopped in.  I go get myself some delightful tater tots off the hot bar, grab a bottle of affogato from the cold case, and go to grab a breakfast sandwich, when I see her, back turned to me, talking with someone behind the counter, and in the midst of performing what looks like a food safety inspection.  I call out to her by name, "Polly? Is that you?"

She turns around, and her face splits in a wide grin.  She greets me like an old friend, which in a way, she is.  Our relationship is very limited, and not all that old.  But it's got history.  She tells me she hasn't seen me around in a while.  I tell her about my move.  She tells me about her job change, which is really a promotion.  We both tell one another how very much we've missed seeing one another, and really both mean it, too.

It was lovely.

She wished me happy holidays, in case she doesn't see me again before them.  I walk off feeling light as a feather.

As soon as I got in the car, I had this long talk with my girlfriend, Squee about the whole thing.  She laughed, long and loud.  Back when I first started going to this place, and dealing with my no-longer-crabby friend, she used to hear my daily woes about the poor service, and was witness to my realization of needed compassion.  We've both referred to the sandwiches as "Polly Sandwiches" because of this.

We got into this long talk, at first just about the reunion, and how wonderfully silly and fantastic it was.  But then, I saw something I observed to her.

The whole thing, the way I turned my impressions around, the way Polly and I became friends, the lasting good effects it's had on both her and my own life, are an example of really powerful 德 (te, "virtue" or maybe "magical power").  I threw off my judgments about Polly, embraced mindfulness, and made a genuine and lasting friendship.

It's amazing how good a world this can be, when I'm fully present in it.

When I was in college, I was mugged at gunpoint. It was a horribly traumatic experience. I was pretty scarred by it after it happened. A few days later the cops found my wallet and ID in a garbage can downtown.

There's a funny story I tell about the really weird things I had to do to get it back.  Ask me about it, I'll tell you sometime. 

It's been 26 years since that happened to me, and the trauma has long since passed, leaving me with just a funny story and a better sense of how to move about a dangerous neighborhood at night.

Until just now. 

I saw this video a friend of mine posted to Facebook.

It got me thinking about the man who attacked me.

How it went down for Julio Diaz isn't how it went with my guy. My guy put his hands in my pockets until he got my wallet, then told me to count out loud, loudly, to 100, and not move unless I wanted to die.  

Yeah, not great. I was too busy counting and crying to really get a good look at him.

I don't remember much about him. He was black and shorter than me. I remember at the time thinking the cold, hard end of his gun poking me in the side made our height difference utterly irrelevant. 

I can't tell you what he was wearing, or really even what he looked like beyond those scant details.  

I remember that night though. It was cold. My breath steamed in front of me as I walked down the street at 2 am. 

What was I doing walking down the street at 2 am?  It doesn't matter, it was a stupid bad choice.  

But I'm left wondering, what was he doing walking down the street at that time of night too?

Sure, you don't just walk around with a gun in your pocket on the off chance you might get to mug a dumb college kid.  

Sure, I was hunted . 

But what drives a person to hunt another person?  How desperate must you be? 

I feel kind of like those shark attack survivors who turned to advocate for sharks afterward.  Seriously, that's a real thing

I haven't thought about my mugger (what a weird thing to say) in years. And before today, I don't think I ever truly made the connection to see him as a person. 

I'm glad I did.  

It's got me wondering what I can do to help folks like him now.  

 

Posted
AuthorMako Allen