Hello and Hey

I have not one, but two stories to tell you tonight. Keep in mind that both of these events happened over the course of one day (aka today) and both are true.

Here’s the first one:

There’s an older gentleman who runs in my neighborhood. I’m not sure how old he is specifically, but let’s say that he was probably able to vote for President Truman. (And in case you’re not likely to do the math, that’s pretty old.) Yet, I sometimes see him running twice a day and in every kind of weather. And he has time to say hello. Living in the time that we all do, I don’t always get a “hello” from anyone. Actually, I don’t even get the little wave when I let someone driving go before me. A “hello” is about as rare as finding a $20 bill in the mall parking lot. So, imagine my surprise when I’m going out to my car this morning, and I hear such a quiet, little “hello” from the man always running down my less than quiet street. I returned the “hello” and walked back in the house, grinning from the kind start to my day.

Here’s the second one:

I like to take walks with my mom at night. We walk a good distance through the neighborhood. We see a lot of people coming home, taking out the trash, turning on sprinklers. And we also see people speeding. We feel cars whiz by us, and the sidewalk always feels too narrow. But we make do, walking side by side, keeping away from the road. That is, until tonight, when some bro screamed “HEY” at us from his buddy’s car. I clutched my invisible pearls and jumped a little into the air. I looked up to glare at the passing car and heard both occupants chuckling as they sped away, gaining what, I don’t know, from scaring two women (as if men don’t do that all day, every day!). I was silently fuming the entire way home.

Now, as a reminder, both of these events happened in one day, today. One “Hello” and one “Hey.” But such different messages. One made me believe in karma and one made me wish for it.

For me, it’s hard to reconcile these events. How can people be so nice and so cruel in the same span of time?

And then I realized what I was confronted with: a physical embodiment of the human condition.

In short, there are going to be people who will go out of their way to be nice. And then there are going to be people who will think it’s funny to torture complete strangers. And sometimes, both reactions are going to come from the same person (although I would argue that what separates both people in this case is maturity).

But that’s what humans are. We’re this swirling mass of impulses, both good and bad. We have the I should say hello instinct, and we also have the let’s scream “hey” at these people instinct. One will always win out. Thankfully, both probably won’t win out in a single day in two different people, like they did to me. But maybe they’ll fight the same battle in you.

And as much as you can, try to feed the “hello” impulse. I, and your neighborhood, will thank you.

Sylvester and Tweety Bird

WARNING: If you are sensitive to animal on animal violence (otherwise known as predation), please do not read further. Instead, go to this link. It’s little penguins chasing a butterfly. You’re welcome.

If you are reading this, I am assuming you have ignored the warning above. Which is great. I love rebels. Continue.

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I wish I was making this story up. (Here goes nothing…)

There is a stray cat that lives outside of my workplace. It’s sort of like having a pet at work because I look for him or her throughout the day only to find him or her sleeping in the sun, or climbing trees, or just being generally adorable.

Today was not one of those days.

I came into my office, dropped my things, and looked out the window. There was my friend, all black except for his or her chest and little paws. He or she was waiting by the door to the next office over, whose workers often leave a bowl of kibble out.

Apparently, he or she couldn’t wait for the bowl today, though. Because the next time I looked out, the cat is in a primal crouch, stalking something. When I look, I see it is a small bird, perhaps a teenager robin, sitting in the tall grass.

Now, I’ve seen this exchange dozens of times with my own dog and the rabbits in my backyard. My dog crouches down, pursues them, and wags her tail when they outrun her in about 10 seconds. She’s never caught them, not one.

Except, the bird wasn’t flying away now, like the script in my head said it should. It hadn’t even noticed the cat. And it kept on being oblivious…until the cat pounced. The bird tried to fly away, but it couldn’t get high enough. The cat batted it down like a shuttlecock, despite its attempts to escape. I thought, well, this is a no-brainer. This bird will just fly away and everything will be cool. 

But it didn’t. The cat seemed to have injured it because when I had the courage to look out again, it was fluttering its wing helplessly, and the cat was simply sitting a few feet away, close enough to grab it if it tried anything stupid. The cat and I watched the bird die in the grass, suddenly going still. I turned away from the grisly scene. When I looked again, both cat and bird were gone.

Now, if you are familiar with my blog posts, this is the part where I introduce the lesson. What I learned from the bird murder I witnessed today is…

Well, I tried, anyway. I was all well, the circle of life… and then I was like, sometimes you’re the bird, and sometimes you’re the cat…and then maybe, cats are evil. That’s the lesson…or even, a bird in the hand…no, that’s not right at all…and so on.

And after trying to retrofit some kind of inspirational message, I realized that there wasn’t one. This was what cats and birds do; this is the part they play. This is the real life Sylvester and Tweety moment. But instead of dreaming up a clever hi jinx to escape, this bird died. And that’s really important to acknowledge.

Because sometimes life is ugly. It’s gruesome, bloody, and nauseating, and maybe it is time that we recognized that for what it is. I mean, I’m not saying you should try to expose yourself to the most terrible thing every day to feel as if you’ve understood life. But I think that maybe, in small doses, we’ll come to terms with our humanity, which inevitably includes our mortality, if we start to actually face it. And then, maybe we’ll stop sugarcoating animal instinct with Sylvester and Tweety. And then, maybe we’ll embrace the fact that there are going to be times where the bird doesn’t get away (no matter how much the Discovery channel wants us to think the opposite.) And maybe, we’ll start to glean some truth and meaning out of life.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t root that little bird on, just on the outside chance it gets away. Because without that hope, we have nothing.

Rest in peace, little bird. You died fighting an old fight, but a good one.

(If you are totally bummed after reading this, go to the top of the page and watch the penguins. I swear it’ll make you feel better. You’re welcome.)

An Open Letter From Me to Myself

Lately, I’ve noticed that everyone is trying to “find” themselves. Or maybe it’s just because I’m in my twenties and this is the topic at hand. It’s sort of like, now that you are in a dazzling amount of debt from tuition bills, we all think, well not everything has to be about money…I need to go climb a mountain, discover who I am, eat granola bars, and watch eagles. Eagles don’t need money, and they are really freakin’ majestic. 

And, weirdly, that seems to work. You go on a hike to clear your mind and everything seems perfectly lucid when you return. Or you read a Buzzfeed article entitled, “20 Things 20-Somethings Should Know” and it’s all about traveling the world on a few bucks and living a life of creativity and pleasure. And everything comes into focus. All the decisions you have made or will make are laid out in front of you.

But then the weekend ends. And you return to work. And you realize that you need to put food in your mouth and a roof over your head, and while you are always working towards your dream, you are going to have to supplement yourself with something right now or you will faint on your desk. I mean, brain cells need to eat after all, although we want passion alone to sustain us.

And this “self-discovery” seems to continue in a very vicious, cyclical nature. A constant stream of questions: “Who am I?” “What will I do with my life when I grow up?” “When will people stop reminding me that I am grown up?”

 But what most people fail to realize is that you never stop being the person you are. You don’t need to find yourself, and you don’t need to torture yourself with half-prophetic questions. You just need to create yourself, and build your life by living it. Every quirky aspect of your personality and every horrible awkwardness you possess will always be in full view, no matter how much you would prefer to shine or hide them. The person you were when you were 6 is pretty much the person you are when you are 26, with a few more life experiences and a little less whining. (Okay, maybe the same amount of whining.) The cells in your body change every 7 years, but you don’t really.

And yes, this also means that people don’t really change, despite whatever line your ex-boyfriend is feeding you. A drug addict may recover, but they will struggle with the idea of addiction for the rest of their lives. And that’s okay. Because that’s a part of them, and if they didn’t have that piece, they wouldn’t be the person they are today.

However, and I would like to be very clear on this next point, people are always in full control of their decisions and their happiness, which is decidedly different from who you are on the inside. Also, who you are or what your background is should never predetermine what your fate will be or what you are capable of. And if you let that happen, that’s your own fault.

So, to recap: you are who you are but not always who you have to be. Good?

With this in mind, I would like to explain how I make any big decision in my life: I ask myself if my younger self would be proud of me. Sometimes, I don’t like the answer. But I realize that I can change the course of my life at any time, and if my younger self isn’t beaming from ear to ear right now, she will be soon enough. 

Occasionally, I even think about how my younger self would address me. How she would perceive my problems. I think she would sound a little something like this…

Dear Older Me,

Hi, older me. I hope you are doing good…and that you are tall. Are you tall? I’ve always pictured you as tall. And really confident. Can you write me back and tell me how that’s going?

Anywho, we both know that you aren’t too good at making decisions, but maybe you should just go with what your heart tells you. Nah, that’s stupid. Have you tried flipping a coin?

Okay, I’m kidding. Okay, I know you probably feel like the white crayon in the box right now (ignored) or maybe that really pretty blue color (abused), which is weird because we don’t even like to color. But you have to get back on the horse, which is a better metaphor for both of us considering that we love horses. Oh, did mom and dad finally break down and get us a pony? It would be nice to know so I can stop putting it on my Christmas list…

But really. You know what I’m going to say. You need to remember to be yourself and not care what people think. It’s easy to blend in, but it takes courage to stand out. You know all about that though, considering your wardrobe. Don’t be afraid of taking chances because they could have good results. Remember when you tried waffles for the first time? Now they are your favorite food! But stay away from cheese…

And it’s that simple. I suddenly remember what was (and what will always be) important to me. I may sound a little bit like Gollum, (we wants the preciousssss) but it’s a small price to pay for some intense clarity.

In the end, it all comes down to being rather than doing. This is why eagles are so majestic, by the way. They aren’t worried about how to be an eagle. They just take comfort in the knowledge that they are one. If we want to get technical, it’s called instinct. I think it’s high time we all stop clicking articles to find our calling and declutter our instincts and intuition. If you are unsure where to find them inside yourself, just lock yourself in a quiet room until you can only hear your heartbeat. Then, listen to what it tells you.

Nah, that’s stupid. Did you try flipping a coin? 

I’m kidding. 

But really, when was the last time you really listened to yourself? And when was the last time you let your inner child speak?