Monthly Archives: November 2013
I had lunch with a friend today. It was nice to catch up with what he had going on in his life and fill him in on what I have going on in mine. We were in the middle of a noisy little pizza place that had started to buzz with the lunch hour rush. As we were chattering away, (well I was chattering away, he doesn’t chatter) and I was getting to the funny part of whatever story I was regaling him with, I could see he was looking past me and a bit to the right. His whole face had changed, growing long and concerned and I thought I heard him say something like “Poor guy”. It was said under his breath and as my own voice was trailing off I started to turn and something stopped me. It was the stares of the people all around me at the other tables, including the children. A young man had sat at the table behind us and to the side, and his pretty partner had walked up to bring him a drink, and everyone quickly and uncomfortably went back to what they were doing when she walked up….but I could see them still stealing a glance their way with odd reactions on their faces. My lunch partner also looked back down at his plate and we continued on. Something told me to just stay focused on my meal and my own companion for the moment so I did.
Eventually I ran out of drink, and the machine was behind me in the restaurant. So I excused myself and turned, passing the table where the mystery boy was sitting and my heart ached in my chest when I saw him…he was a patchwork boy. Apparently the young man had been through a terrible accident or perhaps self-imposed trauma, a fire of some kind. He only resembled a human being because he stood and walked upright and was wearing clothing with a Yankees baseball cap perched cockily to one side on his completely hairless head. One of his eyes had been sewn shut, his face gave the appearance of being melted into a indistinguishable puddle , and as he ate, the right arm of his flannel shirt hung loosely at his side, flapping and empty. As I was coming back to the table I walked slowly and looked at the surrounding folks, still making their furtive glances when he looked down to eat his food, leaning in and whispering to each other. The mother in me wanted to run over and offer myself as a human shield from the stares and whispers, surround him with myself and keep him safe from the pain he would surely feel if he only looked up and saw the reactions of others. But as I approached the table I could hear a drift over of the boy’s conversation and he was animated and laughing although you could not tell this by his face…it didn’t move except slightly around the lips. I could see full into the face of his partner and you could see she was totally absorbed in him and his story, laughing lightly and reaching out and touching his hand as she enjoyed her lunch with him. They were both oblivious of how their moment in life was affecting those around them.
My companion and I finished lunch and eventually parted company for the day, but I could not shake the image of the patchwork boy as I went about my errands. As I was checking my emails later, I received word about a friend of the family who had tragically lost his wife today. Her leg started cramping and she thought it was a pulled muscle. Then it started swelling and they had to do surgery, but there was a blood clot. She started spitting up blood…her lungs were bleeding. Two heart attacks were suffered and doctors had to revive her several times. All were effects of drinking huge amounts of vodka for years, resulting in liver failure. They were testing her heart before shipping her out to another hospital for emergency liver transplant when her lungs started bleeding….she never recovered after that…
I closed the email and sat back and thought how tragic. I reflected on them, when they married, how they had made a seemingly great life out of two pretty messed up ones. Both came from some hardships and marriages that were not ideal, but when they had found each other they both seemed to have found the missing part, at least for a while. But something somewhere had happened, or maybe not happened, that turned her into a patchwork girl…a girl who was using pain patches to get rid of the hurt that would just not go away and stay away on its own.
So many of us live lives full of pain patches. Quilts of our lives are being sewn daily with people, and events, and loves and losses and gains. We always have a choice of what we use to fill the holes up with and sometimes those choices are wonderful, other times they are remnants of a past destructive behavior or habit, or perhaps a new pain patch that is not cut to fit us and our current lives at all. We drink too much and self-medicate to the point we don’t notice the holes in our life anymore or we simply don’t care about them. We become workaholics so we don’t have to go home to an empty house, or worse yet, go home to an empty relationship where there was once deep love and comfort that now gives only empty arms. We patch our pain with religion and spiritual rituals that are void of true depth and meaning and become an exercise in futility rather than an abiding relationship with our own Creator. We try to fill the holes in our heart with casual sex or shallow external relationships that cause more pain and more patching us up later. We come and go in our closest relationships…we long for love to the point that anyone and anything can come along and offer us their hand and we take it, whether it fits or not, and join ourselves to the quilt of another with a patch of pain rather than the smoothness of a right fitting silk or cool chintz. Then the years bring rips and tears to the fabric and the seams pull and we find ourselves in the middle of the same patchwork mess we were in before. Rather than gather ill-fitting patches of pain it would be better to have a quilt with gaping holes in it that may never get patched than settle for an ill-fitting patch of pain. But over and over, we search out experiences with people and things that will only bring us heartache, rather than bring us joy and complete our own life quilt.
The smiling patchwork boy had dealt with his lot in life and his outer quilt was still full of holes and patches, but he was ok with that. He didn’t need my shield from the stares, nor the pity of those around him. His patches had become a part of his life, and he realized this did not have to become ALL of his life. He was moving onto whatever his life might have for him next, and he was moving on holes and patches… and all. I’ve never been much of a seamstress, but I am thinking it is time to get out the needle and thread and then just patiently wait by for the right patches for my quilt to come along…
Yesterday ended the first official week of my retirement from the cleaning industry. It also marked my first official week of entry into the estate service industry. I am still not entirely sure how I feel about both of those facts. I had entered the cleaning industry full time over twelve years ago with the intention of being there forever, contributing and consulting, making money and spreading happiness and joy in people’s homes and businesses simply by giving them a clean place to “do life”. I envisioned my company large, even maybe franchising it, and I set about tooling systems and procedures and policies to support that big vision. And you know…I was successful at it, or so I thought, for a good deal of that twelve years. What began as a way to make a living became a life, and I had convinced myself that this life was what I wanted. But while I was enabling another person or family to live a good clean, simple happy life through my services and efforts, I was slowly but surely exchanging my own life and true happiness for big time worry in the process.
About three years ago, my cleaning company was at the peak of productivity and I had finally brought it to the brink of scaling to the next level. Discussions with a few people about franchising or at the very least opening another location in one of the nearby cities had taken place. There were 12 cleaning techs on staff, an operations manager, route manager, supply manager, and I had even added a personal assistant to aid in some HR issues and also schedule my company events and handle many of my personal needs to free up my own time. I was living it all in high cotton, or so I thought.
Then the page turned.
Over the next three years, my company experienced extreme crashing and burning in regards to the staffing which coincided with the same type crashing and burning in my customer base. This was very unexpected and hit me broadside. We were servicing almost 200 regular residential accounts a month (many of those getting cleaned multiple times in a month), 10 commercial accounts, scads of move in/move out and other add-on cleanings, and I was nearing an amount of revenue I had only dreamed about when I opened the doors. We were listed among the top two cleaning companies in the Tri-State area and it had become almost a formality to go out and bid the jobs because we had a closing rate of near 100% of anything we bid due to our reputation in the area. People were on a waiting list to get serviced. But….my staff was feeling like workhorses rather than thoroughbreds. At the same time the big economy crash came along and stressed our customers to the point of cutting back services. And still I plowed on not seeing that the reduction of customers was affecting my staff and they were growing restless in their daily work because they were feeling personal strain and insecurity in a company that seemed to be losing its market share. I proceeded with the idea that we just needed to add back in more customers, market and advertise more, take on the work that we would have refused in the past because it hadn’t fit our criterion of cleaning, and just move forward with my big vision. My mantra became “Trust me, I know what’s best for you.” Funny thing is, when the staff began quitting, and the customers starting cancelling services altogether, they were saying the same thing to me by their actions. I realize that now….and I also realize they were right, they did know best.
In my motivation to make it all work, to BE what I had created, I began to lose the essence of why I was there in the first place…to make life simple and better for a person and a family. And ultimately I was the one suffering the most in those areas. I had forgotten two very essential ingredients of success….caring for others begins with self-love, and self-love cannot be rushed.
How many of us work the plan only to find out we didn’t include our passions and dreams at all in that plan? How many times, in our attempt to do for another, do we throw our own needs and wants to the curb and think we will find self-fulfillment in something or someone else? We work to eat, buy things, gain fame or recognition, but we are building a life that is not sustainable really because it isn’t nourishing those real loves of our own life. We gauge our success on a bank account or how many people are working for us, titles we affix to those people or whether we have to check the bank account daily to make sure we have money for the house note. Or we base our contentment and our value on what we see reflected in another person when we are in a relationship, be it friendship or more. Then those things start falling away and not working, but we don’t see it right away. Our internal voice begins to shout to get our attention but we cannot hear it over our own voice screaming at others “Trust me, I know what’s best for you.” Rather than walk at a steady pace, we begin to trot a little and over time we pick up our gait because we finally feel something is not working and it must be because I am not running fast enough or not doing “something”. When we walk through life, we can see everything….the leaves on the trees, the flowers by the road, ants and spiders…but when we run, all we can see is a blur of these things. We know they are there, but we cannot experience them. And if there is danger or anything that needs to be changed or maybe even dismissed from our life, we miss it because we are running so hard. It’s difficult and nigh on to impossible to change your path or adjust course quickly if you are running rather than walking. And even worse, we cannot see the ruts and holes and we end up flinging ourselves headlong into a place we were never meant to be. We lie there, the dust settles and we think “What just happened?”
Life just did you a favor, my friend.
At this point, we either lie face down in the dirt or we get up and start walking again. In my case, I still had worry inside and unfortunately I wasn’t ready to get up right away. I laid there, cried and ranted, beat the ground with my fists, shouted out for help…but there seemed to be no one there to hear me. Epiphanies happen when you are lying there, if you let them happen. And I thank God mine did.
I realized I was running and fighting for something I really didn’t even want anymore. I wasn’t being nourished, my creativity had been relegated to the side of the road and I passed it every so often, but had not given in to stopping and pursuing that creativity in years. Happiness had been replaced by the worries of the day, and I dreaded getting up in the morning rather than looking at each day as a clean palette. I laid there in the dirt and remembered…I love to paint, to shop in thrift stores, make wreathes and beautiful things from nature, decorate my home, spend time with my family…where had all that gone?
Today I am at the beginning of the path once again, but this path is leading toward the things I love and starting at the right place…me. It sure is a lot better being “poor” in the bank account, not knowing whether the bills are going to get paid by a business you love, rather than for sure paid by a business you have grown cold in. And I am like a cold pig in warm slop…I love finding vintage items for my home and it is starting to look lived in again. I have started decorating and painting and even singing again and playing music while I work. I am gaining customers that have a love and common interest in the old and discarded, rusty and crusty junk that I do…and they see the same value in it. This is making all the difference to me. I have found my peeps! But more importantly, I have found me again.
Bob Marley was known for much, but his songs always spoke of the freedom and ease of life for someone who lives the moments and doesn’t worry too much about the days. I really don’t know if the type business I am enjoying now is going to “make it” or not…but I plan to gather the joy in this moment while I can, and just worry about those “do I stay or do I go” decisions when the time comes. But the day for my pursuit of happiness is now….and that is one thing I am not just not worried about anymore.