Monday, October 14, 2013

Gaining "Sight" On What I Am Grateful For

Today is a day where we celebrate everything in our lives that makes us give thanks. I’ve had a couple of experiences as of late that made me really stop and think of what exactly I’m grateful for. Where do I start? The question of “What are you thankful for in life?” is almost impossible to answer without it sounding like a cliche. So, how DO I answer that exactly?

Of course, I think I have THE most wonderful parents. Do they make me crazy? Yes! But I love them with all my heart. We’re a small but mighty family, if you will--extremely close and we truly enjoy each other’s company for certain periods of time (I’m just saying what everyone is thinking about when they spend too much time with their family). My Dad just went through a major operation that made me realize exactly how mortal we are and that we are not here for an endless period of time and moreover, how important it is to always let each other know how you feel. Some people don’t have any family at all, and if they do, they may be treated horribly or have been abandoned by them. I feel very lucky to have the family that I do.

I have also been blessed with a beautiful daughter who faces life with the adversity of autism. She is the bravest and most incredible person I know. This is someone who has taught me the true meaning of compassion and understanding, which transcends to the rest of my world, and has helped me become the person I am. How fortunate am I to be her mother.

I also literally don’t know what I would do without the amazing friends I have. My friends have come into my life at different times, and I cherish them all, because to me, they are an extension of my family and I would be lost without them. I have a favourite saying: “The best things in life aren’t things.” To me, they are the people and experiences in my life that make me who I am and always make me strive to be a better person. I think of all the “things” I have and yes, naturally I enjoy my wardrobe with the plethora of clothes, handbags, and shoes in it. I love my home and all the comforts I’ve put into call it a home. I like using all my gadgets, driving my car, and taking trips. I work hard to have those “things” and it’s all great, don’t get me wrong BUT if you took everything away from me, at the end day--just give me my family and my friends.

Mmmm...wait just a moment. Maybe there are a few other things I am thankful for now that I think about it. And it was this experience that took me to that stage of recognition:

My friend Sheila was kind enough to take me out for dinner on my birthday a few weeks back. We collaborated on where we wanted to go, and agreed upon a restaurant called Dark Table. This restaurant concept is all over the world and is quite a unique dining experience. Why? Well, you eat your meal in absolute and total darkness--it’s literally pitch black. No light of any sort. So, just to clarify, you do order your food ahead of time where you can see the menu. Your server (all the servers are visually impaired) meets you at the door outside and then you follow him or her into the restaurant or rather into the abyss as I like to say. No joke, you can’t see a thing.

After the server guided us to our table and we were finally seated, we had to feel around to see where everything was--it was very, very weird. It sounded like a normal restaurant, with other patrons chatting away and music in the background. When it came to buttering my bread, I didn’t spread it properly, so I ate the whole pad of butter in one go...ick! I could not for the life of me figure out what the hell the appetizer was. Given there is no “feeling” at the end of a utensil, I almost shoved four ravioli up my nose and couldn’t tell if I even finished my plate of food. I kept putting an empty spoon up to my mouth during dessert. It’s funny, because everyone was eating in the dark and no one could see me, I started to relax to the point where I was licking the seasoning salt quite vivaciously off the glass of my caesar. I also finally used my fingers to eat the dessert purely out of frustration.

From a sensory perspective, I realized exactly how much I rely on my vision to help me enjoy food. The food was good, but there was something missing from the experience--I get visual pleasure out of seeing what I am about to eat (most of the time). I also use my vision to help me think--I felt kind of stupid and lost not only while poking around for my food, but just in general. I could hear Sheila’s voice, but couldn’t see her facial expressions or her body language--things I often use to pick up non-verbal cues when communicating. I did become totally and utterly relaxed after the meal, but logic would dictate that after eating big meal while sitting in complete darkness, one would just want to fall asleep right then and there in the chair. Outside of upsetting the person you’re with, what would stop you?

The perfect ending to this experience was when we left. Our server came to get us up from the table--Sheila was behind me and I was behind him, or so I thought. I walked right into him and he was actually facing me. Awkward moment? Of course not! We just hugged for a bit...closely (interestingly enough that seems to be my modus operandi these days). And just as we were about to enter back into the land of the seeing, I gave the server one last hug and a peck on the cheek, and there it was--my sight was back in all it’s glory.  How fortunate were we to know that after dinner, we would have our sight again.

And there you have it. Outside of friends and family, I am eternally grateful and thankful for my health--to have all my senses fully functional. I can see all the bright and bold colours of the autumn leaves on the trees right now. I can hear the beautiful sound of my daughter’s voice when she says “I love you Mom”. I can touch and hold my Grandma’s hand, a hand that helped me learn how to crochet and cook. I can taste the salt on my skin when I swim freely in the open ocean. I have everything and recognize that every day.

And lastly, we can’t forget the sense that is not so “common”...

There is so much good in this world, and so much of the time, it gets masked by the bad. I am perhaps one of the few people on this planet who doesn’t have cable, and I love it. I also choose not to watch the news (I keep tabs with the on-line financial news only due to my job in the financial industry) and I like it that way. I receive good news stories through social media channels like Twitter or Facebook, where I can surround myself with all the beautiful happiness that is out there. Someone said to me once that I’m just sticking my head in the sand, and yes, perhaps I am to some degree. Much of what the Dalai Lama does resonates with me and I do the same. He said that in a difficult situation, he recognizes the tragedy within it, feels the pain of it for a moment, and then lets it go. I do recognize the bad that goes on around me and in the world, and I do feel the hurt, the pain, the suffering for that person, animal, etc., but then I let it go. I never hang on to it, because it doesn’t help to do that. I find other ways to help the situation instead, if I can (I’ll be writing a blog post on homelessness shortly that explains this concept in greater detail).

Every single person has the ability to be loving, kind, compassionate and understanding to our fellow humans, and to all living things (except spiders and snakes...just kidding, or am I?), including our mother Earth. It’s a choice--I’ve seen and heard of people who have faced extreme adversity in their lives only to overcome those odds and become a better person. I am so grateful for being able to recognize that I am not the center of the universe, and that I can do so much to help the lives of those around me. That might not seem like a typical thing to be grateful for, but as you may already have discovered, I am light years from typical.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Single Women in Our 40's - What DO We Really Want?

This blog post is dedicated to my Grandma who is turning 90 shortly and who still kisses, hugs, and acts goofy with my Grandpa, after 65 years of marriage. She is always telling me to “never chase a man”. Her theory, and it’s a good one, is, if a man is interested, he will come to you...he will do the “wooing”, and of course, it will just feel natural. I love my Grandma so much...she is so sweet and prays for me every night to find love. It should be easy then, right?

I’m not sure what 43 is supposed to feel like, so maybe I’m completely off the mark on this one, but I can honestly say that I’ve never felt better than how I feel at this point in my life. Of course, I wish I had all my now-learned insightfulness when I was 20 just to save myself some of the inherent pain of supposed beneficial experience over the last few decades.

I’ve been single for a number of years now, with a few on and off longer-term dating experiences during that time. Some were good, and some were frightening, and after just turning 43 last week, I took some time to reflect and think about why I’m still single, and why a big handful of my girlfriends are single too. By the way, for those of you in the United Kingdom, when I say girlfriend, I mean a friend that’s a girl. When I was in Scotland and Wales last year, I quickly learned to make that distinction. I like men, always have, and always will.

I know so many women my age that are single. Incidentally, the bulk of them live in the vicinity of Vancouver, Canada, and all live within the statistics that show there is one single man to six single women in this city. Interesting. And then the question becomes who is this one single guy? Is he the psychotic maniac that just tried to run you off the road on your drive home? And if so, then what happens to the stats--is it now one single man that’s normal to six single women, making it really one single man to a hundred single women? I know the guys will be up in arms reading this--yes, there are crazy, nut-bar women out there too, but the fact of the matter is, women have a harder time meeting men in this city, period. There just aren’t enough of you.

When I look at all my single girlfriends (and myself for that matter), they are all smart, funny, attractive, somewhat sporty, happy, healthy, independent...whoa, back up. I said independent. We, as women, take that as a complete and utter positive, and so we should. I most certainly do. I love the fact that I can fix a hole in the drywall from plowing my driver through the wall by accident when yanking my clubs out of the closet last spring. I can replace a lightbulb, paint a wall, and change the oil in my car. I can manage my time, my home, and my finances (well, that’s an easy one given I’m a Financial Planner). I make my own healthy meals, I make my own money, and I make my own schedule. I create my social life, family life, and work life. I do what I want, when I want, and how much I want, and answer to no one. I make my very own happiness each and every day, and depend on no one or nothing to do that for me. So if we ditch the term “independent” since it sounds rather callous and cold, what, then, is missing from this fabulous life?

A man. Which man? Who is he and where is he? The old adage of “It will just happen when you least expect it”--one more time of being told that and I think I’m going to puke. Sorry, but WHEN is this supposed to happen because I don’t ever expect it (even though I’m hopeful)! And there’s another nail on the head. I have no expectations of people, unless they are blatantly being disrespectful or if they were hired to do a specific job, etc, and aren’t doing it. When you don’t have expectations of people, they will not disappoint you or let you down--easier said than done. Hurtfulness can come packaged in many different ways, but sometimes we initiate it by placing expectations on people, then we become disappointed when they don’t meet OUR expectations which they had nothing to do with it the first place, yet we get angry at them for not doing what we hoped they’d do!

Feminism is a beautiful thing...I can’t imagine living in a time where I wouldn’t be able to vote, had to quit my job if I got married or pregnant, or not be able to participate in a sport, all because I was a woman. So even though we are so happy to have moved onto a more even playing field as time goes on, I often hear single women in my age group say that they wish (and I’ve said this myself too), that the men in their age would hold open a door for them, pull out their chair for them to sit, etc. Most of those men were raised by first generation feminists, with their mother’s saying, “Son, women are very independent now--they can open their own doors--this isn’t the 40’s anymore. They’ll really appreciate you recognizing that.” So do we? Being a die-hard romantic and a Libra true to form, I want both--the benefits of the feminism movement AND doors being held open for me. And I don’t see why I can’t have it, after all, I’m just asking for a basic show of kindness when it comes down to it. Yes, I’m physically capable of opening a door. But when I’m carrying a laptop case, a purse, a smoothie, my keys, my gym bag, a yoga mat and potentially the kitchen sink, it’s just so nice when that door gets opened for you, especially by a man, and even more so when you’re not carrying anything at all.

In talking to women of all ages that are on their own, they agree with me on what seemingly would be a bizarre concept, of being in a monogamous relationship, but you each live in your own place, have your own money, see each other a few times a week, travel and explore together, and maybe there’s a sleep over here and there, and that way, you have your relationship while still maintaining some independence. The women of my generation specifically are thinking exactly like that, for the most part. Right now men are reading this going “What the f---?” (or maybe not?). I’m sorry guys, but that’s becoming today’s reality of the independent woman.

My father once told me if I don’t “play a little dumb” once in awhile, it will be hard to attract a man in the long run. Sorry Dad, but that doesn’t work for me. I think what he was trying to say, is that sometimes men can be threatened by a strong and powerful woman. Men tend to admire us for our intelligence and our non-dependent nature, but then are seemingly threatened by it at the same time. That’s not my man. I want someone who will stand up to me and speak to me like an equal. I usually make most men cower (not literally of course) and they eventually succumb to my opinions and ideas. I don’t like that. I’ve only met one man in my life that actually stood up to me through our friendship for a number of years and didn’t back down from me--always with respect of course, but challenged me in my thought processes. I think of him often actually, because I miss that connection--it’s so rare to find, certainly for someone like me.

Case and point: when we alpha-females play, we play hard. I love sword-fighting. The last two-handed longsword class I was in, I took the drill one step further and disarmed my male opponent of his sword. Apparently that was not allowed and I was reprimanded by the instructor who then whispered to me as he walked away, “That was awesome!”. I also apparently disarmed my partner of his masculinity given he was quite put out by my actions instead of rising to the occasion and congratulating me for being a good sword-fighter (he was never in danger by the way). However, there are some men who don’t feel threatened by a dominant woman. For example, last year, I went with a friend of mine to her Events and Adventures night for singles at the indoor Go Kart track in Richmond. I’ve been there many times, and I can drive a race car, even if it’s just a pint-sized one. I usually beat most people that are racing against me, it just is what it is. I also have a strong competitive streak in me too, which doesn’t help in situations like this. Sure enough, I beat out most of the men and the one fellow who won against me (he looked very much like the rapper Ice Tea), came up to me after the race and told me how awesome it was that I almost kicked him out of first place (we were nano-seconds apart at the finish). Thank you. That was cool.

What I have discovered through my dating years and experience with men is that just as we women don’t want to be painted all with the same brush, we can’t paint men all with the same brush either. There are a LOT of women who live in crazy-town out there, who drive men mental and tend to cling-on to become el desperado, making our gender synonymous with term “psycho crazy chick”. I’m not one of those women. What scares me is that I’m at the other end of the spectrum. I am doing just fine without a man. But deep down, I think we all want to have that special someone in our lives, and it makes no matter whether you’re a man or a woman. That feeling of falling in love is irreplaceable (chocolate comes close though)--everyone wants to feel those endorphins flowing through them.

Much like many of my girlfriends, I would love to fall in love. As time goes by, the definition of “being in love” changes for me based on my experiences and how I am developing as a person. Love is different to everyone, that’s what makes it so hard to find. And when you find “it”, why doesn’t it stick around? Sometimes it does, sometimes it gets complicated because people make it more complicated than it should be. Another one of my theories is that you can feel anything and everything for a particular man, but if he doesn’t feel the same way back, then let him go--it will never work if you’re not both on the same page.

Of course I’m the one who believes in that Knight-in-Shining-Armour idea--I also need wooing--I must be woo-ed. I know I’m not alone in those thoughts, am I ladies? If guys are trying to figure out what the one thing is that women who are “independent” are looking for, this is it: we want to feel safe. Period. I’ve heard that time and time again. I may be independent to the max, but I want to be with a man who makes me feel protected and safe, but who also gives me my space to be me and do the things that help me fulfill and enrich my life. I don’t want to do everything with a man, rather, I would want us to each have those same fulfilling and enriching experiences for ourselves, and then bring our lives together to help us grow and evolve with each other.

Then the ultimate question is posed to me and to all women alike who are in the same boat: If you’re so busy with everything you’re doing, places you’re going, and people you’re seeing, then how do you have room to welcome Prince Charming into your life? My answer is simply that when the right man comes along, he will fit into your life and vice-versa, and it will be seamless. Compromise is always on the table, but it will feel good, not as if you’re losing something. When it comes to time, you’ll make time, if that special person is important enough to you. So for now, I’m going to have to stick with my Grandma’s advice...after all, it worked for her then, and today, she’s still in love...65 years later. Thanks Grandma, xox.