Living Happily Ever After

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Of Victory, Defeat…and Birthdays

“Time is everything; five minutes make the difference between victory and defeat.” (Horatio Nelson)

I celebrated my birthday yesterday. It was a WONDERFUL day, for many reasons and thanks to so many people. It was a happy day, all day, for me (and my husband, who shares my same birthday.) But then, unexpectedly, there came that moment.

That one moment when I couldn’t help but acknowledge the miracle of having such a wonderful 47th birthday…as I remembered how absolutely terrible turning 42 had been.

That lovely birthday that hit about a month after my extreme life losses and divorce in 2009, amid of a LOT of change, challenge, trauma and turmoil. I felt terrible, I looked awful, and I can’t describe the misery I experienced–feeling like a total failure in my 40s! (I don’t recommend it, haha.)

But I DO recommend hanging in there. Choosing to live anyway, despite your losses, burdens and adversities. Never give up. Get out of bed every day and accomplish something, even if it’s just getting out of bed!

Because time really is everything. And those ensuing minutes (or years, in my case) really do make the difference between defeat and victory. And victory feels so good and is literally, so SWEET.

“Victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat.” (Malcolm S. Forbes)

Taste it.

 

 

The Conditions for Beauty

“No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.” (Oscar Wilde)
My mom emphasized true beauty, what she called “inner beauty,” and taught me it’s what is on the inside of you that counts. I believed her. And  then my unexpected life hit.
Although it happened five years ago and much of it has become a blur, I’ll never forget what a scary and dark time it was. Overwhelming. All I can say is that I did the best I could given the circumstances. I probably made some mistakes. But one thing I stand by was my intentional refusal to indulge in the vicious hatred and negativity that came my way. (I’d like to say it was a soul perfection that allowed me to take the high road. But the truth is probably closer to the fact that I was so afraid if I allowed myself to indulge in ANY hatred or anger toward anyone who treated me unjustly or betrayed me during those dark days, I might have never been able to rise above it.)
So time passed, I recovered, and I’m still living. I moved on, minus most of the trappings (and some of the friends) who chose to not remain with me. And I’ve become o.k. with all of it. And then earlier this month I had an encounter that reinforced to me, again, that I made the right choice.

One of my biggest losses from my previous spouse’s crimes and Ponzi scheme was the loss of a few friends I’d know even longer than my ex. We weren’t just friends, we were like family. They were some of my heroes–and the first phone call I made when I found out I was married to a criminal and he’d destroyed not just our family, but countless other lives. However in the waning months of my ex-husband’s crimes, their relatives had invested money with him. And he had taken it. So at my greatest time of need (and in all of the years since), they couldn’t be there for me due to the depth of destruction.

And then earlier this month, I unexpectedly ran into one of them. That friend I once knew so well was a literal stranger. In fact, I almost didn’t recognize her. Our encounter was so brief but I was shocked. She looked so different to me. Maybe I just caught her on a bad day…or maybe my mom was right: inner beauty is the only kind of beauty that matters.

It isn’t easy to develop and it certainly isn’t easy to maintain–to rise above the destructive choices of others and the events of life that can be so difficult. But it’s so worth it.

Because in the end, and despite our losses (or perhaps because of them), we will each be truly beautiful.

The Speech Continued: ‘H’ is for Hang On

H: Hang On.

Don’t walk off into the sunset, disappear into the horizon and drop off the face of the earth as much as you may want to! Don’t lay down and die (like I really wanted to!)

“The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit.” (Morgan Freeman)

So hang on!

The reality is: if you hang on long enough and hang in there strong enough, eventually you’ll see light again. And when the dust settles, it USUALLY doesn’t end up QUITE as bad as you initially think it will. For example, I seriously believed at worst case scenario, I was innocent but would be sent to prison anyway; and at best case, I would be homeless–living in a cardboard box somewhere under a bridge. (It was me and my four kids, so I was envisioning a refrigerator-sized box!) The reality? Yes, I lost my life, my home, my husband, my intact family, many friends, my reputation, every material possession of value (including my wedding ring and most of the gifts my husband had ever given me); yes, I had to go to work and will have to work until the day I die; yes, I WILL be living paycheck to paycheck the rest of my life…but there IS a paycheck, there IS a roof over my head and there IS food for my children. We’re ok!

You CAN do it.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror, I can take the next thing that comes along!’ You MUST do the thing you THINK you cannot do.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Embrace your horror! Really, what else is there to do?

Own your story, whatever it is, and I promise you, someday you’ll be living with happiness and joy. Again.

One Grand Sweet Song

“Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.” (Ronald Reagan)

Last month my husband took me to see Olivia Newton John in concert. Even if I hadn’t loved her music or aspired to be her during my childhood and teenage years (yes, I had the white dress from Xanadu and wore my hair like hers!) that concert was a trip down the memory lane of my childhood and life.

It was also there that something very unexpected happened—and I’m not talking about the Olivia enthusiast next to me who didn’t sit down once during the entire performance, who had what appeared to be choreographed danced routines he performed to every song and who didn’t miss an opportunity to call out “I love you, Olivia!” every time there was a pause or break in singing. (For the sake of my husband’s reputation and honor, I should probably clarify that although I love that he knows every word to every song, sang along with Olivia and I and enjoyed the evening as much as I did…I’m talking about the man on the OTHER side of me!)

While sitting on the grass and enjoying the concert, I was unexpectedly struck by the most powerful sense of complete and utter satisfaction and contentment; a feeling of  joy, gratitude, happiness and a love of life. Not just about life itself, but about the life I am living today.

Honestly, it surprised me.

Because I still have an occasional moment of trying not to compare the “then” with the “now.” Yes, a materially blessed life with a beautiful home, a house cleaner, a gardener, luxury cars, vacations and everything else that was mine in a former life was easier, in some ways, than the life I struggle to provide for myself and my children now. Yes, I lived one life I loved until 2009 at which time I began living a new and very different life in which I’ve found much unexpected happiness, joy and satisfaction. But it surprised me to be struck, unexpectedly, by such a powerful sensation that despite its many, many losses and the heartache and grief I’ve passed through, despite the challenges of the past and present and the extreme changes in every aspect of my life including lifestyle, I not only have incredible peace and joy but also total gratitude and contentment in and for my new one.

It made me realize that not only do you have to triumph over your challenges, you must embrace what has happened to you, accept it as a part of you and your life experience, own it (make it yours) and the triumph will be that much sweeter. It was an epiphany for me to realize that is what I had unintentionally done and that the happiness and joy that is yours, when you do that, is indescribable.

Really, it is. I highly recommend it to everyone living an unexpected life. Because when you get to that point, I believe you really ARE experiencing, living AND FINDING JOY in your unexpected life. You’re living your “happily ever after.”

“Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” (Toni Morrison)

New Friends: The Same Question

In my unexpected life, even three and a half years later, I meet new friends all the time. Some I become acquainted with in person, a surprising number of them contact me (sometimes anonymously) in the throes of their unexpected difficulties; reaching out to someone, anyone, who might have even a slight empathy or understanding of what they’re facing in the immediate future. A cry for help.

I cried in 2009 too. I remember how alone and scared I was, especially when I was thrust into mu unexpected life. How I wished for someone, anyone, who had been through something similar to what I faced that I could share my questions and concerns with. I always make sure I respond to each new email friend because of that because if ANYTHING I’ve experienced and learned as a result can help someone else, I am happy to share!

A few contacts I’ve received may have been frauds but most, I believe, are real people facing really unexpected and really hard thing in their lives. They’re terrified. But ALL have asked the same question:

How did you do it? How did you survive it?

And my answer is always the same.

To lay down and die, quit, give up, fall off the deep end or any other similar reaction was NOT a choice for me—personally, or for my family situation. That isn’t the way I was raised; that isn’t what I believe the correct response to tragedy or hardship is; and I was a mother with children who deserved a life, and to live (they had their whole lives ahead of them) so I had to make sure they got to live their futures despite the bummer it was that we hit a nightmare of a rough patch in 2009!

In addition to all of the above, fairy tale fan that I always have been, I couldn’t stand the thought of anything but a “happily ever after,” for me, my children or any other life.

As difficult as it may be, you can’t quit or give up when hard things happen. You have to carry on AND LIVE; seek a “happily ever after” no matter the antagonist to your personal story.

After all, “If you can see the magic in a fairy tale, you can face the future.” (Danielle Steele)

 

Or Maybe?

Or maybe the secret to life is…simply facing your fears.

My unexpected life was replete with ALL of my lifelong fears and many more I’d never even dreamed of, not even in my worst nightmare, all combined into one fantastically devastating, horrific experience that included, all at the same time, betrayal, crime, a double life, negative publicity, divorce, single motherhood, poverty, loss of home, loss of pretty much everything of worldly value, unemployment, financial devastation and a few other things I shall refrain from detailing.

What do you do when you’re handed your nightmare on a platter of poverty and publicity?

Accept it. You can’t escape it, so deal with it.

Conquer it. Keep at it until you overcome the mountains in your path. (Work at it every single day for as long as it takes to find happiness and joy, to live, again.)

I think THAT is the secret.

“He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

 

A Miracle

“Don’t rush me, sonny. You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.” (The Princess Bride)

My husband came home from work the other day to report a new study he’d heard about: marriages where both partners share the duties of housework have a 50% chance of ending in divorce, isn’t that interesting?

Actually, it got me a little riled.

“Wait a minute,” I replied. “If 50% of all marriages supposedly end in divorce, and if 50% of remarriages are supposed to end in divorce, and if differences related to children, money, satisfaction, expectations, life stress and everything else supposedly cause 50% of marriages to end in divorce, and if helping each other around the house is now supposed to cause divorce…how is ANYONE supposed to stay married these days? Much less, how will WE stay married? We have every single statistic stacked against us and more—”

“Because we’re a miracle!” my husband exclaimed.

“But—” I began.

“We’re a miracle, and we always will be! We’re a miracle!” he exclaimed again, laughed, and ended all other conversation with a very shall we say…convincing…kiss.

“That married couples can live together day after day is a miracle that the Vatican has overlooked.” (Bill Cosby)

I’m grateful for the “miracle” that is mine and for the “miracle” of many other happy, committed marriages and families in the world. I’m a fan—I believe in marriage and family and what a blessing both have been, and are, in my life.

We need more miracles.

And if you don’t have your miracle yet, hang in there. Don’t give up. I’m rooting for you. After all, you can’t rush a miracle.

Life Happens

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” (John Lennon)

Remarrying mid-life is an interesting experience in so many ways and on so many levels, not the least of which is constantly feeling like I’m trying to catch up, or make up, a few decades—getting to know my husband’s family, his history and everything else. That, combined with raising children, working full time, household duties, hobbies and life in general, keeps us pretty busy!

Recently, as part of the getting to know one another’s history, I found myself at a little cemetery in Snowflake, Arizona, seeing grave sites of Ramsey family members (including my father-in-law) I’ve heard many stories about but have never met. While there, I was particularly struck by the dates engraved on the stone monuments to row after row of lives lived.

Reminded, again, of the importance of making the most of the life you’ve been blessed with—whether you chose it or not. And that while to every life there is a beginning date and at some point there will be an end, what truly matters is all of the time in between: what you choose to do with it, what you make of  it, the positive impact in the world (even if it’s only in your little corner of the world) you have, the memories, the friendships and the happiness and joy you cultivate throughout it all.

Standing there in the green of a quiet and peaceful resting place I thought about the hopes, dreams and aspirations we’re all working toward; and how we each have our share of those that don’t work out for one reason or another: death, divorce, sickness, war, Ponzi schemes, accidents, betrayals, employment disappointments, natural disasters, way too many “man made disasters” and everything else no one plans to experience or wants to experience…but it comes to each of us any way.

Life “happens.” It’s what you do with it that counts.

Make the most of your moments.

Revise your plans, if necessary, due to the things that develop in your personal story.

And then choose to live happily, ever after, in YOUR unexpected life.

 

Humpty Dumpty

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” (Lewis Carroll)

It’s nursery rhyme day in my son’s kindergarten class. All kinds of fun is planned—including the opportunity for each child to recite their favorite nursery rhyme! In helping my son prepare for his big moment of recitation, I was surpassed to learn that Humpty Dumpty is his favorite nursery rhyme. (Don’t ask me why I thought one about a spider or rolling down a hill or dogs and bones might appeal to him more, lets just say I was wrong!)

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

You can learn a lot from Humpty and his unexpected adventure; his fall. Who knew nursery rhymes could be such great life lessons?

It’s like this. We all take a “fall” or experience at least one failure in our lives. (Lucky me, I’ve had many! I’ve survived some big ones!) Some falls are self-inflicted by the poor choices we make, others are thrust upon us through the choices of others. Some falls occur because we tried our hardest but sadly, still fell short. Others occur by “accident” or in the natural course of life or living. But regardless of how we get them, we still get to experience them—to lose someone or some thing (or in extreme cases, pretty much everything!) That falls happen is a given, it’s what you do with them that counts. And that’s the key to every fall: YOU.

Humpty fell off the wall and no one could do one thing about it. Nobody else could put him back together. It was up to Humpty to decide his fate: cracked, forever fallen or rebuild. Sure, others would be there for him and his friends, I’m sure, would do everything they could to support him and be there for him; but it was up to Humpty to do it. Just like it’s up to each of us to pick ourselves up and carry on after a fall.

I’ve learned for myself that you can survive anything if you choose to. I’ve seen firsthand that total devastation doesn’t have to mean absolute ruin forever. I believe there is darkness, but I also believe that after even extreme darkness and heartache and devastation can come dawn—light, life, healing, happiness and joy! If you think your dreams are shattered, pick up a broken piece of one and work to put something together again.

If you do that, I firmly believe you’ll succeed. Just don’t be too surprised when the outcome of your effort, the ending, the “happily ever after” you create from the shard shard of devastation you’re left with is every bit as good (and sometimes even better!) than your previous dream.

“If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces,  never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.” (Flavia Weedn)

It’s the unexpected life. Full of adventures you never dreamed of, but that add to the rich tapestry of your experiences, as you weave a life story even Humpty Dumpty would envy.

The Greatest Bit of Wisdom

“To help my muscles rebuild after I work out, I have a small serving of cottage cheese.” (Brooke Burns)

Cottage cheese. Great for rebuilding muscles after strenuous physical activity, but what do you utilize when your task is to rebuild a life after the one you’ve always lived (and quite enjoyed) is destroyed?

Some choose to utilize the “Q” word—quit. But I say: have the courage to take stock of what you’re left with. No matter your loss, you’re still going to be left with SOMETHING. So choose to be grateful for what you’re left with, no matter how insignificant it looks at the time, and use it, whatever it is, to rebuild a new life. One you can find happiness and absolute joy through…if you choose to.

Remember, “Luck exists in the leftovers.” (Japanese proverb) And thanks to Mr. Hannah, my amazing 4th grade teacher, I know what luck is: preparation meets opportunity. You can make your own “luck” out of the “leftovers” you’re left with. With preparation (the life you’ve lived, everything you’ve learned and know, the talents you’ve been blessed with, a LOT of hard work and endurance) and opportunity (the unexpected life you’ve been handed) you CAN create a happily ever after. One you never EVER would have imagined for yourself, one you may not have chosen if given the chance, for sure one you never saw coming, but if you’re “lucky,” you’ll realize you’ve one day arrived at.

The unexpected life.

And my guess is…at that point…you wouldn’t choose to have it any other way.

“What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.” (Leo Buscaglia)