Living Happily Ever After


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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.

Easy To Speak

When I was a girl, my dad had the irritating habit of bursting into song when we weren’t being kind.  ”Let us oft’ speak kind words to each other, at home or where’ere we may be…” he sang–in his best opera voice. 

It did the trick. I absolutely hated that song and how he sang it. I changed my behavior ASAP just to get him to stop singing. His message was clear: my parents expected us to choose kindness, no matter what.

I had no idea what was in store for me, in my life, when I was a girl. I’ve lived through horrific shock; unimaginable loss; personal devastation; grief. I’ve been falsely accused and wrongly judged by people who know me (and thus should have known better) and by random strangers (who don’t know me at all) a few times. Sometimes it seemed like my situation couldn’t have gotten much worse. But I’m thankful I was taught to be kind, because I firmly believe and I’ve seen for myself that the only thing that can make a bad situation worse is anger, contention, venom, hatred, rudeness, hostility, vilification, an unwillingness to forgive…in other words, a lack of kindness and charity.

Regardless of what happens to us, I strongly believe our reaction to every situation, unexpected or otherwise, continues to be a choice and, “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.” (Samuel Johnson) I’ve seen for myself that, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” (Mother Teresa) I’m reminded of that each day when someone chooses to act or speak with kindness toward me. I was reminded of that even today when a stranger named Mark offered a kind comment on my blog. And when my former spouse was sentenced and a Ponzi scheme victim I don’t know offered a kind word on my blog. I have been uplifted by the kindness of strangers countless times in my life, especially in my unexpected one.

Now I sing that song, my dad’s song, to my own kids. In an opera voice, too. And I’m pleased to report it’s working just as well for the next generation of my family. We’re not perfect, but we’re trying to be kind. Always. And we’re singing about it.

Just a little something in addition to the dance moves we’ve developed…in our unexpected life.

“While I dance I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. That is why I dance.” (Hans Bos)

Six Degrees

I had an experience last week that reminded me of a unique “phenomenon.” Six degrees of separation. Ever heard of it?

“Six degrees of separation” (also known as the “Human Web”) refers to the idea that everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of ‘a friend of a friend’ statements can be made to connect any two people in six steps or fewer.” (Wikipedia)

I’d heard of this “phenomenon” prior to entering my unexpected life, but it has proven true over and over again as I’ve lived it.

Several months ago, a co-worker of mine was curious about a bachelor I was dating, input the bachelor’s name into Facebook, and up popped a mutual friend my co-worker and the bachelor had! What is that? Two degrees of separation. My co-worker joked, “Should I ‘friend’ the man you’re dating? Wouldn’t THAT be funny?”

Then I met my birth mother only to discover her best friend and college roommate was a friend of mine in Colorado! One degree of separation.

Then last week at my company’s summer party, the COO’s wife introduced herself to me and told me we have a mutual friend. She said her cousin, one of her closest friends, is a friend of mine from Colorado. (And although she was kind enough not to mention it, her cousin is also a victim of my former spouse.)

I hadn’t heard from my friend since the tragic revelations last year, so I was surprised when the COO’s wife told me she had a message for me from her. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe; I didn’t dare breathe. I felt sick. I thought, “Is this how the rest of my life will be? No matter where I go, no matter how much time passes, no matter how much I rebuild my life, am I never going to be free from the tentacles of my former spouse and the crimes he committed?”

I wondered how I was going to be able to endure it. For the rest of my life. I braced myself for the “message.” I’ve received enough of those to worry it wasn’t going to be a positive experience for me. Then I wondered if I was about to be suddenly thrust onto a path that was the beginning of the end to losing my job. (A little paranoid on my part. O.k., a lot paranoid. But such are the scars of blissfully living your life until the day you find out it has all been a lie, that you are left with nothing and are alone to provide for and raise your children.)

Shame on me for thinking that.

Instead, the message was, “She wants you to know she loves you, she LOVES you, she loves you…” and she hugged me.

I honestly don’t know what the rest of the message was, because as soon as I heard that first part, I couldn’t hear anything else. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed, again, at the kindness and goodness of people. And I was chatting with the cousin and friend of one of them.

It’s in the most unexpected places and manifests itself in the most unexpected moments, but it’s there. And I’m so grateful that it is. Another person betrayed by my former husband and yet, instead of reacting with hatred and venom, she has chosen another course. Maybe a harder path in some ways (it seems like the natural inclination might be that it’s easier to give in to anger and hatred and retaliate “an eye for an eye” rather than respond with forgiveness) but such goodness is a better way to live, for sure.

She may have lost her money, but she didn’t lose what matters most; what is truly of value. Ponzi scheme or not, poor economy notwithstanding, “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.” (Henry David Thoreau)

There may be “six degrees of separation” (or less!) to any other person on earth. But I believe there is even less than that to get to the heart of the goodness of others. And that inspires me.

“It is not what they profess but what they practice that makes them good.” (Greek Proverb)

So there I sat, tears streaming down my cheeks at a company party at a park in the summertime in Utah. Struck, not for the first time, by the impact our choices have on others. Touched by the effect one woman’s choice had on me. And awed by the strength, courage and example of one who practices what she has professed to be.

It made a difference in my life. At my company picnic. I never expected that.