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    ONWORDS: ON FUNERALS, PERSPECTIVE AND A LIFE WELL LIVED

    ONWORDS: ON FUNERALS, PERSPECTIVE AND A LIFE WELL LIVED

    By Todd Lieman

    Funerals are always at the top of any “places to find perspective” lists. 

    As we listen to the eulogies, tell stories and remember, it’s easy to get lost in a thought, “Am I living my best life?” Or even, “I wonder what they will say about me?” So profound is the funeral experience that it’s often been suggested that we write our own obituaries to help figure out our purpose. While spooky, this exercise is supposed to guide us to a clearer, soul-level understanding of what really matters.

    For example, if we imagine our loved ones sharing stories about the hours we spent writing the epic books we published, but in the here and now we’re not actually writing . . . perhaps that’s a Grand Canyon-sized clue about what to do next with our time. The theory goes that by writing our own obituary, we gain some serious perspective that maybe it’s time to respect the calling with which we’ve been playing hide and seek. More bluntly, maybe it’s time to get off our ass. Time isn’t promised and nowhere do we learn that more vividly than at a funeral. Perspective.

    Still, I’ve never written my own obituary. I can’t get over the creepiness of it. I can’t get over the energy and message that such an exercise sends into the Universe. What if I’m not clear and the Universe misunderstands my intention to create a more meaningful life and instead interprets my words as planning for my death? I can’t risk sending that energy into space. I can’t risk the confusion. All of this was top of mind at a funeral this week. Perspective.

    It was top of mind as my cousins told countless tales of their dad, Victor, and the importance of family in his life.

    It was top of mind as I remembered decades of Thanksgiving dinners spent together.

    It was top of mind as stories of Victor’s passions for writing, community and the Navy were told to a sea of nodding heads.

    It was top of mind as Victor’s favorite jokes were shared. And to the collective groans that always followed.

    And it was especially top of mind as I considered the true spirit and definition of a life well lived.

    Victor’s life certainly had the look and feel of someone who did it right. My cousin’s daughter (my second cousin once removed!) told a great story. When she first pierced her nose, she stopped by her grandparents’ house. In the course of their visit, Victor and Florence, managed to say nothing about the piercing. Just before Sara could leave, Victor knocked on her car window. Sara rolled down the window and Victor said, “I hope you realize how cool your grandparents are that we didn’t say a thing about the metal in your face!” 

    As for me? Well, I used to stop by, unannounced on my drive home to LA from UC Davis. I would purposely take the long route so I could barge in, make myself at home and get caught up. I ran the risk that they wouldn’t be home (and they often weren’t), but the surprise and anticipation was worth it. When I moved north long after graduating college, I still took the long way home.

    The thing about perspective, however, is that (at least for me) it’s proven easy to find and difficult to keep. I’ve been jealous of people who have had near death experiences, the ones who were given a real second chance. I figured it must be impossible to fall back into old patterns, or continue to feel the pain of master wounds in the face of defeating death. But then I had one of those experiences and it did nothing for me. At least at the time. My experience in the Sea of Cortez has always been a great story to tell, but if I’m really honest, I fucked up the storybook ending. I could have written the perfect hero’s journey with what I learned (and I tried to convince myself that I had), but instead I still allowed years of my life to slip through my fingers. Perspective.

    Funerals are also notorious for “I did not know thats.” It goes without saying that with all the stories flying around, we’re bound to learn a few new things. Things like how Victor and Florence met (blind date when she was still in high school and he was in the Navy) or when they got married (one week after he graduated from the Naval Academy). Victor recently won a short story contest and was the inspiration for my cousin Rob’s passion for photography. I didn’t know either of those things. So in between thinking about my own memories of Victor and wondering what I could learn from his life, I found myself wanting to make sure that I both learned and told the stories in life. Perspective.

    I think Victor was the first person I ever knew personally who wrote and published a book. I remember going to the bookstore and buying a copy of NO NONSENSE MARKETING. I remember asking him to sign it on one of those surprise visits after I had graduated college. The last time I saw Victor, we talked about the books we were writing. He suggested that we trade chapters. I was too intimidated to send one of mine. Back then it was undeniably raw. First draft raw. Really bad raw.

    Of course now I wish I had.

    Perspective.

     

     

    ONWORDS: ON STORY ADDICTION

    ONWORDS: ON STORY ADDICTION

    My name is Todd and I’m an addict.

    (Hi Todd)

    I’m not addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping or any of the other addiction types listed here. I’m an addict of a different kind. I’m addicted to my story. (Wait. Please understand that I’m not making fun of addiction. I feel the need to state that right up here in the front. At the top. Everything seems to offend someone. Not my intention.)

    I recently spent a weekend in Sedona with a group of brave souls who traveled to the Vortex in what we thought was a writing retreat. My expectation was that we would write. And write. And maybe write some more. I thought we’d write dialogue, description and character outlines. We wrote a little, but mostly . . . we exposed our addictions to our personal stories (some were recovering addicts and inspiring as all get out).

    I won’t betray the incredibly personal stories others shared, but I can share mine (which is a far cry from incredible and is in fact really quite boring). Mine goes something like this: I struggle with depression on some level of the spectrum. I struggle to consistently live in the authentic direction of my soul. I’ve always sought permission before making any major moves in my life. I watch other people do the kinds of things that I want to do and struggle with the jealousy it brings. I’m afraid of my gifts. I blame. I wear a variety of masks in an effort to…well, you get the picture. I’ve crafted a tale that gives me the excuses I need. Anytime. Just reach into my Official Bag of Fooling Myself, sprinkle a little Sabotage Dust on (enter situation here) and cue the darkness. Being addicted to my story meant I could avoid taking any real control of my life.

    But what I realized this weekend is that’s not how it has to be.

    This is where it’s natural for me to think, “Duh, dumbass,” and start berating the f*ck out of myself. That’s easy to do. But then, that’s just part of the story, isn’t it? That’s what I’ve always done. That’s the addiction. That’s where I go eat some horribly unhealthy meal, make myself feel like shit, lather, rinse and repeat. All the while my Demons are laughing their asses off. So not this time.

    As we studied the different character/personality archetypes the question was asked, “What if you don’t like your archetype?” Or as it relates specifically to me, what if I don’t want to keep falling into the hands of the Saboteur? The response was swift and simple: Change it.

    Story Addiction takes many forms. It can be the thing that keeps us from getting up early to workout (“I’m just not a morning person”) or not expressing ourselves artistically (“I don’t know how to [insert art form]”) to you name it and there’s likely an excuse attached that is part of the story. I’ve gained and lost the same 30 (40?) pounds more times than I can count. Every time I lose it someone proclaims, “Wow! You’ve lost so much weight!” I tell them, “I haven’t lost it, its just misplaced. I’ll find it again.” I get laughs. It becomes part of my story. And I gain it all back. (And then some) We all have our own versions of Sabotage Dust. Believe me, there’s no judgment in that. See it. Honor it. And if you want to join me . . . change it. (So, when I lose this 30 pounds--again!--and you tell me how good I look, I’m going to say “Thank you,” and tell you how fun it was.)

    So this is me virtually looking out upon the majestic red rocks of Sedona (as I sit on a couch in my family room) changing my story. I’ve entered a kind of Story Addiction Rehab. This isn’t a rebranding, either. I’m not covering up anything. I’m uncovering everything. This is owning and telling the story that is really, truly mine. Authentically.

    And that other story? That’s not real. That’s not me. (Or, more to the point--I have no use for it anymore.) Somewhere along the line I started believing it was. Somewhere along the line (and if I’m super honest I know exactly when “somewhere along the line” actually happened), I discovered it was easier to sprinkle the Sabotage Dust than it was to fight for my soul. I found it was easier to be sarcastic than honest. (Which isn't to say that sarcasm doesn't have it's time and place.) I found it was easier for me to write that things sucked than to admit they were awesome. Somewhere along the line, I started living like I was learning a new language, as though whenever someone said something, I had to translate it through my story and then respond. I wasn’t speaking from fluency of soul. I didn’t trust myself. Because the story I was living told me that I couldn’t. I became my mistakes. I become the fear. I became the hurt I had caused. I became the addiction.

    I know . . . I’ve been here before. I’ve written things like this before. Repeatedly. It’s been written in a variety of ways, including my favorite, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” And, I usually say to my friend (whom I call the Rabbi) that “I hope this time it sticks.” And he usually responds, “There will be a time when it does. May as well be this one.” I can say, undoubtedly, it is this one.

    There will be haters. There are always haters. Always a couple who will make fun of the words, who will taunt the sentiments. And that’s cool. Everyone has their own stories that are at the root of their responses. I’m good with that. So, if the words start to seem a little different. If the thoughts start to feel a little different. You’ll know why.

    That’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

    ONWORDS: ON GRATITUDE, FRIENDS AND FAITH IN HUMANITY

    ONWORDS: ON GRATITUDE, FRIENDS AND FAITH IN HUMANITY

    Some time ago, a leading inspirational Facebook page, one that I regularly check out, recently posted a link with a headline of something like “26 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity.” And even though the picture associated with the link looked uplifting, I didn’t click on it.

    Why? Because I don’t need my faith in humanity restored.

    I think people are inherently good. I think people mostly mean well. And I think people want to do the right thing. I have lots of faith in humanity. Silly as it might seem, not clicking made me feel like I wasn’t giving influence to an idea that I needed my faith in humanity restored. Instead, I wanted to let the Universe know that I feel good about humanity on the whole.

    Do we make mistakes? Yep. Can we be mean? Absolutely. Is there hate in the world? Undeniably. Does that mean my faith in humanity is shaken? Hardly. In fact, the haters, bullies and mean boys & girls of the world only serve to strengthen my human faith. They make me want to be better. They make me want to inspire even more. And they make me want to show my son that good can triumph over evil. The older I get, the less I understand hate, but the more I respect the healing power of gratitude.

    I suppose it’s appropriate that I saw this link on the (nearly) eve of Thanksgiving. It’s natural to get reflective during the holidays and I’ve been thinking about how unspeakably grateful I am for my friends. I know. Duh. Who isn’t grateful for their friends? We all are. But, the truth is, my friends are the reason why I have such faith in humanity.

    I rely heavily on my friends. I’m far from perfect. Flawed. The last several years have been somewhat transformative for me, as I’ve moved closer and closer to finding a way to get “whole.” It’s a journey that is nowhere near complete, and one that has included plenty of one step forward, several steps back experiences. But my friends never seem to waver. In the words of Freddie Mercury, “and bad mistakes/I’ve made a few/I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face, but I’ve come through.”

    And I’ve come through because of my friends. I get by with a little help from my friends. They help keep me positive. Focused on the good. Believing that I can do and be anything. When you have that kind of support in your life, your faith in humanity is never in doubt. So, now is the natural time for me to simply say, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I’m so grateful for all that you do for me.

    I think it’s unfortunate that the loudest cries often come from the most disparaging voices. I think it’s too bad that senseless crimes and stories of gore seem to generate the ratings. Schadenfreude confuses me. But none of this means that my faith in humanity is shaken. None of this means that I believe dark triumphs over the light. All of this means that we need to work harder to celebrate the random acts of kindness. That we need to be optimistic and grateful. And, more importantly, let’s not use negative headlines to draw attention to the positive.

    I know that the link and authors of the post meant well. I know they weren’t trying to be negative. Not in the slightest. I know I’m overdoing it and overreacting. I suppose I should have clicked on the link. Maybe I’ll go back and do that. But what I’d really like to do is rename the link. I want to save it and share it as “26 Pictures That Show You How Great People Are,” or “26 Awesome Images of Awesome People.” Or maybe, “26 Pictures That Show How We Get By With A Little Help From Our Friends.”

    Thank you, friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t do any of this life thing without you.