I had been wanting to check out this soon-to-be-opened Asian restaurant for a while. It looked small and simple and when I finally saw the OPEN neon sign flashing, I made my way there immediately.
As we walked in and eventually sat down un-escorted, I had the thought that it may have been wiser to wait a week for the new owners to turn on the neon sign. There were unfinished patches on the walls as well as a notable absence of staff in the dining room. After about 15 minutes, a couple who had came in when we did decided to walk out.
We waited another ten minutes and then I ducked my head inside a curtain to let someone know we were there. In the small kitchen, a man and a woman were rushing around and as the woman followed me back to my seat, she explained that they did not yet have sushi, that this would happen next week, and that the waitress had not shown up on her first day at work.
Her accent was hard for me to understand but I recognized and remembered that mix of excitement about opening day being finally here, about the dream - and also dread at not being up to the task (I had never noticed that Dream and Dread are just one letter apart…)
After a good while, our food arrived and it was good. Not my favorite style of cooking - I guess my cells tend to recognize and sway more happily to Mediterranean flavors than Oriental ones - but it definitely was good.
Then, this happened:
The gentleman whom I had seen earlier in the kitchen, came to our table and noticed that I had not yet finished my bowl nor had I added the sauce that came with the dish. Also, I had apparently not mixed the ingredients properly. In a thick accent, he asked me if he could do … something. I nodded, ready for adventure. He then proceeded to grab my chopsticks, add a bunch of sauce on top of what was left in my bowl and toss everything in a well rehearsed manner. He then jutted his chin at me in an invitation to try. It tasted very good. I told him so and he then explained to me what he had done and let me know that next time I ordered - there he picked up my chopsticks again to lift a bit of rice from the bottom of my dish - I could ask for the rice to be crunchier. That it was even more delicious that way, he said. I took note. That was fun. In three minutes, I had gotten a new dish, learned how to order next time and felt as though I had been treated to the private knowings of another culture, one of my favorite experiences ever. I thanked him deeply.
Before we left, the woman came to visit us also, as she brought the check. It was hard for me to understand her words but as she took my hand and held it in hers, I could understand … her Essence. I could understand that she was stressed and wanted to make sure we had liked our experience and would come back. I assured her we would. She held my hand all the way to the door and waived us goodbye warmly.
As we stepped into the cold air, I remembered this Maya Angelou quote: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
In this little not quite finished restaurant, I had felt welcome and connected and for this, I was grateful.
The Two Words
December 5, 2018
Right there on my little phone’s. My mom’s signature.
I needed to make a call about something related to my mom. Something we had not gotten around to doing in the few crazy days between my mom’s death and my return home.
Thus my mom’s signature staring back at me.
It always felt powerful to me. Pretty, dainty, super feminine, not fully legible yet impactful. Quite a bit like my mom.
I remember its definitive power when I was in school and it would allow me to skip PE or confirm that I was indeed ill that day. Or would be absent for a week or two due to a family trip somewhere exotic. It excused. it made so. It ended conversations or questions.
There it was on the little screen.
I stared at it and could not fully grasp how it could still exist while she did not. While she had not existed for two full months, now.
But I had a job to do, a call to make.
My task was to call the number that hovered a few inches above The Signature then go through a tedious and necessary process .
I could do that.
A few taps on the phone, a few transfers to “the right person,” and there I was, talking with the man who was going to make it happen. First, he needed to verify a few things, and then he needed to confirm that my mom had indeed died.
And then he said the two words I have heard a few times in the last few weeks.
The first time I heard The Two Words was out of the mouths of the two shockingly young men in oversized dark suits who had wrapped my mom’s cooling body in a white cloth, doing their best not to drop her as they laid her on the stretcher (I remember wondering if they would be that careful on the other side, I would not be there to watch them, ready to pounce at the slightest breach). They had then maneuvered the small awkward hallway, made their way out of the house and towards the driveway where their white van was waiting.
They had opened the van’s back door, and I could see that there was room in there for two stretchers. I was immediately grateful that for her last ride, my mom would not have a roommate. I knew that she would not have liked to ride in the back of a white van with a dead person next to her. Crazy, I know.
Then, before closing the doors, these two men stood on each side of the van, their heads bowed and their hands clasped in a well practiced gesture which I think was supposed to represent solemnity. This was a notably different look from the way they had arrived thirty minutes before, laughing and joking has they had passed by the bedroom’s tinted windows. My nephew had immediately renamed them “the goons” and had made his way to the garden until they left.
The proper amount of time having passed, they unclasped their hands, lifted their heads, shut the back door, got in the front seats and forever took my mom away from me.
All the cool headedness I had been blessed / cursed with for the previous three weeks melted away in the rotation of a tire and I watched myself run after the van, submerged in the panic of a three year old left at daycare for the first time, knowing for sure that she would not pick me up at the end of the day.
The van halted at the stop sign, started again and made a right turn.
That was it. She was really gone.
But I digress. I was about to tell you about The Two Words and about the phone call. Let me get back on track.
The Two Words, first uttered to me by two young men in oversized dark suits as they were about to flip the page on a thick chapter of my life. These two words were “My Condolences.”
Two weird sounding words, the true meaning of which I could not grasp. Somehow, there was an energy mismatch. Even the “my” part felt weird and scratchy. What in this story, was theirs? Why were they telling me about them? I filed it away for later.
*Later* came when I was on the phone with the official guy (see, it’s all going to make sense, now) just a few days ago. Two months had passed and I had gone through some of the strange hills and valleys of my own brand of grief. I was okay. I was fine. I would make take care of things and then get on a coaching call.
The agent having verified the details necessary for the claim, The Two Words came out of his mouth and made their way to my ear once more: My Condolences. Quick, official and without any more energy than if he had wished me a nice day.
I heard them and my mind registered them as a niceness, my eye on the clock to make sure I would be ready for my coaching client. My heart however, started to do this weird thing, right there on the phone. It felt as though my heart was twisting its nose in an attempt to not sneeze. Futile attempt.
I breathed, I looked outside the window, trying to delay what I now sensed was the inevitable.
I did not know this man, we were almost done, I would be off the call in a minute. I had been doing just fine, even through Thanksgiving. I was not that close to my mom anyway. I had a call to tend to. Why now?
But no. It was coming and there was nothing to do but surrender.
Prompted by a stranger’s formality, I was ushered into one more of grief’s strange chambers and there was no looking back.
Business got done efficiently and I had been blessed with one more invitation to navigate this mapless, surprising territory.
When I finally got on the call with my client, I was deeply ready to hear about her life, mine having been sweetly cleansed.
As the days and weeks pass and I learn to live with this new piece, I become more and more convinced of something I had been suspecting for a while: that all the cracks in our hearts really do make us stronger and allow us to be more present, more compassionate. I really love this.
Today, I invite you to love your heart deeply. To trust it, to be kind to it and to know that it makes perfect sense.
I also invite you to consider that a chipped heart can do even better work than a whole heart. I invite you to get out there and allow it to touch others.
Finally, I want to share with you this quote from “The Book of Joy,” which I have been drinking up: “The way though the sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.” - the Dalai Lama
Wishing you a very sweet rest of the day.
“I sure wish I’d learned that in school!”
I have heard this phrase so many times when teaching classes or coaching clients.
And I agree.
When I think back about how much daily use I get from my French geography class, versus how many times a day I pull up one of the communication skills I have picked up over the last two decades, it seems clear to me that the earlier we could learn how to exist in the world, the better it would be.
Compassion. Patience. Curiosity.
Peace of Mind. Resilience. Kindness. Self Care.
And yes, a bit of Magic.
Every time someone tells me this, I think “that’s it. I am going to open a school and teach this stuff in some classroom setting.” And then life happens and I am back to leading Retreats - which I love - or working with someone one-on-one, or writing. Which I love also.
But what about “The School??” The school where the curriculum is based around Happiness and learning to get along better with ourselves and others? The school that does not require to fly across the world or pay a lot of money per hour? The … Happiness School?
A couple of months ago, while watching someone I love juggle more balls in the air than is healthy, I decided to go for it. I would create the Happiness School. I would teach one lesson at a time. I would make it super accessible. And cheap.
So here it is.
The Happiness School is ready to go.
One lesson per month, taught live online. Time for questions. A bit of homework. An online community for support for in between classes, too.
The curriculum will include anything that allows us to live life with more ease, more joy, and more confidence. We will talk about communication, relationships, creativity, peace of mind, and much more.
My students will learn skills that will allow them to become stronger and stronger in their ability to ride life’s waves with agility AND JOY. Together, we will grow our “mental immunity” so that life’s twists and turns will affect us much less and for a shorter amount of time. Little by little, the kind voices in our heads will become much louder than the mean ones. Our life will get sweeter, easier.
And then, the thing that for me is the biggest reason I do the work I do: we will be able to give so much more to the ones we love.
Because as Archbishop Desmond Tutu says:
"The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves but to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you."
School will keep going for as long as we have things to talk about. My guess is it will be a good while. I am purty excited about this.
First day of class is January 4.
General application period opens this Monday, December 3. For a personal invitation to apply two days early, click here (the first 100 students will get a discount and pay only $29 per month).
It took a while, and sometimes that’s just how it works. I trust the that the timing is perfect and that this will be a blessing for many of us.
Wishing you much peace and fun for the rest of the week!
PS: Because we cannot always be available at a certain time, any lesson missed will be recorded.
Schedule a Happiness Coaching Session
Essential Happiness Retreat
January 10 to 20, 2019
Guadeloupe, French Caribbean
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I write because this is the way I am able to taste life more deeply.