Monday, June 30, 2014

Runner vs. Hiker Mentality

A couple of weeks ago, my line lit up at the office, igniting at once my I-can-analyze-anything fire, when I picked up to a shaky voiced man who informed me that his boss, who I've worked with for years, suddenly passed away. I am new enough in my practice that I have not experienced the death of too many clients, but I was struck dumb with a strange grief. I know my clients in such a passing way, based on the most formal self-presentations of their lives. But in a way, that's extremely intimate. And when I am sitting next to a person at the border whose livelihood is on the line, they seek a motherly comfort, and I give what I know how to give: spirited distraction and calm reassurance. They go hand in hand.

The man who passed away was someone who I'd gotten stuck with at the border only a matter of months before his death as we waited for his application to be processed. We were there for a couple of hours, and he had filled me with visions of his hiking trips in the mountains, his children studying abroad, and the way he viewed the concerns of the next generation of employees. Most of all, I remember him talking about the need to respect nature's limits. As a hiker, his principal concern was being prepared: having enough hydration, considering fluctuations in temperature, knowing the terrain. All you have when you hike is yourself-- what you prepared beforehand and what you can figure out to meet your needs as you go. He talked about a Boston Marathoner who had died hiking the Grand Canyon because she had not hydrated properly. And I remember commenting at the time that there's a huge difference between a runner mentality- of continuing to push when your body is at its limits- and a hiker mentality- of respecting nature's limitations-- that I understood why the runner was not prepared for the change of mentality required by those conditions. He told other stories too, illustrating that same point about the need to respect your limits.

This man had immigrated to Canada as a small child from a poor country and he acquired his wealth gradually. He was the President of a very successful company. And he spoke of how gradually he accumulated his wealth, how he never spent outside of his means. He expressed surprise at the largesse of his younger generation of employees, that he would go to their houses and they would be completely furnished after only working in a good paying professional job for a couple of years.

He was all about living within your limits and when he practiced that philosophy, his life brought him riches he never expected. And then, he died quite young. He was only 54. I couldn't bring myself to ask for any details of his death but I assume that it was a disease, perhaps cancer.

I received the call informing me of his passing not too long before I completed my first marathon, in May 2014. It has now been a month since the marathon and I am gradually regaining my strength. Every run feels like a failure of will. And then I remember the hiker mentality. I need that too-- I need to wait on my body, work within its limitations. This is exactly the opposite of my natural inclination. But I have never loved anything without loving its opposite.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Shunning the Beautiful

It is no secret that feminine beauty carries unique weight in our culture, affecting a woman's prospects in her career, in love, in her friendships, in her potential for fame. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, neither ugly nor particularly beautiful. But even within that vast middle realm, there is a wide spectrum. I've had the somewhat unique experience of traversing that middle realm, having been much less attractive in my youth than I was lucky enough to mysteriously become in middle age. So I have some experience with both ends of the spectrum. But I have never been extremely beautiful, and that is a state which is both a blessing and a curse.

I've always avoided the extremely beautiful-- both men and women-- feeling no attraction whatsoever for those men with square jaws, piercing eyes and cut... things. Likewise, I've never wanted to befriend beautiful women. In both cases, I once assumed that I was invisible to these celestial creatures, and treated them as being similarly invisible, meanwhile comparing myself to these women as a yardstick for my own achievements. I would sharpen my achievements against theirs, failing to outwardly acknowledge anything they had achieved. I think this response is common, and I think it is mean.

It has only dawned on me in recent years that this response is harmful, not only to me but to the people whom I have treated this way. The beautiful attract so much of our hatred and so little of our guilt for the same. But imagine for a second what it would be like for people to respond to you in this way from your earliest memories-- for people to always be sharpening their talents against yours, for people always to be seeking to prove themselves your superior in some small (or great) way, and simultaneously to see the backs of these competitors' heads as they turn away from you every time you walk into a room.

It's become apparent to me that the beautiful are treated, in many respects, as ill as the ugly, that their very appearance attracts undue attention, and that even kindness, to them, is often thinly concealing a dagger.

I think it is encumbent upon us, as women, to go to great lengths to show kindness to those other women whose beauty cows us, to be as kind to them as we would to anyone else who needs our help-- in a transparent and simple way. Competition is not helpful to any of us if it is not infused with kindness, grace, and humor.