Life. Love. Kindness. Joy.

I’ve had some opportunities to think about death lately. Lots of them, actually. And I’ve been wavering about whether or not I should actually write this post, because it’s a bit off the beaten path of my usual schtick. (And it’s loooooong.)

But that’s ok. It’s my blog, and I’m going for it.

So we spent some time with my husband’s 96 year old grandfather recently. With no disrespect, he has never been the kindest man, so we were quite surprised to see a very different side of him after a year alone following the passing of his wife of 72 years.

He was looking back, voicing regrets, dispensing wisdom. We listened. The voice of a man facing the end of his days, with everyone else gone before him, is not to be ignored or taken for granted. I saw it as a gift that I’d like to share with you.

Here’s the thing, peeps. Not a single one of us is getting out of this thing alive. I don’t say this to be morbid or make you sad or fearful, and this is by no means a YOLO kinda thing, because that’s just not my bag, baby.

I say it simply because it is true. It is one of the essential facts of our existence, but one that we are uncomfortable talking about openly. Like if we all keep real quiet about death, we can somehow manage to outsmart the powers of the universe and LIVE FOREVER!

Oh wait, I forgot–that actually totally worked for…uh…yeah, right, NO ONE, EVER.

So why not embrace this essential truth instead of skirting around it?

Let me help: We’re all going to die someday. I am. You are. Each and every one of us.

Even if we are pictures of health and safety…even if we always wear our bike helmets…even if we never, ever drink too much or smoke cigarettes…even if we are strong swimmers, change the batteries in our smoke detectors regularly, drive cars with side impact airbags and Anti-lock brakes, and work out regularly and eat whole, clean, organic foods most of the time.

Before you start to think this is a “Life is short, eat cupcakes all day, bitches!!!” type of post, Imma stop you right there.

Everything I’ve noted above is an important practice that we should keep doing to be as healthy and happy as we can during our time here. I’m going to keep doing all those things.

But in the end…well, it ends. No matter what. No matter who. No matter what.

Think of it, mull it for a bit…like I’ve been doing.

Now before you get all mad at me for making you think about your inevitable death and stop reading the blog all together because you don’t know what the hell happened to that sassy, snarky fat girl that USED to write this not-so-serious blog about how much she could push press, take a second to realize that accepting the reality of death is actually quite freeing.

Because once you’ve accepted the dying, you can get on with the living. The REAL living.

tragedy of lifeAnd the LIVING, people, is what this post is about. (Read the title, yo!)

The more I’ve thought about this lately, the more excited I’ve been to LIVE. I was heading down this thought path already in my efforts in the recent past to be more in the moment, show gratitude for the people I love, and work on loving myself more and caring what others thought less.

But this face to face encounter with someone contemplating so intently the end of his days–and having lost more than enough people near and dear to me far before the ripe old age of 96–it’s given me a bit of a shove.

I’m 39 years old, and I still feel like I’m 20 something. I feel like I have many, many long years ahead of me with the people I love. I certainly hope I do, but there are no guarantees.

ca9f3010ea8e03c2644a69ec86ee7d0bSo what do I want to do with my limited-time life? What do I want to accomplish before my unknown expiration date? How do I want to be remembered?

If that goddamned proverbial bus cracks me in the ass TODAY, would I have regrets other than the sadness I’ll leave behind in the lives of the people who love me?

And lest you think me cliche, let me say that I’m not talking about creating a bucket list, either. Help me out, here, Thoreau old buddy:

a4fff66b2a003e846467c690b7bac9b2OK, well I’m not exactly talking about going into the woods. But the rest is so right on. Living deliberately. Getting at the essence of life, my life. And LIVING it while I’m here.

For me, this is a deeply personal thing. I’ve been soul searching. What ARE the essential components of my life? My world? My existence? What do I stand for? (Most nights, I don’t know…)

Here’s what I’ve boiled it down to: Love, Kindness, and Joy. With INTENTIONAL caps. Word.

Let me elaborate. (Because I always do.)

LOVE: I want to love fiercely, and be fiercely loved. I want to feel it oozing from my pores. I want to feel love and gratitude spilling out of me like baubles in a too-full jewelry box. I think I’ve been afraid to say and live this in such an unabashed way before. Why is that? Why would I want to hide the passionate love I feel for my life, my family, my friends, and the beauty in the world around me? Why wouldn’t I want to gush with gratitude for all I am and all I have, to let it bubble up and overflow, touching every person I come into contact with every day of my life?

stop lookingWell, I do want to do that, but frankly it’s hard not to focus on the negative, the annoying, the everyday stupid BS. So I’m not saying I’ll be a perfect picture of love and gratitude at any given moment of any given day. Most assuredly not when some jackass cuts me off on the highway, for example, or when my kids leave the friggin crayons out AGAIN and the dog eats them AGAIN and I’m cleaning up multi-colored turds in the yard for a week.

I’m saying I plan to practice loving with passion and ferocity as often as I can, including loving myself. And I have a sense that the more I practice, the better I will get.

KINDNESS: I just finished reading another amazing book by Khaled Hosseini called And the Mountains EchoedI recommend this book–and any of his books, for that matter. His writing is gorgeous and the stories he tells are so rich and authentic.

So in the book one of the characters said something that’s been sitting in my heart ever since (where I hope it will take up permanent residence, at least most of the time). Reflecting on her own life, she says: “I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret. You will never say to yourself when you are old, Ah, I wish I was not good to that person. You will never think that…It would not have been that difficult…I should have been more kind.”

This line sticks in my throat. It is NOT that difficult to be kind. What does it cost me, but perhaps my pride sometimes? Big deal.

Listen, everyone has their faults, and people can be incredibly annoying. I often find myself incredibly annoyed by people, most especially the ones I love. I acknowledge as I write this that it is unfair, but here I am admitting on the Interwebz.

(Sidebar: if you are someone I love, this is me admitting that you have probably annoyed the shit out of me at one point or another. But I am just as aware that I have probably annoyed the shit out of you just as–if not more–often. So let’s just acknowledge our individual annoying qualities, be kinder to each other, and move on with our lives. Love ya!)

See? Acknowledging that people are flawed, human, prone to bad choices and idiosyncrasies, bound to hurt each other sometimes–sometimes hurt each other deeply–does not indicate that they are any less deserving of kindness. (Note to self: It really doesn’t make them any less deserving of your kindness. Stop being a bitch sometimes.)

And like the character in the book notes, kindness is something I have never regretted giving, when I have chosen to bestow it upon people. When I have (rarely, but ever more frequently of late) chosen to bestow it upon myself.

I commit to choosing kindness more often, so that eventually I will become a characteristically kind person, both to myself and others.

JOY: Here we are, the big finish. Joy. What brings me joy? So many things. Hugging my son, and feeling his sharp bony ribs when I squeeze him. Marveling at the fact that this boy that I once carried in me now has a tiny boy-mustache growing. Hearing my daughter belly laugh. Seeing her admire herself, unabashed, in the mirror. Dancing. The sound of my husband’s car pulling in the driveway. The wide smile he sometimes flashes, not nearly often enough. The feel of his arms around me. DisneyWorld. Lifting heavy weights. Setting out on a road trip at the crack of dawn with a car full of people and snacks. Writing this blog. Coffee on a quiet morning. Reading a great book. Friends who get me. Watching my kids work together on something, and speak kindly to each other while doing it. My dog. A sunrise as I drive to an early morning workout.

The list could go on, but I think you get it. The point is that living, to me, means recognizing all these things as sources of pure joy and adding more of them to my life…or at the very least, recognizing and acknowledging them when they are in front of me.

And dumping all the crap that doesn’t bring me joy.

Now listen, we all have to have some crap in our life. Responsibilities. Obligatory STUFF that is decidedly non-joyful. Cleaning the cat box comes to mind.

The reality is that we can’t necessarily “front only the essential facts of life” as Thoreau did. Well, technically Thoreau didn’t have to front ANYTHING–he had a rich aunt who took care of him or something like that so he could afford to just laze around at Walden Pond for a couple of years and write about icicles and whatnot. Me? I got billz and such. And you probably do, too.

So, practically speaking, we can’t just run around all the time doing only the things that bring us joy. (“Cupcakes! Spending sprees! YOLO, bitches!” Uhhhh, no.)

But when we’re 96, what will our legacy be? I mean, I definitely don’t want my legacy to be, “She didn’t pay her bills or clean her toilet because she was too busy eating cupcakes/loving people/being kind and joyful.” The thing is this: I’m just a regular person, so I’ll have to have a job and scrub the floors and be a respectable member of society. I don’t expect to have to get out of doing those things.

I don’t expect or need to be famous or widely renowned or anything.

I don’t care if I win any races, and I’m all set if I never have the body of a fitness model…because I am probably just as fit as most of them already and I’m committed to the idea that what a body can DO is more important than what a body looks like.

No, those things aren’t of critical, 96 year old end of life importance to me personally.

When that bus of doom knocks me into the afterlife, or whatever comes after this, I want my kids and my husband to know that they were loved, and loved fiercely.

I want my friends to know how utterly grateful I was for their joyful presence in my life.

I want someone, somewhere, to have been brightened, even in some small way, by a kind act from me.

I want to be remembered as someone who was passionate, loving and kind, and full of life, laughter and joy.

Oh, and I want to squat 250. That would be pretty cool too.

Your turn.

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Apples to oranges, and silencing the evil voice.

They say comparison is the thief of joy. (Who are “they,” anyway? And where do “they” come up with all these clever sayings? I digress…already. Typical.)

The point is, I agree. (Well, somewhat…but more on that later.) I agree in theory, but, as with most of “their” clever sayings, this one is so much easier to say and think about than to actually believe and live into it.

I KNOW…I know, I know, I know that I’m not supposed to compare myself to others. My rational, logical brain repeats the phrase to me regularly in an annoying old schoolmarm voice.

But there’s another voice, too. An insidious, evil little bitch of a voice in my head that sometimes just won’t shut the hell up.

“You’re the fattest person in the room. No one is going to like you here,” she whispers into my ear at a party.

“That Tuff Girl can do dead hang pull ups! You’ll never be able to do those. You’re too heavy. You’ll ALWAYS be too heavy,” she scoffs during a workout.

“Look how ‘together’ that other mom is! She’s not running around from one place to the next like a crazy person, always five minutes late. SHE didn’t forget to turn in the money for the teacher’s gift. SHE sent in the permission slip on time,” she taunts me when I arrive, breathless and with metaphorically windblown hair to a school function.

(I told you she was an evil bitch.)

So yes, in all these instances, comparison IS stealing my joy by shifting my focus to negative and spotlighting the things I see as my weaknesses instead of strengths.

And today’s message has a story, of course. If you’ve been hanging around the FFG FB page, you might have noticed some new photos. I did something that terrified me and signed up for fitness shoot, and the pictures came back yesterday. I shared a few over there and will be doing some updating around here with the rest of them.

As I reviewed the photos, I got super excited. I saw progress in those photos. I saw confidence and empowerment and general badassery in myself. I was proud.

Two of my amazing friends also did the photo shoot and I was absolutely bowled over by their photos. Strong, confident, kickass women who I am so very lucky to call my friends.

But I did it, guys. I did that thing that I am not supposed to do. I compared. I compared my pictures to my friend Samantha’s, and in doing so, I lost some of the initial joy I felt at seeing my own pics.

Me and Samm push press Me and Samm planks

Me: Wow, Samantha looks amazing!

Evil Bitch Voice in My Head: Better than you! Who were you kidding taking these pictures in the first place, fat girl?

Me: Shut up. We’ve both worked hard to make the progress we’ve made. We both deserve to feel awesome about these pictures.

Evil Bitch Voice in My Head: OK, sweetheart. You keep telling yourself that. But I’ll be HONEST…nobody wants to see your pictures when they could look at someone like Samantha.

Sigh.

And on goes the battle. I fight this battle every day, sometimes every minute. And it’s a hard battle, for sure, with casualties on my heart that are tough to overcome.

But I’m not giving up on it. I’m going to keep fighting until I silence that noxious little bitch for good.

And here’s something else I’m working toward: a type of comparison that ADDS joy instead of stealing it…because there are some kinds of comparisons that can do that, which is why I only somewhat agree with the statement I opened this post with.

What I mean by that (incredibly convoluted) idea is this: when I compare who I am today with who I used to be, I can draw confidence, strength and joy from how far I’ve come, instead of a cancerous focus on how far I still have to go.

Comparisons like this one:

very heavy me StephLowRes-13This comparison shows the difference three years makes. My guesstimate would be about 45lbs of fat lost (including, apparently, an entire chin), and a ton of muscle and self-confidence gained.

But beyond that piece, more subtle–but to me, far more important–differences shine through in my posture, my expression, and my attitude in each picture.

The first one shows me leaning forward a little, with my shoulders raised up a little bit…clearly uncomfortable with having my picture taken. My smile seems to be trying to overcompensate for my utter lack of confidence. I distinctly remember having this photo taken, and the discomfort I felt at that moment about the way I looked. I hated being in pictures. I hated being in my body, and it showed.

In fact, at one point I showed that old photo to my friend Samantha. I also distinctly remember her response when she saw it: “That is not the same person I know today. I don’t know who that person is.”

Compared to this new picture, she is absolutely right. It is me, but a completely different version of me who had no idea how awesome she was and could be.

By contrast, the current photo shows my unwavering gaze, my firm, confident posture–chest out, shoulders back–and how at-home I feel with some heavy weights in my hands (those are 25# apiece).

THIS is the me of today. THIS is the kind of comparison I need to be making, and the kind of comparison I am going to keep bringing myself back to, no matter how hard it is.

So take THAT, evil bitch voice in my head! You are going down.

——————–

*Special thanks to Samantha for letting me share her pictures and talk about how amazing she looks in a very public forum. I continue to be so grateful to have you in my life for so many reasons. Heart.

*All fitness shoot photos (ie, all the pics here except for my hideous “before” shot) are credited to the very amazing Eric Brushett. Any weird stretching or photographic wonkiness should be entirely blamed upon my amateurish attempts to create collages, and not Eric’s mad photography skills.