Doing The Right Thing

The credo, “Do the right thing,” was drilled into me from birth. But what exactly is the “right thing”?  Is it a moving target that shifts according to our whims? Or is it an undeviating truth that refuses to be compromised no matter what? And how do we discern our place on that continuum of conscience? Furthermore, do we have any interest in doing so?

Is right the choice we make out of fear of the ubiquitous “what will people say?” Or fear of reprisal? Abandonment? When fear drives your choices, you can be sure an invisible puppeteer is pulling your strings.

It was decades before I came to grips with the reality that what my mother advocated as “the right thing” was what she wanted me to do. Any other option, she admonished, ensured “God’s punishment.” It led to a life motivated by fear and “shoulds.” My own knowingness was in conflict with what I saw and what I heard. So brainwashed was I that I became deaf to the voice of my soul.

To the runaway ego, the right thing is whatever furthers its personal agendas or its hunger for power. It’s that part of us willing to stop at nothing to achieve our greedy, self-serving desires. It remembers every slight, every instance of abandonment, all the disapproval, the pain of every betrayal, of not being heard or valued, and all the times we felt shamed and victimized.  It then transforms these wounds into a menu of responses, from retribution, to winning at all costs, to an ultra-competitive need to be right, to an overpowering craving for power and control.

The narcissistic ego revels in life as a zero-sum game. Win/win isn’t even on its radar. If not balanced by the soul’s conscience and empathy, the ego runs amok. It’s Sammy Glick in the novel and play, “What Makes Sammy Run,” who achieves show-business success through backstabbing, deception, and betrayal. Continue reading

What, Me Forgive?

My mother’s death on Thanksgiving, 1998, was the day when forgiveness and I went toe-to-toe like boxers in a ring. Prior to my mother’s death, forgiveness was an intellectual exercise, one I wasn’t very good at. At fifty-two, my unresolved anger at my dad, decades in the making, was already at volcanic proportions. Little did I know that it would spike even further over the next three years.

My parents did not have a marriage made in heaven. They hurt each other. And as death approached my mother, my father’s own mortality issues got the best of him. In total denial, he obsessed over his own medical issues.

To say I was furious at him is an understatement. After medical intuitive Caroline Myss, “read” my mother with uncanny accuracy, described my parents’ relationship and how it played into my mother’s prognosis, Caroline encouraged me to work through the anger I had accumulated over the years, and then have a heartfelt conversation with my Dad.

“Remember Jill, your biography becomes your biology,” Caroline cautioned me. “Don’t follow in your mother’s footsteps.” My mother’s pent-up anger at my Dad had taken a terrible toll on her health. Years of stomach problems (not being able to stomach the way my father treated her, and feeling powerless to do anything about it) culminated in untreatable stage 4-colon cancer that had metastasized to her liver.

Within a week of her death, my father had cleared out all of my mother’s belongings from their home. His sense of liberation was palpable. He quickly began dating. Within three months, he met and was smitten with Elaine, who watched and understood football, played golf, and loved convertibles, travel, and entertaining. She was a free spirit, the antithesis of my mother. Filled with the exuberance of an adolescent, my father called me very early the morning after Danny and I first had dinner with the two of them. He couldn’t wait to ask what I thought of his girlfriend. Uncharacteristically, he was now walking with a spring in his step. More remarkably, this man who had been habitually late for everything was now arriving on time. Continue reading

When Life Unravels

The universe does not judge us;
It only provides consequences and lessons,
And opportunities to balance and learn
Through the law of cause and effect.
Compassion is the recognition that
We are each doing the best we can
Within the limits
Of our current beliefs and capacities.
That I feed the hungry,
Forgive an insult, and love my enemy—
These are great virtues.
But what if I should discover
That the poorest of the beggars
And most impudent of offenders
Are all within me,
And that I stand in need
Of the alms of my own kindness;
That I myself am the enemy
Who must be loved—
What then?
C.G. Jung

Richard Bach’s, “Illusions” was published in 1977, the same year as my first divorce. Little did I know then that one of my all-time favorite quotes from that book, “You teach best what you most need to learn,” would so embody my calling. It’s not surprising, though. Concepts reverberate like church bells in my body for reasons that eventually reveal themselves. This particular one captured my essence.

I have been both a deeply flawed wife and an equally flawed mother. One abiding obsession—my insatiable appetite to know myself—has been key to my relentless drive to autopsy my failures. Facing and accepting my own acts of self-sabotage provided a road map for the course corrections necessary for my growth. Self-examination and the acceptance of my own culpability ultimately put an end to staunchly defending my victim status.

Life has given me a smorgasbord of opportunities from which to learn forgiveness, compassion, and empathy, traits not role-modeled in my upbringing. My brother’s preferred status based solely on the basis of his gender infuriated me. I toted that baggage for decades. Each betrayal felt cruel, discriminatory, and unfair, until, in my late thirties, I was led to the teachings of Caroline Myss and learned a new way to view my life. Continue reading

Fat Eyes

I will never forget the day, after losing about fifteen pounds, I twirled around for my Dad, and pointedly asked, “Am I thin enough?”

After giving me the once-over, he announced without a smile or a hint of encouragement, “You look good.” Not great. Merely good. Having worked so hard to achieve my goal, his bland response devastated me. I never asked again. Thus began a lifetime of eating disordered thinking. Never a full-blown eating disorder, but enough for self-disgust whenever I gained weight. I labeled my disorder, “fat eyes,” meaning, although for most of my life I have been slender, self-acceptance has been fleeting. I stopped weighing myself years ago, when my daily weight determined my mood. Ultimately, after decades of scraping off the layers of my neurosis, I realized that my perception was distorted. The fat I saw wasn’t there. I still see it. The only difference is now I realize that what I see isn’t real. I’m looking in a fun house mirror.

With a glance and few words, my father unabashedly expressed his unwavering belief that, for a woman, being thin and beautiful was paramount. Everything else paled in comparison, that is, except marrying well. Being attractive was supposed to be a Disneyland E-ticket that guaranteed happily ever after. Three divorces and considerable therapy later, it finally sank in. My father’s prescription was more like Chinese food, initially satisfying, but not particularly long-lasting. Buying into it set me up to be disappointed time and again. I came to know love and acceptance solely for the outer self. Without a loving place within myself to call home, nourishing, loving, and knowing myself through any lens other than appearance was impossible and left me bereft of self-acceptance. Building self–worth from the inside out was a slow and arduous undertaking. Ultimately, it healed me.

Men are acceptable and lovable in all shapes and sizes, with hair and bald, with 6-pack abs or paunchy and out of shape. The Silver Fox is sexy, and while some silver-haired women are considered beautiful or striking, a majority of women spend hours tending to their gray roots.

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No More Sleeping Beauty

Each August my husband Danny and I spend two weeks in Napa Valley, California—wine country. Damn straight, it’s about the wine. Where else can you start drinking guilt-free at ten o’clock in the morning?

But there’s much more to it than that. Some fifteen years ago, after spending several days of our honeymoon in San Francisco, we drove into the valley. Before a drop of wine had crossed my lips I felt mellow, the way an end of the workweek drink takes the edge off, before the second one takes you over the edge.

Stress whooshed out of my body and my mind downshifted. A warm surge of energy filled my heart and solar plexus, the unmistakable feeling I’ve come to recognize as “home.” I’ve felt it every time I’ve entered a house that I’ve bought or rented, unlike the cold and hollow sensation in my gut that’s repelled me from dozens of perfectly nice houses.

Danny felt it too. So every year thereafter we return “home” to friends and a way of life we love. There’s an added plus to Napa. We are Danny and Jill, not Rabbi and Rebbetzin. If I want to flip the bird to a driver who cuts me off, I don’t have to worry about pissing off some member of the congregation. Continue reading