I Got Nothin’

Girl playing electric guitar --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

I can’t tell you how many writers I work with who believe they have “nothing new” to say. I can’t tell you how many clients I work with who feel they have “nothing special” to offer potential employers, potential mates, or even the current people and responsibilities in their lives.

I might actually have had a stray thought or two myself about having “nothing big” to offer the world now and again.

Where in the world did this Goofy-like, scrape a toe in the dirt, “Awwrrr, shucks” self-deprecation come from? Some of us were belittled or ignored or even abused as children. But even among those who were supported and told they were awesome and could do anything (I was one of these), we still somehow manage to hide our lights under some pretty big bushels. So big, in fact, that even we can’t find them. Where did our sense of specialness go?

Some of it is societal, cultural. While the ambitious and iconoclastic individual may be celebrated in the media (but only after he/she is successful), it doesn’t play out that way for most of us in our peer groups. We start, horrifically young, trying not to stand out, trying, above all else, to fit in. No surprise, perhaps, that by the time we’ve been hatched from high school, we are little flocks of sheep, ducks, geese—pick your barnyard animal who doesn’t want to stand out in case he or she is the one that attracts the farmer’s attention and gets the axe.

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How to Live Until You Die

live or die, red lips, maggie mcreynoldsWhen my father was scheduled for emergency bypass surgery, he told me that he knew he would never leave the hospital alive. An overweight, chain-smoking, and self-loathing diabetic, my father simply wasn’t willing to consider the total lifestyle overhaul that would be required of him post-op. It may be an oversimplification to say that I think he chose to die rather than to change, but that’s what he did, two days after his procedure.The doctors had no explanation—he had come through the surgery fine.

My grandmother, age 94, lingered, bedridden and on the brink of death, for months. Her eyesight, hearing, speech and cognition were all but gone. I knew she was in pain and I wanted to do what I could to ease her passing, so I flew to Chicago and spent two days at her bedside, telling her over and over that she had loved and been loved, that her life had mattered, that we were all fine, and that it was okay to go if she was ready. She died the afternoon of the second day, after a half-hour of unusual lucidity in which she focused her eyes on mine and gazed, smiling, at me while I held her hands.

My other grandmother was six months past her 90th birthday and had lived with cancer for a decade. She was admitted to the hospital with a non-fatal complication of her illness, and chose not to tell the doctors she had a heart condition. She died two days later, and when her son went to her condo, he found all her legal papers spread out on her table. She had never intended to come home; she went to the hospital having chosen to die.

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