When someone asks my husband how long he’s been married, he says, “Thirty years… 26 of the happiest years of my life.” He’s right, of course. Some years were better than others. Stock prices, interest rates and real estate values have periods of highs and lows. I think long time marriages are like that, too.
Since Valentine’s Day is approaching, I’ve been thinking about relationships. I was single until I was 32 — probably ten years more than my grandmother hoped for. I struggled through my twenties, trying to find my way in life and relationships. If I were to send a Valentine’s Day message to my younger self, I think I would say, “One day, someone will walk into your life and make you see why it never worked out with anyone else,” because that is what happened. one day, I did find someone wonderful, who loved me more than I could image.
Like stocks and real estate, marriages have cycles. perhaps a second Valetine’s Day message should be, “One of the hardest decisions you will ever face in life is choosing whether to walk away or try harder.” I’ve always chosen to try harder. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.
My new relation ship guru is Carl Reiner. When asked what kept his marriage of 65 years to Estelle Reiner alive, he answered,
“When asked this question, my wife used to say, ‘Marry someone who can stand you.’ And that’s absolutely true! There are many, many reasons to break up but if you can stand the worst of what they do, why break up? You’re only going to get someone who will annoy you in another way, so whatever little annoyances there are, you can stand that. Estelle and I were able to stand each other very, very well”.
Perhaps that is my conclusion about relationships on this Valentine’s Day. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone terrific, someone who brings out the best in you. It won’t always be easy, but lots of things that are hard are worth doing. With longevity comes perspective. You will always find ways to annoy one another, and there will be ups and downs, but in the big scheme of things, they are not important. My husband and me? Like the Reiners, we stand each other very, very well.
What if you knew something about yourself, something that had been part
of you for years, even decades, and suddenly, that thing changed? Did you decide to be different, or did it just happen? Are you happy with the change? I am asking these questions because I went from someone who never wore hats to a confirmed hat wearer, and I am trying
to understand why.
I have never worn hats, not in winter,
not in summer. I am categorically not a hat person. Yet this year, I changed.
I began wearing hats in cold weather,
and now I marvel at how exquisite it feels to have a warm head. It’s unsettling to discover you are different from who you thought you were. I am wondering what other truths that I know about myself might change as well.
Since my business is helping people downsize and move, I work with individuals who, like myself, know what they like and don’t like. Many are moving to retirement communities, but some do not, often because they see themselves as not “that kind of person.” They think they are not the kind of person who would enjoy living in an apartment or a community. Sometimes “that kind of person” refers to things they cannot live without, for example, a garden or a formal dining room. Sometimes it refers to perceptions of community living — “I need privacy, and I won’t have privacy in that kind of setting.”
I am not comparing wearing hats to life decisions like moving to a retirement community, but it does make me wonder if what we “know” about ourselves is really true. I now love something I thought I hated.
It makes me wonder what other things I might like if I were open to change.
It makes me wonder what things my clients might like if they were more open to change as well.
When my husband was growing up, his family had a series of songbirds, canaries and parakeets, each of whom was named Pookie. So it seemed only natural that the green-and-yellow parakeet we acquired would be dubbed Pookie as well.
Pookie didn’t strike me as a very exciting pet. He didn’t sing, he didn’t talk, he didn’t do much of anything. That is, except when my mother-in-law, Bubbie, would visit. Having nurtured the entire Pookie dynasty, Bubbie knew ways of talking to birds that were foreign to me. Her voice assumed a certain inflection, she would give Pookie her undivided attention, and five minutes later, he was singing and chirping away.
“Why don’t you keep Pookie?” we asked.
“I don’t want a bird,” she replied. “Too much trouble, too much responsibility. No way.”
One day, our cat made a leap for Pookie’s cage. Although the bird miraculously escaped, its near-fatal adventure inspired us. We would be visiting friends, we told Bubbie. Could she keep Pookie overnight until we returned and could rehang the cage?
Bubbie sensed a plot, but reluctantly agreed. “Okay,” she said, “but pick him up the second you get home.” We delivered the bird to her apartment. She was so busy talking to Pookie, she didn’t notice when we left. We called the next morning to schedule the pick up. “Let’s negotiate,” she said. “Pookie stays here.”
So began the friendship of Pookie and Bubbie. Certainly, the relationship was good for Pookie; he chirped and sang constantly, played with toys and occasionally even talked. But it was clear that Pookie gave more than he received. According to my mother-in-law, he was “the smartest bird” that ever lived. He made her laugh. He provided company. He was a friend, and perhaps most important, Pookie needed her.
Like many people of her generation, my mother-in-law had a hard life. She began working as a young girl and cared for brothers and sisters. As a married woman, she and her husband operated a small restaurant and lived above it in a tiny apartment in which they raised their family and several generations of Pookies. A good listener, Bubbie’s counsel was sought by friends and family. She was needed; she played a vital role in many lives.
At 85, however, my mother-in-law was a widow and no longer worked. Her children and grandchildren were grown and self-sufficient. Few people depended on her for nurturing or advice. Instead, she depended on others. Pookie made a difference in her life. Each morning, she got up to change Pookie’s water, replenish his food, adjust his toys, and of course, talk to him. Twice monthly, she went to Petco to buy supplies. She cleaned Pookie’s cage. In short, Pookie depended on Bubbie.
Then, Bubbie fell and broke her hip. Someone had to care for Pookie until Bubbie returned from rehab. Our daughter bravely volunteered. Two days later, she called and said, “Pookie is lying at the bottom of the cage with his feet in the air.” There was a collective groan. Caring for Pookie was motivation for Bubbie to get well. His death would make her sad, and we were certain she would refuse to get another bird.
I am the first to admit that I am not a bird person. To me, a bird is a bird. So I took the still-warm Pookie in his crate and headed to our local Petco. The manager saw me, crate and dead bird in hand, and assumed I was there to complain. “You don’t understand,” I explained, and told him the whole saga: how important Pookie was to Bubbie, how she had broken her hip and the bird had died, how caring for Pookie was the reason Bubbie needed to get well, and how we needed a bird that looked just like Pookie.
We searched the parakeet cage, which housed dozens of birds, but none of them looked remotely like Pookie. “How much time do we have before she gets out of rehab?” asked the manager. “About a month,” I said. “I have seven stores in my territory,” he continued. “I will check every one for a parakeet that looks like Pookie.” Using his cell phone to capture Pookie’s coloring, he gave me his phone number, work schedule and email address. I left the store astonished, grateful and committed to shopping at Petco for the rest of my life.
I called the manager two weeks later. He had been to four stores with no luck. “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “I still have three stores to go.” Meanwhile, Bubbie was making great progress in rehab. “I saw Pookie the other day,” my son told his grandmother. “He misses you terribly and is not like himself. In fact, he’s like a whole new bird.”
A month after entering rehab, with almost no advance warning, Bubbie was discharged. Panicked, I called Petco and asked for the manager. “He’s on vacation for two weeks,” I was informed. “Oh no,” I groaned. “He was getting me a bird.” “Are you looking for Pookie Novack?” the clerk asked. I rushed to the store. In the back was a very thin, very quiet, but definitely Pookie-ish parakeet. “Thank you God,” I said, and the new Pookie and I went home.
The next day, Bubbie returned to her apartment. Leaning on her walker, she smiled as she settled into her recliner. She looked at her small sitting room, her family pictures, and at her bird. “Pookie,” she said, “I am so glad to see you.” We had passed the first test!
We called the next day. “How is Pookie?” we asked. “He’s a little thin,” she replied. “He must have been traumatized by the change. But he’s coming around. He hasn’t stopped singing.”
As the months passed, it became clear we had pulled off the switch of the century. We were grateful to everyone who helped in our conspiracy of love, but especially to the employees of Petco, who understood the power of pets in the lives of older adults and the importance of being needed.
My mother-in-law read the New York Times Book Review, did crossword puzzles and was addicted to her computer. Not too much got past her. “Do you think she doesn’t know it’s a different bird?” friends asked. “If she does,” I replied, “she doesn’t care; she is busy loving this bird.”
“It’s the weirdest thing,” Bubbie said one day. “Pookie plays with toys he never played with before.” No doubt about it; Pookie was one happy bird.
Bubbie passed away five years ago, in her sleep, with a crossword puzzle on her lap. We found Pookie a new home, but he died within a few days. We think he is sitting on Bubbie’s shoulder.
Happy Holidays from your friends at Moving Solutions!
Yesterday, a friend reminded me about a conversation we had a few weeks earlier that I had forgotten. “I’m beginning to worry about you,” she said.
Then I began to worry about me. Was this an indication of something serious?
I began checking for other signs of forgetfulness. Nothing stuck out. I handle a million details with my business, and remember most of them. So how to explain my “losing” that conversation until she reminded me of it? I think I figured it out. I see it every night. I sit on the sofa with my iPad, my husband tells me something, and then asks, “Are you paying attention?” “Yes,” I answer, and I am telling the truth. I am paying attention — just not to him. I am fully engrossed in what I am reading on my iPad. My hearing is normal. My memory is ok. It’s my ability to multitask that is shot.
I hear what my husband tells me, but when I am multitasking, I just don’t take it in. These days, it seems I need to focus more on what I am doing, and have fewer distractions. Perhaps I was focusing on something else when my friend called a few weeks ago. I decide that is what it is, and feel relieved. I am no longer worried about me, but I know that something has changed.
I think about a quote I read by a man diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease: ” I say something and they blame it on the Alzheimer’s. Someone else says the same thing, and no one notices.” I get it. If someone young forgets a conversation, we assume they weren’t paying attention, but when you reach a certain age and you forget something, then people “begin to worry about you,” and you begin to worry about yourself as well.
For now I’ve concluded that my memory is ok, and that I need to concentrate more and have fewer distractions. I can live with that, but it is food for thought. We take an act, like forgetting (I prefer the term misremembering), and make assumptions based on a person’s age. Sounds like ageism to me. What makes it so sinister is that we not only make assumptions about others, we make assumptions about ourselves, too. I rant about ageism in print and in the media, but ageism is much closer to home. I might do better fighting ageism outside if I had better control of the ageism in myself.
I have to make a confession. This has been the hardest post for me to write. I have sat down, time and again to put the words together and they just wouldn’t come. It has taken me weeks of prayer, of introspection and a swift kick in the butt to finally get this done. I guess the kick dislodged the words, so here we go…
I use a cane. (Even typing that statement pulled at my heart.) Please understand that I have been fighting this inevitability for several years. I would rather rely on my husband, children and friends to prop me up, and yes, sometimes pick me up, as long as I did not have to use a cane.
I understand the benefits of using the device in my mind, and over the years, I have had many conversations with friends and clients convincing them to use their canes. But when it came down to me getting one – oh boy – all of that good sense just went to the wayside.
To me, the cane represented weakness, old age, and an inability to care for my family. Therefore when necessity prevailed and the need for the cane became apparent, it felt like accepting this device would also mean that I had to accept being weak, losing my vitality and not being able to do the thing I love the most- caring for my family. I really felt that using the cane would change people’s view of me from a fortress of strength and stability to a pile of dust, and I was not ready to accept that reality shift.
I needed some serious reinforcements to support me in this decision. My husband, who also happens to be my best friend, went with me to pick it out. After trying out several models I found one that suited me. It was young looking, sparkly and had a comfort grip handle. I used it to get to the car, where I proceeded to break down and cry. Partially because it was so much easier for me to get from the sidewalk to the car and I had less pain. Admitting that seemed like I was choosing my comfort over my family.
We went to Sam’s Club to pick up a few things, and my husband asked me if I wanted to “take ‘er for a spin” inside Sam’s. I couldn’t do it. So he graciously went in, while I stayed in the car and watched the people go by (yes, and to cry some more). To get my mind off of my “problem” I went on Facebook to see what was going on in other people’s lives. As I was looking down at my phone, a hand appeared through the window and a giant box of my favorite chocolates appeared, quickly followed by a kiss on the cheek. He went back into the store and shopped, leaving me time to dry my tears and think.
In my heart, I went back to holding my children’s hands when they were little to keep them safe. I realized that now that they are adults, we were still holding hands but they were doing it to keep ME safe. I also realized that my stubbornness in using the cane was keeping me dependent upon them and others, that in reality, they had slowly become my guardians and caregivers and that I was not really caring for their emotional health with my choice. By the time my husband had returned I had decided that I was going to try to make peace with this.
When we got home I decided to use my cane to walk to the door. My son saw me walking towards the house, he ran and opened the door, and said “Hey Mom, looking good!” (I cannot describe how good that felt.) When my daughters came to visit, they both ribbed me horribly (in my family that is a sign of acceptance and love), and I could sense the feeling of relief that came to them seeing me walk steadier (the jokes about no longer looking like a drunken sailor were also an indicator).
That night, when we sat down to read the bible and pray together, I asked them how they felt about my new accessory. They all agreed that they loved it because, it gave me freedom, and they would worry less about me because I had my “personal assistant” and that I could go back to being Mom again. Amazing how our own visions of ourselves can be so far off from what others really perceive.
I named my cane Whizzy- for two reasons. First it is because I can now “whiz” around from one place to another, without waiting for someone to steady me, and second as a reminder that “Wisdom is proved righteous by its works.” (Matthew 11:19) Every time I pick Whizzy up, I am reminded that it was the wisest choice, and that by using her, I am providing proof of Godly wisdom to myself and others – especially my children.
The response and support have been overwhelmingly positive. There are some who look at me with that look of: “why her?” The real question is: ”Why not me?” I deserve to be able to feel safe and secure, to reduce my physical pain, to not have to rely on people to keep me on my feet, (literally) and to have to dignity of being able to overcome my negative thinking and experience the emotional, physical and psychological freedom that comes with my lovely red cane – Whizzy.
It is unmistakably comforting to curl up in a thick chair with a tattered copy of a book you love, listening to the rain while you let yourself get carried away by the words on the page. I know – I used to hoard books. Don’t let the title “minimalist” scare you off – I have a love of books that dates back to my years toddling around with Dr. Seuss, a love that was handed down from my mother.
Until just a few years ago, books were stacked everywhere in my home. My two huge book cases were double-stacked with volumes ranging from children’s fiction to college text books, and piles had formed next to couches and the bed, not to mention on any available surface. I could not imagine my life without these friends surrounding me – the very thought of letting go of just one was enough to send me hurling at my shelves, attempting to wrap my arms around every book I owned in protection.
Today, I am the proud owner of approximately 20 books – six of which are craft books. To move from one extreme to the other took some serious work, and was not an overnight process. It started with the realization that I was not so much attached to the stories and words themselves, but the physical books sitting on the shelves. Once I had that realization, I began to let go of some of my books, and moved slowly towards a more minimalist reading collection.
The best way for any book-collector to tackle their bookshelves is by looking at one book at a time. When we look at the whole expanse of our book collection, it can be hard to imagine ever letting a single book go, but in reality there are volumes hiding on those shelves that we truly don’t need or want. Taking time to pull a book down off the shelf and truly look at it as an individual item will help you decide for that book alone if staying on your shelves is the best option.
Here are a few suggestions to help even the biggest bibliophile relieve your sagging shelves of stress:
1. Write It Down. Sometimes, it’s the way a book made us feel, our connection to the story or a character that keeps us from letting go of the book itself. Take some time to write down those feelings, those connections. Maybe you’ll keep these notes on your computer or in a notebook, or maybe you’ll begin a blog for them. Once you get those emotions and thoughts out, it can be easier to pass the book on to someone else who you think would love the story as much as you did.
Tiny Action: Grab a notebook and start writing down your thoughts about each book as you take it off your shelves. If you can’t think of anything to say, you probably won’t miss the book if it weren’t there anymore.
2. Divide. Get ruthless with your “yet to read” pile. My rule of thumb is simple: If it hasn’t been read in six months, it probably won’t ever be read. I went so far as to test this theory myself as I found books on my shelves I hadn’t yet read, but couldn’t yet bear to let go. I dedicated a shelf to “need to read” books, and noted the date. Any books that started out on that shelf on that date but were still there six months later I purged – I had discovered I truly had no desire to read them!
Tiny Action: Let go of any book you haven’t read yet that has been on your shelves for more than six months. Afraid you’ll want to read it someday? Make a note of it in your notebook – title, author, ISBN number even – so you can find it at the library if you truly want to read it later.
3. One of the best ways to make use of your book collection is to share it with others! As you look at books, anytime you find yourself thinking “So and so would LOVE this book!” write that name down on a sticky note, stick it on the front cover, and set the book aside. After you’ve got 20 or so books in a pile, begin handing them out – drive to friends’ houses and drop them off, or put them in the mail (book rate shipping is SUPER cheap).
Tiny Action: Pick five books off your shelves that you’d love to share with someone else, and then send them off to their new homes. Today.
4. Set aside one shelf of your book case as your “desert island” shelf. Most book lovers have books they know they will never let go of, no matter what. I call these “desert island” books – they are the books I’d want with me if I were stranded on a desert island, that I could read over and over again for the rest of my life. As you come across these books in your collection, add them to your shelf. Not only is it comforting to see those books being saved as you pare down others, you now have a physical boundary – you can have no more “desert island” books than will fit in this one space, so you are forced to think analytically about your collection.
Tiny Action: Clear off one shelf to keep as your “desert island” shelf. It can only hold one row of books – no double stacks or piles!
5. Organize your non-fiction books by topic. I found when I began to organize my non-fiction books by topic, I had overlaps in some subjects. For me, the largest overlaps came in religious studies (my major in college). As I saw where I’d doubled up on topic, it was easier to let go of a few books.
Tiny Action: Organize your books by topic and author. Begin to pare down where you see overlaps.
6. Look for multiple copies, and get rid of them. You may laugh, thinking you would NEVER buy a multiple of a book, but trust me when I say I’ve found multiple copies of books on the shelves of almost every sentimental bibliophile I’ve met. Once you have more than a shelf or two of books (not a book CASE or two, a SHELF or two!), the chances of your remembering what books you own dwindles. Even if you love the book, there is never a need to own more than one copy of it!
Tiny Action: Every time you notice a multiple of a book, immediately give one copy away.
While going through this process, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Take breaks. When I first began paring down my books, I would get dizzy after 15 minutes!
Take five minutes to step away anytime you begin to feel overwhelmed – this is a new experience for your body, and it takes some getting used to!
Stay hydrated. I found I would get drained and tired as I went through my books – keeping a glass of water next to me helped keep me alert and focused.
Set a timer. Sort through your books for no more than 30 minutes the first go-round or you will find yourself getting frustrated and overwhelmed.
Honor your emotions. Your sentimental attachment to your books is not something to feel ashamed of or sad about. Acknowledging your emotions as you sort through your books can be the first step in helping you move past that attachment and towards a more minimalist reading habit.
And above all, remember this: you did not acquire those books overnight, so you will not release your attachment to them quickly either. By spending a few minutes a week and by letting go of a few books at a time, you will find your feelings shifting towards the stories and the moment rather than the books themselves.
I am neither happy nor sad on Father’s Day. There are no warm memories to wrap myself in, or feelings of loss. Truth be told, I remember hardly anything about my father. He died when I was seven.
I grew up in the fifties, when almost no one was divorced. As a child, I didn’t know anyone who did not have two parents — just my brothers and me.
I remember having daydreams as a kid, that
my father was actually away doing some kind
of clandestine research for the government (this was during the Cold War, after all), and that he would one day reappear in my life.
The reappearance was always during an assembly program, where my astonishment
was seen by all — the kind of dramatic big reveal that is shown on talk and reality shows today. I never dwelt on why the government wanted a pharmacist for research. It was enough that he was back.
I do have one fond memory, though it tells more about me than him. It was the first warm day in spring — I must have been in first grade. I came running into his bedroom (by this time he was bedridden) and asked him to help me get into a pair of shorts. I had grown a lot since the summer, and there was no conceivable way those shorts would fit. But I was determined; I wanted to wear those shorts. “Push me into them, Daddy!” I remember saying. “Make them fit.” Nothing could make them fit. Supposedly, he called my mom, laughing, and said, “You better bring home some larger shorts.”
I am not embarrassed by my determination at age seven. In fact, it makes me smile. It was such a predictor of the drive and stubbornness that define who I am today. They are at once my best and my worst qualities. I am glad that my dad saw this part of me, and loved me in spite of it.
Throughout my life, I never felt I missed anything by not having a dad. I guess my mom did a remarkable job of raising us, loving us so completely that we did not miss what we did not have. That is why I was so surprised when, a few years ago, I had such a strong reaction to simple gestures I saw between fathers and daughters. In one instance, a father twirled his daughter’s hair. In another, the daughter played with her father’s fingers. These two acts of mindless intimacy created such a longing in me to have been somebody’s little girl, I was shocked. How could I, who hadn’t thought about my father in decades, yearn so much for what I hardly ever knew? The emotion was fleeting… I wanted it back. I wanted to experience what it felt like to miss my father.
If I have one regret on Father’s Day, it is that I wish I knew more about my dad, that I had more memories of him. But perhaps I have the most important memory. Years ago, my son made a comment about a teacher he had in day care when he was 3. He didn’t remember her name or what she looked like, he remembered only one thing. “I remember her,” he said. “She was the one who really loved me.”
Perhaps that is the most important gift our parents give us… we remember the love.
To those of us with and without fathers, Happy Father’s Day.
When we were getting ready to move, I asked my husband if we should have a yard sale. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Our marriage isn’t strong enough for a yard sale.” We looked at each other, laughed, and put everything in the donate pile.
It’s spring, and every weekend yard sale signs appear on corners, owners hoping for windfalls from parting with household bric-a-brac. Since everyone has stuff they don’t need, yard sales seem like a good way to make some money in your spare time. Before you begin planning your next yard sale, calculate your hourly rate, as this blogger did. You may want to reconsider.
“I made a whopping $600 in five hours! That is $120 per hour! But how much did I really earn per hour? To get ready for the yard sale, I spent 15 minutes a day for one month, or 7 hours. This means I spent a total of 12 hours to make $600, so I actually earned $50 per hour. I spent 4 hours the night before the sale bringing things up from the basement, sorting everything by category and pricing things, which increased my time investment to 16 hours, so my earnings dropped to $37. I spent 2 hours setting up in the morning, which increased my hours to 18 and decreased my hourly rate to $33. I spent 1 hour getting poster board and stakes, 2 hours making up signs, 1 hour driving around the neighborhood to post them and another hour after the sale to take the signs down — a total of 4 more hours, or 22 hours in total. My earning is now $27 per hour. Of course, I didn’t actually do all of this by myself; my spouse helped. That doubles the hours, so my hourly earning is now $13.50. Although I decreased prices sharply near the end, there was still lots that didn’t sell, so we put everything left in boxes and dropped the off at a nearby thrift store. While there, however, I saw some neat things that were selling for a real bargain, so I bought them, and ending up bringing more stuff I don’t need into my home.”
The solution? Ditch the yard sale idea. Take everything to the thrift store. Be sure to take your driver’s license…but leave your wallet at home. Long live your marriage!
When I started Moving Solutions 18 years ago, I knew I was in the business
of aging, not the business of moving, so it is not surprising that my writing is about aging as well. When you delve into the details of people’s lives, as Senior Move Managers do, you observe the impact of caregiving and getting older on individuals and on relationships. This makes me think about my own getting older and my own relationships, and I share these thoughts in my blog.
I enjoy using metaphors — describing how helping family members move forward can seem like tacking in a boat — sometimes you have to go sideways to make progress, and how some family dynamics are so fragile that, like fine china with a hairline fracture, no matter how much care you take, they break under the added pressure of a move.
I write about my 21 year old cat, and how he taught me how to age with dignity even as abilities faded, and about geriatric fiblets — white lies we use with people we love to help them preserve their sense of self.
I write about how surprising it is — at a certain age — to receive a compliment from a a handsome young man, and how disconcerting it is — at a certain age — to find your purse in the freezer.
Much of my writing is about Bubbie, my mother-in-law and for many years, my muse, who showed me how to live a full and rewarding life even with multiple chronic conditions. Bubbie, who wanted to be buried in a pink sweat suit and slip-on sneakers, because, “I’m not wearing pantyhose for eternity.”
Mostly, I write because I ponder things, and because turning thoughts into well-written prose is exciting, and sharing them is an act of joy.
In fourth grade they gave me a cello because I was the tallest girl in my class. In fifth grade they look it back because I was hopelessly tone deaf. Which is ironic, because over the years, my tone has gotten me into a lot of trouble.
For years, my husband accused me of having an angry tone to my voice. This was often in seemingly innocent sentences such as “I’ll be right down.” I would argue that it was his perception, that there was no angry tone. Most of the time I believed this, but sometimes I knew in my heart he was right. I don’t know if I actually sounded angry, but I was often annoyed when he called me away from something I was doing, so it’s possible my voice did reflect an angry tone. I argued that my words were neutral; he argued that my tone was not. In our house, we didn’t use angry tones when we argued. Angry tones were why we argued.
I think everyone has at times wished they had a tape recorder they could replay to prove their innocence, or someone else’s guilt, over tones actually used or words actually said. The trouble is, there usually is no tape recorder playing, so we are left with our imperfect and often biased perceptions. We seldom consider that our perception may be flawed, that our interpretation is influenced by where we are in life or in our relationships.
I remember an incident years ago. I was near the end of a relationship with a boyfriend because he would not commit himself fully. The final blow was when I made brownies, and he said, “These brownies are almost perfect.” I stewed. He wouldn’t even commit himself over brownies! It was one more example of how he always held back. The next morning I left for good. The six month relationship was over.
It was years later when I accepted that my interpretation may have been right, but it also may have been wrong. My dissatisfaction with the relationship may have influenced how I interpreted things. In short, his statement about brownies may in fact have been about brownies. This is a humbling experience, because once you accept how subjective interpretation is, you recognize that not only is your perception of events potentially flawed, you are vulnerable to being misunderstood by others as well. When it comes to interpreting things said in relationships, we are all somewhat hearing impaired.
On the other hand, being tone deaf can be a good thing, too. My older brother often uses a tone with me that he seldom uses with others. Coming from anyone else, I might find it offensive, but coming from him, it is a non-issue. It is not that I don’t hear the angry tone, it’s that I am so certain of the love behind it that I don’t care… I choose not to care. His tone may be angry, but I know that he is not angry. I call it older-brother-speak, and I am good with it. That’s the wonderful thing about being tone deaf…. we have a choice. We can choose to take offense, or we can choose to rely on our knowledge of who the person is and how they feel about us.
In reality, then, there are three tones to each communication: the tone the speaker intended, the tone actually used, and the tone that is interpreted.
When I played cello, being tone deaf was bad, but in relationships, being tone deaf might be a good thing. One thing is certain, there would be a lot fewer arguments if we were tone deaf to other people, and they were tone deaf to us.