Thursday, November 20, 2014

Giving Thanks to Oprah and Her Kindred Spirits

By Mahlia Lindquist

Certain people have a gift for making others feel good and inspired to do good.  They bring out the best in the rest of us. These rare souls are the opposite of douche bags (a particular brand of unpleasant person touched on in my last post.)

A few, like Oprah, do it on a grand scale, and only a committed contrarian is not in awe of her. 

Oprah has achieved monumental success as an entertainer and is one of the most influential people on Planet Earth.
She is also one of the wealthiest and most generous. Not only does she give away millions of dollars, she lends her humongous influence to help others succeed.  

All this, despite being a black woman, raised in rural poverty, raped at age nine, and getting pregnant at 14.

Oprah has never married. She is overweight, middle-aged, and not beautiful by cover girl standards. Yet, every month she rocks the cover of her own best selling magazine. Even though she defies convention and is staggeringly successful, Oprah seems to be one of us. In word, deed, nor attitude, does Oprah lord her superiority over the rest of us peasants. 

Indeed, like the Buddha who taught that we all have Buddha potential, Oprah assures us with convincing sincerity that we all have Oprah potential. 

Others go about the business of being an inspiration on a micro level.

My friend Meesh is one of those people. In the 20+ years we've been friends, I have made confessions to her that, if public knowledge, would prompt a visit from social services and possibly even arrest for child abuse. Yet, I always leave our confessionals feeling like mom of the year with resolve to do better next time.

Sara is a more recent friend who shines a warm, lovely light on those she touches. She came to Miami with a rare cancer, because the hospital here is one of the only places to get the four-organ transplant she needed to survive long term. No, that is not a typo, four organs.

Sara left her family in Minneapolis, for what she thought would be a one month wait in Miami for a transplant. The month turned into a year-long marathon. 
During that year, Sara missed precious family milestones, like her older daughter's prom, graduation, and freshman year college drop-off. She also suffered the heartbreaking disappointments of receiving calls about potential matches, rushing to the hospital, and after hours of waiting, being told "not this time."  The tortuous year in Miami doesn't  take into account other hardships from before we met, like heart surgery, a monumental battle with her insurance company, and simply living with a deadly disease.

It was in the gut wrenching Miami waiting phase that I got to know Sara. But, the thing is, it never seemed gut wrenching when I was with her. Not really. Yes, Sara desperately missed her family. Yes, she often felt sick or tired. Yes, sometimes she was sad and afraid. Yes, my heart hurt for what she was going through. 
Sara, left, with me pre-op

And yet, I always left our time together feeling uplifted. 

Part of the reason was because Sara was positive and courageous. However, the bigger reason was that Sara was never about her illness. She was more about spreading the love.

Whenever we got together we discussed Sara's health. But Sara also wanted to know all about my recent trip. She worried about my injured shoulder. When my dog died, she brought flowers and chocolate and commiserated with me. When I berated myself for being reckless and immature, she assured me that I am actually just free-spirited.

I am ecstatic to report that Sara got her transplant two weeks ago. Although the speed of her recovery has been miraculous, it has also been arduous. She has feeding tubes that go through her nose and down her throat.  She is chronically wet, can't sleep, is barely mobile, and then there's the pain. When discharged, she will have to stay in Miami for months. She will be at risk of infection, have to take medication and adhere to a strict diet for far into the foreseeable future. In other words, she still has a long road to haul.

When I first saw Sara, just two days after her 12-hour surgery, she was radiant. She remarked that seeing me was like a ray of sunshine, and urged me to call her chiropractor about my shoulder. She asked about how my youngest was doing with the class that had been giving her trouble. We marveled together over a photo of her diseased liver, scrutinized her stitches, and laughed.  
Sara, left, with Starr post-op

Hospital visits usually leave me feeling depleted. This time, even though I worried about how much Sara was still suffering, I left with a sense of euphoria.

Sara, Meesh and Oprah seem to have little in common. However, on a fundamental level they are kindred spirits. They honestly see the good in others and want good for others. 

It's not just me, my kids have both observed they experience the same sense of well being after spending time with Meesh and Sara, and they think Oprah is cool.

One of the many reasons I am a fan of all three is that while they are kind and generous, they are not sweet in the passive, bland, insipid way that too often passes for "nice." When interviewing John Edward's mistress, Rielle Hunter, Oprah made clear she viewed Ms.Hunter's explanations as lame. Meesh is one of the most aggressive drivers who ever sported a mini-van and is a cutthroat wench when it comes to charades. Sara has her opinions and doesn't mince words.

These women are fabulous, but not perfect and have no interest in seeming so. They bear witness to the pain of others and share their own suffering and shortcomings without being self-absorbed. These amazing women are real

In honor of Thanksgiving, I want to express my gratitude for Oprah and her kindred spirits:  Meesh, Sara, Jackie, Starr, Traci, Lisa, Kathy, Julie, Jodi, Bob, Mom, Dylan, Zoe, Carolyn, Dawn, Dave, Emily, Deb, Kim, Whitney,  the Korean Tai Kwon Do master I met on a flight from NYC, and all the other special souls who have  endowed me with an enhanced view of humanity and myself. 

Within the glow of Oprah's kindred spirits we are all smarter, kinder, more attractive, more lovable and the world seems like a better place. 

Tai Kwon Do Master

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"Douche Bag," A Necessary Evil

By Mahlia Lindquist

Scarcely any words are taboo these days. With "WTF" being as common as "have a nice day," few are scandalized by phrases society used to consider obscene. As individuals, however, we each have particular expressions that make us squirm. 

My daughter's friend, Maya,  for example, cannot abide the word “moist.” Just the mention of a delicious moist brownie makes her gag. 

For me, it's “fiancé.”  For reasons  I cannot fathom, but which probably relate to an as of yet undiagnosed personality disorder, fiancé sounds pretentious, contrived and ridiculous all at the same time. Even when I had one, I could not bring myself to say, “I am going to dinner with my fiancé. ” 

Another problem word is “like.” It should only be used as a simile or to express affinity for a person, place or thing. Every utterance of, like, something, like this is, like, akin to nails on a chalkboard. 

I also cannot stand “wiener.” My aversion to “wiener”  is so extreme that when I was in 7th grade, I went steady with a boy at camp named Mark and broke up with him a week later upon learning that  his last name was Weiner. This, despite the fact that Mark was the cutest, sweetest boy with the bluest eyes who ever lived. To this day, I recoil when someone refers to a dachshund as a wiener dog. 

When it comes to profanity and words for intercourse, my reactions are just as irrational.  “Shit” is okay, but “poop,” “crap” and “piss” seem vulgar. “Sex” is permissible and  “fuck,” has a positively satisfying ring to it, but I blush at “making love." “Bitch” and "asshole" are practically terms of endearment, compared to the “C” word, which I can't even type without wincing. 

Douche bag used to be right up there with “C” at the top of  my list of cringe worthy words, so I was devastated when it became a part of Dylan and Zoe's everyday lexicon. My cynical teenagers, formerly known as sweet, adorable, innocent little girls, started saying things such as, “there’s this kid in my class and he is, like, a total douche bag.” 

Every time I heard "douche bag" and "like" from my offspring in the same sentence, I died a little inside and questioned where I went wrong as a parent. 

After much pleading and haranguing on my part, they agreed to stop using “like.” To my dismay, the girls dug in their heals with douche bag (or douche for short.) When I suggested alternatives, they claimed that jerk and asshole simply do not do justice to a certain type of contemptible and obnoxious male.  They needed to use douche bag in order to effectively communicate with their peers. 

In the spirit of picking my battles, I acquiesced. However, no matter how Dylan and Zoe explained it, I didn't get why douche bag was so necessary.

But then I met Frank.

It was at a party that perfectly encapsulated all that I adore about Miami. I was there with my friend Jackie. It was at a luxurious penthouse on the 32nd floor, and the guests included beautiful women in  tight dresses and handsome FBI agents in tight t-shirts. In addition to being attractive, everyone was friendly, interesting and charming.

Everyone, that is, except Frank. 

Frank and I crossed paths as I stood on the balcony admiring the glorious view. Frank was a bald, paunched, not particularly well-preserved middle-aged man. After introducing ourselves, the conversation consisted of Frank talking at me. He informed me that he is an attorney and works in finance. He also sought to enlighten me as to the depth and breadth of his knowledge and wisdom on a wide array of topics. 

Then the conversation took a turn from tedious to offensive:
Meet Frank (left)
Frank: so honey, where do you live (brushing his hand against my hip) 
Me: Coconut Grove (flinching and stepping back) 
Frank: Coconut Grove?! There’s nothing there except a bunch of college kids throwing up. 
Me: Umm, well I kinda like living there, I’ve not noticed the college kids.  
Frank: Well, that’s what’s there, you must not get out much.
At this point, Frank’s friend joins the conversation:
Frank’s friend: Nothing wrong with college kids 
Frank: Oh yeah, true, especially college girls. 
Frank’s Friend: Not too young for you? 
Frank:  No way, 22 is just right. I do quite well with them. Can't stand women anywhere near 40. 
By this point, I was no longer in the conversation, just a stunned bystander. Although I later thought of  retorts that would be so clever, scathing, and yet compassionate that Frank would change his obnoxious ways forever, nothing came to mind at the time.

There was nothing to do but walk away.

When I rejoined Jackie inside, she asked who I had been talking to. I replied, "this guy, Frank, he's a real..."

Hesitating, several words went through my head ...  asshole? jerk? bastard? None seemed to capture the essence of Frank. But then, I remembered what my ever practical children had to say about a certain class of boorish males.

Without flinching, I continued, ... "he's a real douche bag."

Jackie nodded her head knowingly. She understood exactly what I meant.