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In the Zone

5 Aug

The other day I lent my car to a friend to run an errand.  He called me asking how to open the gas cover door so he could fill my tank.  I explained that there was a little latch on the floor next to the driver’s seat that he could pull up to open it.  But he said he was looking at that area and there was no latch.  I was sure it was there and asked him to look again, to which he replied, “I’m looking at the floor next to the seat and there is nothing like that.”  Unable to figure it out, he returned my car and asked me to show him the latch.  To my utter surprise when I looked in the car, there was no latch.  What?  I have owned this car for several years, and have filled the tank hundreds of times.  And then it came to me – you just had to push on the door to open it.  The phantom latch I was remembering was on a rental car I had driven recently.

I was dismayed by this experience.  How could I have forgotten something so basic that I do so often?  Well, it turns out, it’s not that hard.  We do things automatically, without thinking, and when they are part of our regular routine, we can get so used to the action, we are hardly aware of what we’re doing.  We go on auto pilot.  If I had needed to fill my gas tank, I would have automatically opened the little door.  But trying to access that information to share with someone else outside of the situation didn’t happen.  I never paid much attention.  And so, it never really became part of my conscious awareness.

We can do a lot of things on auto pilot.  We can go through our lives, go through the motions, and basically zone out.  We have our routines, some things are pretty predictable, and we fail to pay attention.  It’s something we all do.  We can go about completing our mundane tasks like drones on a mission.  But if we pay attention, if we decide to be involved and aware, we will get more out of our experiences.  There are so many people who come in and out of our lives we may ignore.  The cashier at the grocery store, the guy who makes our coffee every day, the crossing guard at the school we pass each morning, and others.  They are part of our lives, and taking just a moment to give a friendly wave, say hello, learn their names and build a relationship with them, will enrich us.  We have become an isolated society paying more attention to our smart phones than those around us.  But we can change that.  Every person we meet has something to offer, and each one is unique and special in some way.  If we extend our hands, say hello, zone in, and participate, our lives will be richer, and we’ll feel more connected to our world.

Today try to zone in.  Try to pay attention to those around you.  Say hello, introduce yourself, get to know the people you interact with regularly.  Be aware, and open up.  We are all connected to each other.  Don’t ignore those you come in contact with.  Today, engage them.  You’ll make new friends, and your life with be richer.

With all my heart.

2 Apr

This is a heartbreaking story – literally. A young man from Georgia a couple of years ago needed a heart transplant. He was only 15. The transplant committee was hesitant to put him on the transplant list because he had a troubled past, and they were not sure he would comply with the directions after the transplant to ensure that it was effective. Hearts for transplant are not readily available and come at the highest cost. So determining who gets one is a very serious business. The boy’s mother appealed to the press who immediately took up her cause and he got the transplant. He was grateful and happy at the time saying the transplant would help him, “So I can live a second chance. Get a second chance and do things I want to do,” he said. It was a happy outcome for him and for his family who loved him.

Fast forward two years. This week that same boy died in a car chase with police after an attempted robbery and in a stolen car. He was 17. It’s horribly sad on several levels. First of all, he was given two years of life he would not have had without the death of his donor, and being allowed to receive his new heart. Secondly, he obviously did not value that gift enough to change his life, and really do those things he said he wanted to do. Unless, of course, what he wanted to do was die in a car chase with police, which is doubtful.

The heart – we give it a lot of attention, and rightly so. Of course, besides the brain, it’s the organ that keeps us alive. We need it unconditionally. But what about the other “heart?” The one we refer to when we love someone, the one we talk about when someone is kind, the one we attribute to our charity and sensitivity. “She wears her heart on her sleeve. He has such a good heart. My heart hurts when I see such pain.” When we talk about our heart in that way, we refer to our human-ness. Our capacity to love and care. It’s a powerful thing, our heart, and all the emotions we attribute to it.

But the heart should not outweigh the brain. The brain is what tells us what is real, where our reasoning is, and helps us figure things out. Who among us hasn’t fallen in love with someone or something with our hearts, but realized with our brains that it would never fly? We need to reason even when there is emotion. We need to think even when we’re captivated. Sometimes that may take a little time until all the facts uncover themselves, and sometimes we know right away it’s not a good idea to follow our “hearts.” We need both our brains and our hearts to make decisions and if we’re careful, and take a little time, those decisions will be made well. Not always, of course, but if we think, we’ll be more successful than if we don’t.

Once I bought the most amazing jacket – I just loved it from the moment I saw it and it was on sale, so I bought it. It was expensive but I was completely crazy about it. So I followed my heart, pulled out my credit card and bought it. I was ecstatic all the way home with my new find. I couldn’t wait to wear it. But when I got home and pulled it out of the bag I noticed a problem with one of the sleeves I had not seen in the store. There was a big pull in the fabric and no matter how I twisted it and tried to fix it, there was no hope. And then when I looked at the color in the light of day, instead of the light in the store, it didn’t look so great. In fact it was ugly. Ugh. I could not return it – no sale returns clearly posted in the store, and now I was stuck with an expensive jacket I would never wear. I kept it in my closet for over a year as a reminder to me to THINK before I jumped when my heart told me to.

Making a bad purchase is a small thing in the scope of our lives, but the reminder to think before following our hearts is an important lesson. The boy with the heart transplant had been given a second chance at life. He had been given an extraordinary gift and in the end, he squandered it. He could have done amazing things with his life. He could have chosen to be noble. He could have helped others. He could have been the example for good. But he followed his other “heart” – his base desires and did not use his brain. And now he is gone. We should do better. We can use our hearts for all the great and tantalizing moments in our lives, but we can also engage our brains to think before we act. Be kind, be loving, be compassionate, be careful, AND be wise. Use your heart for good, and use your brain to help you achieve that good.