Excerpt from Whole Happy and Healthy: A Revolutionary Approach to Understanding and Thriving with Mental Illness http://amzn.to/2mUjVRK
Intentional carelessness is the act of purposefully choosing not to attach ourselves to what happens or to what happens as a result of what happens. It is a stance that promotes curiosity and openness to experiencing life as it is lived without judgment or regret. It means that we do not take ourselves and our preconceived, rigid ideas about the world seriously; however, the fate of the world, and our actions or lack of action that contributes to its status, remain worthy of our reflection and commitment. We care about what happens but long to understand it through the hue of multiple, interchangeable lenses that together form a more comprehensive yet mysterious snapshot of reality. We effortlessly move on when we fail, and we are humbled by this experience. This is both our choice and our undeniable privilege because we choose to care about what matters most and to not care when caring becomes a hindrance to our humanity.
The first ten things on my 40 for 40 list were actions I took — places I went, things I purchased, etc. And there will be more of those on the list later this year. But there have also been many internal changes occurring during this hallmark year. Some of them are temporary, like the nagging sensation that I have limited time left in this lifetime to experience everything that I desire. But others have been more positive and, hopefully, sustainable.
One of these is self-acceptance. This has always been a struggle for me, and as such it is an aspect of myself in which I have invested a lot of reflection and intention. I am starting to feel an internal shift occurring. Perhaps it is related to the passage of time, an evolution of who I am with a cumulative impact. It could also be that reaching this milestone in my life has triggered something that would otherwise not naturally occur.
I’m starting to feel OK with who I am; I no longer feel that I am in desperate need of being fixed. I have realized that to be happy, I have to accept — and appreciate — myself and my circumstances as they are right now. I have not become complacent, and I have not given up on pursing all of my dreams. Rather, I have minimized obsessing over the consequences that may or may not occur as a result of my being in the world and the achievements that I may or may not accomplish. I have started to realize that every thing I feel, think, and do matters and has an impact whether it is realized now or at some time in the future. I have cultivated patience and compassion for myself which expand outward as I interact with others. I see other, younger, people struggling to come to terms with who they are and I understand because I have been there. But I am no longer there myself.
I often have ideas about things that I would like to do, but I don’t always act on those ideas. That is a good thing, as many of my ideas are not necessarily constructive or useful or even interesting.
But one of these ideas, which I had in high school but more than 20 years later have still not gotten around to doing, was to print labels with names on them and stick them on packages throughout the meat department of a grocery store. This action would raise awareness that all animals have a name, are capable of giving and receiving love, and deserve better than to end up anonymous and grotesquely displayed under plastic wrap in an open, public refrigerator.
When it was first reported that Cecil the lion had been murdered, I did not join with those who found this act extraordinarily offensive because Cecil had a name and was specifically known and protected by a group of people. All animals have a name, a name in the heart of their mother which is too often not communicated as animal babies, when exploited as part of an economic scheme, are taken from their mothers too young. I found this act extraordinarily offensive because we are meant to love and protect our animal friends, not to kill them and parade their carcasses for pleasure.
So while I was deeply saddened by Cecil’s death, I did not feel more sympathy for him than I did for the animals I saw in a safari display at a textbook nouveau riche home not too long ago, or for those animals that I see every week at the grocery store. Cecil deserves our attention, because he was a beautiful and sensitive animal who was unjustly taken from us. But his legacy is much greater than his own life; such is the way for all who sacrifice themselves willingly nor not. His unfortunate death is a reminder that all creatures on this planet are precious and deserving of our love, attention, and protection.
All animals, like people, have a name. Whether or not we take the time to learn that name, or anything else about each person and each animal, is up to us.
I was recently looking through a three ring binder in my attic for a document that I thought might be helpful to a coworker who, just the other day, reached out to me for this specific type of assistance. While I was unable to locate the document, I inadvertently aroused another object, an animal actually, which would soon met me face to face. At least that is my theory of how it all began. Bats tend to make a grand swooping entrance that usually takes the room’s occupants by surprise. Few creatures can provoke such horrified excitement merely by entering the room. Refined, sophisticated woman that I am, I was unable to contain my surprise on this day not so long ago.
I have a certain type of scream, a shrill first soprano, which clearly indicates that a bat is within close proximity. My dearly departed cat Sugar had what I affectionately called his ‘bat face’ — eyes wide open, ears perked forward, and head titled at just a certain angle. While the visit of a bat is purely unpredictable, our reaction certainly is — particularly as it becomes something to which one becomes as accustomed as one can become accustomed to such a thing.
As I sat in my bed, where I often jokingly refer to as the place where I do my best work — not because I am a sex worker but because it allows me to spread out my papers and invite the company of a feline companion who usually blocks my access to as many papers as possible — setting up the final exam for the Introduction to Sociology class that I am teaching this fall, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. This something was flying around my room in circles. At first I thought it was a bird. While the odd bat finds its way into my 150 year old Victorian home that sits on a hill near the intersection of two rivers, which I imagine makes a lovely habitat for our bat friends, it was broad daylight and never before had I encountered a bat without my back to the sun. And usually at 2 a.m. on a day when I am expected to arise early, full of energy, to complete one task or another.
But then it hit me that yes, indeed, it was a bat. The screams, the shrieks, commenced. I had to think quick, a skill with which I am not largely endowed. I am usually plagued with abundant afterthoughts, and the perfect comeback or strategy magically pops into my head a minimum of 48 hours too late.
I managed to stand up, and grabbed the tennis racket — one that my mother used to play tennis as a teenager, at a club which she often reminds me was a very long walk from her home, but now rests near by bed to be used for just this sort of occasion. I tried to gently persuade the bat, coax her or him onto the racket so that I could escort him outside.
At some point during this ordeal, my mother — who was sitting downstairs — heard my screams which she later told me let her know in no uncertain terms that a bat was in the house. I told her to open the door. Then I asked her to bring me the oven mitts. I remember a former coworker once telling me that, when a bat visited their home in the middle of the night once long ago, she used oven mitts to pick her or him up from the ceiling fan to which he affixed him self (hmmm…I hope it wasn’t turned on, that would be a not so fun ride for a bat in crisis). She came up the stairs with the fishing net we purchased two years ago (but luckily didn’t need in 2014 as it was the year without a bat). I told her I didn’t want the net, and to go back down and get the oven mitts. It was a crisis, and I was commanding. She insisted that I take the net so I reluctantly did as I was told.
After a few minutes of some crazy woman screaming and chasing her or him around in circles in a relatively small room, the bat decided to take a rest. She or he perched on a shelf near the corner to the room. I grabbed a shirt from my closet and approached with it and the tennis racket, wishing I had the oven mitt lest I get bitten by a rabid bat. I tried to pick up the bat, but she or he would have no part of that and started flying around the room again. She or he found solace in another corner of the room, and crawled about my stereo speakers. As she or he rested there, I was somehow able to open up a window, shaking the whole time as I recall.
I went back to the corner with the racket and shirt, and the bat moved around slowly until finally her or his what we in Pennsylvania Dutch country call a ‘hinder’ was hidden underneath my blue yoga mat. It was then that I was able to carefully examine her or his face. The bat was cute. Really, really cute. She or he had a sweet little face, adorable feet, and a stripe down its back. I got the net and put it on the floor near the yoga mat to try to get the bat into it. She or he totally ignored my sweet talking, during which I called her or him just about every term of endearment in my sweetest of sweet voices. But sadly the net made the bat scared, and she or he started making a chirping noise. I could tell that the bat was even more afraid than me.
After several tries, the bat finally made her or his way into the net. I somehow stumbled to the window and placed the net outside. She or he flew off in an instant.
Bats really are amazing creatures. They are essential to our ecosystem, providing many benefits as described in this article from Bat Conservation International — an article which I read every time I have a bat encounter to help me be more understanding and compassionate toward this unwelcome house guest. While it was an exhausting event, I am grateful (in retrospect only, not that I ever want it to happen again) for this opportunity to get so close to a bat and speak to it lovingly rather than with screams.
Not too long ago while at lunch with friends, one of them remarked about an insensitive comment made by a mutual acquaintance. Having committed similar infractions more times than I care to admit in my own life, I felt the need to defend her. “Sometimes we say things that we don’t mean,” I pleaded her, and my, case. Yes, but as I was reminded, some people say the wrong thing more often than others — and then don’t think twice about it afterward.
When I arrived home from work today, tired due to allergies or perhaps some as of yet unexplained medical condition, I noticed something odd on my front porch. I looked closer and noticed that it was covered with little tiny ants. Having just killed a huge ant that zipped from one end of my desk to the other earlier in the day, callous human that I am, perhaps I overreacted. I used my shoe to swish off what my gut told me was a piece of candy.
And just as I did that, I realized that I just kicked a robin’s egg that had fallen from the nest on the stoop above. The nest which seems to be doomed; the one from which I have buried baby birds the past two years. The fluid-filled shell and about 20 ants were carelessly tossed aside by my imperial foot. I immediately experienced a deep sense of regret, then remorse. Even though I am not one of those regularly insensitive people, I felt as through I had violated the sacred agreement between woman and the earth on which she roams.
I can’t offer you a pleasant resolution to this story, because I have not yet discovered that for myself. But I have been reminded to be more present, more intentional, and more caring at every moment. Especially when I am feeling tired.
(c) Jessica R. Dreistadt 2015-2019. All Rights Reserved.