Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Cup and a Crack

I attended a talk some years back in which we were told a tale of a teacup. I have taken a bit of artistic license with the tale in order to bring it to life here, so if you have heard it told somewhat differently, thank you for indulging me. This teacup was lovely to behold and brought its owner great pleasure. It was a fine bone china cup, so thin it was almost transparent. It was hand-painted a creamy,  butter yellow with delicate pale, pink roses and faded green leaves. It had, over the years of use, mellowed to a softer hue that seemed to glow with its warm tonality. One day the owner of this cup noticed a very slight and almost imperceptible crack at the outer edge. It was barely noticeable, so the owner decided it was not something to be alarmed about, and it was ignored. As the days passed, the crack started to grow a bit longer until finally it ran the entire length of cup from top to bottom. She could no longer pretend that the crack did not exist or that it did not bother her. The cup, in her mind, served no useful purpose as it made her think of nothing but the crack each time she held it in her hands. All this inner turmoil, despite the fact that it still retained the tea without a single drip or leak in evidence. The crack was finer in width then that of human hair but to its owner you would have thought the Grand Canyon had come to reside on the cups outermost edge. It no longer was an object that brought her any pleasure as she no longer saw a cup but a crack instead. So even though the cup was still servicable and just as lovely to behold, the crack had suddenly become the focus of attention and the owner abandoned it, sadly, to the trash. This crack rendered it unusable, unlovable and undesirable in this persons mind, so indeed it needed to be discarded.

Take this same story but picture a slightly different outcome. The same owner upon discovering the growing hairline crack decides to see the crack for what it is, and continues to do so even as the crack starts to grow. This owner sees the beauty of the cup and how the tea held within its well-like shape glows a bit brighter through the crack but holds the hot liquid intact. This same owner realizes that one day this cup may no longer hold the tea without leaking but as for right here and now it is fine. No need to worry or think about what may or may not come. No need to ruminate on finding a replacement or discarding it due to the cracks appearance. This same owner rather then ignoring the crack sees it for what it is and chooses to let it be.

It is simply a cup with a crack.

So are you more apt to be like the first owner who focuses all their attention on the crack, seeing only what is flawed or imperfect,  or are you more like the second owner who focuses their attention on the whole cup and sees it for what it is and not what it may or may not become in the future?

Cracks in cups, as cliche as that may sound,  are a lot like our lives. We all seem to move along in a state of apparent ease until suddenly a shift in our own lives can crack our veneer-like facade. It is up to us to decide wether or not to focus our attention on all the sudden pain, or worry this unwanted and unwelcome event in our life has caused us. Or we can see it for what it is, acknowledge its existence and allow it to be. A lot of our internal turmoil comes when we try to make something into more then what it is or worse, we try to make it better so that we can go back to the way things were.

But things are never the same, our lives our constantly shifting, and no matter what we do, it all changes and yes, even ends.

One thing of note is that I am not talking about denial here. To deny the existence of the cracks only makes them worse in the end. We are not resigning ourselves,  giving in or up, or in any way attempting to pretend the crack does not exist. All of these types of avoidance measures only wind up making the crack bigger, wider and far more precarious then it actually is in reality. When looking at the crack; see it, know it, feel it and accept it. If the resolution to this recent crack is not immediately apparent to you, it will come. And answers to life's dilemmas have a way of showing up when we stop trying to manipulate the circumstances or make it conform to unseen expectations of ours and others making.

I think for me, I have been both owners of this cup. I have focused too much on the crack at times, but have also learned to let go of the flaw and see the cup for what it truly is. Can I do this consistently, indeed not. Most of us cannot as well. But when we catch ourselves focusing too long on the cracks in our own lives, we need to see the possibility that those cracks represent and rather then discarding the cup, perhaps we just need to see the beauty that still exists, no matter how small or insignificant.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Birthday Parties

When I was growing up in the 60's and 70's, birthday parties typically meant homemade strawberry shortcake, a devils food Betty Crocker cake with vanilla butter cream or Crisco (don't look down your nose: it was SO incredibly delicious I can assure you) whipped frosting or, my all time favorite, a bakery cake, lemon filling, with pink roses on top thank you very much! YUM! We did not have elaborate affairs and the festivities took place in the kitchen around the Formica topped table. My mother would typically make us our favorite dinner, and the whole family was sure to be there to sing Happy Birthday and watch the gift opening. It was sweet, simple and so special to recall.

Be free for

Once in a great while someone would host a birthday party and invite some kids from the neighborhood or school. This did not happen too often in the middle class, suburban New Jersey town where I lived. The parties were typically attended by girls in party dresses and boys in pressed pants and shirts. Parties meant something more fancy then play clothes. It was an opportunity for kids to show off their best manners and dress-up clothes. We played games like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, freeze dance and musical chairs. There were always little prizes for us to win (no such thing as goody bags) and no one went away empty handed. It was truly fun, and particularly memorable as not many people had them.

Ro and Su Photography

Now, fast forward 40 years and parties have taken on a whole new meaning. It is not unusual for most kids to have at least 2 or 3 birthday parties: one with each side of the family, and one with their friends. Some have more while some do indeed have none at all. (Keep in mind I mean parties, not celebrating  sans party accoutrements with your immediate kin.) The array of home entertainment for parties is vast and seemingly endless. There are entire web sites of uber moms sharing party ideas that would put even the most sophisticated of celebrity party planners to shame. People rent tents, bouncy houses, water slides and rent by-the-hour entertainment. There are also a vast array of people who now purchase their own blow up water slides, pools, and bouncy houses to entertain the masses. No wonder people need 4,000 square foot homes and 3 car garages, but that is a post for another day!

There is also an equal assortment of party themes and locations to host the festivities. There are art parties, tea parties, beauty salon parties, Audubon parties, reptile parties, zoo parties, indoor playground parties, arcade parties, movie theater parties, amusement park parties, science museum parties, mini golf parties, bowling parties, swim parties and on and on and on. Basically if you can think it up, someone, somewhere has come up with a place for you to take your child and their friends for a fun-filled birthday extravaganza!

Sometimes we all say the party is meant for our kids. We want them to have happy memories of childhood or because we did not get parties when we were young ourselves. Perhaps you may even be one of the younger generation that had birthday parties with your friends growing up and you just want to do the same for your kids. Well, I have many happy memories of my birthdays and I had no parties to celebrate them, and am not emotionally scarred by it. Sure, I may have wanted a party, as did most of us kids back then, but it did not dampen my enthusiasm for the big day any less. I think many of us say the birthday event is for our kids but if we are being entirely honest, perhaps it is an opportunity to showcase our homes, cooking prowess, party planning skills, and creativity along with a tad bit of wanting to "out do" the other parents with our largess. Just maybe.

When my son was younger, we used to host home parties and have both the kids and all the parents in attendance. We would feed everyone, provide entertainment and in general have a lot of fun. As my son got older my husband and I liked the idea of hosting his parties at locations where the activities are supplied by someone else. Plus, we don't have the clean up afterwards, which is a big bonus to us at this stage of our life. My son would actually prefer to have a home party with all his friends. He asks for it every year and is old enough to understand why we don't do it. We want him to have fun and celebrate with his closest friends but in a way that works for us all.

Unlike some parents, we don't look at parties as a must have event either. And I am a bit mystified as to why some people feel the need to have them at all. In fact, I have an immense amount of respect for all the moms and dads who do not succumb to the birthday party craze, whether it be at home or in a special locale. I think there is a lot to be said for those kitchen table party days, where it wasn't about the latest fad or toy craze or how many kids you can fit in your house or back yard. It was much more about being surrounded by people who truly care about you and want to be there to celebrate your special day.

I did that for my recent 50th, no huge party, no DJ, no fancy entertainment or need to dress up. I wanted my family. The family that is closest to my heart, around me to help celebrate. It was my way of reconnecting to that simpler time when the immediate family was what mattered not the number of people at your party, or what you served or where you hosted it, or that you even had to have a party at all. All that is so fleeting and most people don't really recall much afterward what you did or didn't do.

Betty Crocker Seated, Picasa Web
                                  Where is Betty Crocker when you need her, hmmm?

                                                          And just in case you need it: