Above, only sullen nimbus grey.
My left hand grasps at shadows
right hand trapped by work’s iron fist
behind, a thousand tiny ties bound to the past
below, soul-sucking mud swallows every step
hateful reality burns down my dreams.
But you say, keep going
I’m doing great, so tell me
will I see the sun again
We walked hard roads together
leaning on each other in bad times
laughing side by side in good times
we didn’t know our lines would run parallel
only for so long.
A tiny shift
a tiny space
the lines diverging
and I try
try to hold on
we are seen and we are known
we are something to each other
not easily found, I thought.
But since I set my compass to wider horizons
you dig at me with your discomfort
scratch me with your disapproval.
And I try
try to hold on
I will miss you too
your sarcasm and tears
your perspective and your fears
the way we huddled together for warmth
long into dark nights.
But with every angry jibe
the chasm grew, so
I placed you tenderly behind a shield of glass
raised for my own protection
seen, not felt
cry if you must
and don’t forget
I love you even as
you shrink in my rear view mirror.
I should be looking forward
and I try
try to hold on
time is the great separator.
Almost beyond touching distance
yet it still hurts.
I wish you well
Ethan looked around furtively, making sure he was alone. There was no sign of Dalia but his girlfriend could sneak up on him like some kind of ninja when she wanted, and he was in no mood for another fight.
“I’ll wash up,” he called out.
Her muffled reply came from the bedroom. “Thanks babe.”
There was really nowhere to hide in their rented flat. They’d agreed it was fine for a start, even though it was more like one and a half bedrooms than two. But three years later their future was still on hold until they could save enough for a deposit on a place of their own. How did people manage without a big salary or generous parents?
He never got used to the disappointment but he couldn’t give up hope either. With a sigh he tore the scratch card into tiny pieces and dropped them into the bin, before scraping the leftovers from his plate on top. Maybe next time.
Monday came much too soon. Even worse, he had another packed lunch instead of something tasty from the sandwich truck like everyone else. Bills were increasing and his next review was months away. There was no chance of Dalia getting a pay rise either. None of this made his sad ham sandwich and own brand crisps look any more appetising. He sighed.
“Lunch al desko again?”
Ethan looked up at the familiar face of his colleague. “Yeah. Sacrifices must be made for the greater good and all that.”
“I get it.” Anna looked around, then stood closer. “I’m popping out. D’you want your usual?”
“Don’t know, things are tight.” Ethan couldn’t look Anna in the eye, couldn’t explain he wanted – no, needed this and there seemed no other way to do it. “Only have five.”
Anna murmured, “No worries, I’m short this month as well. Wanna split?”
Ethan risked a glance and found Anna was smiling. She knew where he was coming from. He extended his hand and they shook solemnly.
“Fifty fifty. It’s a deal.”
At two o’clock Anna rushed up to his desk, pulling on her coat.
“I gotta go, Jason just threw up all over the childminder.” She grimaced and dropped the card on his keyboard. “Not what I need. Hope you have better luck.”
“Thanks, hope he’s okay,” he called after her. He slipped the card into his wallet and got back to work. There was no way he’d risk his manager catching him slacking. He needed that promotion.
That evening Ethan slumped on the sofa after sliding a frozen shepherd’s pie into the oven. He rolled his tense shoulders but it didn’t help. Exercise would help, but his gym membership was long gone and he loathed running, no matter how evangelical his friends were about it. He sat up then, remembering the scratch card. He’d be over the inevitable disappointment before Dalia got home. The timing was perfect.
He was still sitting when he heard her key in the door.
“Hey. You’re a bit late, everything okay?”
Dalia shrugged. “Road works, bus was late, blah blah I’m over it.” She dropped her bag on the table like always and kicked off her shoes. “Is that dinner I smell?”
“Might be a bit overdone, but anyway.”
“As long as it’s edible, I don’t mind.”
Ethan brought the plates over, but could only play with his food while Dalia cleared her plate. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Drinking on a Monday, was it that bad?” She raised one eyebrow, and Ethan tried to smile back.
“No, no, things were pretty routine, mostly. I’ll open a bottle of wine—”
“What’s got into you tonight? Something happen at work?” Dalia sat up straight, brow creased in worry.
Ethan fumbled with the corkscrew as his stomach lurched. He needed to calm down.
“Ethan, stop. I don’t want wine, talk to me.”
He put down the corkscrew and bottle and came out of the kitchen to resume his seat opposite. “Sorry.”
“Ethan?” Dalia’s eyes were wide. “Tell me.”
“I know you don’t approve, but hear me out. I wanted – it’s impossible isn’t it, trying to save up—”
“Please, just listen. We’re doing everything we can, yeah, packed lunches and buses and me cycling to work in the summer so I only play once a week, and then today this happened.” He pulled the scratch card out of his pocket and pushed it across the table with a shaky hand.
“Scratch cards? Bloody scratch cards?” She flushed and raised her voice. “You know how I feel about gambling and what it did to my family. How could you?”
“Dalia please look at it.”
She snatched it up and glanced at it. Then her mouth fell open. “Is this some kind of joke?”
Ethan came to stand behind her. He pointed at the numbers. “It’s real.”
“Four M? What’s that mean?”
He whispered in her ear. “It means we won the jackpot. Me and Anna, we share four million pounds.”
Ethan wanted to scream his good news but he managed to control his voice. “I work with her, she bought the ticket. It’s a ten pound game for the big prize so we went halves.” He smiled down at Dalia but she didn’t respond. Probably in shock – he’d felt the same when he scratched off the last panel, then stared in disbelief for forty minutes.
“Say something sweetheart. We won!”
“I – it’s unbelievable. Are you – I don’t want – are you sure, Ethan. Don’t get my hopes up—”
“I’m sure, as sure as I’ve ever been. This is it, everything we ever wanted, we can have. A house, a car, anything.”
Dalia squealed and when she stood up Ethan scooped her into his arms, laughing and kissing away her tears. “We won!”
He was elated, caught up by possibility and dreams of their future as they punched the air and danced round the living room before collapsing on the sofa.
“So am I forgiven for the scratch card?” Laughter bubbled from his chest. He felt light as air and crazy but in a good way.
“Does she know?”
“No, I wanted to tell you first of course.”
“Okay. And are you in a proper syndicate?” Dalia’s tone shifted to something more serious.
“Nothing formal, we agreed to split it. Why?”
“Well it’s your card isn’t it? So you’re the winner. You don’t have to say how much you won.”
“But I agreed. She paid half, so we split it equally.” He spoke slowly, his joy leaking away under Dalia’s stare.
“No legal agreement. She’ll never know.”
Ethan shook his head. “We agreed.”
Dalia scoffed. “Agreed? This is our future we’re talking about. Who is she to you anyway?”
Ethan stood and started to pace. He had to make Dalia understand and he couldn’t see the problem. “She’s a colleague, that’s all. Since I’m eating packed lunches I don’t get to the shops, so she buys my tickets.”
“How long?” Dalia snapped, her eyes cold.
“How long what?” Things were spinning out of control and he couldn’t keep up.
“How long have you been lying to me, buying tickets you know I don’t approve of with money we don’t have with some woman—”
“Can you hear yourself? Isn’t two million enough?”
“Not when you’re giving the other two to another woman. It’s the principle.”
Ethan backed away from Dalia where she sat rigid on the sofa.
“Principle. Right.” He picked up the winning card and placed it in his pocket. “No legal agreement, you say. Well we’ve got no legal agreement, have we? Three years watching every penny, eating cheap food, drinking cheap beer, all because I believed in a better future with you.”
Fear bloomed on Dalia’s face. “Ethan, I—”
“You know what, I’m glad we had this chat. I’m glad I figured you out.” Anger burned steady in his chest and he watched Dalia’s growing agitation with detachment. This person was a stranger.
“Just give her like half a million, anybody would be happy with that. Ethan, please.” She started towards him but he held up his hand. He looked past her tears and shocked expression, and he didn’t like what lay beneath.
“Anybody but you. I wonder what would be enough for you. I gave her my word and it’s the right thing to do for God’s sake. It’ll change her life too and she deserves that.” He slipped on his jacket and shoes.
“She shared her little win with me you know. That time I said I got a bonus from work, well it was a scratch win and I put it all in our savings account, like we agreed. Because I’m honest all the time, not just when it suits me.”
“Ethan don’t go, please I’m sorry I didn’t mean it.” Tears streamed down her face and she reached towards him but he moved past her. “Okay we’ll split it,” she wailed.
He paused at the door with his keys in hand.
“I used to think you were my better half. Show people some zeroes and you find out what they’re really made of.”
Being offended doesn’t, by itself, make me right. Garon Whited
Are you easily offended?
Do any of the following sound familiar?
How can X group hold Y opinion that’s *obviously* wrong?
How dare he look at me like that?
She hasn’t said anything but I’m already upset because people like her all hate people like me.
We live in a world where people take offence at just about anything, whether important or trivial.
Whole industries are built around us paying attention to events and people that have no direct bearing on our lives.
We’ve been convinced not only that all our opinions matter a great deal, but also that we must express them — loudly and with increasing venom.
Everyone’s shouting, but few are listening.
This means that everyone is capable of both giving and taking offence.
Giving it is framed as exercising free speech without being responsible for its effects.
Taking it means being accused of being oversensitive, unable to take a joke, a snowflake. And then there’s another chance to become offended or hurt. It’s like an endless game of tennis with pain as the score.
There are ways to navigate this minefield and survive.
Different And Equal
In essence, you are neither inferior nor superior to anyone. True self-esteem and true humility arise out of that realization. In the eyes of the ego, self-esteem and humility are contradictory. In truth, they are one and the same. Eckhart Tolle
Freedom of speech is a defining feature of democracies. This right belongs to everyone, especially those who disagree with you.
Your first thoughts on a matter reflect deeply held beliefs and prejudices which often go back to your family of origin. They’re tied to triggers and first impressions, allowing the brain to make snap judgements. These can be reinforced by schooling and media and are an automatic response that is barely examined.
Your second thoughts might agree with first thoughts, or they might differ. These are the beliefs you have formed after considering your first thoughts in the light of experience and new information. They need time and repetition to become automatic and overwrite first thoughts.
You’re free to speak, but you should wait before exercising that right.
By holding your tongue, you gain the chance to make a more considered response, one that shows a more mature personality. Suspend judgement and think, then respond.
You’re also free not to speak. It’s always an option to be silent in some circumstances.
The right to speak does not mean that others must listen. You can respectfully agree to disagree and move on. Also, use mute and block on social media to exclude some voices that routinely disturb you.
You can argue this leads to smaller echo chambers without dissenting voices, but social media lacks the nuance for reasoned debate, especially in these highly politicised times. Reduce contact with people who cause friction in your life.
More Than Stars
Exaggerated sensitiveness is an expression of the feeling of inferiority. Alfred Adler
In a world of starred reviews and comparison websites, we all want to be at least four out of five. In extremes, hearing the equivalent of one star can bring us to tears and/or aggression depending on whether the anger is directed internally or externally.
If you can’t take any criticism, take a step back. Since none of us is perfect and we know it, anyone who touches on an insecurity is immediately judged hostile. But there may be information you can use if you examine what’s being said to find a core of truth, separate from the emotional hit.
Discount personal vitriol and look at your behaviour.
Could you change how you do something?
Do you need to change, but have been resisting it?
Are you angry about being caught out?
Own your feedback, do the work, and nobody will be able to goad you in that way again.
Their Opinion Is Not Your Mirror
People get addicted to feeling offended all the time because it gives them a high; being self-righteous and morally superior feels good. Mark Manson
You are not someone’s opinion — including yours. You’re much more than that. Most times, expressed opinion reflects its holder and not its target. We see the world as we are.
So, sidestep the opinion. Ignore it. Refuse to engage in a fight to see who can offend and be offended more. Most of us have enough baggage of our own without taking on other people’s insecurities as well.
The Centre of the Universe
One who enjoys finding errors will then start creating errors to find. Criss Jami, Killosophy
You probably know someone who has a criticism for everything and is happy to share it. They may dress it up as advice or concern. Either way, they’re right and everyone else needs to be told which ways they’re wrong.
If you find yourself getting angry about a celebrity’s choices or something on TV on a regular basis, you’re spreading your circle of influence too wide. You aren’t the centre of any universe except your own, and that’s the only place you can make actual changes.
That woman’s plastic surgery or that man’s choice of partner do not require your input, and you can divert the emotional energy into your own life. Let entertainment be just that, and sidestep the negative vibe of constant gossip.
Often, you use misplaced moral outrage to avoid working on your own issues. Social media is full of virtue signalling where people are conspicuously and publicly offended to score social points but achieve nothing. Be careful where you place your attention.
Embrace Imperfection — Even Yours
Remember you don’t own people, let them decide, choose and live. There is no inferiority and superiority; it is just your crazy imagination. M.F. Moonzajer
When we recognise our own flaws in others, we reject them — and usually the person too. The inability to forgive ourselves first is the root of much sensitivity. We hand out punishment for the flaw in any way available, whether verbal attacks or online hate.
Ask yourself why this person has made their statement or action. Consider reasons that don’t involve you directly. It’s often not about you, even if it’s directed at you.
Then consider if they’re acting on their first thoughts. Give them the benefit of the doubt at first, because we all need to learn to wait for our second thoughts, the ones that more fully align with our principles and experience. Be civil because that’s the kind of person you are.
Ask yourself if you’re guilty of the fault you find in others. It may offend you because it’s close to home, whether it’s a self-indulgence you deny yourself or a desire you’ve been taught to suppress.
If they are deliberately offensive, ignore the chance to correct themselves, or escalate, then it’s time to walk away. They have more growing to do, but it’s not your job to teach them.
For example, in common with most female physicians I’ve been addressed as Nurse too many times to count. Nothing wrong with nurse, it’s just not my title. A polite correction is usually enough. But if a patient keeps using that title in a mocking tone, alluding to “real” doctors and positive discrimination repeatedly, they show that they’re hoping to offend. And make no mistake, I am irritated.
But I don’t explain myself, apologise for not being what they expect, or otherwise engage except to get the job done. Their projection of issues with perceived inferiority or authority aren’t my concern. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Never wrestle with a pig because you get dirty — and the pig likes it.”
If you accept your imperfection and that of others, paradoxically you are less fragile. Nobody can use your flaws to crack you open and goad you into helping them do it.
Let It Go
When you’re attached to something, whether through love or hate, you give it an importance it doesn’t have. Marty Rubin
Some people hold tight to their negative emotions. They cradle them and feed them with their attention until they are defined by them. They become known for their thin skin or loud outrage on certain subjects. They have missed the truth.
Emotions are something you have, not something you are.
Other people’s emotions are not your responsibility, but you should follow the golden rule: do as you would be done by. This alone will help because it’s impossible to never offend anyone.
Strengthened by self-acceptance, tempered by empathy, and equipped with rational thinking, you can step back from constantly feeling offended or overly sensitive. You can observe those feelings and let them go. And you can make real choices about your future behaviour without either denying your feelings or allowing them to dictate unthinking behaviour.
So next time you find yourself getting worked up by something, ask yourself is this about me?
If it’s not about you, let it go. You don’t have to have an opinion on everything, nor do you have to attend every fight you’re invited to.
If it is about you, do something. Work on your blind spots and weaknesses, or work to make needed change in the world around you.
We can’t escape anger. But maybe you’re shaking your head now because I’m wrong about you. You don’t get angry because it’s unproductive, destructive and just not nice.
Do you get irritated? Are the people around you consistently disappointing? Irritation and frustration are anger with the volume turned down.
Do particular situations that don’t directly involve you trigger a desire to call out injustice and unacceptable behaviour in others? Moral outrage can be a proxy for real anger with its roots elsewhere.
Are you a perfectionist, hypercritical of yourself, and need to control even small aspects of your environment? This combination of internally directed anger and fear hides under a veneer of achievement and desire for approval.
Last of all, are you always nice to everyone, in any situation? Do you apologise when someone wrongs you? People who bury their feelings under niceness and socially sanctioned compliance are often angriest of all.
Everybody’s angry at least some of the time. Why is this a useful response?
Anger helps you survive because it motivates you to approach a threat and overcome it.
When some guy cuts you off in traffic, you feel a threat to your territory — your vehicle and its surrounding space. You’re enraged and you’re ready to get out and fight.
By contrast, fear motivates you to avoid a threat to survival. If that same guy is driving an eighteen-wheeler, survival instinct tells you that fighting him for the same road space is unwise. But unexpressed anger doesn’t necessarily go away. You hold it in your body and mind.
When your child spills his drink later, you shout because your head hurts and you have heartburn and is it so hard to just use a cup? Now you’re both angry with yourself and guilty, and you reach for your numbing agent of choice.
Emotions are not of themselves good or bad. You have emotions, and your choices in dealing with them have more or less value. There are ways to make anger work for you.
Count To Ten?
When angry, count four. When very angry, swear. Mark Twain
Anger is processed very fast in the amygdala, part of the brain that deals with identifying and responding to threats. The cortex, seat of rational thinking, takes longer to catch up. This is the reason behind the advice to count to five or ten, giving yourself time to think of an acceptable response.
Anger triggers an alert state, with stress hormones flooding the system. Heart rate and breathing increase, muscles tense, and the body gets ready to fight. You can learn to tune in to these reactions before your anger escalates too far. Long, slow exhales help to limit the effects of adrenaline. This is essential; otherwise you’ll be at the mercy of emotions and unable to make a considered move.
If you live or work in an environment where anger is often expressed, you know that getting angry doesn’t help the situation. But sometimes anger escapes before you can direct it.
I once had a patient whose spouse had left him and their young children. He worked hard to care for them but had to sacrifice much of his previous lifestyle to do so. We spent time unpicking his many symptoms, which required various referrals and treatments so that he could keep going.
One day he came to discuss his progress. He said nobody was listening and he felt uncared for. This wasn’t so uncommon. Normally I’d listen, give him space to vent, and then formulate a plan.
That didn’t happen.
It was like a switch was flipped. Instead of empathising, I challenged him directly. We remained civil — we’re British after all — but ended without resolving either position. He never returned to see me.
I was already tired and running on empty for a variety of reasons, but I thought my emotions were under control in a professional setting. Turns out that if someone hits where it hurts by implying you don’t care so you’re not doing a good job so you’re not a good person then knee-jerk responses can outrun the best training.
When you’re already carrying a stress load, your trigger point is much lower. You might need to walk away from or avoid situations that you know will be difficult to manage. If that’s not possible, at least you can recognise your shorter fuse and be ready to count to twenty if needed.
Take a time-out if needed. Defer the conversation to a later time. Be self -aware and respectful of the other person, so that you can broker an acceptable resolution.
Afterwards find a trusted person to debrief with, or write a journal entry. Go over the events, be honest about what happened and own your choices. Treat it as a learning opportunity and plan a better course of action next time.
Most of all, resist the impulse to turn the anger on yourself without resolving it. That will eat you from the inside.
Anger motivates action, so choose your action. And if your previous actions hurt someone, apologise sincerely, forgive yourself, and move on.
Don’t let anger rule your life; there is a better way forward.
A Call To Action
Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. Aristotle
So you recognised your anger for what it is and learned to control your first impulse to attack. What comes next?
Think of it as an energy source; a laser that can be focused with great effect. Hold that energy and take aim.
Start with the physical. Your body has been wound up to deal with a threat. Work through the adrenaline flooding your system by running, lifting weights, or digging the garden. Exercise is a healthy response and the answers to fix the original problem may well come to you on that fast walk around the block.
I use my angry energy to do domestic chores that I hate. Afterwards I have a clean house and my muscles can relax. The negative encounter and all the thoughts following are converted into tangible benefits, which is a win-win situation.
If your anger is prompted by injustice for others do something to help, however small. Give time or money, or speak out. Take your anger and turn it into something real and useful.
Some people will goad you to snap so that they remain in control. Family members especially can be adept at button-pushing. Do not give them that advantage. Know your trigger points and plan how you will respond in advance. Instead of having the same argument over and over, change the script. Remember that the only actions you can control are your own.
If you’re angered by being put down or treated as insignificant, redirect the energy. Use it to work on your weaknesses and enhance your strengths. Spite and the desire to prove someone wrong has propelled many success stories.
If your anger is internal, driven by poor self-esteem, shame, or lack of belonging, these need careful handling. Facing the truth about your feelings can be the hardest of all. Think back to your last bout of anger. Dissect your feelings using the 5 Whys technique and a journal. Name the pain before you can cure it, with or without external help.
If you’re too nice with undefended boundaries, learn how to say no. The energy you save by not feeling resentful can be used for something better — like your own ambitions.
If you’re angry all the time, for trivial reasons, understand this is a symptom of something deeper. Strain in your relationships is a warning that change is urgently needed. Take responsibility both for your chosen actions and the results. Nobody makes you react in a particular way. It is always your choice to give in to your initial impulse.
Seek ways to manage your anger and work on your stresses. As Marcus Aurelius said, the consequences of anger are much worse than their causes. The ability to keep your cool is an advantage in many situations.
Win Your Cool
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
Anger carries the energy of a coiled spring. Holding it in requires more energy than letting go, but you need to handle its release with intention so it doesn’t blow up in your face. This is neither simple nor easy, but learning self-control has a tremendous pay-off in mastering your emotions.
Hardwired into every one of us, anger is neither hero nor villain. It’s a call to action which, when properly managed, can be turned from indiscriminate bomb into a targeted weapon for change. Temper your anger with clear thinking so you can focus it with precision.
Know your anger, embrace it — but not too tightly — and use its power for good.
Have you ever loved someone and it didn’t work out?
You tried, they tried, but ultimately you parted company. Then you were left to either heal a broken heart, or hide your relief at escaping something that had lost its shine.
When that happens a few times, you start to wonder whether love is all it’s cracked up to be.
Love is supposed to be our ultimate goal.
Most of us chase it all our lives, and sometimes even find it. But in the nature of these things, finding and keeping is not the same thing. There are different kinds of love of course, but our culture puts romantic love top of the list.
We act as though love is forever and yet we know it is not. We enter into contracts and exchange rings that symbolise an unending circle. And we quietly build exits and escape clauses in the form of prenuptial agreements, running away money, and the number of a good lawyer, just in case.
The Matrix Revolutions argued everything that has a beginning has an end. Why should love be the exception? Maybe as you lick your wounds from your last battle with forever, you ask yourself, “Is love ever a mistake?”
A few people get lucky, but most of us contend with detours and blind alleys before we find The One — if we ever do. That holds true whether we seek love or a life purpose or something else of value. Winning the ultimate prize is like running a maze with no idea if a solution exists, or if a lifetime is long enough to find it.
Why keep running when success seems more elusive than a lottery win?
Cross My Heart And Hope
Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. Søren Kierkegaard
You can’t know how your life will work out down the road when you can’t see the whole map. Perhaps there are no mistakes, only progress you can’t yet recognise.
When things seem to be going wrong, think of it as taking an unexpected turn on the road of life — a plot twist, if you like. Once made, your footprints can’t be erased anyway. We can’t change our past; we can only make peace with it.
With this in mind, look back at past experiences and take what can be learned from them. Some loves are like flowers; beautiful and doomed, and all the more precious because they are ephemeral.
But even more precious than love itself is the capacity to feel love not once, but many times. To have that opportunity, you need to draw on hope.
Hope encourages you to try again and trust that you’re making progress. Hope might lack the certainty of faith, but it persists even in the face of disappointment. Hope keeps you going.
Pandora found that when all is lost, hope is the tiny flame that lights up the darkness. And the deeper the darkness, the brighter it shines.
Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic. Laini Taylor