Archive for October, 2013

The Living Years

Warm water, the sky an endless expanse of blue, palm trees swaying in the island breeze, and I have no clue what’s happening half a world away, back in the USA, as I blissfully float in the swimming pool.  To be fair, nobody knows that my father’s heart is on the verge of failure.  That he has less than a day left to live.

I get the call the next day – or my husband does – while I am back out at the hotel pool, enjoying a few days respite from our work with Habitat for Humanity in Papua New Guinea.  My husband appears at the side of the pool.  I flip in the water, push off from the opposite side, and swim over to see him, pushing water from my eyes as I surface.  He bends down and pauses a beat.  I don’t expect to hear anything awful so his words catch me off guard and I don’t believe them.  My father can’t be dead but somehow, impossibly he is.

It’s been 17 years and I haven’t stopped missing him.  I feel compelled to write of him at some point each year, to remind myself that time is short and tomorrow is a mystery.  That I love you and I’m sorry are urgent words that should not be put off for another day.

My parents are both gone now.  I visit the cemetery often and talk to them.  I tell my dad things I wish I’d said in the living years. I’m not sure that it would have gone well had I found the courage;  I just wish I hadn’t let fear of his reaction stop me from saying what was in my heart while he was still alive to hear me.

I’m grateful that I recently took the time to call my dad’s baby brother because he died unexpectedly yesterday, apparently in the middle of getting dressed that morning.  My aunt found his body later that evening when he was long past saving.  My uncle, like my father, was a relatively young man and it seems far too early but I find solace in knowing that the last thing I ever said to him was, “I love you, Uncle Don.”

I didn’t say those words lightly or easily.  My dad’s side of the family isn’t big on affirmation, hugs and I love yous.  I’m glad I’ve learned to have the courage to speak from my heart even when it isn’t easy.

Is there someone in your life that needs to hear from you?  Please, stop whatever you’re doing and just do it.  Right now.  Tomorrow may be too late.

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Catfish

I recently discovered the MTV show Catfish: The TV show.  Apparently, a Catfish is someone who poses as someone else online or lies about who they are in one way or another in order to lure people into relationships.  I actually ran into a psychopathic Catfish back in 2007.  He was trolling for attention, sex, fantasy, money… The truth is, I can’t begin to understand his psychology.  I only know that I will be happy if I never encounter another person as devious and sick as he.

The episodes of Catfish that I’ve seen haven’t featured anything as sick as what I encountered personally.  Generally, the Catfish seem to fall into a couple general categories:  1) The unhappy man or woman in a committed relationship, looking for fantasy and escape, and 2) Men and women who wish they were more successful, better looking or more exciting.

While I cannot imagine pretending to be someone other than I am, I can understand the desire to escape or present a “better” version of myself.  For instance, I used to post pictures taken at specific angles, designed to make me look thinner.  I got to be fit and it was fun and so much easier than actually working.

I also found myself living somewhat of a fantasy in that I was phenomenally social online and a virtual hermit offline.  I express myself best in writing so being on a social network provided me the opportunity to put my best foot forward: Kate 2.0, that was me.

Eventually, even the small alterations I made became a burden.  I wanted to be accepted in my imperfections.  Connection isn’t  real until it sees and loves fully.  I didn’t want to be a fantasy.  I just wanted to be me, full of imperfections but doing my best to be a kind and compassionate human.

One of the dangers of our cultural obsession with online media is that it tempts us to post only the best pictures of ourselves and it’s easy to white wash our lives, causing us to form incomplete connections.

I used to believe that online friendships were purer and more honest than offline friendships because they level the playing field.  It doesn’t much matter how we look or what we do for a living or where we live.  The thing is, those details do come into play and they’re very much a part of who we are.  When we alter them even slightly we’re presenting ourselves falsely in varying degrees.

I started out online only showing my feet and knees.  It was my thing.  Eventually, I began to show me but always in the best possible light and like I said, it truly bothered me.  It was a long process for me but eventually I came clean and said, “This is me and I’m nowhere close to being your fantasy.”

That gave me the courage to finally go out and meet people I’d known online for years.  I was afraid but I knew they weren’t expecting Kate 2.0.  Without exception, we clicked as well face-to-face as we had online, if not better.  It was a hugely freeing experience for me.

Back to Catfish.  Some of the most compelling stories I’ve seen have been stories of goodhearted, well intentioned people who were afraid they’d never be accepted because of how they looked.  In most instances, appearances didn’t really matter once they were revealed because people had formed heart connections.  The real issue seems to be dishonesty.  Nobody likes being lied to.  It erodes trust.  Better unattractive or dirt poor than dishonest.

Like I said before, I haven’t seen any episodes of the show where there were huge deceits like the one I dealt with in 2007.  Malicious, sick pretenses.  I’ve mostly seen average people who wish they were other than they are, looking for connection.

I wish more of us would get offline and back into life with all it’s challenges and imperfections.  I wish more of us would work to make honest connections and in the process accept ourselves more fully for the beautifully flawed people we are.

Finally, I think the escape element of online life is incredibly damaging and keeps us in unhappy relationships.  Instead of talking to our significant other we escape to a place of fantasy online where everything is shiny and easy.  I love that Nev and Max on Catfish always insist that people deal with their offline relationships before they seek to meet anyone from their online world.  They encourage honesty and courage.

May we all seek to be honest and courageous.

Have you ever met a Catfish?  In what ways do you “manage” your online image?  I’m curious to hear your stories.