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Thursday, January 17, 2019

When a Diva slams the door on your face. A true story.




Have you ever had the worst interaction with someone-- only to realize later it was the most perfect gift you could’ve asked for?

Lately I’ve been noticing the strangest phenomena going on in my life, maybe because I’m walking around so raw and opened up. Maybe because I’m living these days on the edge of the unknown, so fresh into my grief that I’m unguarded and too broken and vulnerable to have an ego anymore.

But all of a sudden I'm aware of these interesting moments that the Universe has been delivering to me. Or maybe the truth is, we’re all receiving these little invitations to go deeper in our daily lives… and we’re just missing them.

I don’t know. But I thought I’d share this in case you need to recognize how this happens in your life too.

It all started with my “great idea.”

And it ended on one of those balmy, 69-degree afternoons in January that Southern Californians take for granted, with me standing underneath a white trellis overgrown with leafy clematis, and watching a screaming blonde in skin-tight yoga pants slam her front door in my face.

Although to be fair, she did have to stomp-up-three-steps to get to her door first, so it wasn’t exactly a ferocious whoosh in my kisser, but loud enough for the mailman on the corner to look over.

Also, to be honest I don’t generally use words like ‘diva,’ because I find them so emotionally-loaded they keep us from seeing the real person inside.

But after my brief run-in with this woman, this word literally popped into my head.

So ok, I’m going with it.

The most surprising part of being the focus of this Diva’s loud yelling, bulging eyeballs and intense finger-pointing was my astonishing lack of a reaction.

I didn’t scan the street afterwards, pink-faced and mortified by this public outburst.

Nor did I feel my typical “how-dare-you-I’m-just-trying-to-help” outrage.

I just left.

Although later I did see the warning signs from the minute I tapped on her glossy black door, and heard an irritated ‘Wait a minute!’ coming from inside.

Suddenly, the door had swung open. And I had a quick glimpse of an interior designer’s room before a full-figured woman filled the space. Her body was squeezed into black yoga clothes that hugged her tiny waist and her giant boobs. Her blonde-tinted hair that was frizzed and grey at her temples, was shooting from her head into a tall ponytail.

I smiled but she didn’t say a word.

In fact, she just stood there, her dark eyes, blinking rapidly. And for a quick second I remember something strange and milky about her face. The carefully drawn eyebrows, the taut skin around her eyelids and her puffy Angelina Jolie lips, frozen and half open.

“Hi, I just want to introduce myself. I’m Leslie. I used to visit the 80-year-old woman who lives behind you. And well, it’s a long story. But she just got evicted and left before she could get her two beloved cats.”

She was still staring.  “So, I’ve been checking back, trying to feed them and catch them for her. Ah. Do you know the cats I’m talking about?”

Wham-bam. She came to life. A flaming, wild-eyed Medusa right in front of me.

 “Yes! I knooow those cats!! Those people should not be allowed to have animals! I should’ve reported them a long time ago. Those cats have been coming into my yard, leaving their hair and their shit and I am sick-sick-sick of it.”

Gulp.  I tried to reassure her. “Well, the woman lost her husband (sympathy maybe?) and she’s moved now. And so have the people in the front of that duplex. And I heard the owner is renovating the whole place now….”

“Don’t you DARE tell me about that owner! You know nothing about him. That man has been letting that property go for years!! I won the 2018 Newport Beach Landscaping Award do you know that?! And I know a thing-or-two about property. And that man has been letting that place go for ages! And wait-a-minute. Are those the people that left their trash out front?

She stepped outside and her face was red.

This was not going well.

The funny thing is, Jim had warned me when I told him about my idea. I had been making two trips a day trying to catch Tiger and Smoky Joe before the weather got bad or the coyotes got them. As an animal lover I couldn’t stand the idea of them being out in the cold all night when they were used to being inside.

But with my fatigue and grief, the whole situation was starting to drain me.

I knew that Smoky Joe was too old to jump but Tiger was always hanging out on the roof behind his yard. Because it was impossible to see from the street—I had a great idea.

I told Jim. I think I’m going to ask the neighbor to let me put a little cat shelter on top the flat portion of their garage. Just in case it rains until I can catch Tiger.

He gave me a weird look.

Leslie. Not everyone feels the way you do about animals.

I was honestly shocked. What? I didn’t understand why he was sounding so negative.

Turns out that The Diva is the owner of Tiger’s favorite hang-out spot, and apparently not only does she have a hatred for cats, she happens to have one of the most immaculately landscaped yards in the area.

All of a sudden, she was eyeing me suspiciously.

“Wait. What do you want from me? Why are you here?!”

I swear I had visions of the green-faced witch waving her crooked fingernail in Dorothy’s face. Only I was Dorothy.

Maybe Jim was right. A cat shelter on her garage roof wasn’t a good idea.

I remember mumbling something about property lines that made no sense at all as I walked towards the gate.

In fact, the mention of property lines antagonized her.

“Property lines? Don’t you even think about catching those animals on my property! I’m ready to call animal control right now and have them picked up.”

I was already under the trellis when I turned around to see her jabbing her finger in the air.

“I don’t need this shit! Do you know that?! I just lost my husband at Thanksgiving!”

And Ka-BOOM. That was it.

In that second my heart softened. So she had lost someone too. Ignoring her shrill voice, my mind flashed over the days since Patrick’s loss in September and how excruciatingly fresh it all still felt for me. And I thought of how painfully recent a Thanksgiving death would feel.

 I waited for the next pause and I said in a quiet voice, “I am so sorry about your husband.”

But she looked back at me with disdain.

 “No, you’re NOT!!! You don’t even know me!” Then she turned toward her front door and yelled over her shoulder, “Get those animals off my property. NOW!”



And there it was.

The moment that American Buddhist, Pema Chodron calls the perfect teacher.

I knew something vitally important had just happened before I turned the key in my ignition and pulled away from the prettiest house on the street, with the screaming lady now inside. Only I had to see all the ugliness for myself, for the message to crystalize into these precise words:

I will never let grief destroy my life. Ever
And I will never let grief do that to my family.


I realize now that meeting the Diva that afternoon—like a lot of blow-ups that happen with others—had nothing really to do with the topic we were talking about. Instead, it was my eye-opening lesson about grief and suffering.

At the most tragic time in my life when all my certainties have melted away, and as I struggle to cope with the catastrophic effects of Patrick’s passing, I needed to be reminded of the most important choice in my life right now.

It’s a choice we all face every day. But I think heartbreak knocks us down long enough to glimpse the truth.

The reality is that life is always presenting us with opportunities to either open up or shut down in the face of scary, aching, uncomfortable situations.

I have a choice to be open and real and experience the fullness of my heartbreak even though it’s a suffering that feels completely unbearable at times. Or I can choose to shut down. Collapse. Over-medicate, deny the feelings inside me. Or hurl anger and blame at others without ever looking deeper.

Becoming bitter instead of a better person.

Thank you poor, suffering Diva for the gift of reminding me of who I plan on becoming.


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24 comments:

Brenda Burke said...

Your insight is amazing! Prayers and thoughts!! It is something when a person in pain tells us we don't understand-if they only knew!!!

Leslie Harris said...

Thank you Brenda.

Calypso In The Country said...

Leslie, I am so glad you are writing again. Your compassion and insights are like a breath of fresh air. Yes, we all have a choice of how we can handle things. Your store is a wonderful reminder for us all to become a better person...not a bitter one.
Hugs,
Shelley

Linda @ Itsy Bits And Pieces said...

She sounds like she is so angry at not being able to control her world. We're in control of so little except our own selves. A wise lesson for all of us, Leslie...xo

Kim Gibson said...

Even in this place you are in now, you have so much to share. Thank you for this post. It's exactly what I needed to read. We do each have a choice to make. Thank you for opening up instead of shutting down. We can learn so much from what you are experiencing. You are in my thoughts and in my prayers.

Melanie said...

Wow, Leslie. I was appalled at this woman's behavior towards you while reading your story. The first thing I thought was, "Why is this woman so angry?" And now I know. It makes me feel sorry for her. That horrible bitterness must be absolutely eating her up inside.

I had just this kind of conversation last week with the young woman who cuts my hair and her coworker. The young woman who cuts my hair lost her sister a couple of years ago from a drug overdose and the coworker is going through chemo treatments for ovarian cancer. Both these women have great attitudes and are upbeat and cheerful. As you know, I lost my oldest son nine years ago. I have a positive attitude in general, too and we were all saying that we have a choice because of what has happened to us: we can be angry and bitter or stay in bed and let depression take over, or we can get up every day and take one step at a time and also find the positive things in life, because there are many.

Like you said, you will never let grief destroy your life. And you will never let grief do that to your family. I couldn't agree more. In fact, the three of us (me, my husband and youngest son) are closer than we've ever been.

Grief has taught me to be more compassionate to what others might be going through, more patient and gentle. More likely to reach out to others who are suffering.

Thank you for your beautiful post.

Leslie Harris said...

Melanie you know how I feel about you. You are such an inspiration to me, I hope to be where you are some day. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. Sending love and gratitude to you.
xo

Joanne said...

It turned out to be a fortuitous visit. You certainly didn’t know when you walked up to the Diva’s door that you would leave better for it. Yes, grief can lead to anger, or self pity, or depression, if you let it. You have a husband who loves you and another son of which both are grieving. Perhaps, it’s time to let some of those feelings go and open up to those who are still here. Share your grief, your memories, your tears and laughter with them.
My son & his young wife lost their seven week old, perfect little son to crib death. She flew home to the comfort of her parents and left my son to grieve alone. By the time she returned six weeks later he didn’t want to talk about it. He had spent hours on the phone with us, was comforted by friends and was talked out, cried out, and lonely. They split a few months later. I have to believe if they had shared their grief they could have moved on together.
I know the sadness you feel must be overwhelming. I hope you can open your heart again. Your son would want that for you.

Leslie Harris said...

Kim thank you so much for your support and prayers. Right now I’m just trying to put one foot in front of another, writing helps. And I’m so grateful for anyone who reads my words now. It takes a kind of fearlessness to read about loss. I know it’s heavy. Love to you.

Leslie Harris said...

You’re probably right Linda. Hopefully she’ll want to understand all that intense feeling inside her. Thank you for reading this.
xo

Leslie Harris said...

Thanks Shelley, you always say the kindest things. Sending you my love and gratitude.
xo

Sarah said...

Leslie, you would never let grief destroy you. You are walking a rocky path, but your heart leads you and will move you through these most difficult of days and nights. It may not be an easy journey, nor a short one, but you will come out on the the other side fresh and able to face the world. I'm appalled at this person's behavior to you, but I, too, know from first hand experience that grief can manifest itself in strange ways. You are a sincerely one of the most gentle, compassionate, and wise individulas I've encountered. You share your wisdom openly and freely and in a way that we all learn every time we read what you offer. Thank you, dear friend. I don't begin to know the pain you live with, but I do know that your beautiful soul will guide you through safely. Sending you love and a big hug.....Sarah

Barbara Novello said...

My sincere sympathy and for your insight into the pain and frustration the Diva let out. Prayers for healing so you can go forward and we will all benefit from your blog of wise words and honesty.

Cindy Hattersley said...

Leslie you are such an insightful person. You truly have s gift. I am sure you will be a source of strength to others that have experienced a loss such as yours. I know you will go on and do great things in spite of your own pain. So glad you are sharing yoiur thoughts with all your readers once again,

Art and Sand said...

Before I read your last line, my thought was, “who would have thought that the woman’s actions would teach you a lesson”.
It will still take time, but you will always be the amazing woman you are and you’ll shine even brighter.

mollie's mom said...

I’m in awe. I’m impressed with what you took from this encounter. I’m thankful you are sharing. I’m learning from you and I’m happy for you that you know what kind of person you are going to be, what choices you are going to make.

La Contessa said...

I am SO PROUD of YOU showing her house and describing HER!SOMEHOW, this will get back to HER!!!!!
WHAT A MOMENT FOR YOU and to have handled it SO WELL.
ANY HUMAN who does NOT LIKE ANIMALS HAS A PROBLEM NO MATTER WHAT!
THAT TELLS ME SO MUCH RIGHT THERE!!!!!!!
THANK YOU FOR SHARING!
XX

michele said...

What a gorgeous piece of enlightened writing to remind us all of the invitation to sweeten with tenderness. Tenderness is so underrated! What a gift of bitterness you were able to recycle though - not unlike re-purposing discarded junk found curb-side! Thank you for baring your soul and bravely journeying with eyes wide open. I can't help but think of Rumi's poem I shared in my Valentine's post the other day. You're so awake. And I'm with you. xox

Anna Mapp said...

It’s both heartbreaking and life affirming reading your words and I truly admire how you are trying to see a way forward in the face of your loss. You are so right about how we have a choice how we feel about those things we have no control over. Sending all good wishes to each of you

Angela Simon said...

I think my jaw dropped and stayed that way the entire time I was reading your post. You really handled it well. You are amazingly insightful. I may have learned the same lesson but it would definitely have taken me much longer to come to that same conclusion. I probably would have discussed it a few times before I would have realized the lesson involved in the encounter. You have an amazing gift for insight as well as writing a great story.

Marilyn said...

I believe that there was more than grief going on with the woman you encountered. Perhaps she does not have an emotional support system in place or battles a mental or physical illness. Your patient, calm reaction is to be commended.

I also admire your dedication in trying to capture the cats. By helping someone in need, you are in fact helping your own healing process.

As always, your posts are thoughtful and so beautifully written.

Preppy Empty Nester said...

Leslie... what a stunner of a post. So beautifully written. I felt like I was standing next to you during that witch on wheels rage tantrum. What an insightful way of looking at such a bone-chilling experience. I hope that your weekend is peaceful!

Tamera Beardsley said...

My dearest Leslie ... your writing has always been remarkable, but you have found a whole new level!

I learned a similar lesson after my sister died. Unfortunately her death broke my parents so deep ... for years they forgot they still had two living children. My brother who was 14 at the time suffered the most, I married within the year and was gone., I still wish to this day, that I showed up more for my brother. I did try, but I was also just trying to survive what felt at the time , like a catastrophic loss.

This last year, I was once again tested with choosing bitter over better, when I learned of my husband's shocking infidelity. I was beyond broken ... and wondered if I could actually survive my heartbreak after 30 years of marriage. Then I reminded myself of the family devastation after my sister's death. I didn't want to implode my whole family. We did share the truth with our children, but only after I had decided I was going to reach deep in my own soul ... to find out how we had gotten 'there'. I was determined to find the 'better' and learn what ever lessons I could and share on my blog, in hopes of helping others. I wrote bi monthly for a year. I have learned over the last year, to be so inspired by the resiliency not only ion myself, but in others as well. The strength after loss ... the choosing of 'better over bitter' ... I believe can be a life raft to others. It was observing the grace of others, that gave me hope I could as well.

I continue to carry you in my heart dear friend ... and send you so much love and light. The catastrophic grief you write about and share ... has so much love inside. I think there is a certain clarity to be seen through the prism of a heart so broken open ... like an visual opening to the realness ... and connectedness we all have to each other. People often reminded me ... "we are just all walking each other home". I applaud your courage, grace, love and resilience in writing and sharing your grief and unbearable pain. Thank you ever so much for sharing your heart and soul with us all.

Much Love,
Tamera

Nancy Crowley said...

Well Dorothy, I think you showed admirable restraint in not engaging in a bit of B-talk with that woman. Sigh. I can just never get to a headspace understanding how people can react in anger like that. I often think how exhausted they must feel all the time going over to that dark side of angry emotions. And for me I suppose that is what I have learned in the matter of what to choose when faced with difficult situations or people. That the level of energy that shutting out and down takes is much more than trying to be open, to keep reaching out to those who love me, friends and family. Thank you for continuing to write; one hour, one day at time, keep doing it Leslie. We're here for you. xx Nancy

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