Family

A thought I am stating up front:

Admittedly, this has been one of the more difficult blogs I have written thus far (I added this paragraph when I was nearly finished writing the blog). I have wanted to write about family from the day I started the blog, but I have often hesitated and abandoned the idea. There have been mentions of family; however, I have clearly danced around the topic on purpose. I have decided to go forward with it, play it safe and not name names. I am fairly certain family members know where they stand with me and I think it’s best not to air dirty laundry in a public forum.

 

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Photo by Fox (free photo library)
Definition from Urban Dictionary and why it resonates:
A group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other. Not to be mistaken with relatives sharing the same household who hate each other.
The words I love here are “genuine, trust, and look out for.” I am fortunate to have family members who check all the boxes. I also have friends whom I can say those things about; I consider them my extended or chosen family. None of my true family members are jealous of or would begrudge me of my chosen family. I believe those who love me for, and despite who I am, love me no matter what. I didn’t always realize how much love I had or have in my life; this came with maturity and experience.
I would have added pictures of family I am speaking of here; however, I am fearful that I will omit someone by accident and live to regret it. 

Not unlike anyone else alive and breathing, I have family issues. There are family members that are as much strangers as the individual walking down my street that I have never laid eyes on before today. It would be easy to beat myself up and blame myself for family “stuff.” They don’t like me because I’m fill in the blank. Since we’re all so different and complicated, trying to figure out why people behave a certain way toward you is bound to cause trouble (in your own head). Speculation is often dangerous and inaccurate; especially when it’s about family. Our expectations of family members is not the same as what we expect from friends or strangers. We’re often less forgiving when it comes to family.

This thinking that family should be held to higher standards sets us up for failure. In reality, we’re all human and therefore, we make mistakes, we say stupid things, we take others for granted. With a friend you might sit them down and ask them if everything is okay or if you can talk about it. For some reason with family (I suspect it has to do with deep emotional ties) we are quick to allow our anger and resentment to make us dismissive.

Some of the statements we might make to ourselves:

  • He/she should know better.
  • He/she never invites me to family functions.
  • They’ve turned their children against me.
  • He/she never calls me or I always have to be the one to call.
  • I’m so tired of being the one with all the answers.
  • Am I the only one who is taking care of mom/dad?
  • I wouldn’t be friends with this family member if I met him or her on the street, so why should I expect to like this person?

 

Immediate Family

I have created a life where my immediate family consists of me and me alone. I could easily share my thoughts on why this might be the case, but I think I’ll spare you the psycho-babble. I would imagine that the larger your immediate family is, the more complex your life might be. Growing up, there were nine or ten of us living in the house at any given time. Daily drama and breakdowns were a way of life. I choose isolation.

I am reading The Little Big Things by Henry Fraser. Fraser had a diving accident in Portugal a few years ago. He tells his tragic story with great hope, passion, and truth. His family’s role in his recovery is clear from the start. You’re reading about a healthy family that put one another before all others. Their bond is strong and everlasting. As I read Fraser’s story, I find myself questioning my own family ties. It is true that I have family that I am extremely close with; family I believe would be there for me in any situation, at great personal sacrifice. Conversely, I have family that would not show up for me at a time of need. I have already been there, therefore, I know this is true.

I think that most individuals could point to a time when family loyalty was tested. I believe it is during this time or these times, when we shape our opinions of family members and evaluate how deep we believe their love to be. Can one be wrong in their assessment? Absolutely. Judgment can easily be clouded by an argument, a particular incident, and/or a betrayal by a jealous family member(s).

 

Estranged Family

It seems like everyone I speak to have family members that they do not see or communicate with. The first thing I always think is:  how sad. Then I realize that there are family members I do not speak to and again I think, how sad. But as we all know we don’t get to choose family and we either accept them for who they are or we don’t. I once believed that all family deserved to be forgiven no matter the transgression, however, that is no longer how I feel. I now believe that there are people around us who are toxic. Keeping them around us is unhealthy and unwise. What I have learned over time, is that confronting certain people will only make the situation worse. It’s like the old saying about putting salt on a wound; best not to go there sometimes.

Can an old wound be healed? I think it’s possible to mend a relationship, but both parties have to want it. It is similar to divorce, in that, emotions are often strong and anger deeply rooted, finding middle ground is impossible. The older I get, the more inclined I am to walk away. It is important to consider regret and the outcome of your actions. You have to ask yourself several questions:

  • Did I do everything possible to reconnect with this family member?
  • How deep is the wound?
  • Do I even remember the cause of the disagreement?
  • Is pride getting in the way?
  • If I choose to forgive, can I forgive?
  • Can forgiveness pave the way for a healthier relationship?
  • Is making the first move possible?
  • Will my estrangement affect other family members?

Let me be clear that I am not pointing fingers. I did not have a family member in mind while writing this. I have made many mistakes. I have turned my back on family more than once. I have behaved immaturely and jumped to conclusions. I have avoided conflict and I have looked the other way. I have made excuses. I have placed blame. I have suffered in silence and I have made assumptions.

I am in the process of acknowledging my limitations and I am attempting to figure it all out. I imagine in that way, that I am much like everyone else.

I welcome your thoughts on this difficult subject.

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.”

Richard Bach
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/family

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Time

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison

 

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Photo by Carol Buenosia

 

I am convinced that I have spent the better part of my life creating stuff to do, experiences, lists, expectations, worries, and so on, in order to pass time. If I give myself enough to do, then I won’t have time to think about the “real” questions:

  • How can I make a difference?
  • Am I the best version of myself?
  • Am I happy with the choices I’ve made?
  • Do I spend time doing the things that matter to me?
  • What aspects of my life are a waste of my time?
  • What is stopping me from being impulsive?
  • Do I make too many lists?

As I consider these questions, I know that this is not a definitive list. Answers sometimes come easy enough; however, acceptance of the answer is often elusive. For example, if I break away from my normal routine and decide to do something unpredictable, what will happen? Other things come up for me:  Will I spend money I shouldn’t spend? Will I be neglecting my responsibilities? Will the lack of planning make for a less fruitful experience? The questions are endless; this is what gets in the way of spontaneity. When I have thrown caution to the wind, I have often been pleasantly surprised; the unexpected happens and I’m happy with the outcome. One would think that this alone would help push me past my comfort zone. But alas, I get in my own way and way too often I take the conservative route and remain at home.

I have asked friends to help and in some cases, they have. Letting go of control and allowing someone else to do the planning and decision-making, can be a wonderfully freeing feeling. It’s often a win-win. I wish it happened more often. I find myself in the position to just let go, now more than ever. I’m hopeful that more friends will trust my intentions and take me up on this offer. Everyone knows me as a detailed planner, making it difficult to convince certain individuals, that I would truly like to give up control. I’m screaming it from a mountaintop, I’m okay with you driving!

Allow me to ponder another of my annoying questions:  Am I happy with the choices I’ve made? Wow, this being honest with myself business isn’t easy. I’ve made so many bad choices; however, most of them were with good intention. I’m not talking about the nights that I stayed out dancing until noon the following day with the help of recreational drugs or deciding to play hooky from work so that I could see a matinée Broadway show. I’m talking about marrying a woman or deciding not to father children — big decisions which informed the better part of my life. To be angry at myself for making these decisions would be pointless and a waste of time. Having regrets doesn’t reverse the bad decisions or erase the memories. What I do hope is that I have made amends and learned from my mistakes. Reviewing your personal history can help you to know what not to do in the future. Dwelling on that history for a long time and lamenting about what could have been, is futile.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have been working on being present. Breaking old habits is difficult, however, what I am noticing is less worry and more overall happiness. Thoughts of being grateful have replaced regret and anger about the past. In truth, it’s easier when you are in a beautiful place with great weather and less chaos, but I remind myself that it was me who made the move; it was me who said to myself life can be better if you choose to make it so. And so, I am trying to just enjoy what I have created for myself.

There is a push and pull, the yin and the yang I guess. It’s called balance; the weighing out of the things I need to consider:  money, obligations, insurance, goals, language, and so on. I cannot just overlook or discard all of that. I need to stay focused and balance living in the moment with insuring that there are more moments in the future. Easily done? I’m not so sure. This exercise is a reminder to me that time is precious and cannot be wasted; every moment counts in so many ways, for so many reasons.

A friend of mine recently lost her husband unexpectedly; no warning, no preparation. When these things happen to people we know, it’s like the proverbial slap in the face or as Cher said in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!” We cannot ignore the fact that at any given moment time might be swept out from under us. When I rest my head on my pillow at night before I close my eyes, I like to think about the day and what occurred. I no longer say accomplished because I no longer feel that everything I do has to be the fulfillment of a goal. There was a point when I was so driven I had to do lists that were broken down according to subject matters and often, I would lose track of where my lists were stored:  computer, journal, desktop notepad, under the refrigerator magnet?

Future Mother-in-law Story

It was New Year’s eve and my partner and I had just hosted a 90 person party in our Brooklyn apartment. It was 1:30 a.m., most of our guests had already said good-bye and the few guests that remained were lapping up the spoils. Most of them were unaware of a conversation taking place in our living room. My future mother-in-law had been staying with us for several weeks. She had travelled from Spain on an extended holiday; a bit longer than I would have preferred I’m afraid. She spoke no English so my partner had to interpret everything she said to me.

Let’s call her Sofia. Sofia looks over at me across the room and says, “Chris, si supieras que solo tienes 24 horas de vida, ¿cómo quieres pasar ese tiempo?”

I looked over at my partner who translated, “She wants to know how you would spend your last 24 hours on earth.”

I had just spent a week preparing for a huge party and I was about four cocktails in. I wasn’t sure why Sofia was asking this question, but I was always polite with her and decided to play along.

“I would want to spend it in your son’s arms,” I replied.

“Entonces, ¿por qué no te comportas como si fuera tu última noche en la tierra?”

My partner chuckled (he too was feeling pretty happy at this point) and said, “She wants to know why you don’t act like it’s your last night on earth.”

The lady could be intense, but this was way too heavy for this particular hour, on this particular night. I shrugged it off.

I awoke a few hours later troubled by this conversation. Why did Sofia say this to me? She obviously had an agenda. I didn’t want to ask her because I was certain it would open Pandora’s Box and I didn’t want to go there with her. We were approaching the end of her stay and I thought it best to say goodbye on good terms. I kept it to myself for the next 48 hours. We put Sofia on the plane and I brought up the conversation on the way home from the airport.

My partner rolled his eyes and said, “I was wondering when you were going to ask me about what my mother said.”

At this point in our relationship there was a good deal of tension between us and any little thing would create an argument. This disagreement was a doozy. He essentially told me that his mother felt that I was taking him for granted and that if I wasn’t careful I would end up with regret and loss. In other words, he would leave me. I, indeed, was guilty of taking him and time for granted. I was assuming that we would be together forever and that we had an endless amount of time left.

In fact, we only remained together for a month or so after the new Year. I was immature and unworthy of his love and affection and it ended. What I learned from my mother-in-law that was not to be so named, is that I went about living life as if my time on earth was endless. I needed to pay more attention to the gifts around me. I needed to be more aware of the finite amount of time I have. And, I needed to live life as if every moment might be my last.

Easier said than done as we all know. However, it is important to keep our mortality and the delicacy of life in our thoughts as we carelessly go about our lives.

 

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
― Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screenplay

 

 

Fear Can Hold You Back . . . And a Bit of Lagos, Portugal

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I know fear is normal. We all fear many things and fear keeps us alive. At this time of self-reflection, I think it’s important to address some of my fears and question why I do not possess some of the fears I see in others.

What I am hoping this process will accomplish:

  • Self-awareness
  • Coming to terms with what is real and what is irrational
  • Celebrating fears I have conquered and learning more about how I did it
  • Addressing the fears I avoid and learning more about why I avoid them
  • Developing a process for overcoming fears
  • Learning more about the connection between fear and human nature

 

 

My fears seem to be deeply rooted in my childhood experiences. Without getting too analytical, many of my fears are connected to my mother and how I was raised. My mother had seven children before she was thirty. Her own complicated parenting made it difficult for her to show love and properly nurture her children; therefore, we were all shortchanged in one way or another. As a result, what I fear most is rejection. This is a common fear; however, it does unfortunately interfere with healthy relationship building. I find myself apologizing for just about everything; more often than not, for things that are either beyond my control or unworthy of an apology. What this self-flagellation does is create doubt in people’s minds. This behavior is misinterpreted as a lack of self-confidence and strength. Being aware of how this fear impacts my everyday life is helpful, but it is an uphill climb; fifty years of apologizing is a tough habit to break.

Another big fear is also a fairly common one, the fear of failure. You might say that no one wants to fail and that would be true. However, all fears are attached to levels of intensity; how deep and strong is this fear. For me, the fear of failure has prevented me from interviewing for positions I was interested in, playing sports I enjoyed, taking courses I wished to take, pursuing romantic relationships, and the list goes on. When I did put aside my fear, I gained much from the experience. For example, when I completed my master’s degree, I hoped to further my studies. I dreamed of becoming a Dean of Students as a result of exceptional mentors in college; deans I admired and revered. I was in a fairly secure and comfortable position at Hofstra University and heard about an opportunity at New York University. The desire to live and work in Manhattan was so strong, I decided to pursue the NYU position and the university’s Ph.D. in Higher Education program, throwing caution to the wind. At that time, failure to acquire this dream was stronger than the possibility of failure to obtain the NYU position. Looking back, I recall many sleepless nights of self-doubt and fear. The outcome was a job at NYU and completion of my Ph.D.

What helped me to conquer this fear, was an overwhelming desire to improve my station in life. Many of us are told that we will never be what we aspire to me. You know the verbiage, “You’re not smart enough; you don’t have the money to pay for that; they’ll never choose you.” People say these things to save you from pain and embarrassment. What is does is hold you back — it keeps you from pursuing your dreams and goals. At this point, your dreams have to be stronger than your fears. The only way to be successful is to concentrate on your dreams and push away your fears. There is a reason the old adage, one step at a time, holds up. Small successes lead to big ones. Land an interview and celebrate that success; it puts in the right frame of mind. Next, you get a second interview and finally you claim your prize. In may cases it’s a fight to overcome your fear of failure. I have played the worst case scenario game with myself throughout my life. I find that reminding myself that the worst thing that could happen, would not be the end of the world, made in easier to move forward. Sometimes, going forward rather than remaining stagnant is all that you can ask of yourself. We’re all dreamers; it’s more a question of how badly you want it and what you’re willing to do to get it. Remaining in your comfort zone is rarely the answer.

The last fear I will mention is the fear of being incapacitated. I never want anyone to have to take care of me on a long-term basis (more than a couple of days). This fear is linked to my inability to ask for help when I need it. Friends have forced me to be better about reaching out. Family and friends have shared that it makes them feel good to help and that I should be better about accepting their help. I’m doing everything — or almost everything, I can do to remain healthy, but life can throw you a curve ball and this fear is real. I am currently in the process of coming up with a game plan so that I can rely on a “facility” to care for me if this were to happen. Leaving it to chance is not in the cards. I cope with this fear by taking control of my options and the outcome.

 

Death

I don’t fear death; I never have. I have always felt that when it happens, it will probably be fast and painless. Rational or not, it’s how I feel. I was in a bad bicycle accident a couple of years ago and I’m certain that when my body hit the pavement, there must have been intense pain. I couldn’t tell you what that pain felt like because my brain has completely erased it. Studies show that our brain protects us from severe trauma — shock shuts down certain body functions and we are not fully aware of the pain we are experiencing. I know there are many ways in which one can die; however, I’m banking on a painless death. The fear of dying keeps people from pursuing many dreams in life. I’ve been fortunate not to possess this fear. As a result I have jumped out of a plane, gone hang gliding, done some rock climbing, worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City, experimented with psychedelic and other mind opening drugs, and so on. To be clear, this is not to say I welcome death.

 

What have I learned from this exercise?

Plainly speaking, it is clear that I have a fair number of fears. Some have been conquered, some I’m working on, and still others are an ongoing challenge. I am okay with accepting that some fears will never go away. I told myself I wouldn’t say or think never prior to relocating overseas. I am willing to accept that some of my fears may remain with me until I die.

I realize that I am revealing a good deal about myself in my blogs. Several individuals have written to me to tell me that it is helping them to be more honest with themselves. Seems like a win-win to me.

 

 

Lagos with Friends from Cape Elizabeth, Maine

 

Jim and Gillian Britt visiting from Maine. A beautiful November day at Ponta da Piedade. The sky really was THAT blue.

 

 

Difficult to capture the true beauty of the place.

 

 

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Tasca Jota— delicious suckling pig, Lagos

 

 

Racism and Me

 

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I am a racist. Not the kind that marches with white supremacists or secretly believes black lives don’t matter. I am what is called a passive racist. In other words, when I see racism, I do little or nothing about it. Some of you will say, “Chris, you’re being really hard on yourself,” and others will say, “You’re a left-wing liberal who has gone too far.” And still others will say things I care not to repeat. This is always been a controversial matter.

The current U.S. administration is forcing me to take a good hard look at my moral compass. In truth, I think having Obama in the oval office gave some of us a pass. Being white makes it easy to just be in this world without a whole lot of thinking about how to navigate it. Feeling guilty about that isn’t going to do me or anyone else any good. I need . to channel my thoughts into action and that’s the part that I am attempting to figure out.

I’d give anything to participate in a roundtable discussion with a diverse group of people right now. I mean RIGHT now, today, this minute, right here. I would sit on my hands and tape my mouth shut! I just want to listen and learn. If there is anything life has taught me, it is that there is so much I do not know. I am perceptive and fairly well-educated; however, this is one case where I think you would have had to experience racism firsthand and I have not.

We’re living in a much divided and polarized world. There has always been war, unrest, crime, uncertainty, etc.; however, this feels different; it’s too close to home. It’s not enough to say we have come so far; in truth, we have not gone far enough. Being angry, objective, respectful, marching in rallies, listening, donating, fighting, conversing, debating, clashing, slamming the table, and screaming, is not enough. I want to be clear that I am speaking for myself. Judging others is not my thing. I can be angry at what I see and I can dislike other humans, but pretending to understand why people do the things they do, is a futile exercise.

There are clearly other forms of discrimination and I believe I need to tackle all of them: gender, age, sexual orientation, body type, and others. I find all of types of discrimination repulsive. Looking at yourself with an objective eye is difficult, but revealing. My biases run deep. It doesn’t matter how I got to be this way or why, the question is what I can do to change. Changing these biases is essential. If I’m going to evolve and be a better human being, I have to do the work, however difficult it might be. Brainstorm:

  1. Talk to people who have firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be black or in the minority.
  2. Learn from those who have initiated change; however small that change may be.
  3. Don’t try to change the world.
  4. Work on yourself first.
  5. Be the one to speak up; do it gracefully, tactfully and thoughtfully.
  6. Don’t be afraid to say what needs to be said.
  7. Continue to embrace those who disagree with you. Let them know why you disagree with them and ask them and continue to engage.
  8. Be true to yourself.

 

Unfiltered/unedited rant

I am tired of hearing people denying the existence of racism. I am tired of people saying that it will never go away. I am tired of people claiming they can’t do anything about it. And I am tired of the hate we thrust upon on black fellow human beings. I’ve never been black and I don’t know how it feels to be black. But I do know what I see and hear everyday. We live in a white world and that’s a fact. We have been given advantages for many years and these advantages far outweigh any opportunities provided to blacks. There are good and bad in every race; no more, no less in one or another. We all need to search our souls for truth and come out fighting for those around us who have been oppressed for centuries. The only way that I personally can live with myself, is to initiate change; first within myself, then people I love and care about, and finally anyone else I can touch.

Not an easy blog to write. I usually sit with my thoughts for a while before I put the words in my head to print. This week, much of what I thought (especially with the U.S. government’s anti-transgender initiative) was angry and full of expletives. Although it is how I am feeling, I fear that I would alienate too many if I express some of these thoughts. Instead I believe it is more productive to position myself on the starting line with enthusiasm and conviction. There are things I can and will do.

Please let me know if you would like to discuss the future and how to change it.

 

Gun Shots in the Woods

 

The trigger my mother squeezed on a .45 Colt rifle in the woods of upstate New York that summer night will be an image captured and cemented in my mind for a lifetime.

 

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I’m the teenager with the shaggy brown hair unloading my stepfather’s jeep c.1973

I was an overweight, troubled, 14-year-old, with a great deal of anger. My stepfather, Frank, reluctantly accepted that I came with the package when he married my mother. I’m sure on some level he knew I was gay and that turning me into a “real man” was either hopeless or a waste of his time. But try he did, as often as he could. As far as my mother was concerned, on this particular dark night in the woods, he went too far.

As a family, we spent a lot of time camping in the summer. My mother and stepfather enjoyed being outdoors and it was an inexpensive way for a big family to travel. Frank relished seclusion in the wild, so we usually camped far away from the rest of civilization. There was a lean-to (three-sided housing structure) camp high in the New York Adirondacks called Pharaoh Lake. We would spend hours in Frank’s loaded-up jeep to get to the camp. We would have to get out of the jeep and hike the last hour because the trails were steep and rocky, it was too dangerous to ride up in the vehicle. To be fair to my mother, the safety of her children was paramount.

Our family trips would start out on a positive note. Frank and my mom were eager to get us out of the city and they looked forward to time with each other in their own private lean-to. Unfortunately, drama was a big part of my mother’s life and it almost seemed that she lived to create as much of it as possible. This trip upstate would be no exception.

 

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A Lean-to

 

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My mother the redhead at Pharaoh Lake c.1973

 

We had a pleasant enough first few days:  hiking, fishing, target practicing with Frank’s rifles; rifles he proudly displayed on the back wall of the open lean-to — I’m talking four or five rifles. We were instructed to stay away from the guns and I’m assuming he hid the bullets. Frank was stern and if you were smart, you did whatever he asked you to do; especially when he was drinking. I usually responded to instructions with a grunt or a nod.

My chores were fairly simple. I would be responsible for gathering wood for fires, sweeping up the campsite, storing the boating equipment; for the most part, doing these things without having to be told. For some reason, I never knew why, my mother was fairly agitated a few nights into our trip. She’d snap at any of us who had anything at all to say; especially laying into Frank (later in life she was diagnosed as bi-polar). She prepared the usual campfire meal of spam, potatoes and some canned vegetables. We all ate quietly so as to not upset her any further.

Dinner was over, my sisters cleaned up and darkness descended on the campsite. Frank stoked the fire with one hand and nursed a glass full of Canadian Club with the other. I crawled into my sleeping bag with a flashlight and a novel. I kept to myself growing up. My siblings liked to play cards and horse around; I wanted no part of it. I was no angel mind you. I was defiant and arrogant most of the time; feeling fairly superior and smarter than the rest of my siblings — they called me Big Cheese. My cocky attitude didn’t sit well with Frank. Whenever he had the opportunity, he’d try to set me straight. I was deep into my novel when I heard my name called several times. I walked out of the lean-to to see what was up. Frank told me to take the empty water cans to the stream to fill them. I asked him how I was going to do this with it being so dark on the lake.

With his back to me, Frank responded, “Take a flashlight and holler if you need help.”

My mom must have heard this and shouted, “Oh no Frank. He’s not going out on the lake by himself.”

We had a small boat with a trolling motor and the stream was a couple of miles from our campsite. I was fairly certain the man had lost his mind because it was pitch black on the lake and I was wasn’t very good at navigating the boat even in broad daylight. I don’t recall there was much of a moon that night. They argued back and forth for a while. My mother suggested that he send Frank’s son, my stepbrother Larry, who was a few years younger than I. Frank continued to insist that I go to the stream and I figured my mother would convince him otherwise. Voices were raised and my siblings all sat silently waiting to see how this one would play out.

Frank finally shouted, “He’s going Lou and that’s the end of it.”

This next part happened so quickly I wasn’t even aware of it at first. My mom ran to their lean-to and grabbed the .45 Colt. She cocked the trigger and aimed the rifle at Frank. The kids watched in horror as my mother ran down a list of reasons why she was going to shoot him. My sister Grace’s finger nails broke through skin on my arm and my brother Leo dropped to the ground to hide behind me; he would have been eight or nine years old at the time. Frank seemed genuinely frightened, although I’m still not sure if the rifle was loaded; Frank would have known. He actually had the presence of mind to point to us standing off to the side.

“Lou you’re scaring the kids.”

My older sister Kathy actually walked toward my mom to plead with her.

“Put it down mom, he’s not worth going to prison over.”

My siblings and I were probably all thinking what my sister was able to say. My mother eventually put down the rifle. Frank left the campsite with Larry and the water cans and was gone for quite a while. My mother apologized to us for scaring us. I secretly cheered her on, hoping I’d have one tenth of her chutzpah when I got older. My mother and Frank thrived on this kind of insanity and they’d usually kiss and make-up pretty quickly. But not this time. While Frank and his son were getting water, my mother instructed us to pack. It was our usual bedtime mind you; I was hoping she wasn’t serious.

When Frank got back to the campsite, we were all standing by the trail with our packed bags.

My mother said, “We’re leaving Frank. I’m done.”

He tried to reason with her, but she was fairly resolute. She let Frank know that we were going to walk down the mountain and find our way home. At this point his anger and drunken state prevented him from putting up a fight.

“Do whatever the fuck you want; I’m done too.”

We hiked in the dark for over an hour until we got to the road leading to the highway. I’m not sure what my mother was thinking; I’m not sure she was thinking at all. The six of us were walking on the road for maybe twenty minutes when Frank drove up beside us and told us to get in. It took some time, but my mother finally caved and we all climbed into the jeep. My mother was crying hysterically and some of my brothers and sisters were weeping as well. I was numb; wondering when and if the drama would end.

They argued parked on the shoulder of the road and then finally decided to pull into a nearby motel. We were six hours drive from home and Frank had been drinking heavily; there was no other option. I don’t recall getting any sleep. I was only 14 years old, but I was certain that I could survive on my own, therefore, I plotted my escape. Just as soon as we returned to Brooklyn, I was going to talk to my father and move in with him. I dreaded the idea of living in his dark and dreary studio, but anything was better than the life I was living.

The following morning, my mother came to our motel room to wake us. She told us that she and Frank had made up and that we were going back to the campsite. I’m sure that I rolled my eyes and silently protested. To my mother’s credit, she didn’t blame me for their argument. She kissed the top of my head and assured me that things would get better. She was optimistic and convincing and because I’d heard this before, I doubted her. I changed my mind about moving in with my father; I always did. As insane and chaotic as our household was, truth be told, I couldn’t have imagined myself anywhere else. This was my life and until early adulthood, I believed it was perfectly normal.

Much of my youth is a blur; I guess your mind sorts it out for the sake of self-preservation. Today, quiet means everything to me and my primary goal in is to avoid drama. Admittedly, that’s not always the case; in truth, there is a little bit of momma in me.

 

Alternative fact:  A different version of the story . . .

This particular camping incident is fairly vivid in my mind for obvious reasons; however, there is one part of the story that I am not sure about. My mom may or may not have fired the gun. There is a tiny part of my brain that has her pointing the gun up to the sky and pulling the trigger; you know, for dramatic effect. I figure one of my brothers and sisters will read this and tell me which version is correct. It just seems like something my mom would have done. Unfortunately, I cannot ask her. I don’t think she would have minded retelling the story; she wore these memories like a badge of honor.

 

Fantastic offer for the holidays

I have written about this beautiful bed and breakfast outside of Faro a few time and just learned that they are offering a Christmas package that would be a special gift under anyone’s tree. If you’re in the Algarve or coming to the Algarve, Mercedes is not your typical vacation spot. I took these photos just a few weeks ago when I spent some time there. Paco (their pug) is a wonder.

 

 

 

Mercedes Country House – Christmas Package 2018

Check in: Dec. 23rd

Check out: Dec. 27th with late check out (subject to availability)

Breakfast included each day

Meals (wines: white, red and vintage port included with dinner Dec. 24th and lunch Dec. 25th)

Dinner:  Dec. 23rd

Lunch:  Dec. 24th

Dinner: Dec. 24th (traditional Christmas eve Portuguese dinner) 

Lunch:  Dec 25th (traditional Christmas day Portuguese lunch)

Dinner:  Dec. 25th (optional 20€ pp)

Dinner: Dec. 26th (optional 20€ pp) 

 

1 Person – 540€

2 People – 690€

3 People (extra bed in the room) – 840€

info@mercedescountryhouse.com

 

Purpose

What is purpose? Why I need a purpose? Will I find my purpose?

 

 

purpose
noun
a person’s sense of resolve or determination.
“there was a new sense of purpose in her step as she set off”
synonyms: determination, resoluteness, resolution,

resolve, firmness (of purpose), steadfastness, backbonedrivepushthrustenthusiasmambitioninitia-tiveenterprisemotivation, single-mindedness, commitmentconviction,

dedication

Whenever I think of purpose, I am reminded of Steve Martin who plays Navin in The Jerk, where he goes on and on about his “special purpose.” The purpose I’ll be discussing is not quite the same; my purpose is less sexual in nature. I’m certain that’s a better way to go.
A person’s sense of resolve or determination; that’s seems essential to me. So I ask myself, do I have purpose? Considering that I am a planner and that I need to have future goals or plans to look forward to, I would say that I have purpose. However, now that I am no longer a pet owner — I hate the word owner when referring to a pet, it seems to me that a pet is a member of your family and ownership isn’t really the right word, so I’m going to change that to having a pet — that is a huge obligation that I longer need to consider. I don’t plan to acquire another pet anytime soon; losing Giorgio has provided an opportunity to explore the world without being tied down. This was Giorgio’s final gift to me. I miss the little guy.
Career
When you have a career, a sense of purpose comes easily.  For over 30 years I focused on education; first on my Ph.D. and then educating others. I truly felt that I was making a difference. Then I focused on creating a consulting business and when I achieved a certain amount of success (over 20 clients in two years) I decided consulting was not fulfilling and that I needed to move on. There were parts of consulting that I enjoyed immensely; however, convincing potential clients that they needed my help or any help, was tough on the ego. And that brings me to now . . .
Writing
I did some professional writing in Portland, Maine and discovered how much I enjoy it. The question I need to ask myself is do I want to take it further than a blog? I thought perhaps putting together a memoir (a collection of all of the personal stories from my blog) might be worth pursuing. I’m frankly concerned about those that might not like what they see in print and I’m not sure the purging is worth the pain. The other option might be an Expat How To book. Either of these two considerations would be fulfilling and perhaps helpful to others.
Daily Stuff
There are many things I do on a daily basis which provide purpose. For example, I am motivated to rise in the morning for two big reasons:  1) I love the quiet. It’s usually dark and the city is still sleeping. I make coffee and either work on my blog or read. Sometimes I watch the news, but with all the negative things going on in Trump world, I’ve been attempting to avoid this trap, and 2) I have always had more energy at the start of the day. That is after a good night’s sleep and sleep has been elusive lately.
Going to the gym is a big part of my physical drive. I enjoy the community I have at the gym and I like how it makes me feel. I usually do my market shopping after the gym. I’m freshly showered, shaved and raring to go.
I have always looked forward to lunch and dinner. I don’t think about breakfast much, but I do mix it up in the morning. I eat whatever I feel like that day (ex., eggs, toast, cereal, avocado, fresh juice, granola). I don’t eat all of those items on the same day. I start thinking about lunch at around 10:00 a.m. and I usually have a salad, sandwich, or leftovers by 12:30/1:00 p.m. I’m inspired by the food at the market and that’s when and where my dinner decision is made. The Algarve is a great place for fresh fish, beautiful vegetables, fruit (amazing oranges and melon), organic chicken and charcuterie. I like to make enough so that I have leftovers for the next day. In the summer, I freeze homemade tomato sauce and pesto (basil and parsley from my terrace garden) , so that I can have summer dishes during the winter. I’m no Martha Stewart, but using my freezer to store food is something I learned from my father.
I have a terrace garden (see as much as I could get in the two frames below). My terrace is very long and narrow and has lots of room for potted plants. I’m growing flowers, succulents and herbs. Tending to my garden brings me a great deal of pleasure and purpose. I am proud of what I grow and enjoy sitting out on the terrace, either by myself or with friends. It got started in June so I have aways to go.

 

Film
I’m a film buff, so I go to the cinema at least once a week. I prefer a matinée because I’m less likely to fall asleep. And for you snarky folks, it’s not because I’m getting old; movies are more likely to make me sleepy in the evening, probably because film allows me to take mind off of other things that may be troubling, thus I become more relaxed and sleepy. Theatre has the same effect on me, but alas, there is little or no theatre in English in Faro. We do have live ballet and opera at the cinema; a big plus.
architecture building business cinema
Photo by Nathan Engel on Pexels.com
Language
Now that I’m living in Portugal, I believe it would be in my best interest to learn to speak Portuguese. I started with an on-line tutor about four months prior to relocating. Frederico who lives in London, but he is from Lisbon, was a great help; however, I knew that what I was learning would “stick” once I moved to Portugal and started hearing the language daily. In theory, this is true. The problem lies in the number of Portuguese people who speak English. Anyone aged 40 or younger (older people as well) has a pretty good grasp on the English language. They learned English in school, they watch non-dubbed American film and television, and I believe they enjoy speaking English. Many Portuguese people need to know how to speak English for work. This can make an English-speaking person in Portugal very lazy. I’m dedicating time to learning the language, but not enough time. I’d like to be able to converse in Portuguese sometime in the next two years. I plan to take classes and spend more time practicing. This is a necessary goal and a great way to keep my aging brain active.
Driving
It is also important for me to practice my driving here. I’ve rented a car a couple of times and I feel a certain level of confidence; however, I want to improve. The roundabouts that are everywhere in Europe, are very efficient, but tricky and they’re so much better than traffic lights. European drivers tend to be faster, take more risk, and they are not very tolerant of beginners. I know this is a huge generalization, but even Europeans would agree with this assessment. I’ll have a car for a few days in November, so I plan to practice.
Friends/Socializing
A few weeks ago I was complaining (to myself) that many of my new friends here in Portugal live 45 to 90 minutes away. Then it occurred to me that when I lived in Brooklyn, many of my friends were either outside of Brooklyn or over an hour away by subway. So what am I complaining about? The only issue has been coordinating the train or bus schedule with visits outside of Faro. It’s a minor inconvenience, therefore, I’m going to heretofore just be grateful to have wonderful people in my life no matter where I live. I have more time in my schedule for socializing and that’s a good thing. I’m trying not to fill my dance card so that I can be more spontaneous. I know several of you who know me are reading this and laughing out loud. People can change you know.
Volunteer Work
I need to work with animals, it’s non-negotiable. I have discovered that there is a pet shelter in both Olhão and Loulé. Neither city is far away, so I will be looking into spending some time at one of these shelters. I have been volunteering since I was in my early twenties; few things in my life have been as satisfying. I cannot adopt or foster right now; therefore, this will be the next best thing.
Travel
I struggle with travel. I love routine, I love my own bed, and I love cooking my own food. When I travel, I sacrifice a great deal; poor me right?. Having stated this, I truly do want to see the world and I don’t mean by watching the travel channel. I now have the time to be more methodical and smarter about travel. I can take longer trips and combine multiple locations, thus making travel more economical and less of a hassle. The last thing I want is more time in airports and the shuffling of my luggage from one hotel to another. I want to spend more time in one place, I want to see people I care about who live in other countries; and I want to be able to boast about the deals I garner.
Possible Citizenship in Portugal
Keeping up with the red tape of full-time residency in a foreign country is a full-time job. I am obviously exaggerating, but seriously, there is a lot of paperwork. It seems at times that policy and law surrounding living in Portugal is intentionally ambiguous or confusing. I had some recent issues with attaining a Portuguese driver’s license. Several expats have warned me about the process. It was clear, that if I did not complete the process for acquiring a Portuguese driver’s license within the allotted 90 days from becoming a legal resident, I would have to go through the process as if I were attaining my very first driver’s license and I would have to take the written and physical driving test in Portuguese. Clearly, that was enough to motivate me to get this done ASAP. Except that there was a huge obstacle. Apparently I should have known that the Portuguese Consulate in Boston needed to verify my Maine driver’s license prior to relocating to Portugal. How could I have not known this? I won’t go into details about how I managed to get a temporary Portuguese driver’s license, however, what I will say is that I believe in my heart, it would have been easier to compete in Hawaii’s Iron Man competition and place.
After a few years of renewing my temporary residence, I will be eligible for dual citizenship (I will never give up my U.S. citizenship). This will not be an easy process, but if it mean shorter lines at passport control in airports all over the world, I am willing to at least try.
In Summary
I highly recommend the exercise of laying it all out. If like me, you are sitting around wondering what you are going to do with your life, it will certainly help you to see and realize, that you have a lot going on.
I won’t lie, I miss the feeling I got when considering that the school I worked for would shut down if I missed a day at the office. I miss the routine of Giorgio jumping into my bed in the morning for a one hour cuddle (that was always the best hour of my day), I miss my weekly poker game, I miss southern barbecue, I miss hopping into my car to see friends and family, I miss English being spoken all around me, I miss the thrill of anticipating my annual raise and bonus, and I miss using work as an excuse to decline social engagements. I can go on, but I ‘m afraid if I do, I will begin to regret early retirement. So where does this leave me when considering purpose?
What I have in my life today, is that opportunity to relax without guilt, take care of my spiritual, physical and mental health, and the ability to see the world. None of these are minor commitments. If I accomplish half of what I have planned for the next ten years, I will be successful, happy and satisfied or at the very least, I can tell myself that I am all of these things. I can also look forward to change. Change is a constant we can count on. Okay, I am motivated.

Friendship and What it Means to be a Friend

adult affection beads blur
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Who are your true friends and why are these friendships so important?

Friendships come in all shapes and sizes and it would be difficult to share my thoughts on all of them; therefore I will focus on just a few for this blog. I will cover these five:

  • Friendship with a life partner
  • A close friend
  • A sibling who is also a friend
  • Your parent as friend (I do not feel equipped to write about this matter from the parent’s point of view)
  • A co-worker who is a friend

My friends are extremely important to me. I hold my true friends near and dear and would do just about anything for them. The friendships I cherish the most were established many years ago, but having said that, I do have several friends that I only met recently. Six months ago I left a city I resided in for less than five years; yet several of my close friends live in Maine. You can gauge some friendships by communication (although some friends are better than others at this). When I moved overseas, there were individuals I expected to never hear from again and some that I thought would communicate regularly. As with many things in life, what I expected, has not panned out. Several people I thought would reach out, never have and others I that I thought were acquaintances have been great about staying in touch. Some people work hard at developing friendships and their persistence can pay off. These days you have to factor in social media, because it doesn’t take much effort to drop a line or two. I truly miss the days of letter writing; writing a letter took time and thought.

To be clear I am not writing about acquaintances (see 2.2 below):

acquaintance
əˈkweɪnt(ə)ns/
noun
  1. 1.
    knowledge or experience of something.
    “the pupils had little acquaintance with the language”
    synonyms: familiarity, conversance, conversancy, contact, acquaintanceship; More

  2. 2.
    a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend.
    “a wide circle of friends and acquaintances”
    synonyms: contactassociateconnectionallycolleague;

    confrère
    “Mr Barnet was no more than a business acquaintance”

I am certain you all have many acquaintances; if you had an expectation that they would all be friends, you’d be in big trouble and extremely disappointed.

 

Friendship with a Life Partner

This type of friend is quite unique due to the intimacy factor. Once you have been intimate with someone (and I don’t mean sex), it’s a game changer. I’m talking about a deeper emotional commitment where there is love and affection. Hopefully, because it matters if it’s true or not, you and your partner have shared moments, where at the time, you cannot imagine a deeper connection. Whether it’s a secret or a thought or a revelation, this kind of sharing creates a bond that can and often does, last a lifetime.

Even when there is a breakup, this close bond will ensure a lasting friendship — if you allow it to happen. Unfortunately, new partners are often intimidated by this kind of friendship and will not allow it. If you’re able to see past the jealousy, permitting your partner to be friends with ex-partners can enhance a current relationship. Your partner will see you as open and caring and trusting — all wonderful beliefs about your partner.

Keep in mind that none of us can be all things to all people. Your partner has limitations and expecting this individual to meet all of your needs is unfair and impossible. This is why it is dangerous not to have close friends outside of your relationship. Lean on others occasionally, it will make your relationship lighter, freer, and healthier.

Keep in mind that if you are outside of a relationship looking in, what you see from the outside is not always a complete picture. Couples have their own way of loving one another. Aside from physical and emotional abuse, which is never good, disagreeing and gentle prodding can be the sign of a healthy partnership.

 

A Close Friend

Your best friends (yes I believe you can have more than one) deserve a category all their own. Because we all know that if you have a life partner, that individual cannot and should not be able to fulfill all of your needs, emotional or otherwise. A close friend can provide an outlet for sharing and a different kind of important intimacy. It can be someone to talk to about your life partner or boyfriend/girlfriend (finding the right pronouns isn’t easy). With a close friend, no topic is out-of-bounds.

We all go through difficult periods in our lives (having just lost a dear pet, I’m feeling deep loss right now). A close friend will sometimes know you are in distress even before you know it. This person will be there to help you get through whatever difficulty you are experiencing. Refusing the help of a friend or pushing a friend away is never a good thing. A true friend is a beautiful gift and you can be sure that this person sincerely wants to help. Let this individual know that you appreciate that they are there for you and that you need them and want their love.

I like my privacy and I tend to grieve when I am by myself. A good friend will always allow you “alone” time. If you gently let your friend know that you just need a little time, they will give you what you need.

Caution:  Be careful to make sure that  sharing is reciprocated. There is nothing more annoying than a friend who only wants to discuss his or her own woes. Ask questions; show genuine interest and it will elevate the friendship.

Also, do not abuse the generosity of a close friend. Leaning on someone in a time of need is fine, but pick and choose when to lean. Being a constant burden will make a friend second guess the sincerity and value of the relationship. We are only human and all of us has a threshold. Keep your relationships strong by being considerate, nurturing and compassionate. Communicate your needs; assuming your friend knows, is an unfair assumption.

 

A Sibling

Who knows and understands you better than a brother or sister? Unless you were raised in a different household or there are many years between you and your sibling, this person can be a very close friend. I should not rule out a half-brother or sister who is a great deal older or younger. I had a half-brother who was 20 years older and before he passed away, we became very close. He was actually as much a mentor as a friend. I could share anything with him and he “got” me. The relationship was different from that of a parent because he didn’t feel the need to discipline or direct my behavior; it was all about the freedom to be who we were.

A sibling who doesn’t judge you, who accepts you for who you are and who provides a level of trust that is achieved in no other relationship, is a treasure to hold dear. I’m a lucky guy because I have a number of siblings I consider close friends. Unfortunately, I have also lost several siblings; these individuals have provided strength and love well beyond their passing.

 

Your Parent as Friend

It’s not easy being friends with a parent. Very few people I know are friends with their mother or father. When you are young, your parents are disciplinarians and when you get older they want what’s best for you and that often causes conflict. Being friends with your parents can be fulfilling. Practicing patience and forgiveness is key. If you keep in mind that your parents want what is best for you because their love for you is strong, you can be very close friends. You can confide in your parents, you can lean on your parents and you can usually trust your parents. Having a sit down after a disagreement can help both parties achieve a higher level of trust and understanding.

Of course there are always exceptions. My mother always told me that everything was her fault. She’d say this with a half-smile,

“Chris, save yourself money on therapy. I am to blame for all of your issues. Yell at me, lash out, be mad; then think about how much I love you and move on.”

She was a smart lady, my mom.

Friendship with a parent can go through stages of strength and at times this strength may waiver and that’s okay. Keep in mind that your parents won’t always be around. Bringing you into this world and keeping you safe are not easy tasks to manage. They want your friendship and they deserve it.

“My childhood was very colorful, and I am close friends with both my parents. We have no secrets.”

Rebecca Hall

 

A Co-Worker who is a Friend

This can be an incredibly satisfying relationship because you often share so much in common with a co-worker. When you’re together socially it can be fun to gripe about your hours or your boss or your salary or your work environment or your benefits or your co-workers or all of the above.

Careful what you say and to whom at work; a true friend will be discreet and he or she will keep what you tell them to themselves. Such a friend is not easy to find; when you do, try your best to hold on to them.

There are those who believe you should not become friendly or be friends with someone who is higher up or subordinate. I have never felt that way. I think as with most things in life, it depends on the person. If your friend is mature and trustworthy, you’ll have nothing to worry about. If others at work have an issue with who your friends are, let them know (in a kind way of course), that it is not really their business. Still, perception and appearance are both important considerations. Managing all of this at work can be challenging. I believe it all boils down to personal integrity. You know who you are. If you are honest, thoughtful and appropriate, you should have nothing to worry about. Always remember that at the end of the day, the only person you truly have to answer to is yourself.

 

Separation from a Friend

As it goes with relationships, sometimes they go south. Of course it’s always better if you can repair the damage; however, that is not always possible. Some friendships grow toxic and if that becomes the case, I think it’s better to walk away. If you make that decision for yourself, it’s best to come clean with the individual. This business of just disappearing isn’t very fair to the other person and often, closure is necessary. Otherwise, you have this unpleasant, unfinished business hanging over you.

Call me a coward, but I often put my thoughts into writing and send an email or letter. This way I can be clear and provide the other person an opportunity to think about what I shared and respond. You can tell a great deal about a person by the way they reply. If they become very defensive, angry, and lash out at you, it validates your decision. If the person sincerely apologizes or asks to see you, it shows that they value your relationship and that they would like to patch things up. I find that the other person often feels the way you do and the friendship will come to an end. If you can work through it as mature adults, you’ll be happy you did the work.

For some, my desire to shed toxic individuals will come across as cold and dismissive. I have decided that I only have time for friends who are loving, forgiving, true, and real. I value my time on our planet and I’d prefer that my relationships be authentic and fulfilling. Divorce, partner or friend, is never easy, but sometimes it’s the only healthy solution. Don’t judge others or yourself, judging makes life burdensome.

 

Politics

I could do an entire blog on friendship and today’s political climate, but if I were to dwell on the topic for more than a few minutes, I’d have to make myself a double.

When Trump was elected president, I was angry, upset, terrified, and disappointed, and I still am. I let family members know how I felt and some of them said a version of this:

“Family always comes first and you should never let politics come between you and family.”

And that’s where we disagree.  If I know for a fact that you hated Obama as president because he is African-American, and that you consequently voted for a conservative man because he was going to undo everything the last administration did or that you don’t believe a woman can hold our highest office, then I do not want to be your friend and it is has undoubtedly come between us. Does that mean that I love immigrants and medicare recipients more than I love my family and friends? It does not; however, what it does mean is that I love my fellow human being and when I think about the one percent wealthiest Americans, the biased, the racist and the greed of some politicians, I am always going to be sympathetic to the poor, the minority, the immigrant, the unemployed, the drug addict, and the LGBT community (not an exhaustive list).

Acknowledging the doors that were opened for you or the opportunities you have had that others have not had, will help you to be a more empathetic and giving person.

If family know how I feel and still want me in their lives, well then they’re stuck with me.

 

Reconnecting

Sometimes years go by and you do not hear anything at all from an old friend and then suddenly, there they are sending you an email or calling you on the phone (a call is less likely these days; texting is safer). You wonder of course:  1) why you are hearing from them now? 2) should you respond? and 3) if you don’t respond will you wonder what it was he or she wanted?

People lose touch with one another for all sorts of reasons. Often, time goes by and one feels reaching out would be awkward and often it is. Be open-minded; reconnecting may be the best thing that ever happened to you. I have had former friends I was upset with contact me and frankly, I couldn’t recall why I was angry with them in the first place. That tells me something: it might have been something very small and petty and perhaps it’s time to get past it. Forgiveness has enhanced my life in so many ways.

I am not claiming to be a “friendship expert.” What I do know is that I have had a lifetime of meaningful friendships and without my friends, I would be a lesser person.

 

“No better relation than a prudent and faithful friend.”      

Ben Franklin 

 

“The best mirror is an old friend.”     

George Herbert 

 

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”     

Thomas Aquinas

Do you have a story to tell or would you like to share some advice? Please add your thoughts in the comments section. Thank you.

 

 

photo of man and woman taking selfie
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