Talking with Tragedy at the Seaside Diner

There are days where I need to believe that Tragedy is a human being. A living, breathing, fleshy individual. Wrinkled & Grey.

Yes, some days I want so badly for Tragedy to be an elderly man who wears a checkered newsboy cap and who is too proud to be aided by a walking cane. And he goes up and down the boardwalk of some seaside port, the mist of salt water curling around his glum face, as he grumbles about grandchildren that never visit anymore, not since his wife passed on at least. 

He does this ritualistic walking nearly every morning, no matter the temperature, before he settles into the Same Booth of the Same Seaside Diner he has given his quarters & nickels to since childhood. And Betsey is his waiter, though she has never stopped to hear the awe-inspiring stories that the man holds. He’s seen wars & great battles & a fair share of natural disasters, but Betsey will never know that. She just seems him as a tired, cranky old man who rarely ever tips. Tragedy takes his coffee, fresh or not, sipping slowly as he stares out the window at the children leap frogging over one another and then toppling into the waves.

And he breathes in deeply, forced to cut most cups of coffee short because a funeral requests his presence or news reports are already testifying to viewers that, Tragedy, is there at crime scene before he even knows where it took place. Standing off in the distance, hanging his head low until the next job calls. Wondering when he can retire. Wondering when the world won’t need him anymore.

On these days, when I convince myself that Tragedy is an aging man with faulty vision but his real teeth still intact, I am tempted to scour through the yellow pages and call every seaside diner until I find the one who tells me, “Yes, that man is a regular. He arrives here every morning at 9:30a.m.”

I’ll scuffle into sandals and sling the morning NY Times under my arm, stuff my purse with a few nostalgic pictures, and march right over to that seaside diner with every ounce of resentment percolating inside of me while Tragedy waits, unknowingly, for a refill on his coffee and for my arrival.

“We need to talk,” I’ll say, speaking before even fully sliding into the booth across from him. Before even seeing the wrinkles that surround Tragedy’s Sad Blue Eyes and the anguish already written upon his face.

He’ll just stare at me. Let out a slow chuckle. The saddest laugh I will ever hear. I know it already.

You think you are the first person to approach me with a newspaper? Get that outta my sight,” he’ll say.”You were going to open that damn paper up to page A6 or D1, doesn’t really matter because I am on every single page, and show me all the problems I have caused by being there. You people act like I take delight in my job, like I enjoy attending twelve funerals an hour and showing up at the bedsides of sick children. You people think I take vacations when I head over to places like Japan & Haiti to oversee the rubble and the devastation.

And then, then, you’ll pull some photo out from that bag of yours and tell me that I took someone away that you loved very much. And that wasn’t me kid. That wasn’t me.”

Anger will burn at my cheeks as I pull my tote closer to me, envisioning the photos of my Grandmother Laughing in the side compartment of the bag. I wanted Tragedy to be taken aback, not indifferent and all knowing.

His voice will crouch lower. Softer. Practically silent. “I don’t plot the sadness and cruelty of this world, I just show up because that’s my job. You try to imagine doing a job every single day where you know before you even stroll out the door in the morning that people won’t want you around, that no one is ever going to be happy to see you show up. I’ve seen the look on Joy’s face when I arrive at a good pool party. I’ve had my face slapped a couple of times by Happiness and that twin of hers, Elation, when I “ruined the party” and made everyone go home sobbing. You try being the bearer of the most awful, most terrible news, every single day and then you tell me how it feels to be attacked over your morning coffee.”

But I just don’t understand,” I’ll say, trying my best to keep composure. “You are absolutely everywhere and I don’t understand how the world can keep spinning and moving when Beautiful People pass away or a tornado kills hundreds. I don’t know how to move on after you show up. After I locate you in every sad photograph, looming over victims, or I can feel your presence around me like a shawl that I wish would just stay off of my shoulders. My head hurts just thinking about all the places you’ve been and the pain that comes with you.”

That’s not your job, kid,” he’ll say. “Your job may be to pray that I will disappear but it is not your job to try to understand why I am everywhere or to think about the places I have been in a day. I am the one who has to take all the sadness of the world onto my shoulders, not you. If you think it’s you then you better take a good hard look in the mirror and rearrange yourself because the world wants something different from you.

And if you cannot accept that then let me give you a job: Show up, after I have gone, and help people pick up the pieces and clear away the mess. My whole life would have been different if that had been my job. If I could just show up after the Tragedy came in and then really help people.”

He’ll stand to gather his coat from the booth beside him. “Listen kid, I have to head out. The job calls me at all hours.” He’ll say, placing two single dollar bills on the table beside him. “Remember my suggestion though. That’s a better job for you.”

He reaches the door, swinging it open as the bell on top rings to signal his departure.

Oh and one more thing,” he’ll say, stepping back through the door. “Take that picture you have in your bag and find a good frame for it. You don’t have to bother showing me, I already know she was beautiful. I should have said that first maybe.”

A guru at equipping souls with a Simultaneous Sense of Eating, Praying & Loving, once wrote that we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t first buy the ticket.

I spent two years stealing love notes from my brother’s bedroom just to admire the handwriting styles of his girlfriend.

I may or may not have contemplated stapling the letters to my trendy Unicorn sweaters of the time and wearing them around with my jacket unzipped. Not to expose any juicy secrets, of course, but  to show people what eloquent handwriting looked like. The kind of stuff Hallmark Illustrators gnaw on for breakfast.

Instead, being the slightly neurotic ten-year-old that I was, I took out my Lisa Frank planner and scheduled a time slot from 4-5p.m., Monday thru Friday.

Handwriting Practice.

Yes, yes. While other girls read Tiger Beat Magazine and gushed over the Backstreet Boys, I holed myself up in my bedroom, unfolding love letters from their paper football form, to master the technique behind a round & full lowercase “a” and the precise swoop of an uppercase “Y”.  The anticipation of one day seeing these same delicate letters parade on my very own book reports and love notes was enough to keep me diligent for two entire years. Close to 300 hours or so of handwriting practice.

I’ve grown up keeping this notion closer to me than I would my purse on a packed subway car: If we want something then we need to work hard for it. Every Single Day. Every Single Day we carve out time for that Dream of ours. We don’t merely coo at it or coddle it, we bring it into this world. Loud & Rapturous.

I also grew up cursing the God who put a great deal of distance between Point A & Point B.

Why not connect them closer, God? Why not give me what I want right this very moment? It would probably make His Sky High To-Do List much shorter. More manageable.

It would be much easier this way, if we could pick up our deepest desires from the racks of the department store & plop them into a cart.

Chances are, a lot more dreams would live to see their realization if we were able to skip right from Point A to Point B. If Time, Energy, Hard Work, Rejection, Struggle & Discernment were not so adamant in demanding a seat in our Ambition-Covered Wagons.  

I’ve written it before but I still believe that our dreams are very much like infants. We conjure them up in diaries and during long commutes but we have to then step up to be teachers to them. Teach them to Walk, Talk, Sing, Dance, Shake, Shimmy, Move, Be. Understand their weak beginnings. Understand their wobbly legs. Covet the progress. Smile at the Baby Steps.

But the one thing we cannot do if we ever hope to find them as a reality, sitting across from us like a familiar stranger who knows how we take our coffee, is belittle them. Degrade them. Find small boxes to shove them in. Let them collect dust on a shelf within our memory.

You see, one day our dreams being labeled as “unreachable” won’t cut it anymore. They will grow stale. They might fall apart. They will tire from us putting “Cannot” and “Should” in front of them in line. And they will slink into a slot just as forgotten as the lone sock, abandoned under the bed and left praying for some sort of companion who understands their wool & texture.

Elizabeth Gilbert, a guru at equipping souls with a Simultaneous Sense of Eating, Praying & Loving, one wrote that we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t first buy the ticket. I don’t know about you, but I have some tickets to buy… some dreams stored up inside of me that need to start sending their resumes out to reality.

So here’s to taking some coins, sunk deep from our pockets, and listening to the sounds they make as they clink on the counter.

 “One ticket please,” I say. “Matter of fact, make it ten.”

Here’s to finding Point A together, no matter how opposite our directions are from one another.

Here’s to kicking Struggle & Rejection, Doubt & Animosity, out from the cradle that our dreams slumber in at night.

Here’s to picking back up that piece of chunky purple chalk and writing our dreams out to the world. Fine Handwriting Practice or None.

Here’s to placing Point A down on the map and finding one way today to make a sudden movement.

A Baby Step.

A Crawl.

Even just a shoulder shrug.

On our way.

To Point B.

Have Yourself a Teary Little Christmas.

So Once Upon a Time, Charles Dickens kidnapped a little girl. That’s right. He swooped right in and kidnapped her with a Hardcover Classic.

He kidnapped her eyes. He kidnapped hours from her day.  He kidnapped her soul. He kidnapped her imagination. He kidnapped just about everything of hers with a single story about a grumpy old crank and a visit from three ghosts.

Ever since that point where I discovered the ghosts & their visits & the lessons Scrooge learned, I have wished for my own kind of encounters. My own Christmas Past & Future to come knocking at the door to show me a thing or two. I am 22-years-old and still wondering, how would the Ghost of Christmas Present manage to break into my Bronx Apartment to get to me if he needed to? Should I leave the gate open for him? Can he use the fire escape?

But, like Ebenezer Scrooge, I have had three visitors this Christmas Season. Three Very Distinct Visitors who have delivered me a great deal of Perspective. And so, on a Christmas Eve where I cannot muster up a single syllable about Gingerbread Cookies, Mistletoe or the Grinch, I will tell you the story of these Three Visitors and the Difference they have made to my December 25.

The Waltz of the Snowflakes

I was not expecting Them. I wasn’t prepared for the first visit.

I had just settled into my seat, smoothed out the creases in my new black dress and eagerly awaited the rising of the curtain. It was the same scene, I have seen it dozens of times. The beginning overture, a little boy and girl peeking through the Grand Doors to see their giant Christmas tree.  A party scene. A crazy uncle. And the giving of a single gift. A Nutcracker. To Clara.

And then they came, as if they had watched the ballerinas emerge from the wings and felt inspired. They emerged from the wings of my eyelids. They emerged like Petrified Munchkins who had needed some serious coaxing from Glinda.

The Tears of Christmases Past. I knew it immediately.  

Throughout this whole holiday season I have been absolutely captivated by the little girls I see in passing who wear the Great Big Winter Coats with the Leopard Fur Trimming and Oversized Buttons. Fifteen years ago, I was one of those little Girls. Coming to New York City in my Big Girl Winter Coat, going to see the Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet. And now I am two years past two decades, Finding my Way on these New York City streets everyday. Putting on a black coat and a Pair of Black Heels that some younger version of me would have adored finding in her dress-up closet.Clicking those heels all over this City. Finding a way to call it Home.

And so these Tears were a visit from the Christmases Long Ago. The ones with leopard winter coats. American Girl Dolls tucked under my arm. A JC Penney Catalogue to keep me captivated for hours. A cup of Hot Chocolate. Staying up for Santa. A reminder that at any age, and with any winter coat, if you put on your child-like sunglasses you will see the season better. It will glow with a red & green goodness.

Deck the Halls

Yes, yes. They came again during a round of Deck the Halls. I get it, I cry a lot.  But it doesn’t really bother me. Once I get over the anxiety of typing a new, fresh sentence about an instance where I cried Once Again, I get over it. I reach into myself, pull out the “Crier” baseball cap, and plop it on my head for the world of the internet to see. I think it is o.k. to cry. I cry over good things. They are Worthwhile Tears to Me.

So back to those halls, the ones we decked. I was standing next to two women. Each holding their babies and a massive bag from Santa Claus. It was the only gifts they would receive for their children this Season. Donated Gifts from the Santa’s that roam this earth. The women in this Bronx shelter are homeless. Some have no family. Some have no education. Some are pregnant, some of them already have a child clinging to their side. But regardless of what they have or don’t have, they are beautiful women. Strong Women. Women who get up every single day and they face life, and I think that is a very daring and admirable thing.

And so I was not surprised when the Tears of Christmas Present showed up, wedged in between a Fa & a La. A reminder that I so often greet, that I don’t really need much for Christmas. I am happy. I am healthy. I am surrounded by people who love me. Above all, I am lucky. This Season has been the most challenging of all. To see how the Poverty Finds its Way to the Christmas Tree before Santa. But it has also shown me that Christmas is not about the bows or the gifts we give. You have heard it 1,001 times before, 68 times from Charlie Brown and 29 times from the Grinch, but hear it from me too. Let’s not focus in on the Presents but rather on our Presence this Christmas. Let’s gather the Memories, Moments & Peace into our arms like the World’s Most Skilled Holiday Shoppers. This is the good stuff. This is the great stuff.

I wish you could meet these women. I wish you could have joined our round of Christmas Carols. You would have shook hands and wished a Merry Christmas to one another. Then you would have smiled, at the simple realization that we are not so different from one another. That Differences Fall Away with a Single Exchange.

A Silent Night (or traffic jam, whichever you prefer)

The first time he saw me I was completely fine. Just another girl tapping her fingers against the steering wheel, waiting in a traffic jam.

The second time he pulled up next to me, it had already began. The Tears had begun travelling down my face, making their way over the humps of my cheeks. This time he stared a little longer. Gave me a half-smile.

The third time his blue truck pulled up to my green CRV, the last time, the Doors had opened. The Big Green & Sometimes Hazel Doors had opened for a slew of tangled, salty tears to break out of their hiding spots and barrel through like Black Friday shoppers.

This time I smiled back. Tears & All. Sending him a salty mess of a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

There is a few things that I cannot tell you:

One) Why a Stranger prompted these tears. He was probably nearing 50, stuck in a traffic jam, waiting to go back to work.

Two) Whether these Tears were of the Past, the Present, or the Future. All I know is that they were Tears. Tears I must have Needed.

But I will bask in the things that I do know. He had a kind smile. I really did want him to have a Merry Christmas. I hoped he was heading somewhere wonderful in the days ahead, a place full of Good Food & Family.

He was a stranger. Oh, oh, My Favorite! And yet he took me with my tears. He didn’t shake his head and turn away or switch over lanes to avoid the Girl who Cries in Perfect Traffic Jams. He smiled. Countered my Salty Wishes with a Somber Duplicate.

And this is how I hope the holidays will be for all of us this year. A time to spend with one another. Be it at a Homeless Shelter in a round of songs or around a tree in our homes. Be it in the middle of a crazy traffic jam or in the stillness of a Silent Night. With Friends. With Family. With Strangers. With Lovers. Wishing one another a Merry Christmas. Regardless of who they are, homeless or housed.  Where they are, From Italy to the States to everywhere in between.  Or How they are, Grinchy or Clausy.

This is what I pray for you. For me. For All of Us. Teary-Eyed or not. Lonely or not. Full or not. Happy or not. Holy or not.

A Merry Christmas to all. And let’s top it off with a good night.

Let’s Turn Our Lives into A Christmas Carol that the World Just Itches to Hear A Single Note of.

So I have been on Facebook for the past half hour and it is official. Facebook Official, if you will call it that.

There is no way to defriend your own self on Facebook.

Come on Mark Zuckerberg, how did you miss this one? There absolutely should be a “remove as friend” button on our own sites. I would adore the prospect of clicking it right now. Click. Click. Click. Friend. Defriend. Friend. Defriend.

The girl I have been for the past few weeks is no one that I would ever want to be friends with. I wouldn’t want to sit down and have coffee with her. I wouldn’t want to have a Skype date with her. I wouldn’t want to invite her into my home. I would very much delight in leaving her outside in the cold and watching her freeze her buns off as I sip my hot cocoa from the window of my third floor apartment. Ha ha ha! You lose! Ok. That was harsh, Hannah.

There comes a time and a place in all of our lives when we look in the mirror and we question who is posing on the other side of the glass. Not someone we know. Not someone we like. Not someone suitable for our friendship. But someone who seems tired and restless. Unhappy. Victimized.

And then we need to make a choice. Just like the Bachelor and all his friendly little reality star companions with their roses and shots of love, we too need to make a choice. Stay the victim or scream out the weakness.

There is a fine line between going through a tough time, having an off day, learning to wallow for just a little while and sinking the world with your Titanical tears.

You know what? We could cry So Loud right now. We really could. We could march right over to Central Park and have a festival of Cries & Whines & Shouts & Screams and maybe eventually we can even whine to the tune of Silent Night and have the Most Un Silent, Un Settling of Nights. But we won’t get anywhere in Wallowing. We won’t move a single step in Squeezing ourselves into Precarious Categories that keep us from our full potential. We won’t go stronger. We won’t make our lives the least bit longer.

A revelation came to me the other night as I watched the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center light for the very first time. Surrounded by half a million people, singing to Christmas carols that found as all with a memorization for their words, and looking up at the tree I began to cry. (I know, I know, Me crying? Say it ain’t so). I wasn’t crying over that moment. Nor the perfection of the season all around. I was crying because I had forgotten to say thank you. Night after night, age eight and upward, I would pray to the heavens that one day I could call New York City my home. While some girls wrote love letters to boys with braces, I wrote letters & symphonies & novels to this City.

And I am here now. Here Now. In the city who let me dream of etching my name upon its skyline for so long. And I never even thanked God. I never even said Thank You for making a dream of mine come true. For making my life into exactly what I asked it to be. Funny how we forget to say thank you. Funny how we forget a lot of things…

I may not know you. You may not know me. But I think you are strong, funny, endearing, resilient & capable. And don’t you forget that! I wish I could wrap up every one of those attributes and sneak them right under your Christmas tree right now and then beg you to open the presents up early.

Maybe you don’t even need those presents right now. But I certainly do!

We all need a reminder of this from time to time, that YES, life is hard. But We Are Kick Ass.

We were made for goodness. Sweet, sweet goodness. Oozing and dripping all over our lives just like the chocolate that trickled from my Max Brenner Chocolate Chai just the other day.

I was made for Skype dates with my best friends, near & far. Near & Dear. I was made for belting out an inconsistent tune to Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You.” I was made for a big blanket under a string of Christmas lights, curled up as creations dance in my head like Sugar Plum Fairies. I was made for sneakers & barbels. Protein & Boxing Gloves. I was made for workouts & hard work.

I was not made to entertain guests like Doubt or Insecurity. I was made to build Gingerbread Houses with my Dreams & give Eskimo kisses with my creativity. To Go Snow Shoeing with Compassion & Sip Eggnog with my Love for Life. I was made to be an expert of wallpapering. Wallpapering my life with love letters, strangers, & simplicity. More importantly, wall papering the lives of others with Comfort, Kindness, Understanding & Companionship.

I was made for the Rudolph’s of this world, the misfits, the lonely, the stepped upon. They are the ones with the Bright Red Noses, the stories that my ears perk to hear.  They are the ones who light my way and I don’t think I will ever stop seeking them out.

I was not made for a single “un” word. Not Unstable. Not Unworthy. Not Unable.

But it is one thing to say these things, write these things, voice these things. We need to live these things. Live Out Loud. Live So Loud. Let’s Turn Our Lives into A Christmas Carol that the World Just Itches to Hear A Single Note of. A Single note is all it takes and then the world practically cries over good fortune that we actually came here to sing the whole song. The whole entire song. Yes. Oh yes, we were made to sing the whole entire song.

What were you made for?

P.S. Anyone up for a Skype date with some hot cocoa? I will bring the Holiday cheer…

Eat, Pray but please don’t Leave: The “Stuff” we don’t talk about enough.

I need a piece of paper,” she says, picking up the bag at her feet to take out a pencil. I watch her rummage and cannot help but think of the stranger who rummaged through the same bag, probably in a similar fashion, just a few hours before.

She plucks a few moments of silence from the 5a.m. hour, scribbles on the paper, and looks up once or twice. Calculating Math Equations Within the Air.

It is just accessories,” she murmurs. “It is all just accessories. It can all be replaced.”

I could very easily take right now to rant about how I don’t understand why bad things must happen to good people. I could stand atop my blogging platform to yell at the unidentifiable person(s) of the Bronx who smashed in my good friend’s car window and robbed her during the night just a few days ago. People who took the night’s quiet as a green light to pillage through the belongings of a girl who was mid-move from New York City back to Pennsylvania, only to pack up and move to Italy in just four days.

I could very easily articulate how it felt to walk Libby down the stairs at 5a.m. and notice a pile of stuff sitting restlessly outside of her car. To make a silent prayer with pursed lips that there was not shattered glass, a broken window, and a great deal of her things taken from inside the car.

I could say all of this, but I would rather just dwell on her two perfect sets of five words.

1)It 2) is 3)all 4)just 5)accessories.

1)It 2)can 3)all 4)be 5)replaced.

Libby taught me something two days ago at a time in the morning where I could easily swear it was far too early to learn any kind of lesson. The accessories– the computers, the cell phones, the hard drives– are all replaceable. There will always be another computer to have, another blog to build or another upgrade to await. But People are entirely different. We cannot easily replace distinct laughs. Thoughtful conversations. Whirlwinds of memories.

If anyone has taught me this best, it is Libby.

A girl with a camera. A girl who defines the New York City Artist. An Ambitious Go-Getter Who Gets Life & Its People & Who Has Beautiful Visions To Dress This World In Something More Beautiful.

I have only known her for two months but it will be a very long time before I soon forget our coffee dates scattered throughout the city. The way she knows every fact about this Big City, every secret that sits in the pockets of the five boroughs. The ways she listens to a rant or a rave or a praise and she believes in you no matter what.

She will board a plan for Italy in three days and she will pursue the country in search of good Capucchinos & Inspiring People. Eating Life As If It Were Delectable Gelati. And I will continue to walk around her City, the one she made her own, counting the ways in which I cannot replace her.

She is the kind of person that makes you wish you could take all of New York City, all of its great people and great sights, and pack it all into a snow globe. Because I want her to take NYC to Italy. But she doesn’t need a snow globe. It is just another thing to fall under the category of Stuff.

If I am falling so gracefully into any lesson this year, it is this one: I don’t need “Stuff.” Stuff won’t hold my hand & Stuff won’t push me to be wonderful in this world. Stuff is great, don’t get me wrong, but is it not the “be all, end all” I once thought it to be.

I have realized this year how many times in the past I have used the ability to buy something as a coping mechanism, as a way to deal with sadness or forget loneliness. Swipe. Swipe. Swipe. New Shoes. Pretty Bows. Unnecessary Trinkets from Target.All to forget the fact that I was dealing with unkempt emotions.

It is not so easy to do when your budget is 25 dollars each week.

Welcome to forced conversations. Welcome to “I have no choice to call you right now or spill out my heart over a cup of coffee because quite frankly, this year is hard and sometimes feel like I don’t know how to cope.”

Welcome to “It was so much easier when I could cope by way of Forever 21.”

But also, welcome to Growth. To Baby Steps. To realizing that a person is not great because of the Stuff they carry but rather the Stuff they hold within. The Stuff they give out on a daily basis, in the form of good advice, support and ears that perk to listen.

And this is the kind of Stuff we want more of. The Kind Of Stuff We Should Practice Fostering. By being good to people, speaking kindly, daring people to run with their visions and crazy ideas. By showing up at their door with a coffee in hand. Or forcing them to sit down at a table and talk until it feels better.

Some pawn shop in the Bronx is sitting with more stuff today. But it is just stuff. And whoever buys it will know it too, it is just stuff. It is not a spirit or a dream, a vision or a good heart. It is just cold, hard and plastic with a dollar sign plastered on the front.

Find the good stuff today, the stuff worthy of filling your soul with. The good conversations. The good revelations. The good people. The good ideas. The good for the world.The good in other people.The Good Stuff.

I know Libby is more than likely reading this, nodding to every word that I am typing, she knows Good Stuff. Trust me, she knows the definition of Good Stuff. Where it Sits. How it Evolves.

And this is the kind of good we need all around us, not in our hands or plugged into our ears, but in the words that we speak and the intentions that we keep. In the ways we count our blessings & every single person that we count.

Beauty that comes in six shades of red and seven different sizes.

The secret to a life well-lived is beautiful skin. A whittled waistline and “stop him dead in his tracks” pick up lines. The right pair of shoes. A clean diet (one that will try to convince you is not based upon deprivation). Great sex. A slim body and a fat wallet. A swimsuit that fits your shape. Flat abs that take less than 15 minutes a day to maintain. Makeup that feels like it is barely there. And looking better naked.

At least this is what the world tells me as I walk out the door each morning.

My hands detected the worth and weight of beauty magazines at the age of 12 and I was never the same again. I flipped through the glossy pages where pretty girls smiled back at me and home remedies made promises that I don’t think they were ever fully equipped to keep. As I traced the Perfect Lips. Lashes. Long Flowing Hair. I remember thinking to myself, “I never realized I had this much to fix.I never knew I was missing so much.” I never realized I was this broken.

We digest the pages of these magazines and websites as though they are the 300-calorie sandwich with only 217 milligrams of sodium that sits and waits for us on page 112.

We are fed this idea that the key to true satisfaction and real happiness is somewhere amidst a butt-toning workout and a cream that makes cellulite vanish. We stay hungry over the fact that we can chalk life up to being obsessed with outward appearance, to Always Needing to Fix Something. And as a result? We never need to put away the tool belt, fully loaded with 8-minute abs and voluminous mascara.

If we always have some outer glitch to fix- To Make Our Thighs Smaller, Our Love Handles A Little More Lovely- then we never have to stare inward. We can abandon a quest for inner piece in order to make a journey towards a clear complexion. We never need to shred emotional baggage when Jillian Michaels and P90X promise us a different- more visible- kind of shred.

A great friend of mine spent time building a medical clinic near an all girls orphanage in Latin America and I saw the revelation in his eyes as he told me about the beautiful little girls. Little Girls who missed arms & legs & limbs and yet found nothing to miss at all. “But they were the happiest children I had ever seen, ” he told me. “Because they had not been taught that they were missing something.

We are floundering in a culture that wants to convince us that we are missing something. Constantly Missing. Seven Steps Away From Perfection. Perfect Thighs. Perfect Curves. Perfect Lovers. Perfect Days. What would happen to all those magazines and reality TV shows and billboards if we looked in the mirror and realized we were missing nothing. That it was all there. Sitting abundantly on both our insides and outsides.

That we could stop in our own reflection stand there without an ounce of pressing time itching at our ankles.  To realize the most radiant element on our faces was not half off at WalMart yesterday. To say confidently to our inner selves, “You are not missing things. You are wonderful just the way you are. You are whole.

Whole in a world that tells us we are empty. Full in a world that tells us we are hungry. Content in a world that tells us we are unsatisfied. Here. Right Here. All Parts Intact. In a world that convinces us that we are missing vital parts. Parts that will fulfill us, happiness that sits on a shelf for $4.99, beauty that comes in six shades of red and seven different sizes.

At some point we decide that we are going to pull away, that we are going to shun our ears from the messages that seek to pierce us and make us feel less than worthy. It is not an easy task. A task that never meets perfection. But little by little we allow ourselves to put down the tool belt, put down the coupons and the washed up images of the “way we used to look” to stop and see that all we ever needed never cost us $19.99 and our own self esteem as a sacrifice.