THE BLOG

Time to Pet Your Fellow Rats: Lessons From My First Staycation

07/15/2013 10:55 am ET | Updated Sep 14, 2013

Being on vacation while others around you are not can be like being the only sober person in a crowd of raging drunks. As my mangled fingernails and surrounding cuticles can attest, I'm no Zen goddess. But spending a week at home with my family sans work allowed me to observe people's behavior like a scientist looking at a tank of rats hopped up caffeine. Not being in "work" mode and taking care of our neighbor's pool and garden put me clearly on the other side of the tank -- if only for a week.

I'm no psychiatrist or motivational speaker (although I've been to and seen both), but at 48 years old, I feel like I'm finally starting to understand how much people crave love. And after my work-free week at home, I can clearly see how our inability or unwillingness to look inward makes us repel that which we want to attract.

Here are a few observations to illustrate what I'm talking about. Sitting on the couch with my mother-in-law yesterday, I attempt small talk, asking about some relatives of hers. She no longer visits these relatives because: 1. the husband told his wife (her cousin) to "get her butt off the couch" and 2. he'd spent much of their last visit doing carpentry work and not in the living room with them. The man is an engineer from England who does not speak French, so may not have felt overly wanted in the French-only conversation about relatives in Haiti he'd never met. And from what I recall he's funny and active, hence the "butt off the couch" remark that my mother-in-law found offensive enough to end the relationship.

My next foray into conversation brings us to another dead end. She said she no longer takes classes at the senior center because "everyone there knows I have good things" and her umbrella, not the $5 kind sold at subway stops, I'm guessing, was stolen during her last visit.

My small talk reserves depleted, she asks me how my parents are doing, and as I reply, she begins speaking to her daughter -- in French.

Lesson #1: Don't be afraid to look inward to discover your own relationship repellant.

The day before, I removed a small, fluffy, grey bird floating face down in the neighbor's pool just before a friend was due over. Not exactly at home in the wild, I wasn't sure how safe it was to swim. I gave my friend the option to cancel. She came but kept her energy focused on the location of the swim flipper I'd used to remove the bird, commanding her husband to keep her kids away from anywhere the flipper had once been. She planned on "disinfecting" her kids with an anti-bacterial solution as soon as they got home.

When I told her how good she looked after a recent surgery, she told me to please shut up and not comment on her looks.

Lesson #2: We create our own bubble of woe. Stress begets more stress.

One of my best friends was recently sitting a row or two behind a woman who received a phone call while in the "quiet car" of a New Jersey Transit train commuting home from Manhattan. The woman answered her phone, became quickly upset and started to speak loudly. Others in the train began to softly chant "Quiet car. Quiet car." Their volume rose as the woman kept talking. My friend was close enough to overhear that the woman's son had been admitted to the hospital with a severe allergic reaction. When the woman got off the phone, she unraveled, dropping several F-bombs on the militant "Quiet Car" chorus. My friend said the other riders didn't care about her situation, just that she was disturbing the sanctity of the Quiet Car.

Lesson #3: Don't get so caught up in the rat race that you forget to stop and pet your fellow rats.

I am a master complainer -- too much work, too little money, too much stress, not enough time to write, spend time with my kids, do what I really love. I complain, I blame, and I wallow. Most of the blame falls squarely on my husband's ample shoulders. If I didn't have to work so much, I'd be less stressed and have more time to write and be more "myself."

Lesson #4: Flagrant BS keeps me stuck in that place I don't want to be. I've built my own walls, brick by brick, from decades of negative thinking and raging self-doubt.

We all want love more than anything in the world, but when we spew animosity rooted in our own lack of self-love, no one will come close.

We really don't matter, and I mean that in the most freeing way possible.

We will die. Those we loved will come to our funeral. They will reminisce, possibly cry, and then as someone far wiser than I once said, head over to Denny's for a Grand Slam breakfast. The world won't stop when we die. Why do we act like it will when we're alive? Please, stop. Pet your fellow rats. Our fur's worn in the same spots as yours.

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