The Big Ice Storm

Was it possible that their positive experiences had a lot less to do with attitude, and a lot more to do with just plain luck?

Some years ago I was part of an online New Age chat group. Most of our discussions centered on matters relating to our spiritual growth and understanding, interspersed with light chatter.

The group fostered some very real friendships, but there also arose spats and quarrels and misunderstandings. No emoji can really convey the intent and tone of written words, and misinterpretations occurred. Moderators did their best, but harsh words were sometimes exchanged while the spectators took sides. The group eventually dissolved due to these problems, but I had left it months previously. My departure was triggered by The Big Ice Storm.

Heavy sleet had begun to fall mid-afternoon on a weekday. In no time at all, roads, sidewalks, trees, shrubs—everything was encased in a thick glaze of ice. Office workers who could do so began heading out early, piling into their cars in a futile attempt to evade the worst of the storm. But the ice outran every effort people made to escape its freezing grasp.

My supervisor bailed hastily, and advised me to do so, also. Sadly, this meant only that I spent more time huddled in the glass-sided shelter house at my bus stop. Clustered together with other public transit sufferers, I stood for nearly three hours waiting for a delayed bus in plummeting temperatures, as frigid winds snaked about my ankles and froze my feet to pain.

After a terrifying journey on ice shrouded roads, I arrived home nearly four hours later than usual to an apartment that was dark and cold. I’d left no lights on, since most days I got in well before darkfall; I always thriftily turned the thermostat down for the hours when I wasn’t at home.  Power lines had collapsed all over the city, but I gratefully found that my electricity was working, and switched on the lights and furnace. When I’d finally stopped shivering, I checked on family members, discovering to my relief that everyone had arrived home safely. Finally, I sat down at my computer to read e-mail messages.

There, to my horror, I learned that the sister of a friend had been among those who died in a pileup on the icy interstate highway. Tears sliding down my cheeks, I dashed off a sober response expressing shock and sympathy; then turned to messages from the chat group, hoping to hear they were all safe.

They were. And their descriptions of their own journeys home bore, I found, very little resemblance to my experience. Some had not even needed to travel; the storm had fortunately coincided with their days off. One mentioned that, as a manager, she’d been able to leave her office before the first pellets of sleet cascaded from the sky. Her route home unencumbered by the traffic that would flood the streets only a short time later, she’d stopped at the grocery for a few items and enjoyed a warm chocolate chip cookie fresh from the bakery. Then she’d pulled into her driveway, where her teenage children had bounded out to schlep in her shopping bags.

She and other chat group members prattled on about how minimally they’d been affected by the storm, attributing their experiences to their positive attitudes. It was all in one’s expectation and mindset, they asserted. It was all about gratitude and belief.

I considered the differences of my own experience to theirs. I remembered, shaking with cold, yet grateful that I’d been able to claim a space huddled within the crowded bus shelter. I recalled my thankfulness as my bus evaded the accidents plaguing the roads. I thought about my relief and appreciation that the electricity had remained on at my apartment. I reflected on the tragedy of my friend’s sister, and a journey home that didn’t include warm chocolate chip cookies and happy children, but arriving to a lonely apartment that was both frigid and dark.

Then I put my fingers on the keyboard and called bullshit on their remarks.

My mindset had been, I pointed out, positive throughout. I was both grateful and appreciative; thankful for my own and others’ safety. But my experience was miserable nevertheless: freezing, fear, loneliness, and the terrible news of a death. Perhaps, I suggested, perhaps they could tell me how I could have effected any difference in these events by my attitude? Was it possible that their positive experiences had a lot less to do with mindset, and a lot more to do with just plain luck?

It wasn’t a popular position to take, as evidenced by the onslaught of shaming replies I received to my statements. Still, I refused to back down, despite reprimands from nearly every group member.

Shortly thereafter I quit the chat group, although I’d quite enjoyed it up to then.

Sometimes still, especially in on bad winter days, I think about that chat group and the Big Ice Storm. I think about the fact that, if I’d been angry and resentful, the misery I endured that day might well have been, at least emotionally, far worse. But all the positive attitude in the century would not have changed the actual outcome of the nasty events of that storm.

It’s not always only about one’s attitude. Truly, it isn’t. Often, it’s just the simple luck of the draw—or not.

If this essay appealed to you, you might also enjoy “My Be-Attitude”,
which can be found in the Archives dated April 17, 2019,
or “The Wrong Road”, from March 4, 2020.

How Ego Became a Dirty Word

Kept in check, regularly examined through conscience, and recognized as a personal identity having nothing to do with one’s possessions or achievements, the ego is a marvelous thing…

When did “ego” become a dirty word?

To the best of my understanding, in its original concept, ego meant simply that part of human consciousness which indicates “I”. It was understood to be the ability to distinguish one’s self from others; the awareness that comprehends personal experience. Over time, that original concept enlarged to include egotism—that is, conceit, vanity, or an inflated sense of self-importance. But, at its inception, the idea of the ego was simply that of self-awareness, and of personal identity–an ability which small children begin to develop at about age two.

Yet, somehow that harmless perception of a consciousness which distinguishes the self from others has mutated into a appalling concept; shameful at best, destructive at worst.

While I cannot lay all the blame for this divisive idea on a slew of philosophical books of recent vintage, I do believe they are responsible for perpetuating the concept that there is something inherently reprehensible about the normal human ego. Frankly, that makes little sense to me. Without a sense of separateness, of individuality, we cannot function in the world.

A healthy ego protects. It tells me unequivocally that, no matter what some nitwit says of me, I can make the decision to not believe their words. A well-regulated ego says to one, “Just because I am requested, ordered, to do this by a superior, I need not necessarily do it. I am an individual. I can make my own decisions regarding the rightness or wrongness of the order.” A wholesome, balanced ego is a shield against poor decision and immorality.

Nor, despite the best arguments pondered by those who despise the term, is a normal ego an obstruction to empathy. To the contrary, knowing that I have endured a difficult, painful or troubling experience allows me to look with compassion on others who are undergoing something similar. The “I” that identifies as an separate entity recognizes and therefore empathizes with all the other “I” individuals who are enduring anguish.

Sadly, the concept of a healthy, balanced ego has somehow become almost inextricably confused with egotism. But the two are not the same. “Nothing in excess”, the Greeks are reputed to have carved on the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and the advice is as apt now as it was those thousands of years ago. An overweening or inflated ego is an excess. It is narcissism, selfishness, and self-absorption. It is a bane and antipathy to sympathy and concern. It does, as those self-same philosophical books decry, express itself in the attachment to things; it warps the personal identity into a mere exponent of possessions or achievements.

Those who lambast the idea of a personal ego seem to maintain the position that our very separateness also separates—separates us from each other, and from the divine within both ourselves and others. Again, that concept makes little sense to me. If I am I, then I am the Divine expressing as this wondrous, personal, individual being: myself. I am a perfect creation from the hand and mind of the Creator. To be in any way separate from my divine self is simply not possible; to think so is total hubris.

And if I recognize that divine and spiritual center within myself, then I must recognize it in all others, who are all also perfect creations of a perfect Creator.

I believe we came, were sent, into this world to experience life as individuals. In doing so, I recall that, in some versions of the myth of Hercules, Zeus desired to know what it was to live as a mortal. And so he fathered a son, Hercules, who would be both god and human. As the creator, Zeus was inextricably interwoven to everything; he was all he had created. But, through his son, he could comprehend what it was to be separate and apart from all he had created; to live as an individual; to be mortal.

Kept in check, regularly examined through conscience, and recognized as a personal identity having nothing to do with one’s possessions or achievements, the ego is a marvelous thing, leading us through a lifetime of personal awareness in conjunction with our spiritual core. Far from being undesirable, it is yet another impeccable creation bequeathed us by our Creator.

The Evil Machinations of This Blog!

Rejoice, readers. You have been preserved from the evil machinations of my chatty little blog by the combined efforts of Amazon and the local New Age shop. You are now safe and protected! You are no longer subject to the intrigue and conspiracy, the plotting and scheming, present in these talkative little posts. Aren’t you grateful? What more could you ask? (Other than to be adults permitted to make up your own minds, that is.)

You see, a short while ago I decided to update my “Beckett Shiona” profile on Amazon. (That “Shiona”, by the way, references the name I give to each of my computers, as they die and are replaced. After all, the PC is doing a lot of the work as I write—it deserves recognition!) In any case, Beckett Shiona is the name under which I write my many, many book reviews – about 600 of them, to date.   Not that I have any followers; as someone who eschews the giant of Facebook, not to mention Twitter, or runners-up in the social media world such as Goodreads—well, those of us who circle the worlds in a slightly more subdued manner are a bit like those alien installations on the dark side of the moon: we don’t exist. Nevertheless, my non-existent self maintains an Amazon profile just so that the authors, be they lambasted or praised, may look upon a photo and read just a tad about the person who spoke, nastily or nicely, about their books.

So I updated the blurb that describes who I am and why I write reviews, and changed my profile photo.

And this, it seems, triggered a review by some Amazonian Minion. (I would have said jackass, but that would be rude.)

You see, there’s a place provided on the profile to note one’s website. And, as I pay considerably extra to WordPress for the possession of an actual web address, I had always noted that address in my Amazon profile. After all, being retired, my occupation was listed as “Blogger”, so  including the blog address seemed like a reasonable action. Or so I thought for the nearly two years it had been listed.

Obviously not.

A chastising and sternly-worded e-mail landed in my in-box in about the space of time it took to turn around thrice shouting, “Evil! Bad! Wrong!” By including the web address in my profile, I had, it seems, violated “community standards”.  Despite the fact that my non-monetized, garrulous little blog is neither a product nor a service, and said web address has been sitting there in plain view on my profile for nearly two years, it was now utterly forbidden. Noting it in my profile was verboten. To “protect” the public.

To say that this ticked me off mightily would be the equivalent of saying that Hurricane Katrina was a wee bit of a storm–especially since I’d just gone through a very similar erasure process at the local New Age shop.

Again, because I eschew most social media, shortly after beginning this blog I’d created a few “blog announcement” business cards.  Blog CardThey provided just the blog title, motto, and web address. Whenever I gave tips to servers (and I am a good tipper), I handed them out along with the money. I hung the cards on any bulletin board I came across, too, and had actually gained a few followers thereby.

So the local New Age shop bulletin board seemed a logical place to pin a few cards. After all, the flyers and business cards already on  the board encompassed everything from roofing to retreats. But, ever mindful of courtesy, I asked the checkout clerks if I might hang a few of the blog announcement cards there among the businesses and lost pet flyers. (And let me just say that I don’t honestly believe that anyone else EVER asked before pinning up flyers or cards; they just did so.)

The clerks said they would run this past their supervisor, and I smilingly acquiesced. A week or two later, seeing no cards on the board, I asked if the request had been approved. They hadn’t had a chance to find out, the clerks told me. I waited another week, and checked again. No, not yet, they replied.

This song and dance continued for over two months—at which time I was diagnosed with a serious illness, and having my blog announcement cards on the bulletin board receded into unimportance in the face of other, more vital matters—like saving my own life. My blog cards never appeared on the bulletin board, and were never returned to me, either. I suppose they went into the trash.

A year went by and, healed and refreshed, I printed a new batch of blog announcement cards. This time, though, I knew better than to ask. I stuck a half-dozen of them right up there on the bulletin board in the midst of all the other effluvia.

Where they were promptly removed by management within the week—again, I presume, to the trash can.

And so there you have it, folks: The Saga of Your Protection From the Utter Evil of My Chatty Little Blog. Be my weekly subject humor—or introspection—or spirituality—or merely observation—you are SAFE. You are PROTECTED. You are NOT EXPOSED to the sheer, awful reality of my maunderings.

The Jackasses of Power have seen to that.

By the way, New Age shop–I really want my expensive blog announcement cards back.