New York City.


Red Flags

I've been shopping online for cars.

After moving back home to NC from NYC, I lacked a car. There's simply no need for one in Manhattan, but that's quite a different story in rural NC. One of my best friend's Lindsay and her husband happened to have an extra truck they weren't actively using and offered to loan it to me while I was home. At that point, I was only planning to be on leave from NYC for a few months, so I graciously accepted. Well three months turned into six, which has now turned into a year. Each day longer I drove their vehicle I felt more and more guilty. That's when I realized it was time for me to bite the bullet and purchase a clunker.

While conducting a recent search I came across a 2002 RAV4 in beautiful condition for $1000. It had only been posted for an hour on craigslist when I immediately emailed the seller expressing high interest. This was her reply:

I felt like someone punched me in the stomach.

Here I was grumbling to myself all day about my embarrassment of riches and this woman was going through the one of my worst fears. I responded with heartfelt condolences and began bonding with her over this devastating event. After a few emails were exchanged on the subject of her life's tragedy, we got back to the car. I explained I would love to come and see it and could pay her cash on the spot. She said she had moved to Missouri to be with her parents (her only family left). Once again my heart broke for her. She explained that the transaction would be taking place through Amazon. They would ship me the car and let me test it for 5 days.  If it was everything I was promised, I could accept it and that's when she would get the money. If it wasn't what I wanted, the vehicle would be returned to her and I would receive a full refund. 

*Side note:I had been forwarding my Dad the entire conversation step by step and he said it was perfectly acceptable way to purchase a car online (he was in the middle of shopping for a 68 Ford Torino the same way). 

After a couple hours of emailing back and forth,  it was decided that I would buy an Amazon gift card with cash, and begin the purchase through Amazon. However, Dad texted me a few minutes later:

 "I need to do more research at home. Something doesn't smell right. Remember the old adage. If it sounds too good to be true...."

That's when I started to reflect back over the email conversation... but then I stopped myself. Dad was simply being an untrusting Debbie Downer. I believe that people are good. I believed her. Certainly no one would ever lie about something as devastating as that! I wasn't going to let people's unbelief get the best of me.

10 minutes later another text arrived:

"It's a fraud. Sorry Kiddo. Look at these links..." 

He had found a blog devoted to detecting auto fraud and on it was a post written about a scam going around in 2014. There were samples of emails that were practically VERBATIM of what the woman's initial email had said. 

The rest of the story involves me trying to appeal to and then questioning her humanity. Followed up with another email saying a lot of not very nice things... but that's not the point of this post.

You see, it got me thinking about red flags. When you really need something or perhaps even desperately want it, the glaring red flags (the kind that you find offensively bright in other people's lives) seem to fade to a romantic light pink.

Excuses are made, warnings are shrugged off, and you convince yourself you are happy. And perhaps you are. Happiness after all is a choice, isn't it? The most unfortunate can be joyful and the most fortunate can be miserable. But soon enough those flags are going to start appearing darker. You'll be puzzled at their change. You'll be enraged by their shapeshifting. You'll spend hours convincing yourself that those damn flags must have driven to Walmart, bought red dye, taken themselves to the nearest laundromat and dyed themselves. "Because that was not what I signed up for in the beginning".

Weeks, months, maybe even years later, when you're on the ground waving the white flag of defeat, you'll realize that those flags were bright red all along, and it will scare you how blind you were. It will terrify you. 

When a person shows you who they are, believe them the first time. 

With my new "truth goggles" on I scoured back over the email chain between "Jessica" and I. How did I not see all of those flags?! There were loopholes in her story, parts where she had slipped up and completely contradicted herself. I was a street smart New Yorker for heavens sakes! Here's the thing: I was choosing not to look at those flags for the color they were because I so desperately wanted that car to be mine. It was perfect. It would have been more than I deserved for $1000, but I kept thinking... luck is finally on my side!

No harm came from the car experience (thank heavens!) but it got me thinking about all the other red flags in my life i've chosen to ignore. I'm going to stop being desperate and start being smart. I'm going to accept a little pain in the beginning because in the end it's going to save me months and possibly years of anguish. I'm going to start listening to that little voice again. She's brutally honest, but isn't that her purpose? 

Those red flags will pop up in everything from relationships to jobs to purchases to losing weight. It's not a negative way of looking at your life it's an honest one. Think of how much more can be accomplished if we're only willing to look at the cold hard facts. A good long look in the mirror can be the one thing that changes your life. You are worth the fight. You are worth the honesty. You are worth the uncomfortableness of saying 'no' in the beginning. 


Fairy Tales...

The Webster Dictionary's definition of fairytale is the following:

 1. A story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings (as fairies, wizards, and goblins) —      
      called also fairy story
 2. A story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending 
 3. A made-up story usually designed to mislead

I'm here today to tell you, I bought into the fairytale and I was mislead.

Now don't get me wrong. I love a good romance. Whether it be fictional or non, in any form of entertainment or real life. I loved dreaming of what it would be like to have Prince Charming come and rescue me; because honestly, how awesome would that be? No really, think about it. When you're rescued in a fairy tale, you don't have to do any work. You sit there in distress, and someone swoops in and fixes everything. Let's stop for a second and return to the definition of fairytale: "a made up story usually designed to mislead." Houston, we've got a problem. Well actually, I've got a bunch.

Here's a question: How is it a fair assumption that if I get myself into a load of trouble, that I can automatically count on someone else rescuing me?  It's not. The problem with fairytales is they preach the ideal that we don't have to do anything but get ourselves into trouble, and then we suddenly deserve to be dug out. Of course the argument can be made that princesses usually possess virtues that are becoming of a woman who deserves rescuing. But in the real world, that's not enough. I know plenty of amazing women who are still waiting to be saved.

 I lived the majority of my 20's waiting for my Prince to come. Even though in every instance, they were completely wrong for me, there were several men that I made sure would be well equipped for the job of 'hero'. I set them up for much success with all the proper tools to dig me out of the ditches I had flung myself into. Or so I thought. Those poor men. They had no idea that they were just a part of a little unintentional game that I like to call 'self sabotage'. I was completely settled into my role as the sleeping princess, or as I like to bluntly call it, the victim. And I was good at it, some may venture to say I was practically a professional, because I so desperately wanted to be that damsel in distress. I yearned to be the slumbering Princess that was only awoken by true loves kiss. So I waited. And I slept. And then one day, on the realization that my 30th birthday was fast approaching, I woke up. Because guess what? No one was coming to rescue me.  Part of the feminine allure we've been led to believe from the beginning of mankind,  is that a strong woman is a turn off for a man. My Grandma has been known to tell me to "quiet my opinions" for fear of scaring off the menfolk. I hate to tell you Grandma, but I actually think it's the opposite. I finally realized that there's nothing sad about being your own hero.  There's nothing pathetic about rescuing yourself. What comes from that rescue is strength. A strength that those Prince Charmings out there actually find a lot more attractive than a withering flower. Once I woke up, I realized that the slumber I had thrown myself into wasn't about a man, it was so much more than that. It was a way for me to hide, so that those men worthy enough to be my Prince, never found me. Because I did not believe that I was worthy to be found. So I sat up, dusted myself off, shakily began getting out of that coffin (I had contracted those men to build for me) and fell flat on my face. You try sleeping for ten years and then gracefully exiting your sleeping chambers! The good news is, instead of letting that send me right back into another self loathing induced coma, I marched on. Don't misconstrue my advice. I am not suggesting we get caught up in our own ego and pride. You can be humble, meek and strong all at the same time. But do you know what happens to people that are asleep for years? They become a doormat that is walked all over and forgotten, because they aren't awake to defend themselves. I hadn't fought for myself in years.

Look, there's a sadness that comes from playing the role of the victim, or a sleeping Princess... because there's no truth to it. No one, who is forcing themselves to fit into this idea, is honoring their purpose. Instead, you're actively denying the thing that you were specifically chosen to achieve on this earth. Thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of self hatred, depression and anxiety.

This may seem like a very feminist post, and in a way it is. But can we put to rest the misconception that feminism means man hating.... because it doesn't. It means equality. I don't believe that men and women are the same. We have different unique and beautiful qualities in us all, but we deserve to be on equal playing fields. In both directions. Not only is it not fair for us to 'hide our candle under a bushel' so to speak, but it's also unfair to expect a man to be carrying our dead weight when we can do it ourselves! Enough with placing men on pedestals. They don't want to be there, and if they do, they certainly won't be the Prince Charming you think they are. I'm not saying that I am too good for a man, or that I don't need anyone else's help. I'm a human being for crying out loud, I need all the help I can get. But I need it, once I've worked my hardest and have come up short. Because I will come up short.

I am writing this story today to tell you what I've learned in hopes that it will help awaken some more sleeping Princesses out there. My story is important, because now I can proudly say: I am the woman who woke herself up. I am the woman who drug herself by the bootstraps out of the coffin. I am the woman that decided I was enough just as I am...because I am. It's as simple as that. The world needs women who are worthy and willing to stand in strength and surety, in confidence and valor, in love and compassion. Women who know their worth and are not willing to settle for anything less than what they deserve. I am so excited to meet my future husband. For I will be able to stand confidently before him and say "I'm all in. I've done the work. I've moved my own mountains, and now i'm ready to be your partner in life. We can tackle all the obstacles and amazing happenings that life has in store for us. I will need help, and you will too, and likely they will be at different points. But I've got your back. My armor is on, my shield is ready, my sword is sharpened and i'm ready to fight beside you."


Oh the Humanity of it All...

My hand reached for the tarnished brass handle, frigid from the night's winter temperature.  As I slowly turned the knob I heard the first of what would be many yelps. Making my way through the garage and into the laundry room where the dog lay, I called out in a reassuring voice, "It's ok puppy, it's just me. It's going to be ok." I wasn't sure if my dialogue was meant to comfort him or myself.

The house could not have been more familiar to me. Growing up it was like a second home; each hallway and room has a memory of my teenage years embedded into the walls. I was only in the house to do some cleaning for my dear family friends, but what met me instead, was a little lesson about my own humanity.

The family dog, ripe with old age was laying on the floor, unable to lift more than his head. He had been suffering from old age for quite some time, so this wasn't exactly a shocking picture to walk in to. Still, there was something incredibly sad about seeing him in this way. He had definitely gotten worse since last seeing him. I wasn't sure if his pathetic barks were old habits of a life long guard dog or the voice of agony. At first, it seemed as though his tired bays were saying 'Courtney, Help me".

After alerting the owners to his condition, the only thing for me to do was the task which had been assigned to me, the standard dusting, vacuuming and tidying. And yet for a good ten minutes I sat by his side stroking his tired little head. I wanted to take him in my arms and rock him to permanent sleep. I wanted so badly to take away his pain, but there was nothing I could do. So, in a moment of tiny courage, I stood up and began to clean. It wasn't long before the puppy's yelps became a steady soundtrack to my cleaning; the more time that passed, the less it bothered me. And in turn, the more I was bothered. I stopped half way through dusting and silently asked myself:

"If you can condition yourself to feel nothing for this suffering, innocent animal, what does that say about your humanity?"

It haunted me the rest of the morning. Granted, the idea of humanity has been on my mind for the past few weeks. It started with my viewing of the movie 'Selma,' which largely focuses on the civil rights movement surrounding the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. It's a hard pill to swallow, that only 50 years ago our human race was ferociously divided simply by the color of skin. And yet, watching the news today sometimes feels like not much has changed. I thought while leaving the theatre:

"I'm not sure I could ever hate someone because of the color of their skin. All I see is a living, breathing human being. There is no difference between us."

Fully aware that I could never be like those people, I continued through the next few weeks.

However, that idea was somewhat disproved when I was given the opportunity to sit down and talk with a person whom I had developed some pretty negative feelings towards. There are plenty of reasons to be utterly annoyed with this woman, and I justified my anger with each one of those. The longer the time went between us talking, the more I began working under the assumption that I was much better than she was. Until we were speaking face to face and I was watching her cry. What struck me in that moment was a deep shame, a guilt for taking her humanity for granted. I wasn't judging her by her skin color, but I was certainly judging her by her flaws. No matter what I thought, no matter what she did, we were both human beings tripping through life together. I was no greater because I happened to be stumbling a bit better than she was.

"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together"
-Desmond Tutu

The definition of humanity is as follows:
1. The human race, human beings collectively.
2. The fact or condition of being human; human nature.
3. Humaneness, Benevolence
syn-compassion, brotherly love, philanthropy, kindness, consideration, understanding, sympathy, kindness.

This definition as a whole reminds me of a story told in a talk given by Jeffrey R. Holland:
"A journalist once questioned Mother Teresa of Calcutta about her hopeless task of rescuing the destitute in that city. He said that, statistically speaking, she was absolutely accomplishing nothing. This remarkable little woman shot back that her work was about love, not statistics. Notwithstanding the staggering number beyond her reach , she said she could keep the commandment to love God and her neighbor by serving those within her reach with whatever resources she had. 'What we do is nothing but a drop in the ocean,' she would say on another occasion. 'But if we didn't do it, the ocean would be one drop less than it is.' "

Is it not our job as a being in the race of humans to care for each other? "Are we not all beggars?"

In order to survive this crazy adventure called life, do we shut down our consideration, and understanding? Is it simply too much to feel everything that crosses our path? I keep trying to find the answer to how people can be incredibly heartless, and this is the best idea I can come up with. Perhaps, like my example with the dying puppy, in order to survive, in order to move forward, we all shut our humanity down... and then sometimes forget to turn it back on?

Am I truly seeing people, in their human-ness, in their beautiful and flawed humanity? Am I appreciating it? Am I taking it for granted? Am I loving them in spite of it? 

At the end of the day, if there is no time or energy left to give, the least you can do is remember:
The person sitting across from you on the bus ride home, or the man that cut you off on the highway, or the mother with the screaming children at the grocery store, or the telephone operator who cold calls your cell phone, or the government officials that you disagree with, or the person who offended you via social media, or the parents that overbear.... they are all human beings. Deserving of every ounce of compassion and love that a fellow 'participate in human nature' deserves.