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Renee Dubeau

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Choosing my legacy- the saddest funeral ever.

“She made the best chocolate chip cookies.”
Everyone in the room agreed. Her cookies were the absolute best. They were the perfect ratio of crispy edge to chewy middle. Soft, but not doughy. Crisp, but not too crunchy. Buttery and sweet, with just the right amount of chocolate chips. If you wanted the perfect cookie, she was your girl.
Normally, this would have been a kind compliment. But as we sat in the cold little church that November afternoon in rural Michigan, it was nothing short of tragic.
The words still haunt me today.

“She made the best chocolate chip cookies.”
My aunt lived a difficult life. She did the best she could with all of her challenges- that’s all any of us can do. She raised four children without a partner to help. She worked her whole life beside her mother and sister at the family business. She lived in poverty, and did what she had to do to survive as a single mother with no education. She was tough as nails, but sadly, addiction ruled her. She lost her life to an accidental opioid overdose, just years after losing a son to suicide.
When she died, a handful of friends and family gathered in the tiny corner church near my family’s farm to say goodbye. The minister of the church gave an odd little service- a mix of things from the Christian Bible, and Janis Joplin music. (She would have loved the second one.)
When we reached the part of the service where the preacher asked if anyone would like to stand up and say a few words about the dearly departed, the room was silent and still. We looked around waiting for someone speak.
The preacher began coaxing us. She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Surely, someone there wanted to stand and share something– a memory, a story, something we would miss without her presence on this earth. Surely, after approximately fifty trips around the sun, somebody wanted to say something. Anything.
“She made the best chocolate chip cookies, ” someone finally offered.
Heads began to nod in agreement. “She sure did,” someone added.
Her surviving children were called upon to speak briefly about their mother before we were ushered into the little room behind the sanctuary for the Midwest version of a covered dish supper.
I stayed behind for a moment with my sister. We approached the little box on the altar that held my aunt’s ashes. I was so sad– not because she died. I was sad because in those moments I realized that she never really lived. She left the earth in debt and disease, having scarcely ventured past the corners of the family farm. Her legacy was a cookie she made from a recipe printed on the back of a chocolate chip bag.
When I returned to Texas after that sad trip home, I began thinking about my own legacy.
What will people say about me when I die?
Will I have lived a life worth remembering?
Will my children have fond memories of me?
Will I have made a mark on the world that will last when my physical body is gone?
Will my life have meaning and purpose beyond my front door?
In my heart of hearts I know my aunt’s life had purpose and meaning beyond her cookies. (Did I mention they were damn good cookies?) But, when it really mattered, on that cold day in November in a tiny country church where my family gathered to remember her, “She made the best chocolate chip cookies,” was all we had.
More than a decade later, I’m starting life over again, again. This memory came to me as I was feeling lost and unsure of what the next stage of my life should look like. I want to make my next steps with clear, focused intention, because in those steps, I know I am building my own legacy.
The workaholic, burnt out, tired, crabby, disconnected person I see in the mirror is not the woman I want to be. And so, I must choose carefully a better path. A path to happiness, health, and prosperity in every area of my life- and leave this worn out version of myself behind.
I want to be remembered as a cheerful wife, who loved my husband selflessly with my whole heart and soul. I want to be the mother (and step-mother) who had my babies’ backs through every stage of their lives- a teacher, a friend, and an example of what it is to be a strong, educated, independent, successful woman in the world.

I want to embody compassion, empathy, and love.

I want to share my experiences with the world in a way that brings comfort and validation to others who share my struggles.
I want joy, peace, creativity, and freedom to be part of everyday I spend on this earth. And when I die, I want people to say that I lived and loved every single day I was here.

Beyonce- I Was Here

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What if we skip the thoughts and prayers, and do something about school violence?

“I’d jump in front of a bullet if it meant I’d save someone else.”

The words stopped me in my tracks.

Please, don’t be a hero. You’re my only son.” Was all I could say.

I’d never heard something so brave, or terrifying from my little boy. To be fair, my “little boy” is a man now. He’ll be eighteen in a couple of weeks. Still, he’s my baby, and the words shook me, leaving me in angry tears.

I wondered if my father had said the same thing at the tender age of seventeen when he left high school to enlist in the U.S. Army during the Viet Nam War. The only thing he ever wanted to be was a soldier. He was prepared to do what must be done for his country, no matter the consequences when he was my son’s age.

“I would take a bullet to save the life of another human being.”

Did those words leave my father’s lips as he prepared for war? Could he speak such a thing to his mother? Or, would it have left her in tears, too? Mothers don’t want to think about our young men going off to war or jumping in front of bullets.

When my son said he’d take a bullet, I believed him with my whole heart. The only times he’s ever been in trouble in his young life, he went down protecting or defending someone else. He stands up for the underdogs. He loves his friends fiercely. He will do anything he can to help someone else, even when it hurts him. That’s the kind of compassionate, selfless young man he is.

Yes, my son sounded like a brave soldier that day. But, he wasn’t talking about deploying to a distant warzone. He wasn’t talking about taking a bullet for one of his brothers who fought beside him in combat. No, my son wasn’t going away to war. He was going to his high school in Nashville, Tennessee, prepared to take a bullet to save a classmate in the event of a mass shooting.

“I’d charge down the hallways at some asshole with a gun if I thought I could stop him.”

His words filled me with pride, and dread. These are thoughts my brave, sweet son should not have in his seventeen-year-old psyche. These are things kids just shouldn’t have to think about at all.

When I was a kid, we had fire drills to make sure everyone knew how to get out of the building in case of fire. We had tornado drills to make sure everyone knew how to get to a safe zone to tuck and cover. We had evacuation drills on the bus, to learn how to get out quickly in an emergency. We did not have active shooter drills. Active shooter drills did not exist when I was in school.

Back then, our faculty watched the perimeters of our campus. They made visitors sign in with the office, and made sure the dangers of the world didn’t make it to our halls and classrooms. It was easy then, because the bad guys with the guns were outsiders. They were easy to spot because they were out of place inside the walls of our school building.

Back then, the bad guys with guns weren’t students.

Tomorrow, my son’s school district has closed in response to the most recent school shooting in Florida. They want to gather all of their staff, faculty, resource officers, and leadership to revisit and revamp our school safety protocols and policies. While I appreciate the proactive approach, I absolutely hate that it has to be this way.

I went to social media to talk to other parents about the school closures, curious if we were the only district, or if others had done the same thing. Our district stated in an email to parents that there have been eighteen shootings in the past six weeks in American schools. This began a Facebook debate about what exactly qualifies as a “school shooting” since in some of the eighteen instances in which a weapon was fired on a school campus there were no injuries to students.

What in the whole, entire, holy actual fuck are we doing, America?

Have we become so numb to the violence in our culture that we now need to quantify in bloodshed or lives lost what “counts” as a school shooting? Or, can we just for a minute agree that if someone is firing a weapon on school property, that’s not ok? Even if no one was hurt, the potential for danger was present, and real, and for fuck’s sake— why is having a gun in a school ever ok?

And, before we jump on the gun control bus, let me state very clearly my position on that. It’s basically the same as my position on everything: power to the people. The more you try to take guns away from the good guys– the law-abiding citizens who go through the proper channels to purchase guns legally for protection, recreation, or hunting– the less good guys we’ll have with guns. But, the bad guys? They’ll still get their guns on the street, or by force, or however they can, just like they do right now. Unarming the good guys is not the way to take guns away from the bad guys. And personally, I’d like to know there are some good guys out there with weapons, just in case we need them.

Every time there is another school shooting, the gun control debate ignites. And, while I think it’s important to have that conversation, I also think we’re missing the actual root cause of the issue.

It’s fine for responsible adults to own guns. It’s not fine for kids to have access to them without adult supervision. Period. That’s one question I need answered. How do the kids who shoot up their schools get their hands on these weapons in the first place? Do their parents know their children have access to deadly weapons? Do the kids get the weapons from the parents? Where are the parents?

Right after the gun control debate, we go to the other, classic question. Where are the parents? It’s easy to judge, to assume they must be absent, or abusive, or just plain irresponsible and reckless. But, what if they’re not? What if they are just like us? What if our kids aren’t so different from their kids?

This isn’t an us and them issue, as much as we would love to put that space between ourselves and the parents of the kids who have done these terrible things. We have to stop blindly blaming them. We actually, really need them. We need their knowledge, their insight, their shock and regrets. We need to know what they saw, what they experienced living with their children before they become the kids who killed their classmates. Their stories might be the key to predicting and preventing the next horrible act of student violence.

Are these kids abused when they’re little? Are they bullied by other students, or treated unfairly by teachers? Are they mentally ill? Strung out on drugs? Are they desensitized from years violent video games, movies and television shows? Do they just snap under the sheer weight of their lives?

Maybe I’m naïve, but I just cannot accept the idea that any child is born with this kind of malice and hatred in their precious little heart. I have to believe they learn it. Maybe it comes from bad guys who inflict pain directly upon them. Or, maybe they absorb it from the rampant disregard for humanity that seems to dominate our bullshit culture. Maybe there’s something even darker at work here that I can’t fathom. I don’t know how it happens. I just know we have got to figure it out. We’ve got to fix this, and now–and no amount of thoughts and prayers is going to cut it. Enough with that. We don’t need anymore thoughts and prayers. We need action, and real, dirty, horrible conversation about the process that converts an innocent little child into a cold-blooded killer.

How do these kids become the kids who murder their peers? And, how can we reach them before they become school assassins?

That’s the conversation I hope our school district will have tomorrow. Are there warning signs? Can they tell which students might have violent tendencies? Is there any way to predict an event like this?

How do the kids get the guns in the first place, and how to they get them into the school building?

Do we need TSA style security checkpoints in all entrances of our public high schools?

What will it take to end this madness, and keep our kids safe?

This is the discussion we need to have. All of us. School officials, law enforcement, parents and maybe most importantly, the students. How can we all work together to make sure our schools never end up on the evening news?

My son will graduate in a few short months. He should be focused on his grades and getting ready for college in the fall. He should be thinking about prom, graduation, his birthday celebration and plans for the weekend. Instead, he is planning how to strategically take down an assassin in the halls of the very place he should go every day to feel safe, and concentrate on his future.

Hearing my son talk about his affluent high school like a warzone really made me realize how much trouble our kids are in. I’m proud of our school district for taking time out to make sure they’re doing all they can to keep our kids safe. I just hope they’re going beyond rules and procedures, and getting to the heart of the human element of this kind of violence.

The schools can’t do it alone, and they don’t need our thoughts and prayers. They need our support, and our candid conversation. They need us to be active and engaged in our kids’ lives, and the lives of their friends- to be present enough to know if they are struggling with something. They need us to show up, and talk to our kids about the hard things none of us want to think about.

 

 

 

It’s ok not to be ok.

“Fine.” It’s the superficial answer we give when someone asks how we’re doing today.

“Fine.” It’s the word we choose to describe something when we don’t want to get into why it isn’t horrible, but probably could be better.

“Fine.” It’s what we tell ourselves when we don’t want to expend the necessary energy it would take to fix the situation that deep down we are certain is absolutely not “fine”.

“Fine” is part of the mask we wear. It’s the lie we tell ourselves and others when the idea of sharing our true selves feels too heavy. It’s the way we avoid vulnerability, and thereby connection and authenticity. It’s a way we allow our denial to suppress our truth and keep us from becoming all we were meant to be.

I wasted far too many years trying to convince myself and everybody around me that I was “fine” when I was dying inside. I worked so hard hide my bleeding wounds, I could never heal them. They just festered under the surface until I was ready to get real and face them.

We live in a culture that makes us feel like perfection is the only acceptable standard. Perfection is all around us- look at any nearby screen and you’ll see it. But, it goes beyond the photo shopped images we’re bombarded with. Just looking perfect is not enough. We’re expected to have our shit together at all times, too.

Vulnerability is seen as weakness. Admitting that things aren’t perfect can be the hardest thing to do when we are programmed to be positive all the time. I’m here to tell you that expressing painful emotions is not negative. We have a right to our emotions- good, bad, and ugly. It’s not negative to express how you feel honestly. But, unfortunately, people usually just can’t handle that level of realness.

Why?

Well, we learn it from the time we are small children. When we whine, cry, criticize, or lament the cruelties of our lives as children, there is always an adult around to tell us to stop crying and get our shit together. They shush us. They tell us that what we need or want in that moment is not important. They tell us to be good little girls and stop complaining. To take what we’re given and not ask for more. And, we carry those lessons with us for the rest of our lives.

Essentially, we learn to put the comfort of others above our own needs, desires, and feelings. That’s what we learn from the adults who shush us when we are little.

Then, when things get tough, we take over where our grown ups left off- telling ourselves to just be grateful for the scraps we’ve been given and stop asking for life to give us what we really want. We hold ourselves back, because at the end of the day, we just don’t feel like we deserve anything more.

But, the truth is, we do deserve more. We deserve to have every single thing we desire in this lifetime. We were not born to struggle. We were born to shine. We were not meant to hide our negative emotions. We’re supposed to listen to them, and follow them where the lead so we can find our purpose.

Despite what we are taught, negative emotions are not a bad thing. They are powerful teachers and guides. Without some frustration, anger, irritation or sadness, how would we ever really find our bliss?

Negative emotions help us to determine what we don’t want. And, usually, that’s a huge step toward figuring out what we do want. Without that contrast, how would we ever know which direction to move in our lives? Without some pain, how would we really know where to find pleasure?

Too often, we conceal our negative emotions for the comfort of those around us, and we pretend that everything is fine. Maybe we don’t want to look weak. Maybe we don’t want to burden someone else with our problems. Or, maybe we would rather just stay in the land of sweet, sweet denial where we don’t have to deal with our shit.

But, when we go around pretending that everything is great when it isn’t, we actually rob the people we love of the opportunity to be there for us. We keep our true selves hidden from them and sell them a lie. The fake smile, the small talk, the superficial interaction is really just bullshit. They can never connect with who we are when we are hiding behind our mask of perfection.

But, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and honest, we create more depth in our friendships. Being authentically who we are can only create space for others to be authentically who they are. When we share our imperfections, pain, mistakes, regrets, and dreams with another human being, it often inspires them to share with us as well. This is the foundation of an honest, loving supportive relationship.

Our masks may feel like little security blankets, but really, they can only push people away and keep us from the sincere connections we so desperately crave.

At the end of the day, it’ ok not to be ok.

It’s good, healthy, and honest to express our emotions for what they are. And usually, when we open up and share those scary things, someone is waiting to help us see our way out of whatever hole we’ve imagined ourselves into. Real connection begins with the courage to drop our masks and share what’s going on with us just beyond our “fine”.

 

 

Photo: Odd Stuff Magazine

The Intuitive Language of our Dreams

I was sailing a small boat out on the ocean, alone. Except, I wasn’t really alone. Another small vessel followed closely behind me. It approached the side of my boat, and I walked over to say hello.

On the other vessel, was my ex-husband. He reached a hand out toward me, I took his hand, and we held onto each other for a moment. Our boats moved easily beside one another. The water was peaceful and still. We stayed in that moment until something caught my attention over his shoulder.

I looked past him, out into the water that surrounded us, and saw a group of orcas approaching. Excited, I pointed to them and told him to look. I was in complete awe of the beautiful creatures.

“We’ve got to get out of here!” he shouted, scrambling to adjust his sails.

But, I didn’t want to leave. I walked to the back of my boat to lean over the side, where the orcas greeted me. One by one they took turns jumping up out of the water to meet my outstretched hands. I would caress the enormous creatures, and kiss each one that rose from the water to connect with me. My boat spun in a gentle circle, as the giants swam around me. It was a magical experience. I felt completely at peace there in my little boat, surrounded by killer whales.

When I glanced up to see if he was watching the amazing thing that was happening, he was gone. His boat was disappearing into the horizon where the sun was beginning to set. In his fear, he ran away, and missed out on an incredible experience.

This powerful dream came to me not long after our divorce. We were still navigating our new normal, and creating new boundaries. I was getting reacquainted with myself after years of being only wife and mother. To say that I was right in the middle of an identity crisis would be an understatement. That’s why I was so grateful for the clarity that came with these amazing symbols.

In our dreams, water is often symbolic of emotional and spiritual cleansing. It is also an indicator of the emotional climate of a situation in our waking life. The calm, peaceful water in my dream was showing me that there was no need to fuss or fight about anything. I could just stay in the flow of my life and allow things to unfold until my transformation and healing were complete. I didn’t have to do anything to bring the orcas to me. The ocean brought them to me when I needed them, the same way that life seems to always deliver exactly what I need when I’m tuned in and allowing myself to receive it.

Being the captain of my own sailboat was huge. It showed me that I had taken control of- and responsibility for- my own life and choices. After years of being bound together in an unhappy marriage, we were free to be individuals again. When he chose to sail away, he didn’t try to drag me along with him, and I did nothing to make him stay. When he left, I was surrounded with love and protection, sent to me by the ocean itself. I was never alone, there was nothing to fear, and life was spectacular.

I felt the orcas rising up out of the water to connect with me was symbolic of the reconnection that was happening inside. I was getting to know myself again, connecting my emotional and physical bodies more soundly to each other. I was becoming aware of my own connectedness to the universe, and the other beings who inhabit it. I was expanding, becoming aware of something much larger than myself.

I knew when I woke that morning that our friendship would soon end. And, though that was not what I wanted, I trusted that it was the right thing. I knew that I would be completely supported through that transition, and just as the ocean sent the whales to me, life would continue to supply everything I needed. When he eventually started to pull away, I let go, and let our twenty-year friendship die.

Through the death of our friendship, I found a truth I’d not considered while I was clinging to it. To be friends with him, meant continuing to wear the mask I wore in our marriage. It meant bending to fit his expectations of me, and trying to keep him happy. To be friends with him, I would have to give up being my own best friend, and go back to the people pleasing, weak woman whose soul atrophied almost into oblivion while in his care.

It was time for me to let go of the attachments I had formed in the early days of our separation when we made promises from a place of fear and pain. It was unfair, unkind even, to make promises to each other in that emotional state. The things we promised were not realistic, an in the end, I realized how unhealthy it would have been for me to continue holding onto that friendship.

I was grateful for that dream, because it helped me prepare for the final cutting of our emotional ties to each other. In my heart, I know that I could only be a reminder to him of the man he didn’t want to be. His fear of that truth made him run away over and over until I stopped trying to pull him back. Watching his little boat disappear and feeling completely at peace was so incredibly powerful. I knew that I would be ok without him, after what seemed like a lifetime of believing that he was somehow necessary for my survival. When I got really honest about our relationship, I was shocked at how truly toxic we were together. What was I holding onto?

Our dreams can bring us all kinds of important messages about our waking lives. Often, our subconscious mind speaks to us in dreams when our conscious mind is not ready to process something, or if we’re ignoring or avoiding something that needs our attention. If we take time to listen, and study our dreams, we can learn a lot about ourselves. Sometimes, we can even predict how a situation will work out, or see the outcome that would be best for us. The more we trust these messages, the stronger our intuition becomes.

PhotoPixabay

 

Stop the ride- I’d like to get off now

I am sensitive. I know this about myself. I’ve done my best to insulate myself from the cruelties of life. I don’t watch television. I don’t read the news. When something terrible happens in the world, I don’t run out and consume all the footage, facts, and sound bites. I prefer to keep my brain, and my heart, free from all the suffering of the world.

Unfortunately, it’s just not possible for me to completely avoid current events, politics, and all the ways human beings hurt each other and the world around them.

Here’s the thing- even when I’m not out actively seeking the news, when I’m really trying to stay over here in my zen little lane- the damn news is everywhere.

I used to think that watching the news, reading up on current events, and so on made me a “well informed citizen”. What it actually made me was afraid. Afraid of terrorists, and anthrax, and nuclear weapons. Afraid of the swine flu, and Islam, and bombs people made in their shoes to take on airplanes.

I was afraid of lots of invisible enemies I didn’t even know I had.

Left unchecked, fear can become a powerful force in our lives. When we live in constant fear, we are not able to make choices that reflect our true nature, which is always love.

Fear is the antithesis of love– the two cannot exist in the same space. Fear literally silences the still small voice inside us, disconnecting us from our internal guidance. In that space we are in survival mode everyday- like sitting ducks just waiting for the next bad thing to happen.

If we allow fear to be our ruler for a long period of time, it will eventually turn into anger. The anger comes from frustration, feeling powerless, and the anxiety of always feeling unsafe in our environment.

This anger, eventually will turn to hate– and thanks to the media- there are plenty of readymade enemies for us to direct that hate toward.

This creates a cycle of being afraid because bad things are happening, then more bad things happen because people are afraid.  It’s like a merry-go-round of fear, anger, hate, and unthinkable acts that create more fear.

Without actively seeking the news this week, I know that another black man has lost his life senselessly at the hands of white law enforcement. I know that there is social unrest and rioting in Charlotte, North Carolina. I know that people are hurt, and angry, and afraid.

I saw an article on social media today, that said watching the footage of racial violence is giving people Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People literally feel as if they are living in a war zone, right here in their own homes.

I’m a middle aged, white, woman. I have a professional job, I drive a little SUV, and even though I am covered in tattoos- the police never bother me. I didn’t have to teach my white son how to survive a routine traffic stop- it never occurs to me that the local police would harm my child. These luxuries are afforded me, not according to merit, but because of my pale complexion.

Even the presidential election this year has turned into a big fear circus. We have to vote for this one, because of that one gets elected it will ruin America– so, go to the polls, hold your nose, and select the steaming pile of horsesh#t that somehow seems slightly less terrible than the other. For what?

You’ll get your little sticker with the stars and stripes on it that says, “I voted”. But, will anything change? What, exactly are we voting for?

How can we stop the violence, the hatred, the ignorance– all the things that come from this perpetual fear?

I wish I had an easy answer. I wish I could just toss a great big handful of hippie dust up in the air and magically make everyone return to their natural state of love.

I wish we could replace anger and hate with acceptance and understanding. I wish every person in America could feel truly free. I wish fear would vanish from our world. I have to believe that this is possible. The alternative is just too sad for me to face.

In a world full of noise, where the loudest voice wins– I will shout love from the rooftops.

No matter how hard the media tries to make me fear my earthly neighbors, I will embrace them as divine, eternal souls sharing this human experience with me. This is the only way to stop the fear machine, and begin to live in freedom and peace with one another.

MLK said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Fifty years later, this has never been more true. We have to get off the fear machine, and learn to love one another.

 

Photo: Public Domain Photos

The Woman Behind the Words

Renee Dubeau is a passionate raconteur from Nashville, Tennessee. She is a lover of all creatures, a dreamer, rebel, and unapologetic supporter of underdogs everywhere. She is an avid reader, an outspoken feminist, and devoted mother of two little humans and a French Bulldog.

 Renee began blogging years ago to document all the crazy things that happened in her hometown in rural Michigan. As she has grown as a woman and a writer, her work has shifted from mostly humor to more serious spiritual and social issues.

 Renee’s insatiable fascination for the human condition keeps her inspired and searching for new ways to explain why we do what we do. In addition to writing, she enjoys yoga, dance, art of all kinds, gardening, cooking, and playing outside. Her favorite color is turquois and her favorite food is cheese. Every cheese.

 Renee’s main goal is to inspire people, and help them see their own perfection, worth and potential. She enjoys talking about all things taboo, challenging stigmas and defying social conventions.  Renee believes in love, magic, hippie dust, miracles and the immeasurable fortitude of the human spirit.

 You can connect with Renee on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, ReneeDubeau.com, and Elephant Journal where she is a Featured Author. She is always ready for a friendly debate, and welcomes your comments and questions.

 

 

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