Monday, September 30, 2013

Dear Congress, Please Behave Like Responsible Adults

I’ve heard a lot of talk about the government needing to operate like a household. Usually when people say this they mean that the government should balance its budget and spend within its limits the way a well-run household does. I’m not going to argue for or against that position right now although I will point out that many well-run households borrow money for various reasons. I borrowed money as a young woman for my education; my husband and I a few months ago borrowed quite a lot of money to purchase our house. There are obvious differences between a government and a home, but let’s go with the metaphor right now. There is a major point about a well-run household that I think people making this variation of a budget argument are missing.

Imagine a household in which the husband and wife disagree about the spending. She thinks he spends too much money while he feels that what he is buying is important and necessary (food, clothes, health insurance, etc…). That sounds pretty familiar to most of us, I would imagine. Now, what should this husband and wife do? Sit down and work it out, right? They should work together to come up with a spending plan that they can both accept. In order to do this they will need to compromise. She will have to allow more spending than she is comfortable with, perhaps, while he may have to forgo some of his purchases. In a well-run household the husband and wife will behave like adults, set aside their egos, demonstrate teamwork and focus on the well-being of the entire household and not their individual desires.

Imagine if the wife said to the husband: I hate your spending so I’m going to stop paying all our bills. I’m going to freeze our bank accounts and default on our credit card payments and mortgage payments. I won’t work with you on a budget unless you agree to stop buying food and health insurance for our kids. I don’t care that we’ll be hungry and homeless and that our credit will be ruined and that if the kids get sick we won’t be able to afford medical care. You have to do things my way. I hate your spending so much I’ll wreck this family rather than let you continue. What would you think?

You’d think she was crazy. You’d think her priorities were misplaced. You’d think that the cost of wrecking her family and their financial stability was far too high a price to pay for getting her way. You would be completely right. Which is why our government is completely wrong. Failure to pass a budget is a failure to do the job for which our congress was elected. Hinging the passing of a budget or the raising of a debt ceiling to one issue that does not have majority support is childish, like a three year old having a temper tantrum in an effort to force her parents to let her have her own way.

We need responsible government right now, which means congressmen and congresswomen who will sit down and make compromises, keeping as their priority the well-being of the entire nation. We need less focus on re-election and scoring political points and issues of ego and who’s in charge and more focus on getting the business of government done. The business of government is to do the things that are too big for us to do as individuals. Yes, that takes taxes. I’ll pay mine gladly in order to have good roads, police and fire departments, an education for my daughter, support for scientific research, a strong military, fair enforcement of laws and standards on businesses, health care for those who can’t afford it (because honestly, we’re paying for it one way or another), funding for the arts, safe air travel, a stable and inspected food supply, the rule of law instead of the rule of might, and all the other things government does for us. Things that let me go about my life with my family feeling secure and confident. That’s what it means to live in a well-run nation. That’s the nation I want to live in.

I’m sending letters to my representatives and my senators this morning. I think our congress needs to be reminded to do the job we elected it to do. If you agree with me that government needs to be managed responsibly, I encourage you to do the same. If you don’t know who your congressperson is, you can find him or her on this website and even send an email through the site Let’s remind our congress that government needs to be run by responsible adults.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Vaccination - Just Do It!

This isn't the post I woke up thinking I would write. I thought I would write about the changing seasons and enjoying end of summer/beginning of autumn with my family. I was planning to wax poetic about my daughter crunching through leaves and our last of summer cookout with corn on the cob and s'mores and the pleasure of open windows and no air-conditioning.

Instead I woke up and read this article from a friend's Facebook link: So this morning I am writing about vaccination too, because I agree with what this writer said. Those of us (the majority) who are vaccinating our children do need to speak up and let other parents know that this is the safest, sanest thing to do as a parent. It's the best thing for your child, because the disease that vaccination prevents are potentially fatal: measles, influenza, polio, hepatitis B, diptheria, tetanus, h. flu which is a bacteria that causes meningitis can and do kill people, and children are more vulnerable. The idea that your child will be protected because other parents vaccinate (herd immunity) isn't working so well anymore, because so many people are making a choice not to have their children vaccinated, so don't count on that to protect your kids. When vaccinations rates drop then more people get sick with these diseases, which increases the chance that an unvaccinated child will be exposed. It also increases the risk of exposure to our neighbors who are cancer patients, organ transplant patients, and babies still receiving their initial vaccinations who are in even more danger if they are exposed to these diseases. This is a big deal to me, because I work in a hospital. These very ill people aren't an abstract concept - they are real people that I have met and cared for. They don't deserve to be put at risk.

Vaccinations are much, much safer than the alternative of getting the diseases in question. Most vaccines have side effects (like any medicine) but typically these are fever and soreness and will get better after a few days. The most severe potential side effect is an allergic reaction to the vaccine, which occurs less than one in 100,000 times someone is vaccinated. There is no link between vaccination and autism. The doctor who wrote the report that initially proposed that link falsified his data, intentionally, for the purpose of his own financial gain.  Autism is a terrible disorder which needs more research so that we can better understand both the cause and the treatment. The symptoms do tend to become more obvious around the age of one, which is when most children receive the MMR vaccine, but this is a correlation, not a causation. The symptoms of autism become more obvious around age one because it is around the age of one that children should be learning to speak and speech delay is a major symptom of autism. It's also because around age one children learn to walk, which means they can get around independently AND reach/carry/pull objects at the same time. The potential for behavioral problems dramatically increases because now a child is more capable of enacting behavior. But you can see symptoms of autism earlier than age one; the symptoms are just more subtle, like refusal of eye contact or lack of engagement with other people.

My daughter is vaccinated, and she's educated about vaccines. She understands that she gets shots which hurt "just a few seconds" in order to protect her from germs that could make her sick. I will make sure she gets all the vaccines she needs, for as long as I can control that decision. Because there is so much I can't protect her from in this world, but this is something I can do. I can take advantage of the incredible gift of science to keep her from getting some of the disease that take children away from their parents.

At the end of this week my husband, daughter and I will engage in another of our autumn rituals. This one isn't as fun as crunching leaves or cookouts, but it's much more important for our health. We'll go get our flu shots together, so that we can be protected for another season. I hope to see you at the doctor's office.

Friday, September 27, 2013

I Need to Sleep!

If I could change just one thing about myself, I think I would change my sleep patterns. The reason I would pick this is I believe if I could change my sleep patterns I would buy back enough time in the day to tackle all the other things I would like to work on for myself. In a book by one of my favorite fantasy writers the main character goes to a Chinese herbalist and receives a tea that lets her obtain 8 hours worth of rest in 4 hours sleeping time. As a bonus, it increased the amount of energy she needed so she could eat more. Now that’s my idea of a fantasy!
 I am one of those people who really, truly needs 8+ hours of sleep every night. I can get by for a few days on 7, but I start feeling it and getting headaches before a week is up. I can function for about one day on 6 but only if I have been getting enough sleep before that. On those nights when I get five or less I make it through the next day groggy, aching and irritable. I typically use weekends to catch up on sleep, or at least I did before becoming a parent. Honestly, I am still not sure how I made it through internship when I regularly worked for 30 hours or more in a row. Perhaps it worked out because I was younger then, or perhaps the anxiety of the situation kept me going. Ditto making it through the earliest weeks of parenthood; I think I was just so jazzed about having a baby that I was able to cope. It also helped that my daughter seems to have inherited my sleep needs and started sleeping through the night early on.
To add insult to injury, I am not a morning person. I never have been. I can remember being a young child and my mother waking me up by pulling me up to sitting and hugging me and rubbing my back for 10-15 minutes until she was sure that I would not fall asleep again. When I started using an alarm clock to wake myself up I started struggling with being a few minutes late to everything. All through high school, college, medical school and residency training I played games with my alarm clock to try to be on time. I’m the person who sets her clock 10-20 minutes fast, and I have to change it periodically so I don’t adapt too much. I’m the person who will hit snooze 10 times before I finally get out of bed. Yes, I’ve been told that isn’t good sleep, but it sure feels good to me to spend that extra time in dreamland. And even when I get up in plenty of time, I find myself distractible and unfocused enough for the first hour after waking up that I have trouble getting myself out the door on time.
This is a profound mismatch with my chosen career as a doctor, particularly a doctor who works in a hospital. I have learned that hospitals seem to be run by morning people, or at least it is morning people who are establishing the schedules. I would, if given my choice, prefer to work from 11am until 8pm or so and then stay up until midnight and sleep in until 9am. This is not at all compatible with the hours my hospital requires. I routinely have 8am meetings and so ideally I need to be at work by 7:45am at the latest.
All of this leads to pinch points in my life. Morning exercise doesn’t work for me. Actually, morning anything pretty much doesn’t work for me on a consistent basis – exercise, meditation, bible study and prayer… it all falls victim to my wish for more sleep. I keep my hair and makeup super simple and my work clothes border on casual. My daughter looked at me one morning and told me I was wearing play clothes and insisted I change my outfit. She’s three, mind you! I limit myself to items that are no-iron and easy to grab out of my closet and wear a white coat at work as a quasi-uniform. I dream sometimes of looking like one of my colleagues, who is always dressed very fashionably and professionally with perfect hair and makeup, but I’ve come to realize that it’s just not going to be. Most days, using all my tricks and keeping things simple, I make it to work just barely on time. Which I really dislike, because I don’t think it’s professional or a good example, but haven’t yet managed to change on a consistent basis. I’ve been fortunate that my willingness to work hard and stay late when needed have always made up for my lack of early arrivals, but it would be nice to be that person who arrives 30 minutes early and starts the day completely organized.
I feel this mismatch in my life especially strongly after a stretch like the past twelve days, when I have been on call and working every day and getting less sleep overall (and more stress). Thank heavens it is Friday today and tomorrow I can sleep in (well, three year old permitting, anyway) and take it easy in the morning. I’m telling you, I need to sleep!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wanting Mindlessness

Mindfulness disciplines teach that the best way toward happiness is to be present with unhappiness in an open, accepting and curious way. For example, tonight when I’m feeling really worn out mindfulness suggests that I be open to this. That perhaps I could engage in a mindful body scan and notice what that tiredness feels like in different parts of my body, and what other feelings are associated with it, and then just quietly, calmly sit with them. The analogy is to sit with them the way a parent might sit with a child who has awoken from a nightmare; the feelings should be held tenderly and not pushed away. The goal of the practice is not to get rid of the feelings, although often this kind of gentle awareness does result in the feelings lessening and dissolving, but just to be present to and non-judgmental of our own experience.

This contrasts with our usual efforts to get rid of our negative feelings. Most of us, when feeling sad, fearful, angry or shamed, become alarmed on a biological as well as an emotional and cognitive level. We have modes that we activate to try to get rid of these unpleasant feelings, which are usually patterns of reaction that we have learned and practiced over and over again through our lives. Some of us try to think and analyze our feelings to death: “Why do I feel this way? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with my life? What do I need to change?” Some of us try to ignore those feelings completely, pushing them out of awareness which usually results in the feelings going down into the body, creating headaches, backaches, nausea, and a host of other physical symptoms. Some of us just try to escape our feelings, using whatever means best suits our personalities and experiences: food, drugs, gambling, sex, exercise, television, books, work are all common tools people use to stay away from those yucky feelings. Many of us (including me) use a combination of strategies to do battle with our feelings. Mindfulness feels counter-intuitive; who wants to bring awareness and attention to things that don’t feel good?

I came home from work tonight completely wiped out. It was a rough week last week, I was on call and worked over the weekend, and it’s shaping up to be a busy week this week as well. I'm grumpy, I'm achy and I'm tired. What really sounds good to me is to sit on the couch downstairs, put my feet up, grab some snacks, watch television shows with happy endings, knit and not think about anything. Essentially, what I want is the opposite of mindfulness. I want to be mindless for a while. I know from experience that it will only make me feel better for a short while, while I’m in front of the TV. Then later I will feel more tired and even less enthusiastic about the work week. Also, if I follow through with the snack part of the plan, I will feel bad about eating when I wasn’t actually hungry. I know from many past experiences that mindlessness doesn’t really work, but that’s still what my brain defaults to wanting.

So I’m trying a hybrid plan tonight. I did lay down and do a body scan for about 15 minutes, bringing my kind attention to different parts of my body and my emotions. I invited my daughter to practice with me, which I remind myself gives me many more opportunities for my attention to wander and come back to the practice at hand as well as giving my daughter and I more time together. However, I am going to go downstairs and watch TV and work on my current knitting project next. I am trying to finish a hat and mittens for my daughter before it gets cold. I could knit mindfully (there are books about this, actually) but I’ll be honest. Even after my mindfulness practice, I’m just ready for an escape. I guess that’s what it means when you’re in transition and learning something new. You try out the new things but you aren't quite ready yet to let go of the old. And I guess that's something I can be open to and accepting of as well - mindful even in my mindlessness! 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Full Moon Blues

I really believe that people (including, or maybe especially me) are crazier when the moon is full. I know it’s unscientific and an old wives tale but in my experience it bears out that my roughest workdays are full moon days. This week the full moon was on the 19th, and the 18th-20th have been really, really challenging. It doesn’t help that I’m on call, so I’m not even getting away from it in the evening. I told my husband this evening that from now on I’m checking the phases of the moon before I sign up for call.

I say this in part because I’m feeling bad about an interaction I had at work earlier. It had been a very, very busy day with a number of frustrations and so when I got a call around 3pm that there was yet another patient in the emergency room and that the patient was not suicidal and not homicidal and only there because of a relationship problem and wanting some counseling I felt frustrated.

If you don’t already know, the ED is not the right place to go for counseling. If you are in crisis, if you are suicidal, if you are homicidal, if you or a loved one is hallucinating or delusional, then yes, please come to the ED. Please come right away and let us help you stay safe and get to the next step in care. But the ED is not a good place for counseling. It’s noisy, it’s busy, you’re likely to wait a long time, and you’ll be seen by someone who won’t be following up with you so you’re just going to have to tell your story all over again anyway later when you get referred to a counselor who will see you long-term. That said, if you show up to the ED in my hospital looking for counseling, you will get seen and the ED physician will page the on call behavioral health staff to come talk to you. Which is what happened this afternoon.

I got the call to the ED through another person and I went down to the ED to see the patient. I ran into the person who had paged us and I gave him a bit of a hard time, stating that while I was there to do the consult I wasn’t happy because it really wasn’t an emergency. He got really mad at me (I think maybe more mad then my comment called for, but I shouldn’t have said it) and then walked off. A few minutes later I approached him and apologized and said, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have given you a hard time.” He grunted something at me and wouldn’t look at me, so I have the impression he’s still mad. And I feel bad about that, because I try really hard to get along with people in my hospital and to be professional even when I’m under stress. And I feel bad because I know I will work with this person again in the future, and I need to have a decent working relationship with him. But like I said, it’s been a super rough couple days and I think I get affected by the full moon too.

I’m trying to think about this the way I would talk to a patient about it. I’m reminding myself that I’m not perfect and that I can’t expect myself to never have a bad day. I’m reminding myself that I did show up to see the patient and that I saw many other patients today and hopefully did some good. I’m reminding myself that I’ve had many good interactions with this person, and if he can’t cut me a little slack one time, especially after I apologize, then the problem and fault lies more with him than with me. (Although I’ve also had that experience – someone holding a long term grudge against me and treating me badly because of a negative interaction that followed many good ones – and it still feels terrible even though I know it is the other person’s problem and not mine.) I’m reminding myself that I’m just not in control of what another person thinks or feels; I can only be responsible for my own behavior.

I’ll be honest. It helps, some, but I still feel bad. So I think I’ll be more careful about avoiding call on weeks with a full moon.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Decorating Thank You Notes

I love being able to combine two activities into one. I end up feeling clever and efficient. Tonight my combination activity was having my three year old daughter decorate the thank you notes I wrote on her behalf. I felt particularly good about this activity because it combines two of my parenting goals: teaching my daughter to be respectful, considerate and grateful and engaging her in creative activities.

I am a person who writes thank you notes. I think they are important and I like receiving them myself, although I have been told they are old-fashioned. That’s okay. My mother always made me write thank you cards promptly when I was growing up. She explained that if someone took the time, money and trouble to send you a present you could take the time and trouble to write them a note saying thank you. I agree with that. So now I make an effort to write them both for myself and for my daughter, and when she is old enough to write I will make her write her own. I think gratitude and consideration for others are key disciplines for a good life and any opportunity to practice these skills is useful.

I also really enjoy doing crafts with my daughter. Even better, she enjoys doing them with me. It’s gotten to the point that she’ll say to me “Let’s do crafts, Mommy!” which warms my heart. We have gone on shopping expeditions to our local arts and crafts store to stock up on materials (mostly stickers, paint, stamps and paper) which we keep in our craft box so we are ready to get creative on a moment’s notice. I’ve always loved arts and crafts stores but restrained myself because I didn’t have a good use, storage space, practical reasons, etc… to buy craft materials. Plus I didn’t have anyone to shop with (my husband, like most men I think, not finding any appeal at all in an arts and crafts store), and half the fun of shopping is doing it with someone else. Now I have a great excuse (I’m nurturing my child’s creativity! And her fine motor skills!) and a craft store shopping partner. My three year old and I carry our baskets through the store together (okay, she drags hers) and pick out items for future projects and she tells me she wants to pay (which I need to record and play back for her when she is a teenager!) and I explain that she didn’t bring her money and she hands me her invisible pretend money and I say thank you. I’m sure we provide massive entertainment for everyone else, but we’re having fun so it’s okay.

“Crafts” is usually our special mother daughter activity on weeknights when my husband goes out with friends. A few weeks ago we made a special toy jar for some of her little plastic figurines by decorating an empty pretzel barrel with stickers, drawings and contact paper. We have a plastic pumpkin to decorate in October and we’ll carve real ones this year when it is closer to Halloween. And tonight our fun craft activity was writing thank you notes. We found some plain notes and I wrote them out for her, and then she decorated them. My husband did actually help us with this, which was good since paint, ink stamps, stickers and a three year old is a combination requiring more adult supervision than I could manage and still write out notes. It all turned out pretty well by my standards: we had fun together, the mess stayed in the kitchen, the notes are written, they are reasonably legible, and they all have some touch of personalization from my daughter.

I hope my daughter will be a person who write thank you notes to others. I hope that she has a life filled with people who bless her in many ways and I hope she recognizes and appreciates that fact. I hope she reaches out to others in kindness and consideration and makes an effort to let others know they matter to her. And I hope over time my daughter’s love for crafts will turn into a creative hobby. Fiber arts (quilting, crocheting, knitting, cross stitch) in particular seem to run in our family, but if she doesn’t inherit that I hope she finds something she loves. I want her to be in touch with a part of herself that is joyful and vital. I attended a seminar through a church once in which a friend demonstrated her craft and spoke about how her own artistry and creativity reflected something of G-D’s nature – how when we create we are participating in our own small way in G-D’s joy in making new things. As I guide my daughter in creating something beautiful with her life, I hope that she remembers decorating thank you notes.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Choosing Hope: A Response to The Navy Yard Shootings

I was at work in my hospital today when my colleague texted me about the Navy Yard shootings. My first reaction was a kind of sick weariness. “Oh, this again?” I think. Followed by “What is wrong with us?” There have been so many public atrocities these past few years, so many people choosing to take their own pain out on strangers.

In one of the email newsletters I subscribe to, a pastor suggested that we all pray. Pray for the victims and family members and coworkers and first responders, of course, but he also reminded us to pray for the perpetrators of the act. This is something we are commanded (well, those of us who are Christians) to do – to pray for, bless and love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us. The pastor observed that what fuels a murderous spree like what happened today is hopelessness, and that hopelessness is something we should respond to with prayer and compassion.

I suspect that mass murders are more complicated than that, to be honest, but after thinking about it I do agree that hopelessness is probably a big part of it. I don’t know, but I suspect that a person has to be at a point of not believing that there is anything good in the world or anything worth living for before they can decide to shoot or bomb dozens of other people. That is a terrible place to be. I’ve written before about hope as a choice and perhaps a duty we all have – to keep faith with the world, our communities, our own lives by choosing to believe that things can improve and that our efforts can make a difference.

I see hope in the world. I see it in the faces of my friends, who come from different countries and different religions and different backgrounds but who are all willing to come together in fellowship at my home, just for the joy in each other’s company. I see hope in the bins of recycling that my neighbors put out that are sometimes more than the trash we put out the same day. I see hope in the patients I care for, some of whom have already survived atrocities and who keep showing up in their lives, offering love to others and creating beauty. I see hope in the homeless man I met last week, who told me he had just been released from prison and who was putting his life back together again. I see hope in pastors who remind us to pray when we'd rather fight.

Most of all, I see hope in my beautiful daughter and her friends. Most of her friends at this age are the children of my friends, and I see these small people learning to share and to love each other and to show kindness. I see the friendships I treasure and the relationships my friends and I nurture together growing now into a new generation, like a beautiful tree. I see hope in my parents, and my husbands parents and our grandparents as they lavish love on another generation and I know that tree has strong and deep roots.

In the end, I think hope is perhaps the best response I can make to an act of evil. Hope isn’t just wishful thinking. Hope is trusting that when I choose compassion and kindness it makes a difference. Hope is remembering to treat each person I see as someone who is precious, someone who matters and deserves respect and consideration. Hope is the belief that our choices can create a world in which my work in a place of healing won’t be interrupted by news of terror and destruction.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Yom Kippur: A Meditation

This evening marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement in the Jewish faith. It is a day for fasting, repentance, and prayer as we the community repent of our sins. Yom Kippur services open with the evening Kol Nidre service, a hauntingly beautiful service that opens with the Kol Nidre prayer, a prayer that our unfulfilled promises, vows, and renunciations from the past year would be wiped clean so that we may begin again. I attended Kol Nidre services this evening with my husband and father-in-law at the synogogue my husband grew up attending. I stood and sat with tears in my eyes, opening my heart to G-D in the confession of my own failure to be the person I have been called to be.

The rabbi preached his sermon about faith, truth and doubt. I love that he said that doubt should be celebrated, truth sought, and faith needs to leave room for mystery. He talked about how every relationship is filled with doubt, but when the relationship has primacy then doubts are just part of the terrain to be navigated. The important thing is to keep with the relationship, even when things are tough. Be like Job, he said, who never doubted G-D’s existence and stayed engaged even when that engagement meant arguing with G-D.

It’s very like what the pastor said in a church I attended a few weeks ago. He was giving a sermon series on how faith needs to be personal, how the intellectual obstacles get in the way because in the end faith is about being in relationship with G-D. He talked about how every relationship has unanswered questions and unsolved obstacles – getting married, becoming a parent – but when love enters the relationship and it becomes personal the obstacles become smaller. They don’t disappear but they just get brought along into the relationship, part of what gets worked out.

I try to pay attention when I hear two similar messages in close proximity like that. Especially because I think these are really good messages for me, because I tend to think things to death. I make pro/con charts, not just lists. I ask the same questions over and over, poking at issues from different angles. Sometimes it’s little stuff, like what stroller is best or what suitcase should I buy if I choose to replace our luggage or what nightlight timer will best keep our three year old in bed. Pro/con lists and reading reviews online work pretty well for the little stuff, although it takes me longer than I would like sometimes to reach a conclusion. On the other hand, sometimes it’s really big stuff, like should I stay in the same job or should I change churches or should we have another kid. I’ve found that pro/con lists don’t help so much in these big questions. I can think of reasons to do or not do any or all of these things, and the reasons are good. In the end it comes down to relationships for me. I stay in my job because I care about the people I work with, both colleagues and patients. I am choosing to change churches because the one I was attending was so far away I wasn’t able to participate in the life of the community and form relationships. My husband and I probably will have another child eventually because we love each other and our daughter and we want to share that love with another person. 

To bring it back around to Yom Kippur and Kol Nidre, I confess that I am too often distant and intellectual. I am too often stuck in my own head, calculating pros and cons and planning for my own best comfort instead of jumping into full engagment with G-D and the people in my life and the events of this world. I am too often impersonal rather than personal. Perhaps it is hubris to make new vows so soon after asking for nullification of the old ones, but my prayer and promise for myself this year is to allow my relationships to hold their primacy.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Crying For The Moon

There’s an old fairy tale, or maybe a fable, I remember from my childhood storybooks. The story is about a spoiled little girl, a princess of course, who had everything she ever wanted. Then one night she looked up at the sky and saw the moon and decided that she wanted that too. Her father, the king, tried to explain that he couldn’t get the moon for her. The princess started to cry and cry. She stopped eating and stopped sleeping and she became weak and ill. All the king’s advisors tried to explain to her why she couldn’t have the moon but she didn’t seem to hear them. Her maids tried to distract her with her toys and tempt her appetite with her favorite foods, but she turned her face away from them. The princess kept on crying for the moon and gradually became so ill her father was afraid she would die.

Finally, in his desperation, the king sends out a proclamation that anyone who could comfort the princess would be given half his kingdom. Many people came and built odd devices to capture the moon, all of them failing. Many others came to try to reason with the little girl, all without success. In the end, a simple traveler came and instead of chasing the moon or giving lectures he sat down with the princess and listened to her. “What does the moon look like?” he asked her. “How big is it?”

“It is a round golden disk.” she told him. “It is just the size of my thumbnail, for when I hold up my hand my thumbnail covers it in the sky.”

So the traveler went away and fashioned a round golden disk, just the size of the princess’s thumbnail and placed it on a chain for the girl to wear around her neck. He presented it to her with a flourish and she smiled and clapped and asked for something to eat for the first time in weeks. Her father the king was tremendously relieved and rewarded the traveler with half his kingdom.

As a child I don’t think I understood the story, although I did recognize that the little girl was being silly and that the traveler fooled her in some sense. I always wondered what she thought the next time she looked at the sky and saw that the moon was still there. But now I hear a different message in the story. I can think of times in my life that I have been crying for the moon, refusing to be happy because some detail in my life didn’t work out the way I thought it should.

I think that crying for the moon is something we all do, sometimes. We get our hearts and minds set on one particular outcome and insist that nothing else will do. We lose sight of all the good things we already enjoy and make ourselves ill, at least on a mental and emotional level, yearning after what we don’t have. It’s not that we shouldn’t dream. It’s not that we shouldn’t work to improve our lives. It’s not even that we shouldn’t try things that seem like they might be too hard, if those things seem worthwhile. It’s just that we shouldn’t lose sight of the good we do have in our lives. We shouldn’t forget to laugh and eat and enjoy our blessings while we listen to our hearts to figure out what the moon really means to us. We shouldn’t stop living while we work to obtain our dreams.