Category Archives: compassion
The temperatures are dropping and the wind is gusting. The cold and damp are fitting for the season, they set the mood. There are ghosts walking.
I am at that age where parents die in clusters. This is the way of things, of course, but that doesn’t make it easy. I worry about my own parents as they approach their “end years”. I see that gradual decline isn’t so gradual any more. It’s getting harder for them to keep up, to get by, to get things done.
This year in particular I find myself trying to offer comfort to friends whose loss simply can not be consoled. Grief comes in waves, it takes its own time. Those “stages” are neither sequential nor independent. They can come in any order, repeatedly and sometimes all at once. And I take those phone calls. I listen. I witness. Sometimes that’s enough.
I’m looking for comfort too. I want to escape in a good book. I want a fire in the fireplace. I want a pot of soup on the stove. For my ancestors those things were just part of the days. Now I can go to the grocery store and buy mirepoix, precut and measured. (I didn’t, but I can.) Bone broth is on the shelf in boxes because much of our meat is already removed from the bones. Soup is no longer the ever present cauldron, but a can in the pantry.
Baking is part of that comfort factor as well. A good bread, warm from the oven, and I can feel myself relax into the smell. Pop-up biscuits from the refrigerator case do not elicit the same affect.
There is no time for this kind of comfort in most of our lives. We rush through our days, rush through our meals, rush through our grieving and just “get on”. Perhaps the most important part of this season is to make a point and take some time. In most of the U.S. we have an extra hour coming to us this coming Sunday. How are you going to use it?
I’ve said many times that this notion we have of balance is active and not a point of stasis. But sometimes balance is easy, once you get the hang of it, like riding a bike. Other times it’s like crossing a rope bridge on a windy day with a big pack.
This season my experience of balance has been a lot more like the latter example. I’m off, the world is off, my home is off, it’s just crazy. I suspect I took advantage of the little surgery I had to just check out for a bit. Unfortunately that has made getting back on track even more difficult.
On the good side are my kids, my work and a lot of unexpected support. On the rough side is money, time, and overall despondency. I’m frustrated with people who are fixed minded about an issue that they clearly don’t actually understand. I’m frustrated with the vile, demeaning attitudes that people have decided are okay to unleash. I’m frustrated with the notion that being polite and having good judgement are somehow not positive attributes.
Then we do something like attend the Kaposia Gala. This is Orion’s day program and work placement group. I see Ramsey county, being the second county in the country to pass legislation allowing them to directly employ people with disabilities. I see a group of people encouraging young performers who have to work a little harder for clear speech or to get through a piece of music. I sit at a table with people in all manner of dress knowing that they all “dressed up” for the occasion, that what they have on is the best that they have.
When I speak with the disabled community, or those with chronic illnesses, I recognize that we share an understanding outside of “normal” experience. When I spend time talking with members at Gilda’s Club there is an inherent desire to make that most out of what we have. When I find the small things that make me smile I remember how important those small things can be.
So I struggle to stand in my own truth and not be blown over by the winds of the world. I shift and adjust and accommodate and work to hang on to the notion that things can be better. I go back to daily practices of gratitude and just take a moment to recognize all the privilege I have in my life. I may be swaying pretty heavily, but at least I’ve got a bridge.
We, as a nation, are being buffeted about by hurricanes and firestorms, floods and droughts, protests and political manipulations. It’s a scary world out there. Today, September 11, is the anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers in NYC. For many Americans, it was the day we learned what it was to be afraid.
In spite of all that, people persist. They stand up in the winds of change and hardship and continue on with their lives. This morning Orion listed all the people he knows, and there were a lot, who have birthdays today. Forever, their birthday is 9/11. How odd that must be to want to celebrate in a world determined to grieve and remember.
I know the other side too. I understand what it is to be overwhelmed with circumstances and appalled that the rest of the world doesn’t just stop alongside you. I know what it feels like to dig into a huge job, to work, eat, and sleep, and then come up for air and find you’ve lost days, weeks or even months.
Sometimes standing in the wind is taking an opportunity to use a public platform to call out bad behavior, racism, terrorism (thank you Miss Texas Margana Wood even when it might cost you a crown. Sometimes standing in the wind is choosing to skip a few meals this week to buy a birthday cake for your kid with food stamps. Sometimes standing in the wind is getting out of bed in the morning, getting dressed, and doing one of the 100 tasks that have been put off because it just seems too hard.
I know people who are on the front lines fighting fires in the western states. I know people hoping that they have homes to return to on the gulf. I know people who are in the streets day after day fighting against injustice in many forms, in many ways.
We have a culture (white culture) that allows us to take credit, take pride in the work other people are doing. We sit in front of our TV’s watching people standing in the wind and say, “Yes! They are US!” None of us can do all the work. No one can stand in all the storms at once. No one can stand again and again in all the storms. But cheering on the workers and having pride in what others have done isn’t enough.
How can we shift our culture, our attitudes in a way that allows us to truly stand, acknowledge our own storms, our own ability to survive and still reach out and honestly support others? Can we recognize our own work, with strength and pride, and still be grateful for the support we had that allowed us to stand there? Can we encourage people to celebrate and still recognize the work that needs to be done? Can we find a way to come together when the storms rage, and to stay connected when the storm is over?
Facebook has exploded with photos, meme’s, commentary, and disgust at what happened this weekend in Charlottesville. I’ve got friends, People of Color, who are triggered. I would be too. Free speech is one thing, but Hate Speech is not protected under the 1st amendment and this entire rally was about Hate specifically directed at People of Color. They should never have gotten a permit under that premise. Even allowing the ACLU supporting their right to march, they should have been shut down as soon as they showed up with torches and weapons.
The meme’s that truly twist my gut are the one’s that compare the police responses. Charlottesville vs Ferguson (actually, according to some eye-witness responses I’ve read the most aggressive police actions in Charlottesville were against the unarmed counter-protestors.) Charlottesville vs Standing Rock (When the Nazi’s showed up armed where were the high pressure water hoses (in freezing temperatures) and the rubber bullets?). Most terrorist acts in this country have been committed by alt-right, white, males. Why aren’t we more afraid?
Well, some of us are. The problem is that most of the “authority” in this country is also white and male. I guess it’s harder to be afraid of someone who looks like you. People of Color know. None of them are surprised by the way things went down in Charlottesville. Women know too, but we’ve been taught to stay silent, to accept that ‘boys will be boys’.
Being Politically Correct takes a bad rap. But let’s talk about being socially correct. Let’s talk about being kind, civil, caring, thoughtful and considerate. Can we say, “That is NOT acceptable behavior.” when someone is actively trying to hurt someone else? Can we say, “That is a hurtful statement.” when someone says something that may not be intentional but is still not appropriate? Can we say, “Your feelings do not entitle you to hurt someone else.” when someone uses Free Speech as an excuse for Hate?
How often in my life have I remained silent when someone has spouted aggressive, hateful language? How often have I neglected to come to the defense of people I love, who society has marginalized? I have heard comments about People of Color, Gay people, Trans people, Disabled people, People of Faith and I have not always spoken up.
Small excuses lead to big actions. When someone is not called out, it gives them permission to continue. When no line is drawn there is implicit permission to escalate. What happened in Charlottesville is not acceptable behavior. Anyone who can’t see that needs to take a good look at why they support rude, hateful, hurtful, and inconsiderate behavior and recognize that it is supporting that kind of behavior that is truly evil.
My schedule has changed considerably in the past few weeks. My son’s step-mother and I have come to an agreement that scheduling would work better for everyone if the two of us confab and just let the ex know what we’ve arranged. That said, she even offered to return to the original agreement ex and I had when we first split up!
This is huge for everyone. It means Orion will be spending quite a bit more time with his father. It means that it will be easier on both sides to plan weekend events. It also means I may actually have an opportunity for a life outside of being “Mom”.
Orion and I spent the week of 4th of July with my parents. It’s clear they need a little help as they age and I’ve been trying to visit more frequently and for longer periods of time. I missed the trip I’d planned for Memorial Day weekend as I was in bed on heavy duty pain killers. Walking in at my folks I admit to feeling a little guilty for not making it up.
I know what it’s like to not be able to keep up with the day-to-day of living.
My own house is suffering from years of neglect and I’m playing catch up when I can. My parents are now at a point where they also need a boost just to stay even. They didn’t get that when I didn’t show up in May. After I’d been there a day I texted a friend “I think I’ve done more housework since I arrived than I’ve done at my house in the last month!” (I’m not sure if she was shocked about how much I was doing there or how little I’d done at home. LOL)
I don’t want to give the impression I’m doing it all. My sister is a trouper. She’s covering long drives, doctor appointments and scheduling, medications, emergencies and the 30 min. weekly (plus) drop-in to see how things are going. Her new husband has done things like adding grab bars to the bathrooms, helping with deadfall, and maintaining the driveway. He has also committed to shoring up the back porch and gazebo. (I wish I had one or two of him at my house!)
It’s not all work either. I had a lovely chat or two with my Mom. Orion and I got Dad to take us out on the lake in the canoe. Meals are still good (even if I am doing more of the cooking) and Dad still bakes bread. Orion gets his waffles for breakfast and most of the time he and Dad manage ‘bathed and dressed’ without me. (I do lay clothes out the night before.)
I’m grateful that I still have them to visit and that I’m able to be helpful. I’m grateful that they are still managing in their home. I’m very grateful my sister is close by when they need something.
Things change and life moves on. It’s clear we’re all shifting into a new stage. Hopefully we’ll all manage to do this with grace and compassion (and maybe a little fun).
I’ve not been feeling well. That’s why I’ve missed a post (or two). It’s also why I had to cancel my plans for the Memorial Day weekend. Orion and I were going to go up and spend time with my parents. We were all looking forward to it. Unfortunately I wasn’t up for the drive, much less a week in a bad bed.
Instead Orion got to spend the weekend with his father. I got to spend the weekend on pain meds and in pajamas. Not feeling well is boring. I did a little puttering when I felt up to it.
One day I decided I was up to putting in a few of my plants. I have a lot of containers so this isn’t a strenuous task. I was sorting through my “greenhouse” for the tomatillio’s and watering what I was leaving behind. Apparently I was there long enough to panic the poor fawn that was hiding behind the clematis.
I didn’t even notice it (not that I was noticing much anyway) until it ran from its hiding spot. Poor thing had to be scared near to death. Unfortunately it ran to the nearest, darkest, hidey hole it could find. My garage.
Now I had to worry that the little fawn might get hurt climbing amongst the piles. Gardening tools have some sharp edges. Fuel for tiki torches is toxic. Who knows what might slip and slide in that stack of coolers. I gathered my things and went into the back yard, leaving the garage door open.
When evening came I had to make a decision. I wasn’t going to bed with the doors wide open, but I didn’t want to trap the fawn overnight. About 9pm I shut the door and before I went to bed I went into the garage and looked around.
I didn’t see the fawn anymore. I know they are experts at hiding. I know the light wasn’t very good. I crossed my fingers and went to bed.
The next day my daughter came over and dropped off her dog. My daughter is a competent, conscientious, independent young woman. But sometimes when she comes home she’s 6. She came in and left the garage and the house door standing wide open. I only know this because as she was getting ready to go she realized her dog had run out.
Later that afternoon Minnie (the dog) and I took a little walk. When we came back in through the garage I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Damn. The fawn is in the garage. I don’t know if it was there all night or if it came back in the wake of Karina. Minnie didn’t notice it and I wanted to keep it that way.
I left the garage door open. I did put out some water. I also threw some oats along the driveway. I curled back up in my chair (that walk was a lot!) and watched movies for the rest of the evening.
As dusk settled I noticed the light went on in the garage. I have a motion sensor in there. I grabbed the camera and snuck over to the window. Sure enough the fawn was creeping back outside. Then I looked up, as did the fawn.
A happy ending. The pair ran off into the back yard and I immediately shut the garage door. It started raining, heavily, and I returned to my cozy chair and my movie. That was about as much excitement as I could manage for the weekend, but it left a warm feeling. I’m grateful to have been a participant.
Sorry the photo quality is so bad. Most of these are taken at a distance with zoom. Several are through the window, and standing a bit back. But at least you get the gist.
I’ve been listening to some of my friends talk about the notion of acknowledging “Today was a good day”. It’s something that one of them noticed in a series about living in Alaska. People, who are essentially living on the edge of subsistence, finish up their day with that little affirmation, “Today was a good day.”
We speculated about whether this is an Alaska thing. I suggested it might just be something that shifts when you’re living on the edge. I equated it to the Native American “Today is a good day to die.”
My friends are using this affirmation to see if it shifts their world view. They think it does. It changes the way they approach their days. It started me thinking about what makes a day a good day.
I’ve certainly had days where if I managed to get dressed or showered that was a good day. I’ve had days where just being alive at the end of the day meant it was a good day. I’ve had days where I’ve gotten all kinds of things accomplished be a good day. I’ve had days where I’ve been of service be a good day.
It’s interesting to me that there isn’t any kind of personal standard for a good day. I like that. I like that there is room for a good day no matter what kind of shape I might be in. I like that I can have a good day just taking care of me as well as having a good day helping out someone else.
In thinking about a good day there is something that does stand out for me. A good day is active rather than passive. I don’t mean that there needs to be a lot of activity. I can have a good day curled up reading. But there is a big difference between choosing to spend the day reading and sitting down for a break and having the day disappear.
There’s something about a good day that requires attention being paid to the day. A good day demands engagement at some level. Perhaps that is the change my friends are observing. By using the affirmation they find themselves paying more attention to their days. Being more appreciative, living in gratitude for each day, is certainly a positive life change.
Maybe I’ll give this good day thing a try.
I’ve been thinking a lot about support. I’ve looked at some of the ways I give support, the ways I ask (or don’t ask) for support, and about the kind of support I need. I’d like to think I’m aware of how much support I am given in my daily life. I am grateful for that support.
I see more and more posting on social media in judgement of support. Things like, “If you don’t march you can’t say you support the cause.” or “Marching doesn’t do anything, if you really want to support change….” My feed is full of articles about what it means to be an ally, and what it doesn’t. I am watching a heated and emotional battle that demands choosing sides. Once you’ve chosen a side ANY sympathy, compassion, or points given to the other side is a betrayal. There is no room for exploring nuance in that kind of “debate.”
I have often been offered support that really wasn’t very supportive. There are a lot of reasons that happens. Sometimes I’m just not ready to accept support. Sometimes I’m not willing to be vulnerable enough to need support from that particular person. Sometimes it’s help for something I’m quite capable of doing myself (as long as I don’t need to do that other thing I really can’t do alone.) I have been offered support that makes demands of me. I have been offered support that is well intentioned but not in my best interest.
Most of the time I still find a way to be grateful for the intention. However, I have also been known to explode and shut my “supporters” down. Over the years I’ve come to recognize that most people offer support based on their experience. They offer the kind of comfort they would like. They offer the kind of hands on labor they are comfortable with, or skilled at. They present things they have been told worked for other people they know in “the same” shape.
Sometimes people offer support to feed their own egos. Sometimes people are sure they know best, and they won’t listen. But most people are willing and able to have a conversation about support, and what that might look like in any particular situation. The problem is, often when support is necessary the conversation itself becomes too much for the person in need to handle.
Sometimes one of the best ways to be supportive is to be willing to intervene and educate the well intentioned but misguided supporters. I’ve done that. This week I’ve seen that done for me. It doesn’t always help, but it is very much appreciated.
We all need an occasional “time out” to renew our spirits. Often times this is our hope when we take a vacation. It’s clearly a goal when we go on a retreat. But what may serve to renew us can vary from person to person and even across an individual’s lifetime.
I have known for a long time that I’ve needed a “get-away”. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to travel and take a break from the daily grind. Unfortunately for my renewal meter they haven’t really helped. Most of the traveling I’ve done in the past 5 years has been to promote my writing. They’ve been working vacations. I may not have had Orion along, I may have gotten inspired, but I haven’t had that sense of renewal.
I’ve been looking at a “real” vacation for awhile now. I had plans to go to Italy last fall, but they went by the wayside as I’ve been struggling to find a way to do home repairs. I haven’t given up. I’m still studying the language. But I also know that if I’m going to spend that kind of money I want to take time. If I take enough time then I also need to take Orion. That’s great for travel, but it’s not renewal.
As a birthday present to myself I gave myself a long weekend. Orion went to his Weekend Ventures retreat with Reach for Resources and to his Dad. I just had to figure out what I needed to do to find that renewal.
I tossed around driving or flying. How far could I go on my limited budget? Did I really want to spend the little time I had in transit? I looked at AirBnB I looked at package deals, I looked at the weather.
Historically my renewal/retreat weekends have involved a small (cheap) cabin in the woods, a fireplace, breakfast included and a kitchen for the rest of my meals. I’ve sat on porches and sipped coffee. I’ve curled up in the sunshine and read books. I’ve taken short walks in the woods. I’ve been alone long enough to get past the list of “shoulds” and into the bottled up emotions of my life.
Those options just aren’t available anymore. All the places I used to go have gone out of business. Any places I could still go seemed a little more structured, or a little more primitive, than I wanted. Even visiting my parents house (which used to be a cheap get-away) has become focused on helping them out. I can’t just sit and read undisturbed, or take a long soak in the tub.
Staying at home became more appealing, but I know myself well enough to recognize I’ve had plenty of weekends home without Orion that were not about renewal. It’s very easy to be distracted at home. It’s very easy to do the things that NEED to be done rather than the things that WANT to be done. It’s also very easy to bury my head to avoid the whole issue.
So I made an attitude adjustment plan. I know if I keep a fire going it shifts my focus. I know if I stay off the computer (read internet) I’m less likely to waste my time off. I know if I prepare ahead I can eliminate any URGENT household tasks.
So I cleaned the bathroom, changed the sheets on the bed, went to the grocery store and had a lovely renewal weekend at home. I did get on the internet, but it was to write book reviews because I felt like writing. I did light a fire one evening, but only because I really wanted to have that grounding task. I took several long leisurely baths – book in hand. I even took a walk. I didn’t take phone calls, didn’t check email, didn’t read Facebook.
It was different than a retreat, but in some ways it was better. Now I know I can have a renewal in my own home. I can make choices that are about taking care of myself rather than just indulging the whim of the moment. I can make myself get out the door just because it’s a nice day.
Those insights alone make taking a break well worth while!
There is a lot of research being done about the “information bubble” or more specifically “filter bubbles”. The idea is that our view of the world is being filtered so that the only information we receive (from social media) is information that will not challenge our existing world view. It certainly does happen, and it can be an issue especially for those people who tend towards highly biased, badly vetted, and heavily self- referential information sources.
Many of us are aware these sources exist. Many of us are not aware of how many of them we follow. Because we agree with them they seem reasonable. There bad sources coming from ALL points of view. Liberal, conservative, religious, fiscal, civil rights, you name a point of view and there is someone on the internet writing (loudly) with no basis in actual facts.
On the other hand there is the world we walk in. This is the world where we are not umbilically attached to our electronic media. It is a place where people talk to strangers. The “real world” is where we have to get along with our co-workers. We can’t be anonymous in this place when we shut up, stand up and sometimes get blindsided in our interactions with actual human beings.
I talk to strangers. I chat in line at the grocery store. I comment on reading material in the waiting room. I drive for those ap based services and sometimes the passengers are up for conversation. I also listen to stories from those strangers and from my friends about their experiences. Sometimes they’re not friendly.
So what do we do when we are trapped in a conversation (on an airplane, in a doctors office) and suddenly it takes a turn. The pleasant person we are talking to starts: quoting “fake news”, promoting a religious viewpoint we can’t support, making racist or sexist assumptions, belittling “my people”? What do we do when the person who was a work friend is suddenly assuming we agree with them about a political viewpoint we find abhorrent? What do we do when the customer we are serving starts spouting hate speech?
Those situations shake us up. They make us question both our positions and our responses. They can be threatening when they are clearly directed at us. They can be threatening AND unnerving when we find ourselves “passing” instead of being representative of our group. These kinds of occurrences seem to be happening more frequently, and more aggressively. I think part of that is the “filter bubble”. Strong language against another group can be “acceptable” within the filter, and so it is unquestioned in the world.
But when that world comes at us with active hatred we need to find some time with “our people”. We need that sanctuary to regroup and reassure ourselves that we are not alone in the world. Unfortunately I’m finding even in the most broad thinking sanctuaries there is little or no compassion for differing viewpoints, and so the aggressiveness becomes justified and reinforced.
Yes, bad behavior should be called out. Yes, we have a right (and often a responsibility) to defend a point of view. We need to remember that someone questioning a position is not the same as someone invalidating our existence.
Bad behavior does not always imply a bad intention. Ignorance (even willful ignorance – which is where my tolerance explodes) is not improved by being demeaning. Someone asking me for my sources is not a “threat”. It’s certainly not a threat equivalent to saying “my people” should be: locked up, thrown out, burned at the stake, not allowed to participate, or somehow “put away”. Defensiveness is not the same as defending a point.
We have the opportunity to practice these skills with “our people”. Let’s do that, instead of just closing those doors and creating another version of “us” and “them”.