Stars, Owls, and Characters

I lay watching the stars late into the night the other night,
listening to an owl hooting softly, somewhere to the north of us,
and listening to my spouse snoozing softly in the delicious cool air on the deck
my mind was busy, but peaceful
the stars, our old and beloved friends, seemed to cast new light on me
and it seemed to me that we have crossed through into a different world

A peace came over me
Despite the chaos in our human world, and all of the work still to be done,
the stars and owls continue to weave their magic

Sometimes it is hard to explain
how much our lives have changed in recent years
When, in January of 2014, the torch was passed onto us
and we became the elders

My great nephew, who was 7,
started coming over every week after school on Tuesdays
He would skip down the road ahead of me on our walk,
run back for a hug,
and then run ahead again chattering as we walked down to the lagoon

We were no longer the adult children with elderly parents.  They were gone.
We were now the grandparents.
This happened just as the calendar clicked over into the new year,

I have tried to articulate how different everything feels now
Our parents being gone, and new little people showing up
Four of them, and another on the way
an entirely new cast of characters.

What I realized that night under the stars
is that I am in a new movie.
The old movie is over and I no longer need things that I was holding onto
I no longer have to prove things,
and I have no desire to remain in a circle where I was never welcome in the first place

The characters, theme, and trajectory of this movie are different from the old one
The stars are the same, and the set is much the same,
but it is a whole new movie
and we are both different in it, too.

Thank God.

Straight Lines

No joke.

La Foce garden croppedThis blog post is about simple truths, or facts, which are clear cut, (straight lines), versus twisted versions of those same events.

Here is an example.

Let’s say your neighbor’s 16 year old son accidentally rear-ends you when you are driving home one night.  Your car is not damaged, so you make no formal report, but you end up with some whiplash, recurring headaches and anxiety about driving.  You tell your neighbor and his son about this.  After a couple of days you talk to your neighbor again, and they respond tearfully and defensively, explaining that their son is hurt and bewildered about the fact that you are upset with him, because he doesn’t even remember the incident.   Your headache just got worse.

I like car metaphors because they are obvious and concrete.

When something bad happens to you at the hands of someone else, like in a car accident or in any other situation, you are not responsible for their feelings when you talk to them or confront them about it.

Perpetrators and people who feel entitled or superior will focus only on their own feelings and needs, and not the feelings and needs of the people they have hurt.  This is another example of how they twist facts and put a spin on them, when the facts are clear cut and straight lined.  An entitled/abusive person will always expect you and others to focus on their feelings, needs and opinions.    That is twisted, and if you follow their “logic” you may begin to feel like your head is spinning.

The fact is that they owe you an apology, at the very least.

If they believe themselves to be entitled or superior, or in other ways “above the law”, it will likely not occur to them that they owe you an apology, since to them it is all about how they feel.  In fact, they may expect you to apologize to them.  Or they might enlist the help of someone to try to get you to change your story.

This doesn’t change the facts, which are clear and straight forward.

As John Adams said, Facts are stubborn things.

Wishing you calm clear thinking.

The Virtue of Intolerance

Sparrow on windmill

When we tolerate something offensive (slavery, sexism, racism) for a long time, we “normalize” it.  We do this as individuals and as a people.  This is what victims do, by the way.  They go along with abuse until they become numb to it and can no longer think for themselves.  But just because you/we tolerate offensive behavior, by shrugging it off, laughing about it, minimizing it, or telling y/ourself it is “normal”, does not mean that it IS normal or even acceptable, and in fact it may be atrocious or even heinous.   I hope and believe that people (all of us) are waking up to this right now.  But for some, it is going to be a rude awakening, like ice water, and they will object to anyone calling them out.

If you have been stumbling along for years like a sheep, tolerantly blind to the offenses made by those in your circle, then the response of others to those offenses may catch you unawares, like a bucket of ice water in your face.  At the very least.

And you won’t like that.  You may curse, splutter, defend the offender and question the intolerance.  You may hear yourself saying:  “What’s the big deal?  Why can’t we just be tolerant?”

And the answer is:  Because we are done with it.  Wake up, come alive, and see what you are doing.

All of those little jokes that smack of the isms and phobias:  racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all of the micro-aggressions that people used to “get away” with are now being met with vehement push back.  Racist jokes. Gay jokes.  Jokes about women and porn, which ignore the connection to trafficking, de-humanization, and slavery.  Smug platitudes about being great, as though bullying defines greatness.

Wake up, because hell no, we do not and we will not accept or tolerate ANY of that.  No, we are not going to just ignore it.  No, we will not lighten up about it.   We are not amused, we are disgusted.  We’re done.

Come to higher ground.  We have so many things to work for right now:  the environment, education, healthcare, water, our basic rights, our safety and integrity as a democracy, to name just a few.

We are so done with being tolerant with the assaults on our dignity, our bodies, our collective voices, and our unique individual gifts.  Your tolerance of those assaults is an insult to all of us. If you want to be part of an adult dialogue, then wake up and grow up.  Come alive.
Stop tolerating things that are intolerable, stop rationalizing the irrational, and stop colluding with perpetrators.  Stop making excuses for their behavior.

“Normalizing” offensive behaviors is an act of passive atrocity.

You can do better than this.  You can make a positive difference.  If you can’t leave the swamp, then at least acknowledge that you are in it.  Better yet, wake up, stand up and climb out of there.  Come to higher ground.

Honor Your Pain

I find myself writing excoriating responses to fluffy New-Agers on social media who are telling people to chill out. My message in most of my blog posts in the last year has been to encourage peace.  I have tried to stay away from politics here on my website and to focus on self care and gratitude.  Those are good things, of course.  However….

Now is not the time to sit back and chill out and pretend that everything is going to be OK. Nor is it the time to tell other people to sit down, shut up, get over it, and have faith in the new regime.  Hate crimes are on the rise, violence, threats of violence, bullying, and intimidation are happening around the country, in small towns and rural areas as well as big cities, in liberal areas as well as conservative sectors.  School children who are Latino are being bullied.  Kindergartners.  Women are being sexually harassed at work, and in public.  Our Muslim and our LGTBQ brothers and sisters are experiencing the same forms of terrorism that our Black and Native American brothers and sisters have been experiencing since we white people arrived in North America.  These acts of violence and terrorism are anything but OK.

Peace is not about being fluffy, passive, naive, gullible, or asleep.  Making peace is about standing up for social justice.  It is about speaking out.  It is about caring for people who are marginalized.  Our neighbors, co-workers, colleagues, our children, our grandchildren.  Ourselves.

Honor your pain.  Don’t let anyone tell you to sit down and shut up.  Don’t put up with people telling your friends and neighbors to sit down and shut up.  Keep talking, keep working, keep the cameras rolling, and stand tall.  Your anger, though possibly unpleasant to feel and difficult for others to deal with, is a real thing, and you earned it.  Yes, refrain from violence. But speak out.  Be the light of illumination. Be the voice of truth.

People Driving Too Fast

When my mother was dying, in Seattle a few years ago, I went to pick up my sister so that we could both go say goodbye to her together.  This was a mistake.  I got lost, had to turn around and was in a big hurry.  We didn’t get there in time to say goodbye.  I can’t fix it.  I lost that moment.

At one point on the way there an older gentleman walked across the street in front of me.  He turned to look at me as I waited for him to cross, and he smiled at me.  He had no idea that he was causing me any trouble.  I had made the mistake of going to pick up my sister instead of going straight to our mom’s bedside.  It wasn’t his fault in any way.

I was feeling pretty agitated as I waited for him, though, but he smiled at me as he crossed the street.  If he had instead stood there in front of my car flipping me off because I seemed to be in a hurry, I think I might have gone berserk.  I don’t know.  It didn’t happen that way.

When people are driving too fast it is possible that they are being jerks.
It is also possible that they are trying to get somewhere that they urgently want and need to be.
You don’t know. It could be a medical emergency, a chemo therapy appointment, the last chance to see a dying parent.  Or they could just be out of cigarettes.

It is not your job to shame them.
Pull over and let them go by.

Easy.

Figuring Out What Is Wrong

One of the things I am working on letting go of this year is trying to figure out what is wrong when someone reacts to me in an odd way.

I don’t mean that I am abdicating responsibility for my own words or actions.  So when someone reacts to me oddly, by being upset or cold or in some way unpleasant, then I still want to be quick to respond to them, by asking them to clarify what they are feeling, wanting, or needing, to help me to understand in what way I may have hurt them, and to make amends if I need to.  That part is my responsibility.

However, and here is the key thing for me: if and when they don’t respond to my polite request for clarity, then I am letting go of worrying about what is going on for them.

A friend once gave me this saying that helped him:  “What other people think of me is none of my business.”   Although I don’t always agree with that, the point is that what other people think of us is largely about them, and how they think, and the filters through which they view the world.

Giving someone an opportunity to respond, in a disagreement or in a misunderstanding, is how we listen.  I want to do that.  I want to hear what people think or how they feel, and why.  And then…

If I have done that, asked for clarity, waited, restated my question, and been polite and present, AND they have not responded—then it is no longer my problem to figure out what is bothering them!

I think that expressing curiosity is important.  Requesting clarity acknowledges that I don’t understand their perspective, and I need more information.  That is a peace offer.  The waiting period allows for peace to take place, for clarity, for an adjustment in case I have said or done something that hurt or offended.  Once they have responded I can assess whether or not I agree, yet I can still allow the other person to have their feelings and thoughts.  But if they refuse to respond at all, then I can let go.  I sometimes feel sad about this.  I may feel disappointed or annoyed, either in the communication process or in my inability to understand their perspective, but I can set them and myself free.

To me this is part of what forgiveness means:  setting another person free from an obligation.  Consciously, and with as much grace as I can muster, because I know that I don’t understand everything.  I can’t possible know exactly what makes another person tick.  When this happens with a friend, I can gently release her, like a small fish, back into the swirling waters of her own private ocean.

The Spud Club

Some of us just look like potatoes.

Honestly, don’t you get tired of the tyranny of having to look like a supermodel?  I’m all for feeling healthy and being strong and having vitality, as much as we are humanly able—because it is wonderful to give up something we have a basic allergy to, and to feel so much better not eating or drinking it.  Sometimes that is sugar or wheat or alcohol—whatever, we are all different.

But let’s get real.  I can’t speak for men, but as women we get so bombarded with the message that we have to look perfect, that we have to be perfect, that we have to buy something or join some club or do something to force ourselves into looking like supermodels.  Some of us just look more like potatoes.  Especially as we get older.  Or we look like hobbits, or peasants.  Whatever.  We are just regular folks, just miraculously alive human beings.

I was at a party and some people were sitting by themselves in another room.  I came in and someone said, “Oh, you decided to join in with the cool kids.”  It seemed kind of funny at the time, and I am VERY sure that being funny was all that was meant by the comment.   But I got to thinking about it and I thought— every person there was “cool”.  There was no special group.  If some of them had isolated themselves off, then they were the ones missing out on discovering how amazing the rest of the people there were.  We all have stories.

There is no cool group.  We are all cool.  If you think differently, if you think you are cooler, or more special, then you are perpetuating your own loss because you are missing the stories.

However, if you have ever been ostracized by the people who think they are cooler, prettier, or more special that you are, I would like to make you an offer.  I invite you to be a member of the Spud Club.  You have permission to look exactly as you do.  You are invited to celebrate and enjoy your life to the fullest, even if some people don’t hear your amazing story, or see the absolute wonder of you being the unique soul that you are.

There is an Italian proverb that goes like this:  After the game is over, the King and the Pawn go back into the same box.

I invite you to be a member of the Spud Club, regardless of your age, ability, education, genetic make-up, family history, financial status, health, religious background, orientation, skills, or accomplishments.  I invite you even if you don’t think you resemble a potato.  That’s fine. You are from the earth.  You don’t have to be perfect.   You are human, and you belong.  I welcome you.

Peace and Rice

This may sound like a bit of a rant.  I’m bringing this up because I have noticed that we are bickering about the darnedest things right now.  I am concerned about how we are going to move forward from here.  Have you noticed this trend?  We are bickering about what kind of bathing suits women can wear at the beach.  We are bickering about bathrooms.  Politics has us all wound up right now, but I am noticing that we are starting to take for granted things like police shootings, domestic violence, oil spills, and another devastating flood going on in Louisiana.  We are bickering about rice.

Here’s the thing about the rice.  I had this stupid experience at a restaurant.  It was nothing remotely traumatic or violent.  It was a bowl of rice.  It was a very tiny ¾ cup serving of risotto, and it was very expensive.  I was annoyed because after paying so much for dinner, I still had to go home and cook something because we were still hungry.  OK, grousing about that—no big deal—won’t go back.  However, when I expressed my feelings and my opinion about my experience, then things got interesting.  Some people thanked me for the review. One person publicly dismissed what I said.  She did not express a-different-opinionbased-on-her-ownexperience, she simply discounted mine.  When I pointed this out to her, she promptly unfriended me.  Over a bowl of rice.

Is it getting hot in here?  See, if we can’t allow people to express an opinion about a bowl of rice without invalidating them, then how on earth are we going to listen to each other through the very difficult challenges that people are facing every day?  Being dismissive and patronizing does not cut it.

Here is how this relates to world peace.  It’s the patronizing tone.  It’s the assumption behind the patronizing tone. It’s telling black or brown Americans that they shouldn’t protest in the streets when another unarmed black man, woman, or child is shot by a white police officer and the police officer gets a two week paid vacation and there is no justice for the lynching of black lives.  It’s the audacity of telling blacks to settle down or shut up after these events.  If you haven’t experienced this kind of trauma in your life, then you don’t get to judge those who have. You may think your neighbor is a wonderful person, even after he shoots his wife and 3 kids and the family dog before taking his own life.  You can think whatever you want, but you might want to consider that your perception of him may not be accurate, even if it is easier and more fun to believe that he was a super nice guy.  Just because you may not have personally witnessed or experienced violence or harassment doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.  Consider accepting the limitations of your experience.  You are free to change your mind based on new information.

People have experiences, traumatic and otherwise, that you and I know nothing about.  But seriously, if you feel the need to discount, deny, dismiss, undermine, ridicule or in any other way INVALIDATE the personal experiences, feelings, and predicaments of other people, then you are being patronizing.  And a patronizing attitude is the enemy of peace.

Take a deep breath.  Listen.  Love.  Be kind. You can do this.

Come Together In Peace

123 police officers were killed in the US in the line of duty in 2015, and in my opinion that is 123 too many. Even though it is fewer than the 134 who were killed in 1915, when the population was much smaller, it is still too many. Also, 1,146 people were killed by police in 2015. So if you are only grieving for the police officers, you are missing the bigger picture. It is not a competition. There are way too many people getting killed. We can do better than this. We can solve problems peacefully and come together as a community. A broken tail light is not a death sentence.

The statistics referred to here come from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund website, and from The Guardian.

Now more than ever we need to be proactive about supporting the lives of others.  Peace to you.