Positivity Post: Middle Ground

The recent trend in society focuses on rigid dichotomies. On all issues, it seems, we must fall on one side or the other. We are either one thing or the opposite; for some unknown reason, it is no longer okay for our ideas to fall anywhere in the middle.

Just ask anyone who is directing the societal rhetoric these days. We are either right or wrong. We are either winning or losing. We are a success or a failure. As everyone on social media is happy to tell us, we cannot be a partial success or a partial failure—we are one or the other. There is no longer and acceptable in-between and there is no way to be anything other than an extreme. Or is there?

It seems we have forgotten that all the good stuff resides in the middle. If we are wrong—and even if we are right—there are lessons to be learned from our situation. If we win, there are still important things that we should examine in order to continue the trend of winning. And if we lose, there are moments of greatness within our losing that are worth reviewing. These lessons, these moments, these important messages… they lie somewhere in the middle.

When we have two sides that are opposing—Republican and Democrat, to name a hot one—it is vital that we don’t let our differences get in the way of our progress. We must examine the middle ground to see what we have tossed aside in our desperate need to be right—so right that we forget to leave room for something else.

That middle ground—it is incredibly fertile. That’s where there are ideas and inspirations and moments and messages and tidbits and wisdom and experience that we can use as tools to help us navigate our differences, overcome our struggles, and get us closer to the spot where the sun shines and “argument” turns into “discourse.”

So come with me to the Middle Ground. Let’s go together. Let’s have some brilliant discussion and come up with some inspiring ideas. Let’s toss around our creativity, have some snacks, and share some laughs. If we can meet in the middle [and linger there], there is no doubt that our common threads of color and light and inspiration will lead us to solutions. Perhaps by examining the Middle Ground, we might even rediscover how much we like spending time together in conversation, and we can begin to build a bridge between us.

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The Right Tools

On Christmas morning, we woke up to the quintessential “white Christmas.” Snow was falling thick and heavy, sticking to the trees and piling up on the lawn and driveway. It was the scene everyone longs for on Christmas.

But a white Christmas does not come without its challenges, most notably, the need to deal with snow removal. Snow doesn’t simply go away, and it can’t stay on the driveway and walkways… unless we want to be immobilized until spring, that is, and I’m pretty sure that was not in the cards. So I donned my warm winter snow boots, jacket, and gloves, and I trudged to the shed where—it was promised—I would find my dad’s “snow shovel.”

Let me take a moment to explain my use of quotes on the term “snow shovel.” In my parents’ house, the shovel that had been used (for many years) to rid the walkways of snow seems to be more of a lightweight garden shovel than an actual, dedicated snow shovel.

Sure enough, the shovel that I expected to find was standing at attention on the floor of the shed, waiting for me, taunting me, no doubt. Mom had also offered me a beautiful, rusty child’s snow shovel that I had when I was a child, back in the Dark Ages. This shovel held a picture of a cheerful snowman, and the handle was wiggly and just a few sizes too short for my adult frame.

I used the child-shovel to do a quick scraping of the stairs before I grabbed the larger shovel and headed out toward Mom’s car. After I removed the snow from the car (with a proper tool, not with the shovel!), I started to clean out the snow around the car. I shoveled, removing the snow so she would be able to get to the drivers side door without incident. The shovel was heavy with a long handle. It wasn’t flat like the scraper I was used to, and I struggled with it. With each scoop of snow I threw, I could hear Dad’s voice: “I’ve used this shovel for 40 winters, and it has always served me well. It’s a good snow shovel, nice and light.” Clearly, Dad had not held one of the newer plastic shovels designed specifically for snow. If he had, he’d know it was the right tool for the job.

From the car, I shoveled a narrow path down the driveway, a temporary walkway until the plow arrived to remove the snow from the driveway. When I was done, I retreated to the cozy warmth of the house.

The next day, I went out and purchased two new shovels for Mom, one large with a wide, flat blade and one, a very small scoop with a telescoping handle. It was far from an extravagant purchase, but Mom now has the tools she needs for the next storm. However, I am willing to confess it was maybe a little selfish of me. Now, when I’m at Mom’s house and it snows, I have the shovels I need so I don’t feel like I’m stuck and trying to dig out from the 1950s!

Weather

The weather outside is frightful. And by frightful, I mean the weather has been anything but mild. This weekend started as a snowy mess, and the next day—as the temperature was hovering just below freezing—it rained. Nonstop.

Friday morning, I had a long overdue hair appointment, and I stopped on the way home to pick up some Christmas presents. The drive was slow and somewhat dicey, and I was more than happy to finally land safely at home. My children were already home as the last day of school before vacation had been cut short for an inclement weather dismissal.

I had been home for about half an hour when the question came from the living room. “Mom, are the roads really that bad?” It was a question fashioned to determine whether or not the ask-er would be allowed to head out to the home of one friend or another.

“Yes,” I responded. “They’re pretty bad. No one is going to venture out on the roads today.”

From the kitchen table behind me, as if I had been conversing with a different child, came the statement, “I’m hearing off-roading.” I paused for a minute, just long enough to process that comment. And then I turned around and looked at W, my eyebrows raised in question.

He was smiling. “What?” he shrugged. “You said, ‘No one is going out on the roads today.’ You didn’t say anything about going somewhere off the roads,” he responded. And then he started to list off all of the places he could go off-roading.

These kids, they are always full of great ideas ….

Snippets of Life

Memories of my life are filed away like index cards carefully placed in drawers, an ancient and ever-expanding card catalog of snippets of life. I can open the drawers, flip through the memories, and see the things that have brought me to this place—this point in time.

Different drawers contain different sets of memories. The good memories fill several drawers, and I can flip through them quickly, as if spinning a Rolodex, or slowly like I am engrossed in detailed research. When I look in one drawer, I can see my children toddling down the hall. There are first words, first steps, first days of school. I pause for a moment on an afternoon spent running around the front lawn, desperately trying to catch leaves tossed and blown on the wind. The giggles are as vivid in memory’s ear as they were that day.

If I work really hard, I can go back to memories of my own childhood: picnics on an old wooden bridge, dressing up for church on Sundays, holidays, and the occasion or two when I walked home from school in the middle of the day for lunch. There are memories of lessons learned, family time, and brief vacations thrown in here and there for good measure.

Silliness weaves through most of the drawers, knit into the fabric of my very being. Here and there, a memory will bring up the humor that my children often take for granted. It is an essential part of our family life.

There are memories I draw upon for inspiration. Times I was the definite underdog, but I persevered and met with success. Times I was on the receiving end of Mercy and Grace. Times when love and laughter were on my side as I worked through a challenge.

The not-so-positive memories are in a drawer of their own, lest I accidentally stumble upon them while I am surfing my pleasant memories. I don’t open that drawer much—I don’t need to. It is stiff and broken and hard to work. It doesn’t quite close all the way, and sometimes, the memories slip out, catching me when I am low, and nagging at the edges of my brain. These memories, they chastise me for… well, for everything. Not good enough. Not strong enough. Not thin enough. Not happy enough. Not. Enough.

And I work diligently to recover and move on as quickly as I can to another drawer. Because the catalog has never been a bad thing. It helps me to stay organized and grounded. And it helps me to move in a positive direction. The good memories outweigh the not-so-good memories. File away the “mistakes made” as lessons learned, and they suddenly become a necessary step in the process. Because every step and every misstep, every turn and every detour, every moment lived through every age is a tiny building block in the process of creating my life. The good, the bad, the happy, the sad, every card in my catalog… these are all lessons learned.

Journeys

It’s been a tough week of walking the line. Some days, it seems gremlins have attached themselves to my brain, and they are sneaking around the edges, working their way into my thoughts when I least expect it. There has been much going on around me—accidents, illness, suffering, loss—all way too close. So many of these situations demonstrate how quickly our paths can veer off course and life can change. But these are also the things that tend to bring my blessings into focus. Being an eternal optimist, I always look for the blessings.

This year, our Thanksgiving table was filled with many family members. But throughout the day, I couldn’t help thinking about the one who was absent… Dad. There was much laughter around me, and I spent the day tip-toeing the precarious line between laughter and tears. Wanting to flee to a quiet spot to cry, but being drawn by the warmth of the laughter. I chose to show up and be present.

Life is a one-way trip, and we’re all going the same way. The clock always moves in one direction. We continue to move forward because… well, it’s the only worthwhile choice. There is no going back for a do-over. If you make a mistake, learn from it and keep moving. If there are gremlins in your brain, holding you back, figure out a way to get rid of them or sneak by them. Just. Keep. Moving.

Life is a journey. Pack what you think you might need, show up (with as much confidence as you can muster), and be present. If you need directions, I can help. Forward. Go forward.

And along the way, be the eternal optimist. Always look for the blessings.

Community

On Monday, I had a conversation with my college freshmen about community and responsibility. This conversation came after we had viewed a documentary on extreme poverty—living on a dollar a day—and attended a presentation by one of the young men who was involved with the project. Despite the poverty in the community, the families were very close as they worked together to help each other and make a better life for themselves. Our class discussion revolved around the responsibility each person has and how our responsibility extends from family to neighbors to the larger global community.

On Tuesday morning, I was driving to work. I had just pulled onto the entrance ramp for the highway when everyone around me suddenly began to slow and then they stopped. I looked to the highway on my left just in time to see a car flip over and land on its roof in the median. I pulled over and put my car in park. I sat for a minute catching my breath and working to calm my nerves as I watched several people get out of their cars and run to the flipped car to check on the driver. Before long, all traffic had stopped in both directions.

[I will say, I stayed in my car. Unfortunately, while I remain calm under pressure and can deal with emergencies, I do not deal well with injury/blood/death/etc. These things cause me to grow faint and shaky, pass out and become completely useless to anyone who might need help. Knowing our limits—it’s an important part of self-awareness.]

Four or five people gathered around the car and helped the driver out and to her feet. They walked her gingerly away from the car, and went back to check that the car was empty of other passengers. At this point, I decided the situation was under control, and I slowly made my way around several stopped cars and drove to work.

There are times when I think we are on our own in this country. The sense of community and our responsibility to others gets lost in the craziness of everyday life. And yet, this incident was an example of the many ways we come together to help others in need. We are all here together, and when we most need help, others generally show up, We have a responsibility to our community—both locally and globally—and if we take the time to look around, we will see ways in which we might just make a difference.

Compassion

It’s a complicated world we live in, and it’s important that we stop dancing around some of the bigger issues that threaten our safety and our society.

Today, I received a lengthy and detailed email from some overarching authority at one of the institutions for which I work. This email discussed how to recognize and assist individuals in Distress, with a capital D. “Distress” was then broken down further into several categories: general distress, victims of sexual misconduct, those at risk of suicide or self-harm, and those who may be dangerous.

This last one—oh yikes! But true, even though it seems to hit a bit too close to home as we begin to dissect yet another mass shooting. I listen to the news as the sheriff says, “No one expects this…” even though we are all coming to expect this. I hear an official on ABCNews instruct, “We all should think about what we would do in this situation…” and I know that any plan I could make would be lost in the terror of the situation.

But for those of us who daily deal with vulnerable individuals on a personal level, it is important that we are familiar with the warning signs of Distress. It is important to know what hurt looks like; how pain manifests; and when anger crosses into danger. So I read through the email, and I will read it again to commit the details to memory.

To all of my family, friends, students, neighbors, acquaintances, past and present; to all the people I know only in passing… if you are in Distress, I am here, and I am listening. If you need to talk, I will hear you. If you need a shoulder to cry on, mine are strong and broad. If you need a hug, my arms are open. If you need to sit in the corner and cry without judgment, I will sit with you. If you need encouragement, I will cheer you on. If you need prayers, I will offer them up.

I know I am not alone in the offer of help. The world is full of caring, kind, compassionate individuals who will listen and be present. They are willing to lend a hand, give a hug, connect over coffee, offer words of encouragement, or say just the right thing to make you smile. If you need something, we are here. Please… speak up and let someone know. If we all work together, perhaps we can make this world a little friendlier, a bit softer, and just a touch less complicated.