The View from Here

The view from here is very different than it was a couple weeks ago. We have now been in social distance mode for just under two weeks—far less time than most of the world. We knew it was coming—we watched it sweep slowly across the globe on its way.

That doesn’t make the view from here any brighter. We are broken people in a society that is also severely broken. In our attempts to deal with this global pandemic, we need to come together—work together and protect one another. But we can’t.

Because the view from here looks out over a broad chasm that has been growing and deepening and pushing us farther apart. We have forgotten that we are one humanity in a global environment, and we are stronger when we band together and create a united front. We will always be stronger together.

We have forgotten that life is not about all the things we want in this life and how we will get them, no matter the cost. We have forgotten that most of the “things” we possess don’t matter, especially when weighed against human health and life itself. Even in our isolation, we continue to buy and buy and buy to the point of hoarding because “enough” is a concept our society ignores as it pushes spending and materialism and greed as a way to promote a “healthy” economy.

We have filled our lives with material things. We have been so conditioned to look outward for happiness and acceptance and validation that we have lost sight of the most important element—what we are feeling on the inside. Who we are. The very traits that make us special and unique and individual—these have been cast aside for too long. They have been stomped down and buried deep inside ourselves as we live a life that is filled to the brim with a busy-ness dictated by society. Most of us—we aren’t even truly happy anymore.

The view from here is not in touch with the things that matter. It is weighed down by all the lies society has been telling us for decades. The expectations we are supposed to live up to. We are tired and weary. The burden weighs on us, and we are struggling to break free.

But the view from here—it is quiet and lonely. We are in a period of grieving all that we have lost or perceive we have lost. We are grieving what we may lose. And we are grieving all the changes our society will face—changes that we just can’t fathom from this particular vantage point. But if we take the time to really look and examine our lives, the view from here may be (dare I say) just a little peaceful.

While we may be feeling overwhelmingly burdened by our current situation, the view from here may shift, giving us a glimpse of elements of peace, simplicity, and kindness. It is quite possible that with a bit of time and a new perspective, the view from here might just be the soil in which we begin to change and blossom.

Remnants

The last time I was visiting Mom, she handed me a small plastic sandwich bag. “This is stuff I cleaned off your father’s dresser. Do you want any of it?” I studied the bag, turning it over in my hand. Seriously? I squinted through the plastic, my mind flipping back and forth between: Of course I want it! and Why would I want any of this?

When my son was little, he would pick up all sorts of remnants that he found on the floor. If we walked into a fabric or craft store, he would gather balls of thread that had fallen off the frayed edges of material on the bolt, pieces of silk flowers that were lying on the floor, buttons that had fallen off clothing. His pockets were never empty, and I had to be careful to check every single pocket on laundry day.

The bag my mother handed me was much like the contents of my young son’s pockets—remnants of a life of gathering. The bag contained pieces of unrelated objects collected on the daily journey and deposited into a common container on the top of Dad’s dresser. All they had in common was the container in which they ended up. And the man who had gathered them.

The bag held washers, screws, broken things, a bunch of oddball items. I sat down on the floor and untied the knot at the top of the bag. I stirred the contents with my finger, revealing all of the treasures that Dad had felt it necessary to keep. The metal spring from a wooden clothespin. A ring that I had made by winding yellow electrical wire around itself. Around and around and around. A firecracker with an old, frayed fuse, but no doubt just as explosive as ever. Two broken angel wings, clearly from two different angels.

No. Dad was not an angel wings kind of man. Two broken eagle wings, clearly from two different eagles. But with a lack context, they are the wings of angels in my mind. Under the circumstances and left to my interpretatin, angels are more appropriate.

Why did Dad collect these items, number one, and save them all, number two? What was it about the yellow wire ring? The firecracker? The angel wings?

This bag might seem to be full of useless items, some broken or seemingly meaningless. But they had meaning to Dad. He saved them all for a reason. Perhaps he intended to glue the wings back on the angels. Find the wooden parts of the clothespin. Set off the one remaining firecracker. Or maybe he was waiting to see how someone else might piece together the remnants he gathered up along his way.

What matters

There is a vast amount of sensory and intellectual input that we have to process each and every day. Not only do we have to pay attention to the physical world and all that it presents, we have to deal with the virtual world. Advertisements, messages, propaganda, manipulations…. The constant deluge can numb one’s soul and senses if we let it.

I watch students, my children, and so many people walking with their heads down, eyes glued to their devices. These people are walking without seeing and moving through the world without experiencing the life around them. Right next to them, someone may be struggling or celebrating or in need of a kind word, but they miss it.

I am working hard to focus on the things that call to my heart. There are so many things that our society wants us to believe are important and urgent and necessary. But most of these things… they just aren’t. They are not important. They are not urgent. And they are far from necessary. The person who is crying… that is important. The accident that happened two cars ahead… that is urgent. A warm, nutritious meal… that is necessary.

Today, I was stopped at a stoplight. My window was down, and I was at the front of the line of traffic. Standing by the sign on the raised median, awkwardly close to me, was a homeless man. His hand-written cardboard sign made mention of his need for camping supplies and a hot meal.

This got me to thinking. What if I bought a few gift cards to local chain restaurants—the ones with many locations where someone wouldn’t have to go far to get a meal? And what if I were to give these to pan handlers who are advertising their need for a hot meal? What if this simple gesture could make a difference in someone’s life?

As I work to pay attention to the things around me, I sift through all the information that comes in, and I pull out what is important. If I pay careful attention, I might be able to see beyond all the superficial the world presents and look deeply enough to see the things that matter. Instead of becoming numb to all that is around me, I could be spurred to action, be enlivened, and learn how my actions might just matter to someone else.

{Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash}

Cloudy with a patch of…

I was driving to work on Friday morning, minding my own business, when I accidentally hit a patch of grief (because—after all—no one hits these patches on purpose). As grief tends to be, it was sudden and unexpected.  And intense. There was no hiding the tears. But I was in the car on the highway, and the drivers around me didn’t notice and probably didn’t care either way. The tears flowed freely as I drove, and by the time I arrived at work, I was better.

But later that day, intense feelings returned, again while I was driving. This time, I was on the way to take prom pictures of my son, my youngest child. I realized this would likely be the last time I would partake of this particular ritual—meeting up with prom-goers and their families at the local spot with the most picturesque, fairytale-ish gardens. On each of the three years previous (one with my oldest child and two with my middle child), I have known there might be another year. But this time, I am fairly sure this is the last of this tradition. On the drive there, it hit me that with this child, I am entering a pattern of not just “last” for him, but “last ever.”

I may have had this realization subconsciously already, which would explain Friday’s inclination toward emotion. Or maybe there was just something in the wind that day that triggered my soul to react more deeply.

Whatever it was, one thing I’ve learned is that there is always a chance that grief (and emotion) will sneak up and surprise me. These patches, in a way, they bring comfort. They remind me of the things that make up a life—the things that are and the things that were. They remind me that feeling deeply is what makes me who I am. And they remind me that all of these things together make up this journey that is life.

Buddy Bench

Last weekend, I took part in an annual “Day of Service” with the students in my freshman class. On this day, all of our first-year students disperse to various organizations in order to perform community service work—from working with children or the elderly, to spring clean-up, both indoors and out. My class was split up between an indoor site and an outdoor site, and I put myself with the student group doing outdoor work preparing a summer camp for the upcoming camp season.

Our first task of the day involved raking leaves in the main area of the camp around the office—the area where visitors first arrive. It was raining in the morning—as it had been through the night—and the leaves were sticking together, heavy and wet. As we raked, the leaves rolled up toward us, making it easy to move them onto a tarp in large clumps. Once the tarp was full enough, we dragged it into the woods, and rolled the leaves out of it. We dragged the tarp back to our raking area and started again.

When we finished the main area, the Camp Director took us to a hill by the lake. On the hill, there were several benches placed in a half-circle overlooking the water. Our final task of the day was to clean the leaves and pine needles from under and around the benches. When we were done, the Camp Director told us that the benches were “Buddy Benches.” If campers were feeling lonely and didn’t have someone to play with, they would sit on these benches. Other children knew that those who sat here needed a friend. What a great idea!

This got me thinking… shouldn’t there be “Buddy Benches” for adults, too? How many times over the years could I have used a friend? Why couldn’t it be as easy as simply sitting on a bench and waiting for someone to come and sit next to you and talk. Or listen. Or just be a support system?

If you sit on the Buddy Bench when you are overwhelmed, someone will come and talk you through it.

Stop by when you are lonely or you’ve had a bad day. Have a seat when certain pieces of your life (work, finances, family, spiritual) just don’t seem to fit right.

Come by when you have received bad news, or you’re scared about something, or your health is declining.

Come to the Buddy Bench when your spouse leaves you for “greener pastures,” and you have to figure out how to raise a gaggle of children on your own.

Have a seat on the Buddy Bench when you have lost a loved one, and you don’t think you can go on.

So many people have been through these same things. They won’t make your pain go away, but they can gently guide you through and help you to keep going: step by step, minute by minute, day by day until you can see the light through your troubles.

A Buddy Bench would help you to recognize how many people can understand what you are going through because they have been through something similar. It can show you how many people care and are willing to help.

Because a Buddy Bench will help you to find the people who can best support you. It will give you a place to rest and find comfort and support. And … it will remind you that you are not alone.

We are all in this together. Come. Sit on the Buddy Bench and rest awhile.

{Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash}

Blind Spot

It’s raining, and I’m driving to work, making my way down the highway a bit faster than I should. Cars are passing me, but I continue at the same pace, resisting the pressure to succumb to their impatience. My exit is not far off, and I need to move one lane to the right. I turn to look over my shoulder to check that the lane is clear, and I am startled by a large, red truck hanging out in my blind spot. An entire truck, bright red and visible even amid the road spray from the rain. How is it that something so big and bright is able to hide right next to me?

This, I realize, is not unlike the route my summer has taken. My life will be traveling along on what seems like a good path, headed in a positive direction, but then I notice something big and startling hanging out in my blind spot. I try not to swerve from my path to avoid it; I try to remain calm.

The past few weeks, it seems, there has been much that is hiding in my blind spot. These “life issues” hover on the periphery of my life, just out of my vision. So close yet so hidden. Every now and then, when I least expect it, they poke their heads out to taunt me: “Here I am!” mocks Loss. “Gotcha again!” shouts Grief. “Be quiet!” whispers Insecurity. “Not good enough,” chants Inadequacy. Each and every time, as I am caught off guard, I retreat within myself.

But I am tapping into my resources. This summer, I have been involved in some work with encouragement, wellbeing, belonging, and courage. Research that has affected me very deeply. And an important part of each of these is vulnerability. Vulnerability is at the heart of much we face in our lives; it’s a valuable part of connection—both to others and to ourselves.

The (involuntary) break I’ve (accidentally) taken from my blog has not been good for me. I am happier when I am writing and posting regularly. I am more centered and able to deal with the challenges—big and small—that life tosses in my path. Not writing has allowed me to realize that maybe what’s hiding in my blind spots needs to be tackled head on.

And so, I open myself up to the vulnerabilities. I will stand and be brave in the face of all that is hiding—the sadness and sorry, the challenge and grief, the insecurities and failures. By allowing myself to feel all of my emotions and be vulnerable, I can live into joy.

Grow your Good

On Friday evening, I was driving to my daughter’s dance rehearsal. The sun was low and the traffic was heavy with summer weekend tourists. I was alone in the car, and my mind was flipping through the pages of the day, churning through a brutal narrative of destructive self-talk. I am not enough of this, and I am too much of that. It was the typical inner focus on my flaws and deficiencies.

As the weight of the evening’s inner monologue grew clear to me, I stopped myself and worked to redirect the narrative. You’re not stupid, I tried to convince myself. But that wasn’t much of a redirection. The statement needed to be positive rather than negative. You are much smarter than you give yourself credit for, I ventured. You have good ideas and you follow through. Better. A good deal better! You are enough, I told myself.

As I pondered my self-talk, I reminded myself that I’m not the only one who’s killing it in the self-bullying department. While so many people seem to believe in themselves without a problem (or they’re faking it), other people struggle as they navigate their daily lives. Our inner critics are not kind. But most people couldn’t possibly be as brutal in their inner monologue as I am. Or could they?

What if… just for today, we stop comparing ourselves to others? Everybody is unique, and everybody has their own talents that they bring to the world. We all have positive aspects and negative aspects, and most of the people I know spend inordinate amounts of time focused on fixing the negative when they should instead focus on growing their good. Despite what social media might suggest, nobody’s life is perfect. Accept what you have and work with it. Grow your good.

What if… we began to tell ourselves the truth rather than some warped version of the truth we use to make ourselves feel bad? We could focus on the child we made smile while we were standing in the grocery line. We might consider how well we handle the demands of our job. Or we might look at how a great sense of humor helps us through the day.

What if… just for today, we stop keeping a laundry list of all the things we have done wrong. Better yet, what if we rip up that laundry list and throw it in the trash? Or maybe we could bring it with us the next time we go camping. Then we could throw it in a campfire and watch it slowly melt away into ashes.

What if… just for today, we were to celebrate our successes rather than dwelling on our failures? We might recognize that we have raised good children, or that we handled the latest two-year-old temper tantrum with a patience we didn’t have yesterday. We might see that we walked half a mile more than we intended, or we beat our personal best in our most recent marathon.

What if… just for today, we rewrite our inner monologue? What if we focus on all the things we are rather than all the things we are not? What if every time we heard ourselves engage in negative self-talk, we changed it to a positive statement? By doing so, we might give ourselves an opportunity to see the good in ourselves and the possibility for our future.

And what if… tomorrow, we were to do the same thing?