Time for Action

Dear Elected Officials,

Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar and also Valentine’s Day. It is a day to celebrate renewal, rebirth, and love. The perfect confluence of holiday and holy day.

And yet, here we are, once again shocked and bewildered by a mass shooting in a U.S. high school. We are listening to horrific accounts of students scattering to escape gunfire; hearing parents’ fear as they talk of receiving panicked texts from their children; watching the post-shooting press conferences as law enforcement officials talk of casualties. Here we are. Again.

And there you are, sitting on the floor of the House and the Senate, collecting your donations from corporations and organizations promoting their agendas. Lining your pockets with blood money. Living out your days of public service in affluence at the expense of our most vulnerable—our children—while you refuse to consider that the real problem with our county might just be a government that is sponsored by corporate interests.

Senator Chris Murphy stood on the floor of the senate, visibly shaken by the most recent news, and delivered a brief message before he moved on to business. He said you are all responsible, but then he ended with the statement, “We will hope for the best.” What?

Seventeen more lives lost, and you are going to “hope for the best”? Seventeen young people who will not make their contributions to the world. Seventeen what ifs. These were young people with their entire lives ahead of them, young people with great promise. They were everything to their families, just as your children are everything to yours.

Perhaps one of these students was to be the  brilliant mind to find a cure for the very cancer that could now take the life of your grandchild. Another of the victims would promote an innovative and workable idea to create lasting peace in the most intensely war torn regions of the world. One could have developed a system to recycle and purify the Earth’s dwindling water supply. And another would figure out a way to reverse brain damage.

We will never know what might have been. We will never see what these young people might have contributed to our society. Because they didn’t make it to their high school graduation.

Yes, Mr. Murphy, you and your colleagues are responsible. You cannot “hope for the best” while you sit on the senate floor and do nothing. In this case, “hope” is not an action verb. “Hope for the best” all you want, Mr. Murphy, but hope without action is for cowards.

It’s time, Senators and Congressmen, to take on the work of the people who elected you to office. It’s time to protect the right to life of the children already born. Risk the disdain of those around you and take some action. If you step out of your comfort zone and do rather than hope, you might just change the trajectory of our society.

{photo used with permission of my talented daughter}

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Painfully Obvious

Yesterday morning, I awoke from an odd and somewhat unsettling dream. At first, I wasn’t really aware of what was unsettling, only that something wasn’t right. The dream was one in which I was interacting with people—one, a friend from childhood who I hadn’t seen recently, and the other, a woman I knew of but had never met.

I was sitting between the two of them. The woman to my right was wearing a bright sweater—striped in bold blues, yellow, and teal—and I noted that it was knit from the same yarn I had used to make a scarf. This fact intrigued me, and I got stuck on the bold colors and the coincidence. I listened as she talked, and I responded, but through our conversation, I never looked directly at her. Somehow, I just knew who she was.

As I looked back on the dream, I realized that I was unable to look at either of these two people, unable to see their faces. It wasn’t that they didn’t have faces in my dream. It was that I couldn’t look at their faces. This one small but important fact made the dream very unsettling.

As I moved through my day trying to process this strange dream, I came across an article in the New York Times that discussed Smartphone addiction and its effects on us and on our children. Sherry Turkle, a social scientist, “found that children now compete with their parents’ devices for attention, resulting in a generation afraid of the spontaneity of a phone call or face-to-face interaction. Eye contact now seems to be optional” (Popescu). If we are not making eye contact, if we are not looking at the people we are interacting with, we are not fully experiencing the moment, the conversation, the relationship.

And this article brought me back to my dream. No doubt, the dream emerged from the stress of adjusting to the hectic schedule of a new teaching assignment added to my other responsibilities. The need to juggle so many different pieces often takes away from my ability to be in the moment, experiencing interactions and relationships as fully as I might. This juggling ties me to my computer and keeps me connected to technology.

If we pay attention, our dreams can tell us things we didn’t already know, but sometimes they hit us over the head with the painfully obvious. The other night, I had one of those dreams and I woke up confused, but as the day wore on, I began to see how this dream fit into my life and the message I needed to gain from it.

I am a creature of habit. I do things because they work in some important way. Or maybe because they have worked at some point in the past, in some other iteration of my life. Perhaps, if I were to really examine what I have been doing, these things might not be addressing my current needs. They might not be feeding my soul. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate and restructure in important ways that will permit me to grow with the changes in my life.

And maybe it’s time we all recognize that by not interacting with others—over dinner, over the phone, standing in line, etc.—we are doing our children a disservice. It is up to us to teach them how to interact with us, with each other, and with the strangers they will encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps it’s time we recognize that technological connection is minimal and human connection… it’s everything.

Positivity Post: Lack and Limits

It seems more and more that society has a distinct focus on “lack.” So many people focus on what is lacking in any given situation that they look right past all of the good and positive things about life. The focus on lack spreads and begins to permeate all aspects of our lives, and we end up living a life in which we are merely skimming the surface of what is possible.

Society is caught up in consumerism, and as we look around at what other people have, we see what we don’t have. In an effort to keep up with others and maintain social status, we feel a need to go out and buy the things that are missing from our lives. The more we have, the more we need. And while we think this “stuff” will fill the void we feel, ultimately, it only adds to the problem.

I believe this is how we are getting it wrong. If we begin to open our eyes to what is around us, we will begin to appreciate what we have and be more available to live in the present moment. For example, if we focus only on how cold the winter is or how short the days are, we will miss the beauty of the snow and the colors of the first morning light as they dance with the gray scale of the winter landscape.

 

As we focus on material possessions, lack begins to spill into other areas of our lives, affecting our very ability to be happy. We bring that focus to our work, our home life, and our relationships. If we focus on all the things that are missing from our lives, we will not be happy. Friends and family members are unable to be who we want them to be; our job is not fulfilling; our location will never be as urban/rural/warm/cool [fill in the blank] as we want it to be. In short, we cannot be satisfied with what we have because we are too focused on what we don’t have.

As an agent of positivity, I am putting forth a challenge. For one week, work to stifle your focus on “lack” and begin, instead, to focus on what is present in your life. Take the time to really look around you. What is working? What is happy? What do you consider to be your blessings? What are you grateful for?

Start there. Focus on the good. Tell people how much you appreciate them by focusing on their good traits. Take a few moments to play with your pets. Recognize the beauty in the little-kid hand prints on your refrigerator. Really study the variations of color in the sky as the sun goes down at the end of the day. And reflect on what was good about the day.

Perhaps if we take time to really see what we have—all we truly have around us— and be present with our blessings, we will not have to search so hard for some elusive who-knows-what. And with all that extra time and positivity energy, the possibilities that open up in your life may just be limitless!

Kindness

We all have stories we tell ourselves. I have stories that I’ve woven into my reality that have been created to serve some purpose or other. Sometimes, the stories allow me to stay in my comfort zone. For example, lately I have been telling myself that once it warms up outside, I’ll start walking. If I tell myself this story, I don’t have to push myself to step out into the cold. In the winter, I like being warm, and even though I should go out and walk each day, it’s cold. And icy. And the wind will cut through even the heaviest of winter jackets. Winter is not the time to exercise outside, even though I used to do it all the time back when I was younger and more tolerant of the extremes in weather.

Sometimes, the stories I tell myself are designed for self-protection—i.e. so I am not disappointed about something that isn’t likely to happen. I might tell myself that a story won’t be published or that I am not good enough to be included in a group or accepted into a coveted program or opportunity. These stories are woven specifically to protect me from disappointment. Because after all, if I don’t get my hopes up, I won’t be let down, will I?

But the worst thing is the constant self-talk in my head. I can be brutal—constantly chastising myself for the things I say, the things I do, the things I don’t do. I have a whole series of conversations and monologues that I run through my head that focus on the worst about myself. I don’t think I am an anomaly in this respect. I think it is something that women, especially, do on a regular basis. Why do we do this? Why do we convince ourselves that we will never be enough?

Recently, I saw this video by TruthBomb Mom on Facebook in which she spoke with other women about their self talk. They admitted that they are harder on themselves than they should be. When the host then produced a picture of the woman as a little girl, she asked if the woman would say the same things to this child. And so, I took out a picture of myself as a child. Would I tell her the things I tell myself? Perhaps what we all need to do is be a bit more gentle on ourselves.

The next time I am tempted to criticize myself for every little thing I do, I am going to think of this girl. If I think of her, I have an inkling I am going to be just a bit more gentle, more patient, and more kind with myself. Because I am a work in progress, and deep inside my soul, this little girl is still a big part of who I am.

Advice to My Younger Self

Watching teens go through their various challenges is one of the more difficult parts of parenting. I always thought it would be great if I could somehow spare my children the trauma of middle school and high school. These are the years when kids are jockeying for some kind of ridiculous social position. They want to be seen as the best, the brightest, the funniest, the prettiest, the most popular, the most athletic, etc. The “senior superlatives” celebrated in the local high school speak to the role such competition plays in the lives of teens.

And yet, competition—being the best athlete, having the most friends—these are not the things that are the most important in life. The most important things in life are how we treat other people and how we treat ourselves.

By channeling my younger self and tapping into some of the challenging experiences I remember, I can offer some advice to my teenage self [which is actually thinly veiled advice to my teens…].

Mind your own business, and don’t get involved in other people’s drama. There may be situations that look enticing, and times when it is tempting to step into someone else’s train wreck. And there is no reason not to step in with a sincere offer of help. Otherwise, drama is always good to avoid—your own, and that of others.

Set your goals high. The higher your goals are, the farther you will go. If your goals are easily obtainable, you will not have a reason to keep pushing yourself and keep growing. As a wise teacher once said, “If you are not growing, you are dying.” Setting your goals high will give you a reason to keep growing.

Find your own internal motivators. You have to find meaning in what you do, and that meaning has to come from you. No one else can make sense of your life and your activities. No one else can give you reason to complete tasks, to earn good grades, and to pursue your goals. That meaning and sense of purpose has to come from you.

Walk away from those who don’t treat you well. Keep walking and don’t look back. There are many people who use others, manipulate them, control them, etc. These people, they will get what’s coming to them. It’s called karma, and it really does exist.

Don’t let other people define your limits. Other people are always quick to tell you what you can and can’t do. For example, You shouldn’t pursue a career in [insert creative endeavor here] because you won’t be able to make a living. When I was in graduate school, my advisor—who had met me moments before—looked at my proposed plan of study and said, “You can’t take that many courses. You won’t be successful.” I wanted to say, Watch me! Instead, I just nodded and said these were the courses I would take, thank you very much. Sometimes, people tell you things because they want what’s best for you. Sometimes, they don’t want you to be disappointed. However, only you can determine what’s best for you. And that leads to the next point…

Find your passion and pursue it. If you love to write, find a way to incorporate that love into your college program or your career path. If you are passionate about biology and music, be creative about how these two pursuits might fit together into a career that will feed your soul. If you can’t figure out how to form your passion into a career, at least continue to pursue the activity in a way that is meaningful to you.

Always be true to yourself. You know who you are and what you stand for. Don’t compromise your values or yourself to fit another person’s idea of who you should be. Be you because that is the best and most viable choice you can make.

Sweater Hugs

It’s been cold here in New Hampshire. And by “cold,” I mean take-your-breath-away cold. In fact, if you stay outside for more than a minute, one of your vestigial—but important—parts might freeze off: ears, nose, fingers, toes…. If you’ve ever lived in a cold climate, you know just the kind of cold I am talking about. It is C-O-L-D!

The cold sneaks through the walls of the house, around the windows and doors, dancing across the floor as a draft that brings the cold inside. The furnace is struggling to keep the temperature comfortably warm, so we need to bundle up in extra layers, even around the house. Turtlenecks, sweaters, and warm socks are necessary.

* * *

Back in the days when oversized sweaters were all the rage, I might (or might not) have usurped my dad’s old red wool sweater. I have a vague recollection that he let me borrow it for something when I was a senior in high school, and he decided he wasn’t going to wear it any more anyway (something about it being too small and not really something he was likely to wear), so it became mine. Now, I’m not sure if he really thought he wouldn’t wear it, or he wanted me to have it, but over the years, I have held onto it and worn it every now and again. Each time I sort through clothes to donate, I pass by the sweater, leaving it in the cedar chest just in case I want to wear it someday.

* * *

It has been almost a year since Dad passed away. The pain of loss was renewed with the holidays and the approaching new year. As I looked to bundle up against the cold this morning, I remembered Dad’s sweater, folded and ready for wear at the bottom of the cedar chest. I took it out and put it on, knowing that it was the perfect sweater to keep me warm today. Throughout the day, I cherished both the warmth of the sweater and the feeling of being wrapped in a gentle hug.

Since the cold is going to drag on, I think I might wear Dad’s sweater again tomorrow….

Positivity Post: Small Acts of Courage

While at the grocery store Sunday, I had the unromantic job of selecting broccoli crowns out of the large display bin. You know the drill—check to make sure it’s firm or it’s been sitting out too long…. As I picked through the options, there was a young produce worker next to me, loading up the bin of Brussels sprouts. And while he was working, he started to sing. Quietly at first, but then—when customers seemed to be enjoying his serenade—with more energy.

His voice was clear and even, and several customers complimented him. I had a sense that this was a bit of a risk for this kid, but he took it to see what would happen. Because after all, what was the worst that could happen? No doubt, it took courage for him to start singing [a Disney song] in a public place, but something tells me this young man might be brave enough to sing in public more often.

Sometimes, it pays to take those small risks. Clearly, we can all learn a lesson from this young man. If we can gather the courage to put ourselves out there (in whatever way  matters to us), you never know what might happen. At the very least, people might smile and approve of your first step out of your comfort zone.