Friday, June 24, 2011
Then came that day in October 1983, when I was in front of the Shingletown Store, fumbling in a fog of grief, trying to figure out in which pocket I’d stowed my post office box key. My intended movements and destination were completely subverted as I suddenly became submerged in a big, warm, bosomy hug. I can’t tell you what she said to me in way of consolation at the loss of my mother, but I can tell you that Candy was the first person who had ever hugged the stuffing out of me. I came from a family of people who were not overly affectionate. I was positively enamored at a love that so overflowed.
Over the years, one of the things I have always associated with Candy is her amazing love for children—her own, those in her extended family, strangers on the street, it really didn’t matter. She leaves three biological children who enchantingly have carried on that legacy to their own children, and she leaves a lifetime of other people who have been touched and altered by such pure affection.
When I was eighteen or so, Candy and I both worked at Big Wheels for a while. I recall Candy being so happy and positive on the job. She made a great waitress—exuberant, friendly, quick, and hard working. She didn’t stay working long, ultimately quitting because she didn’t want to do dishes. She wasn’t indignant about it or anything. In her sunniest of dispositions, she simply said, “I just don’t like doing dishes. I don’t like doing them at home, and I don’t like doing them here, so it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to do this.”
I have thought often over the years of that conversation, admiring her ability to be so honest with herself and others about what does and doesn’t work for her. It takes a solid degree of courage to be that way-- a courage I have yet to perfect in my own life; a courage that Candy herself sometimes forgot she possessed.
Also not surprising was Candy’s sense of humor. A highly-honed family trait, Candy was not often without some casual observation about life that would leave those around her in a fit of giggles. I found her ability to laugh at herself attractive, and her ability to transmute her sense of humor to fit any occasion almost beyond human, from the darkly sardonic, to the randomly flip.
The last time I saw Candy was a few years ago, at a Johnny Lang concert. I remember the visible pain on her face as she told me of her mom’s passing. This was also within weeks of her family losing her beloved granddaughter, Rebekah. I can’t help but smile now when I think of her existing, glory to glory with Jesus—home and happy with those many souls she’d loved and lost while here on earth—Effie and Jim, Carol Ann, Rebekah, and others. I laugh when I think of her at this moment, at her most effervescent, enquiring of Jesus about who works in the kitchen, because she didn’t like to do dishes at home on Earth, and she won’t be doing them there, either.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
I don't want to be a capricious critic on this topic, but I'm going to start this missive out by saying: Today's gas strike will not work.
While I am wholly supportive of Americans coming together at a grassroots level to do something about fuel costs skyrocketing toward five dollars per gallon, simply not purchasing gas on a pre-determined date is not a consumer action that will have long-term impact. Either you bought gas yesterday, or you will do it tomorrow or the next day. All this gas strike is doing is changing a spending pattern.
We must address consumption.
Today, take five minutes before you load up into your vehicle and think about where you are going to drive and how you're going to get there. Are your routes the most efficient possible? Are there phone calls you can make instead of physically driving to a location? Are there ways to divide tasks so that you and a neighbor aren't both making essentially the same trips in two vehicles? How about you take all the kids to soccer practice, and your neighbor picks them up and grabs that quart of milk you needed, too?
Today, consider what you're driving. Yes, that SUV is great when it comes to luxury and space. Is that luxury worth the c-note you're gonna pay at the pump today, or tomorrow? A generation ago, we figured out how to get Johnny and Susie to practice, the tutor, and the dentist, in a much smaller vehicle. Sometimes, it was the only vehicle in the family. Convenience is nice when it can be attained. Ours is a generation that has become a slave to it. Has convenience become your master?
Today, consider whether you need to drive at all. Do you hear that bike in the garage calling you? Have you noticed the expanded routes and bus service in town? Yes, it takes a little more time to get to work that way, but it's money in your pocket when you literally drive past the gas station without NEED to stop. Today's gas strike is just a deferral of the inevitable, unless we change our patterns of consumption.
Tomorrow, do any or all of these things to continue decreasing your dependence upon oil.
Tomorrow, be a different consumer than you are today. This, and only this, will change the shape of what is happening at the gas pump.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
The Thing About Valentine’s Day…
I’ve received a lot of feedback about my announcement that I “canceled” Valentines Day. In a nutshell, here are the thoughts and events that led to that decision.
Hallmark is a Whore. Legally.
I am once again compelled to take notice that the idea of loving others is taken to absurdly commercial heights, and that the notion of love and appreciation of others is obfuscated by a whole lot of unwarranted angst, politicking, strategizing, and misinterpretation. I don’t think that this is what Cupid intended.
Is it “Je t’aime,” or “Je t’aime bien”?
In France, ‘Je t’aime’ means “I love you.” Je t’aime bien’ translates “I love you well”, and is that culture’s sentiment for “I really, really, really, really like you a lot.” In my current love formula, I am not sure how one treats both sides of that equation. Something needs to be added or subtracted from one side or the other. My notion was to delay the drama and pressure of Valentine’s Day, until we’ve figured out how to modify the equation to each other's satisfaction.
I’d rather have the whole year instead of one day.
Much the same as how I feel about Christmas, I’d rather be doing a better job of loving consistently, daily. At the onset of Valentines’ Day, I’d like my lover to be able to say, “Nothing so special about Valentines’ Day, since I am loved and appreciated this way every day in life.”
Essentially, I guess I'm more interested in Cupid having careful aim than feeling compelled to hit the broad side of the barn.
I am proud to have made the electronic acquaintance of so many truly strong individuals who have triumphed through unimaginable abuse. I am inspired by the quiet strength, courage, and grace of so many people in this community. I encourage those of you who can find your voice, to tell others that they are not alone. Your stories have purpose, they have the power to heal, to help others overcome.
I have been moved by the heart-rending stories of people still struggling with the unrelinquished hurt, fear, and betrayal. I encourage those of you still hurting to take just one small brave step and begin connecting with someone who will hear your pain and help you find your way. It makes no matter whether that person is a professional, a neighbor, a stranger. It DOES get better.
What has kept me from posting a follow-up for over a month now, has been the other five emails. Four of them have had the audacity to assert that victims of sexual assault—including that which happens to the very young—bear some measure of responsibility in the act. To those individuals, let me be so bold as to speak on behalf of a multitude of people when I say this:
Any act that ends with someone saying, “And if you tell your mom this happened…” is pretty much not a consensual act. Any act that a child cries “No” to repeatedly, even when punched for doing so, is not a consensual act. Any act that leaves a child growing up to feel that he or she is not worthy of another person’s pure and genuine affections, is not a consensual act. Every adult bears the responsibility to not inappropriately touch a child… no matter how your twisted, messed up perspective might view that child’s behavior.
These are the most constructive things I can think to say to the four individuals who suggested that the molestation of a child is not the perpetrator’s fault. I have many other things I’d like to say, but will reserve judgment and take the higher road.
The final email I have wrestled with since the moment I opened it. Almost a month ago.
I received an email from someone who molested me when I was eleven years old. The email was succinct, remorseful, and requested the opportunity to meet with me to apologize. I have thought over the past four weeks as to how—and whether—to respond. It’s not that I haven’t forgiven what happened. I have. A long time ago. And without the fear and discomfort I imagine would come from such a face-to-face encounter. Thirty years is a lot of time to put between me and some very painful experiences. Thirty years is almost the amount of time it has taken me to get over it. I have not really been able to convince myself that opening old wounds is really productive in this instance.
Today, one of my Facebook friends posted on his wall: “Listening may be the most loving thing you do today.” I don’t know why, today of all days, this hit me so hard. Or why I connected it to this email I’ve been pondering.
Today, I emailed this man and suggested that I am willing to entertain meeting him, with some safeguards and conditions. Why? Curiosity? Closure? I guess I’ve been mulling that over for all these weeks. Today, I figured out the answer:
For love; of self, of God, of others. Listening seems a small price to pay for the privilege and opportunity that are contained in those gifts.
Friday, January 7, 2011
I knew I had things to share and say that would be beneficial. I was bullied as a kid, preyed upon for being fat, poor, smart, shy, awkward, and socially marginalized by my parents’ life choices. I have been bullied as an adult, in the workplace, in marriage, in family relationships. I am glad to say that after nearly 40 years, I finally found my way, and found the courage to draw boundaries, repair the damage, and make myself whole.
It’s not that I don’t have tons to say about what that feels like. Pain is pain, and it hurts. And much like many other things in life, I’ve managed to overcome and conquer. As always, I’d rather focus on the good, rather than the bad.
What kept me from sharing on this topic really comes down to a lack of zeal. I just couldn’t put my finger on some aspect of the matter that I felt truly resonated with me in a way that would translate to something meaningful worth reading. Until today.
A Facebook friend posted a version of this news story on his page about the suicide of Bill Zeller, renowned Princeton computer programmer. Bill took his own life after twenty-some years of unsuccessfully dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse as a child.
As many of you know, I have long been an advocate for suicide prevention, having lost my mother, a co-worker, and a slew of friends to such tragic ends. I have compassion for those so enshrouded in hopelessness that they find this dark end the only means of ending their suffering. Life is truly rough sometimes. I have endless sympathy for those left behind, who must make sense out of such senseless and enormous loss. Moving on is rough, too.
Something I have not talked or written about much from my own experience is the way sexual abuse in my childhood impacted me. Other than succumbing to thoughts of death, I have experienced much of what Bill Zeller shared in his final missive: the darkness, the self-loathing, the pain, the fear, the isolation, the inability to find courage for real intimacy, the betrayals encountered in the search to repair the damage done. I can understand how and why a person would want permanent respite from these things.
I have been that person who bore daily physical reminders of such heinous violation. I have struggled to reach out of a darkness from which I sometimes could not justify my own escape. I have self-sabotaged aspects of my life because I was afraid—of what, I’m not sure. I have chosen poorly in nearly every romantic relationship I’ve tried to have, because somehow, latching on to someone I knew would hurt, betray, or otherwise neglect me seemed just dessert for damaged goods. I have hurt other people in my irrational and illogical attempts to keep myself “safe” from further harm, perceived or otherwise.
Thankfully, it does get better.
As I read Bill Zeller’s final words, my heart ached for a young man who never learned to love himself. The greatest spiritual battle we face is being separated from the love that was placed in us by creation. Every religion—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.—all speak to the importance of loving one’s self. Biblical scripture says, “loving the Lord your God with all your heart, even as you love yourself.”
I don’t want to get dogmatic or preachy, but those are powerful words. Love. Yourself. No matter what has happened to you in this life, you are a person worth knowing, worth loving, and blessed with a life worth living, and sharing with others. I read somewhere recently, a quote, “You don’t have to go looking for love if it’s where you come from.” Loving yourself is fundamental to sustaining the rest of one’s existence in a healthy, happy way. If you don’t love yourself, how can you believe that others—family, friends, God—love you, too?
For other Bill Zellers out there: You are not alone. Statistically speaking, one of every four females, and one of every seven males you meet on the street has been sexually abused. The things that isolate you are not entirely unique to your own human experience. You are precious, valued, loved. There is confidential help available through mental health professionals, sexual abuse hotlines, online resources.
For the rest of us: Recognize that every person you encounter has struggles in life. Some things that have been engrafted into the hearts of friends and loved ones are this plaguing, this monumental, this difficult for the individual; no matter how they are presenting on the outside. Be a friend. Be a confidante. Recognize the signs and symptoms of the seriously depressed and those predisposed to suicide:
• Ideation (thinking, talking or wishing about suicide)
• Substance use or abuse (increased use or change in substance)
• Puposelessness (no sense of purpose or belonging)
• Trapped (feeling like there is no way out)
• Hopelessness (there is nothing to live for, no hope or optimism)
• Withdrawal (from family, friends, work, school, activities, hobbies)
• Anxiety (restlessness, irritability, agitation)
• Recklessness (high risk-taking behavior)
• Mood disturbance (dramatic changes in mood)
• Talking about suicide.
• Looking for ways to die (internet searches for how to commit suicide, looking for guns, pills, etc.)
• Statements about hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness.
• Preoccupation with death.
• Suddenly happier, calmer.
• Loss of interest in things one cares about.
• Visiting or calling people one cares about.
• Making arrangements; setting one's affairs in order.
• Giving things away, such as prized possessions.
And may we all remember that there is no problem so great that it cannot be conquered when the job is properly divided among friends.
Monday, December 27, 2010
For those three or four of you who might be as sheltered and clueless as I apparently am, here’s the deal:
In 2007, George W. Bush signed some sort of energy bill which, in part, begins phasing out incandescent light bulbs. Those are the non-funny-shaped ones. The ones we’ve taken for granted all our lives. The federally-mandated phase out does not start until 2012. However, California, in order to meet its own energy reduction mandates, is beginning the phase out of 100-watt bulbs effective January 1, 2011.
Now, 100-watt bulbs, I can see eliminating. It’s like a thousand splendid suns in someone’s living room. But on the heels of that, my beloved 60- and 75-watt luminaries will also become contraband. I’m getting to that age where time and gravity have collided with good looks and grace, causing a wrinkling Armageddon across my face. Make-up only does so much. I rely on other people’s poor vision and good lighting to compensate for the rest.
And I’m left to wonder, what the heck was so important in the past three years that I missed this impending train wreck?
Friday, December 10, 2010
Instead of buying me a sweater, share a cup of tea with me. Instead of making me some trinket, spend time making memories with me that we both will be unable to erase from our legacies.
This year, the ‘back to basics’ epiphany has hit me this way:
Going broke buying gifts to prove you love me as much as you love the eight-pound baby Jesus, is like giddily leading Herrod to the Christ child. When we buy what we can barely afford, we are laying all our tribute at the feet of Target, WalMart, Macy’s, and Sears. If we’ve converted all our worth into commercial gifts, what do we really have left of value to share with one another, or with Christ?
This year, I challenge you to put aside your notions of tangible value on loved ones. Cast off your warm and fuzzy notion of the baby Jesus in the manger. Consider instead, bravely embracing the 23 year-old, 165 pound Jesus. Not much is written about him. I suspect that he was out and about, eating locusts, doing more of that 'I’m the Son of God' 40-day fasting plan, and generally being tempted in all manner of men. And at 23, he was likely bemoaning that day’s equivalent of walking the life of a man-child. He was finally able to go out and drink with his buddies, but not quite old enough to be getting a good driver insurance rate, due to his age.
This year has taught me more about faith than any other time in my life. Facing death makes one reconsider a lot about life in general, and personal circumstances in particular. I believe that in Christ’s young manhood, he had to be conflicted about his life path, knowing that he was headed for a road of rejection, condemnation, and betrayal, all in the name of the family biz. Still, we’re told, he counted it all joy. He was steadfast in his faith. That's what I want for all of us in the coming year-- a steadfastness that helps us endure challenges with joy, and a gratitude that makes us drink in every moment of goodness that comes our way.
Instead of casting our lot with the cute and cuddly little bugger in the manger, let’s worship the guy who went through who-knows-what, for you-know-who (us). Let’s emulate the dude who was strong enough physically, and mature enough emotionally, to move forward through the tough times, knowing that doing so gave us all a foothold to joy unspeakable.
Let’s trust one another, hold each other up, love one another in the non-trinket form; in ways that better sustain us, better propel us, and better bond us to one another in the coming year.