Archive for the ‘compassion’ Category

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Road Trip Stories in the South

April 8, 2019

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Last week, I had a most excellent adventure. First, I met my oldest and closest friends in New Orleans and then road-tripped with my 88-year-old mom through the South. Both pieces were extraordinary.

My friends never disappoint. Sure, we’ve grown older; our legs more tired and our wrinkles much deeper. We’ve raised kids and dogs and worked and suffered. We’ve become strong, independent women who know a thing or two, and yet, have plenty to learn. We’re a complicated crew. Because of my gals, I’ve learned that relationships take effort. I’ve also learned, the best ones are worth the investment.

As lives change, friendships shift; but once together, my friends and I remember. We remember big hair, Bon Jovi, shoulder pads, banana bike seats, pool parties, and Schaeffer Light. Now, we roll eyes, remembering the jocks and the burn-outs, the teachers and the coaches. We remember laughing. We remember predators. We remember love. Mostly, we remember our stories. Together; eating and drinking and dancing like fools, we make more moments to remember. Stories.

After my friends, dispersed, Mom arrived. Because her grandma was a suffragist and taught her to demand social justice, Mom taught me the same. We headed for Montgomery where much of our nation’s horrific history is recorded. We sat with ghosts. We studied at the Legacy Center, listening to stories of incarceration, injustice, lynching, and death. As white women raised in America, like it or not, we’ve benefited from slavery’s dark legacy and the Jim Crow laws that followed. After many museums, we sat with ourselves; sorry and ashamed. Mom and I had long talks about racism, social injustice, and the history that got us here. We committed ourselves to listen better. Act more. And to speak about what we learned; sharing both the stories that were told and the stories that disappeared.

By the end of my adventure, I realized, not for the first time, how quickly life moves; how tragic and joyful it can be. In the time we are given, relationships and stories transform life, making it either better or worse.

Stories.

For me, I hope to create a life where I live a good story, I write a good story, and I listen to all the stories I can.

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What Rudolph Taught Me

December 15, 2018
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Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

It seems as though Rudolph has been thrown off the sleigh. In current times, some folks cry for the cartoon to be banned, claiming that it’s filled with prejudice and insensitive behaviors. If Rudolph were written today, I might agree.

But it wasn’t.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerwas written in 1939 and first hit television in 1964. The show should be appreciated in the contextual times it was written.

When I was little, Rudolph was my favorite Christmas show. I loved the bouncing bumble who scared me and then endeared me. I loved the land of misfit toys. I loved the tiny cozy cabin and the terrible storm. I loved the jingle of Santa’s sleigh as he crossed the moon’s path.

But mostly, I loved Rudolph.

The heart of the story focuses on a character who doesn’t fit in, because he’s different. He’s teased and taunted and ridiculed because of his nose, but also, because he’s an independent thinker who believes in a greater truth than what’s been told. It’s a hero’s journey of perseverance and self-discovery. It’s a story about prejudice. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer helped me understand that being different can and should be championed. Rudolph resonated with me because even at a young age, I understood the inequity and unfairness in the world. Without realizing it, at age four, I became a champion of social justice.

We all have hidden and not so hidden obstacles to overcome. Some folks have harder lots than others. In a world that desperately needs more compassion and understanding, it’s important to fight for freedom for all. At least, that’s what Rudolph taught me.

 

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And Yet: Gratitude for the Moment

November 15, 2018
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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Gratitude. While wildfires strip lives, and storms rip away homes, it’s hard to feel grateful. It’s hard to feel grateful when we see pollution and destruction and division. It’s hard to feel grateful when people are hurt and hungry and suffering.

And yet.

The birds still sing.

Dogs wag their tails.

Sun warms our skin.

Peach juice drips down one’s chin, delicious and juicy.

Ice-cream sweetens the tongue.

Someone opens the door and smiles.

The breeze blows gently; bringing with it the smell of soft rain.

A pillow offers welcome relief at the end of a long day.

Someone says thank you and another whispers you’re welcome.

And yet.

There are hundreds of small moments to offer gratitude. In a world where so much is out of our control, leaving us helpless and frustrated, it’s even more important to find gratitude in the present. It is the everyday flashes of beauty and joy that will bring a sense of hope. A sense of wellbeing. A sense of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

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Babka and the New Year

September 25, 2018

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As often is the case, I stormed into fall with an agenda the size of the Great Pumpkin. But in spite of my overreaching goals and the stress that comes with over-commitment, I love fall. For me, it’s a high energy time, offering great possibility. It begins with a nervous tingle in my tummy, flashing back to early school mornings; organizing papers and picking new pens, and moves into a fresh, clean slate.

This past week, my husband and I hosted a dinner on Yom Kippur—the holiest of Jewish holidays. Unlike my husband, I’m not Jewish, but it is a time I’ve come to honor. The day is spent in prayer while fasting, and the dinner is appropriately named ‘break-fast.’ Living in a small mountain town means our community of Jewish friends is also small. But we gather. For break-fast, friends bring dishes easy on a starved stomach. My husband makes quiche (or buys it in a pinch), and I bake sweet bread. Someone brings bagels, lox, and whitefish while another makes kugel; a sweet and creamy noodle dish. There are platters of fruit, often a salad, cheesecakes and babka. As a breakfast girl, it is by far one of my favorite dinners of the year. But the real meaning behind break-fast is not the food; it’s a time to reflect and repent; then share, in community, the freshness of a new year.

Some say Yom Kippur is a day to atone for your sins, but this shiksa doesn’t believe in original sin, so I maintain a different spin. For me, all days should have elements of forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude, not one day a week or one day a year. I like to think of Yom Kippur as a crowning day—a day to honor ALL the days of forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude.

And it is a day to forgive myself.

I often fail at a lot of things; my writing, my parenting, my meditation practice, my wellness. I’m not always so gentle with myself during times of failure. I self-sabotage my plans and nurture bad habits instead of healthy ones. But in the failure, I learn. I’m humbled. And after, I pick myself up and begin again.

This year, I hope to confront failure with forgiveness and find compassion for myself as well as for others. I’m filled with gratitude for having grown, making the failures hurt a little less.

As I write, noshing on leftover babka and sip sweet tea, I surprise myself—I’m cultivating a new practice; divinely inspired by fall. Gratitude.

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How to Say Goodbye in 10 Simple Steps

August 29, 2018
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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When it comes to saying goodbye, I call BS. It’s not sweet; in fact, it sucks.

I’ve been forced to say a heartbreaking goodbye to my brother, who suffered a long slow death via AIDS. When a vessel burst in my dad’s brain, I whispered an equally sad yet surprising goodbye. I’ve said less permanent but still challenging farewells to hosts of others: friends and family; teachers and students; neighbors and co-workers. I’ve cried my heart out saying goodbye to beloved pets. Even harder, I’ve kissed away my children as they’ve flown into their new lives.

In addition to my personal struggle with parting’s sweet sorrow, my kids have been faced with their own good-byes; with each other, their friends, and the world they’ve always known. While stepping out and into a new life comes with great anticipation, excitement, and potential; it’s also scary, sad, and often riddled with anxiety.

When it comes to saying goodbye, I have few words of wisdom to offer. It doesn’t get easier, but I do know this; it happens—again and again. And avoiding its pain doesn’t work; grief always resurfaces. That said, there are a few things I’ve learned to help ease the process.

  1. Cry; sit with the pain and let yourself cry. Feel all the feels, but then get up. Both are equally important.
  2. Drink water; crying dehydrates.
  3. Be grateful; pick one thing a day and offer thanks.
  4. Walk in nature; it will whisper comfort.
  5. Run. Draw. Pound on a drum. Do something to channel your emotions.
  6. Hug an animal.
  7. Organizing shifts energy.
  8. If you have a garden, tend to it. If you don’t, buy a plant.
  9. Listen to music and read a book; any and all.
  10. Know that your feelings are normal. Know it is hard. Know you will survive.

Saying good-bye stinks, but it can be managed. Instead of burying the sadness, take care of yourself. It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it easier.

 

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Character Lessons From an Innkeeper

October 4, 2016

Someone I knew, although not all that well, died recently. In total, I had no more than a dozen conversations with Richard, but his words, his presence, and his energy influenced me. A loss is hard enough when you know someone well, but when you lose someone who plays a small but impactful role in your life, it can be confusing and certainly jarring.

When I heard Richard had died, I was sad; sad for him, his family, and his friends. I was sad for the small hole in my life but also sad for other strangers, who’d known him only marginally, but would miss his presence.

Richard worked at an old mountain inn, which was almost always empty and not at all fancy. I went there to write because the town was quiet, I knew no one, and could get a lot of work done in a short period of time. I had no distractions, except one: Richard.

Sometimes I’d arrive at the hotel last minute, because it wasn’t the kind of place one needed a reservation. Richard would wave his hands in the air, greeting me like a long-lost celebrity. He liked to talk, but I had deadlines and work to get done. Eventually, I learned to plan intentional evening writing breaks to listen to Richard’s stories. I never regretted it.

At first, Richard’s tall tales made me scratch my head. Were they really true? But as I got to know him, I realized they were. Richard lived in the middle of nowhere, but he’d been places. As he poked the logs crackling in the fireplace, he’d tell me about his mother, growing up on a farm, and picking apples. He shared incredible adventures about his time in the military. He told me about quinoa growth in South America and the complicated legalities of water rights. He was a lobbyist with a strong political bent. Richard was not a gossip but knew everyone in town and beyond.

Once, I sat silently as Richard spent an hour arguing with an older man who had opposing political views. They remained civil, agreeing to disagree. Later, I mentioned how it was nice, rare these days, but nice they respected each other’s views. Richard answered in his usual, enthusiastic voice, “Why get angry when someone disagrees with you? If we all thought the same way, life would be big time boring.” He was right, of course. If we all had the same politics, the same religion, and the same interests, life would be ‘big time boring.’

From what I gathered, Richard’s time was anything but boring, but I didn’t realize how significantly his stories made me think about life. Every time I left town, a piece of him found its way into my writing and into my world. Not only did Richard help me realize the importance of taking time to talk and cultivate unforeseen relationships, but he also taught me something about character development; a necessary piece of writing.

As a fiction writer, I use a variety of tools to create believable characters. The enneagram, character sketches, psychology tests, and archetypal profiles all help me build the people in my manuscripts. There are times I want to cheat and make it easier for myself by not doing the needed work to deepen a character. But when I do, the characters fall flat. By living his life fully and deeply, Richard reminded me to make characters complex, rich with detail, and unexpected. A complex character can make or break a story. I think Richard felt that way about life—you make it or break it by the kind of world you build.

I’ll miss Richard, but I don’t regret the time I took to ask a few questions and listen to his stories. He lived a large life. So should we all.

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An Ode to my Kids, and Perhaps to Yours

August 10, 2016

 

Saying goodbye is hard to do. No matter how much you prepare yourself—no one can truly anticipate being so damn sad. Grief flows its own river.

Like many, I’ve had significant loss—in addition to my grandparents; death took my two aunts, my dad, two brothers, and a number of pets. I know how grief works. It grabs you, swallows you, spits you out and repeats until you crash and begin to finally begin again.

This time, my loss is not so permanent; thus not so powerful. That said, good-byes are painful, and change is scary. My oldest child leaves for the University of Colorado this month, altering our family life forever. Ellie will be back, probably with a load of dirty laundry and a need for home cookin’, but she’s gone. Her place at the table will be vacant, her bed empty, and her siblings lonely (okay, maybe not all the time). The happy news? She’s embarking on a grand adventure, starring herself. It won’t be long before my other two leave, too. I’m beyond proud of the people they’ve become, and yet, still sad.

To help me process and understand the tremendous change, I’ve written an ode to my kids; things I hope I’ve taught them. I’m sure I’ve messed up, forgotten things, and have probably failed in some capacity. But that’s parenting. At least I made a list, outlining 25 things I want them to know. Who knows if they’ll heed the advice or grasp the full meaning, I can hope.

  1. I wish you a life of love and know that you are always loved by me
  2. Find good company
  3. Laugh often
  4. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and don’t drink too much alcohol
  5. Call me when you are hurting or happy- I’ll be there
  6. Remember to breathe deeply and that it is enough
  7. Brush your teeth
  8. Be honest- with yourself and with others
  9. Know that life isn’t fair, but it is what you make it
  10. Eat breakfast (more than a Starbucks’ latte, please)
  11. Work hard
  12. Pay your debts (better yet, don’t have any)
  13. Don’t post inappropriate pictures online
  14. Take good risks (don’t jump out a window, but do try a new activity/class)
  15. Read for fun
  16. Know that it is okay to let go
  17. Don’t hold onto anger, guilt, or resentment
  18. See a doctor, an acupuncturist, or a good healer when you are sick
  19. Take your vitamins
  20. Don’t leave a friend alone at a party
  21. Don’t stay alone at a party
  22. Trust your intuition
  23. Be kind
  24. Meet many diverse people
  25. Know this: I am forever grateful for the time we’ve lived together, arguments and all