Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Zen and History


History is happening—always, right here, right now, you are historying at this very second!—and right now, the history happening seems to be pretty solidly anti-zen.  While I am not in a history classroom of my own these days, I find myself still filtering everything through the lens of history—what has happened before, and what have we learned (or not) from those happenings? And one step further—how do we make sense of the history happening around us, and how do we most appropriately and effectively respond to those happenings?

Our founding fathers were hyper conscious about their place in history, about the legacy of their actions in forging a new sort of government.  You can see this time and again in their writings. We’ve lost some of that today in the glut of media and the reduction of speeches to sound-bytes, in the replacement of thoughtful responses with strident reaction.  A sense of spectacle has displaced a focus on legacy.  Appeals to chaos, fear, and emotion create an environment in which division and anger thrive. Yes, our founding fathers argued and politicked and published nasty articles about each other—and pretty much ignored the founding mothers-- but at the end of the day, they truly believed they were working for a larger good, NOT for their own egos.  They took time to think. To read. To learn. To write. Not just to spew.

I think I can safely posit that we are not in founding father land anymore.

 Being conscious of history we are forging NOW only works if we have a strong foundation of history in the distant and recent past. Recognizing evil in speech and action is easier when we understand this is nothing we have not seen before—the targets of prejudice and discrimination have just changed with each passing decade.  In this context, history seems completely anti-zen – so many bad things have happened, so many people have done terrible things to each other, even in this country I love so much. Responding to dark moments may seem impossible if we cannot look back to those who have stood in the face of darkness before.  History teaches us that bad stuff happens. A lot. And good people in EVERY era of history, without fail, stand up to answer the bad, often at great personal cost. We can make THAT kind of history.

History teaches, but rarely comforts (except to show time and time again that in spite of pretty hideous events and actions, time marches on and the world keeps going).  Progression – not to be confused with progress – is inexorable. History helps us make sense of dark times even as it gives us hope that the dark times are not forever.

The facts of history are set, but the interpretation of those facts is fluid, and if we study history honestly (and without need for self-aggrandizement ala our past) we can fulfill our responsibility to interpret history without erasing the less than flattering parts.  Interpretation takes time. Insta-interpretation is dangerous, reactionary.  History is, beyond anything else, proof that the passage of time is inherently powerful—and that over time the full import of our choices will become clear.

I sense a certain vibe of “um, yeah, and? So what? This is not your normal kind of post.”  I know. Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about history and how much I wish people would study it—maybe because I am not teaching it right now (although I have been covering a fair number of history classes in my substituting job).   Nationalism vs. patriotism, the Constitution, patterns of immigration and discrimination in the US (and elsewhere), there are so many things history can teach us about—but we have to go and learn. Learning takes discipline, and work, and a willingness to acknowledge when our own understandings have been limited or flat out wrong.  Knowledge really and truly is power, just sometimes it is a power gained through painful re-evaluation of things we thought we knew.

I love history so much.

I know I can learn from my own history. I can understand my own fears and behaviors and then respond to them in a much more zen like way if I can place them in context, my own historical context.  I was at CHOP last night with one of my kids (routine visit, just weirdly at night), and the smell of the blanket they gave me to keep warm, combined with the darkness outside, put my brain in a pretty bad place—but I understood why. I have too many memories of nights at CHOP, trying to sleep on a sheet that smells like hospital. Knowing this history helped me just breathe through the moment. I could respond, not react. I did not just start rocking back and forth and cursing at the MRI machine. I have done that before, so…yeah. I just took a deep breath, said a little prayer, and opened a Dorothy Sayers mystery to read.  History helped.

Can you imagine if we could do this in our life here in the US? If we could understand civil rights history in our country and thus respond thoughtfully to the concerns of those voters who rationally worry that their voices and votes continue to be suppressed? If we could learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act, or the quotas of the 1920s, or the “No Irish Need Apply” signs in store windows and thus respond with compassion to those people who come from afar in search of a better life like our own ancestors did? If we could look at politicians from not that long ago who worked together and got along despite deep philosophical differences, and we could hold name-calling politicians accountable for rhetoric that reduces our civic discourse to a playground argument?

The tool of history is one of the most versatile and valuable in our civic toolbox. We may not find zen, but if we understand the past, we can more thoughtfully and responsibly approach our future.

Peace to all, and to our country. Now go vote.




Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Zen and the Darkness


Hello, darkness my old friend.

I’ve come to talk with you again.



I do not love the dark.

I love Simon and Garfunkel, and Sounds of Silence is to my mind one of the greatest songs ever written. But darkness is not my friend.

Decades ago the Muppet Babies sang about how good things happen in the dark (which sounds weirdly inappropriate now). I recently heard a podcast about embracing dark moments, but I do not love the dark, and as October marches towards November, the dark grows increasingly pervasive. I may have to talk with the dark again, but it is not generally a friendly conversation.

The physical dark oppresses me. Years ago when we remodeled our kitchen, I had the electrician install pendant lights, lights in the upper glass cabinets, a light over the sink, and recessed lights all through the rest of the ceiling. You could land a jet in my kitchen, it’s like a runway’s worth of lights.  On cloudy dark mornings I turn on EVERY LIGHT I CAN GET TO. My husband loses his mind, he likes the cavelike darkness, but I NEED THE LIGHT.

Last year I finally bought one of those light box things to try and help me deal with my increasingly challenged zen in the fall and winter months. I am not sure if shining super bright light into my pupils for 20-30 minutes a day is actually going to help my body produce more serotonin, but I figure it’s worth a try, even if I only get a placebo effect out of it.

I have little light up bottles and tea lights and big candles and fake candles that change color and decorative lights and LIGHTS GALORE. And still, I am ready to hide by about 7:38 these days. When I walk the dog in the morning now I need my “please don’t run me over!” blinking flashlight/lantern combo. IN THE MORNING. Ugh.

The physical darkness of these months is compounded by the darkness in society right now, the anger and fear and name calling and loathing that seem omnipresent. I am making a conscious (albeit not super successful) effort to stay OFF social media for more of the day, to not check the news except for BBC so I know what is going on in the world—even that is pretty dark, but it isn’t the slickly marketed darkness that the US News wallows in these days.  This kind of darkness weighs on my soul. A lot.

Our personal history of this time of year is pretty, dark, too. Maybe that contributes to some of my lack of focus, my feeling like I need to be super proactive to fight off the gloom? In November of 2004 my daughter epically failed her first chemo—something I could not even fathom, at the time.  This was supposed to work for 7 out of 10 kids. G was in the 3. We were devastated. In October of 2005 she ended chemo number 2 and found out that she had progression, and had to start the incredibly difficult season of chemo #3. Note to self, never scan on Halloween. December/January of that year were some of the darkest of our story, as G’s port broke and floated into her pulmonary artery, she developed cellulitis around the new port site, spent 10 days inpatient with infection/neutropenia (a first), and then had an MRI that indicated malignant transformation and a potential death sentence for our 7 year old.

No number of tea lights will take the edge off THAT.

December of 2011 is when everything started again, tumor progression, shunt surgery, a clinical trial. These months are DARK.

I just finished reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, and he talks a lot about the dark, and about finding God there (or God finding us there…this book is so deep, I feel like I need to read it 18 more times before I can begin to scratch the surface of what Merton knew).  He also talks a lot about just BEING, not DOING.

Ugh. I am the worst at Being. Especially in these dark days. For me being turns into sleeping.

But really—in the moments of being, moments of light can be found. In being there for my kid who needs to talk…in being outside with my dog who needs to snoofle, just being in that moment, listening to the squirrels in the crunchy leaves and knowing they are squirrels and not giant bears of impending doom…in being in the moment as I make dinner, or work on some art, or sweep a floor, I can see some light in these moments.

And not to go all last century political on things, but if I can look around a little, if I can just try to set aside the reality of the dark for a moment, I can see a thousand points of light in the good people are doing, in the happy dog/owner reunion videos I keep watching, in the generosity of our neighbors when my kid goes door to door asking for donations for her Appalachia trip.  The prayers of friends for each other, the support people offer to those in need, the smile from a person at a store or a cheerful conversation with a gas station attendant—all of these are points of light.

That image of a thousand points of light is so timely. We can’t do a whole lot about the pervasive darkness—but we can all be points of light for each other—even today, even in the fraught climate of yikes that threatens to make our future impenetrably dark.

I am trying. Failing a LOT, but trying to be more a  point of light than another layer of darkness. My own darkness is pretty mighty, my resentment over injustices done to people I love, my frustration with mind blowing hypocrisy, my impatience with one of my children seeming to want to be on the tv show Hoarders.  My own darkness sticks like sap to so much of what I try to do, and I hate that.  I want to be a point of light.

I need to be at peace with the physical darkness around, and with our family’s own personal darkness associated with this time of year. Both of these will pass or HAVE passed, and I need to take hope in that. I do take hope in that. As for the dark in society—well, I just have to try harder every day to be a point of light. To share “the good things people need to hear”.  To create words/art/moments that bring light to people.  To make people laugh. To support friends and reach out and not just hide under my blankets until some theoretical spring.

So—let’s do it. Let me know ways you know to be a point of light.  How can we collectively shine together…to paraphrase, to be a light in the darkness,  that the darkness shall not overcome?
Our first fundraiser for the Children's Tumor Foundation was
in 2006, just after the terrible MRI of January. The years of support
from so many people shines on for us as a point of light, a little candle in the darkness.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Zen and the Little Picture


So I sat down to write this last Friday (I worked outside the home on Thursday and was pretty much comatose by the time I finished that and then driving my girls hither and yon). I sat, made myself start to write (ye olde BIC method – Butt In Chair) and STILL the MEH won.  Ultimately, I think that was helpful, both because of what that reveals about my meager stores of mental energy and because the extra time helped me adjust the direction of this post to where I actually wanted it to go. 


I am not one to argue with Animaniacs; like I said last week, it is indeed a great big universe, and by pretty much any calculation we are pretty puny. I know that in the Big Picture of Life, most of the things that drive me to Cadbury consumption are no big deal. My chronically late teen (when I am chronically anxiety filled about not being early), the fact that I NEVER located my long lost car keys, the hours I spend sitting in traffic each day in my maternal chauffeuring gig….these are all irritating, but really, do they MATTER? Even the bigger things, the losses, the catastrophic illness and the shadow it perpetually casts, the employment questions and life direction choices and the things I hope for my kids…in the giant universal sense, they are just tiny little specks.

There is some zen in that, once I get past my tendency to nihilism, the old “life is useless, useless!” translation of Ecclesiastes from the Good News Bible I had when I was a kid.

Yes that sentence in its totality is kind of funny to me…Ecclesiastes was the PRECURSOR to the Good News part, obviously…. But really, the futility of things is in some ways good news, a justification for the old adage, “don’t sweat the small stuff”.

And yet at the very same time, the small stuff is so important. Small stuff is everything. Small stuff IS the big stuff. We live in the daily realities of small stuff. 

Small stuff, the little picture—there is so much zen in that, when I look for it, when I pursue it, when I participate in it, instead of just numbing my brain with Candy Crush and organizing sock drawers.  

When I walk my dog in the morning, the color of the sky or the sound of the birds and squirrels are just little parts of regular life; when I stop to look at a dew-covered spider web on my mom’s garden wall, or notice that a whole new kind of mushroom sprouted up in our yard—these little things are just that—little. But in these little things there is such awesomeness, such …zen.  Peace. Harmony. Nature’s teeny stuff is the natural foundation for the Big Picture, and noticing the little things brings joy.

So noticing small stuff helps. But really, it is in DOING the small stuff that I can get more zen-ish. That’s kind of ironic for me, because doing things often pushes me so far outside my anxiety-wrapped comfort zone, but I never regret doing the small things. This is something I have been thinking about a lot the last few days—and beyond.

I have to give myself the little push to keep doing the little things.

Yesterday’s Monday started once again all gray and chilly and draggily.  I literally felt like every step I took was uphill through molasses. I wrote a list in my bullet journal and …sort of looked at it. I had at least one moment midmorning where I debated getting back into bed (which I never, ever do. Ever. )—this was Uber Monday if ever there was one.

And then my dad brought over a UPS package from Williams Sonoma. I had a moment—oh crap, what did I accidentally order, I thought I had talked myself OUT of the Nordic Christmas Tree cake pan??—but then I realized it was a gift from a friend, little chocolate pens you can use to             WRITE IN COLORFUL CHOCOLATE ON OTHER SUGARY THINGS.

So maybe referring to this as a little thing is unfair, because “WRITE IN COLORFUL CHOCOLATE ON OTHER SUGARY THINGS!!!!”; but in the big picture of the universe, this little gesture of kindness, of connection, of hey, you are not just invisible! – that meant so much to my brain.  Did I suddenly get wildly productive? Nope. But I remembered that hey, today is draggily. Tomorrow will be better. And potentially chocolate filled. Maybe everything in the world does NOT rot. A little thoughtful mail did that.

And really, how hard are most little things? Sending a card, complimenting a cashier’s manicure (the Costco ladies always have amazing nails), folding my teen’s laundry for her because she is so woefully behind on all the things…these little things build the big things. These little things are the connections that serve as the foundation of the big things. And yet still, I so often have to push myself to actually DO them.

In recent months so many of my friends have endured extremely difficult medical situations.  Observing the collective power of a thousand little kindnesses--$5 to a GoFundMe, or a t-shirt fundraiser, or prayers offered when material support is impossible, or a random act of muffins –observing these gives me peace. When so much of our society is a mess and a half—people still do the little things that keep us all connected and remind us yet again of our shared humanity—Big Picture stuff.  Observing all this inspires me to Do the Thing, even when—or maybe ESPECIALLY if it is a little thing.

A few years ago, the Children’s Hospital we spend a lot of time at put in a ten million dollar garden area. Yes. Ten. Million. That is a lot of dollars, and a lot of garden. The space is beautiful. I don’t have ten million dollars (gosh, sorry, should have warned you all to sit down before I laid THAT fact on you). I only have the little things—flowers in my garden, or a few bucks to get a bouquet at ShopRite for a friend. I can make muffins or a loaf or something—doing the little things can have a real, significant impact, and remembering that helps me navigate the ughs of everyday life.

Never think a little thing can’t make an impact. Today being the voter registration deadline in NJ, I am reminded, NEVER think one vote can’t make an impact.  Never think that card, or kind word, or cup of coffee for the person behind you in the drive through, or $5 to a GoFundMe don’t all make a difference.  We have to practice awesome in the little things, it is the only way to live the best lives we can live.

So—let’s do the little things, and the Big Picture will take care of itself.

Now I have to ponder if I have time to make some sort of sugary canvas for some choco-pen art….

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Zen and the Big Picture


It’s a great big universe and we’re all really puny, 
We’re just tiny little specks about the size of Mickey Rooney!

It’s big and black and inky,

And we’re all really dinky!

It’s a big universe and we’re not.

                        --Yakko’s Universe, Animaniacs

Yesterday was Monday.

I hope you were all sitting down for that blast of obvious.

Yesterday’s Monday started gray and soggy and with a teen who brings running late to a whole new level (which is saying something, the Camiolo level of late is pretty epic—and something that in 24 years of marriage I have only managed to mitigate slightly with my heritage of Appert earliness).  The news has been depressing, people are all hating on each other, it was “Columbus Day” which makes me crabby (go, Indigenous Peoples!), and so many of my friends are in true battles for the lives of their children right now.

EXTREEEEEEME MONDAY.

I did not start the week with a Cinderella-esque wake up song and a dancing fest of house cleaning with little bluebirds and shirt-wearing mice.

I did start with my little light therapy lamp, I have zero clue if it helps but it doesn’t hurt, so I am trying to get ahead of the literally darkening days.  I also started with a workout that reminded me how far I have to go in working out, and then moved on to Flop In a Heap Yoga. Ok, so the official name was Yoga for After a Workout or something like that, but the practice of it for me was total Flop in a Heap.

I dragged my yoga mat out to my deck, determined to take advantage of the remaining days of warmth.  The sky hung gray above, and the air thick with spritzy almost-rain, enough that my mat eventually got pretty slippery, which created a challenge I did not foresee. Even my yoga got soggy.

At the end of 25 minutes of distracted Heap Flopping, I lay on my back and stared at the sky, gray and spritzy above, thinking about all the heavy things that pushed me down into the yoga mat, pushed me down in my heart, pushed me down in my head.

            And…Yakko’s Universe popped into my head.

I wish I could say I had a glorious enlightenment moment, and I guess in some ways I did, it just came via the Animaniacs.

Everything is so heavy—but in perspective, the universe is SO MUCH BIGGER than all these heavy things. I know from teaching history for so long, things are often dire. Things often seem world-ending…but they aren’t.  The universe is bigger than all these things.  The world keeps going.

That does not necessarily ease the sting of the hard stuff. When your child is ill, that illness and the surrounding fear/pain/impossible choices become your universe.  My friends who have gone through what no parent should ever go through, the loss of a child, have said that even when you think you WILL die, you don’t. You are broken, but keep going. I love these people so much, and learn so much from how they keep going in the face of everything crashing down.

When you see your country being pulled apart, and it seems like there can be no fix…we look at history. We have been a mess before, here in America. Some might argue our history is a mess of people trying to do the best they can—or not, but it’s messy.  I love our country so much, I HAVE to acknowledge the truth of our mess. But in the big picture—Americans have kept trying to figure out what America can be. We keep going.

This helped me yesterday. Granted, Warner Brothers cartoons often help my brain.  When I’m not quoting Muppets I am usually quoting a Warner Brothers character, which is a bit of a disturbing self-revelation.  Still—it is a great big universe. We ARE really dinky. And in the big picture, somehow it helps my zen to know that we are just a piece of the picture, not its totality. Our mess, our yikes, our running late teen are just tiny points in a Seurat-like arrangement of colors that make up everything.

So I am going to keep moving. Keep doing the things. Keep keeping the faith. Keep on swimming. Keep on keeping on. Keep on reminding myself that the universe is bigger than whatever is stressing me out in any given moment. Because in the big picture, in my dinkiness,  that is all I can do.  And that is important… (why?  I will leave THAT for the next blog).
Want to get this song stuck in your head, too?  Click here to see  Yakko's Universe. Thank me Later. ;)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Zen and Memory


“MEMORY! All alone in the mooooooonlight! I can smile at the old days….”

I will take “Oversung Karaoke of the 80s for 200, Alex…”


With all of the sturm und drang of the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about zen and memory. I tend to think about memory a lot, for my entire life I have been intrigued by the history of things, the memory I can feel in different places. I know that sounds a bit wooooooo, but I do.  Kind of in a “the rocks cry out” sort of way. Places hold memories as much as people do, and if you know their stories, you can feel those memories of place.  No wonder I became a history teacher. But THAT is another story for another time.

Memory can feed and nurture zen. I remember visiting my great grandparents in Western Kentucky—the smell of Grandma’s house (often a lovely bacon-y smell, she made us bacon every day for breakfast, a rare treat), the heat of the sun in her backyard against the cold water from the hose that we used to fill up an old metal basin to play in, the comfy chair where Grandpa spent his days. Even the ughulous  parts of those trips are not bad memories, even though I joke about them—the epic van breakdowns in New Stanton, PA, Zainesville, OH, Bruceton Mills, WV, the scary hotel situation where mom unleashed her Jersey on the staff while dad was packing the car. ;)

 I remember childhood church-ish picnics where my mom would bring cold chicken and green grapes and we would sit in the sun and have fun activities with other families.  I remember playing elaborate games of time machine in our backyard apple tree. Memories of my childhood home, of Christmas traditions, of love and family feed my zen when I remember to revisit them.

But what if you can’t smile at the old days? What if those memories are BAD?

My son has told me in the past that he does not remember much of his life before he was 10.  He said it sort of nonchalantly one day, and it took my breath away…since those years were full of t-ball and playgroup and homemade Halloween costumes and the Yankees winning an awful lot in the fall—good, zen-feeding things.  But when my son turned 9, his 6 year old sister was diagnosed with brain tumors. Everything fell apart.  He does not remember before that.  The bad memories clouded the good.

Bad memories have a way of sticking around. Not every single detail—but the worst moments are branded into our consciousness somehow.

14 years later, I can now remember and talk about the early days after my G’s diagnosis without weeping. Even THAT took years. Those memories are excruciating, and certain moments are seared into my mind.  The first two years after diagnosis were brutal.  Now my memories can sometimes help people (G failed so many protocols, we have a lot of experiences of different drugs we can share—without the emotional turmoil and terror each failed protocol produced).  The 5 years AFTER the first rounds of treatment were pockmarked with small progressions, scares, and the ever present threat of an immediate resumption of treatment.

Memories are hard sometimes. The “old days” were not always beautiful.

My Rosie asked me yesterday if she used to be super happy when her siblings came home from school. She saw some of our neighbors’ kids running out to greet their siblings, and thought it was so cute. “Did I do that, Mom?” she asked.

I couldn’t remember.  I Could. Not. Remember. I realized…Rosie was 2 when G got sick. G was on treatment during the whole time R would have been the little sibling at home. I don’t remember.

I hate not remembering almost as much as sometimes I hate remembering.

I have no great answer for what to do with difficult memories. Denying them is not healthy, nor is wallowing in them—although honestly, sometimes that just happens, they rise up like a blob and encompass me. This is what happens the day after scan days—I have to dig out of the morass of memory that rises up when we return to the hospital, we look at the brain tumors (which are all still there). 


Often I do that by writing. If I can put those dark thoughts/rememberings into the light, they lose some of their power…not right away, usually, but eventually.  And every time a new ugh memory pops up (that happened this week when a friend shared struggles her child was having in school—struggles that reminded me of some of the cruelty my own child faced in her middle school years), I try to give it light and then keep moving forward---not without the memory, but in control of the memory.  Sometimes I can use those memories to help others. That is empowering, too.

For all those women and men who are publicly dealing with difficult memories right now—stay strong. You are stronger than your memories. Unlocking dark memories and forcing them into the light gives YOU the power, not the memory.  Stand strong in your truth, and your memories become part of your power. Your memories and courage are helping others.

And I truly believe that in truth and power we find healing, and in healing we find zen. Memories are powerful, but they are OURS. We are not theirs. Working through memories is such a hard work – for me, especially with certain things (er, most things) related to my daughter, I still have so much work to do.  But once the memories are out in the sun, they cease to fester and poison my brain.

For all those brave, brave people forcing your memories into the sun…I salute you. And hey, maybe Andrew Lloyd Webber had it right…

Daylight! I must wait for the sunrise!

I must think of a new life…and I mustn’t give in.

When the dawn comes tonight will be a memory too….

LOOK, a new day has begun!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Zen and Stepping Away



The past few weeks have simultaneously renewed and decimated my faith in humanity, even with folks I personally know.  Not surprisingly, this weird dichotomy has not been a real Zen-builder. But it has brought home to me the idea that sometimes the best way to preserve zen in relationships is to step away.

Not RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY! Ala Monty Python, more Homer Simpson fading back into the bushes kind of stepping away.


I know, I know that Reverend Mother in The Sound of Music says “you can’t run away from your problems! You have to face them!”  And please, this year has been about facing my fears, doing the thing, etc. Sometimes, though, the best way to face something is to step away.

People matter. Relationships matter. Humanity and dignity and respect all matter. Witnessing the love and support that have surrounded our friends Levi, Tommy, and Mason in the last week has been such a Zen builder, because this love and support reinforces the paramount importance and gift of our shared humanity.  My love grows when I see other people acting on all the gifts of love.


borrowed from the internet, because yes. 
Witnessing so many of my friends own their truths about painful experiences they have had—this is a painful Zen builder, because truth ultimately does lead to peace, albeit sometimes by a circuitous route. Courage and standing in truth also reinforce the paramount importance and gift of the dignity inherent in every human being. My courage and sense of truth grow when I see other people standing in their truth.




this seems appropriate
Witnessing some of the really hideous, uncaring, and hateful things people have said in this past week has been like a gut-punch to my Zen.  And as I sit by my computer or phone, holding my stomach and saying OW in dismay at what some friends are publically saying, as I feel my peace and respect being eroded with each post I scroll through, I realize it is ok to step away.

One of the prayers of my childhood ended  with “I firmly resolve, with the help of your (God’s) grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin”.  Sometimes avoiding conversations/situations/arguments is the right call to preserve the good I am trying to foster.  I can’t control what other people say or do or think—I can only control me. Unless Cadbury is involved, then any sense of control is off the table (and likely into my mouth).
 If I want to be a better person, I need to stand up for what’s right—and standing up is much more effective in person. The veil provided by social media, the space a keyboard creates seem to foment an environment in which friendships are destroyed as fast as fingers can type. So much about the discourse I have seen hacks away at compassion, relationships, humanity, dignity, respect. Disagreeing is one thing. Respectfully stating different opinions is healthy…but somehow these practices seem to have fallen by the wayside in an increasingly shrill discourse that fills the interwebs at a terrifying rate. The ability to spew something out and have 500 people instantly see it is not necessarily an advance for society.  
Relationships are important. I’m not a spring chicken, making friends is hard at my age!  I want to keep my friendships. I am trying (with way little success so far) to create blocks of social media free time during the day. I find this challenging because the course I am teaching is online (ie computer is always on) and I keep obsessively checking on our friends who are sick—for those moments, social media is the most positive of game changers.  And ok, Candy Crush. But three clicks into Facebook or even news articles and I get sucked into the ugly, and then I can’t focus on anything.  
Facebook has this wonderful newish feature called “snooze”—where for 30 days you simply don’t see a person’s posts in your feed. You are still friends, you are just avoiding the tsunami of ugh that maybe they are generating. You can avoid losing respect for people who you know in a face to face conversation might say very different things than they say when empowered by the veil and space of internet ranting. You can avoid the near occasion of yikes.
The effect on my own peace of mind is almost instantaneous. 
Like this kind of peace of mind.

It is ok to disengage--a therapist once told us this when Dave and I needed advice on some stuff with one of our children. It is ok to walk away. Many times THAT is the better choice.
Stay informed-yes. Know what is going on, absolutely. Get sucked into an internal maelstrom or internet fight when someone types or shares something so obnoxious that you stew about it all day….yeah no. There’s Zero Zen in that.
Sometimes the real zen is in stepping away, in continuing to love and respect from a safe distance WITHOUT engaging in destructive rhetoric that ultimately gets NOWHERE (much like we were counseled to deal with our child). Sometimes the real zen lies in holding onto what we know is true and right and being living  lights of those things – lights that will  hopefully will illumine the way back to healthy friendship again.
That’s my hope. Even though it sounds like a Velveeta Fest of Extreme Cheese—that is my hope. So—I’m here. Trying to hold on to what I know is true and good, trying to feed my soul with all the good I DO see people doing each day, and hoping that soon we will collectively remember that we truly are all in this life together, let’s not waste it in ugh.
And don't be alarmed if you hear the crunch of Cadbury coming from the hydrangeas... ;) 



























































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































One of the prayers of my childhood ended  with “I firmly resolve, with the help of your (God’s) grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin”.  Sometimes avoiding conversations/situations/arguments is the right call to preserve the good I am trying to foster.  I can’t control what other people say or do or think—I can only control me. Unless Cadbury is involved, then any sense of control is off the table (and likely into my mouth).

 If I want to be a better person, I need to stand up for what’s right—that standing up is much more effective in person. The veil provided by social media, the space a keyboard creates seem to foment an environment in which friendships are destroyed as fast as fingers can type. Everything about the discourse I have seen hacks away at compassion, relationships, humanity, dignity, respect. Disagreeing is one thing. Respectfully stating different opinions is healthy…but somehow these practices seem to have fallen by the wayside in an increasingly shrill discourse that fills the interwebs at a terrifying rate. The ability to spew something out and have 500 people instantly see it is not necessarily an advance for society.  

Relationships are important. I’m not a spring chicken, making friends is hard at my age! J I want to keep my friendships. I am trying (with way little success so far) to create blocks of social media free time during the day. I find this challenging because the course I am teaching is online (ie computer is always on) and I keep obsessively checking on our friends who are sick—for those moments, social media is the most positive of game changers.  And ok, Candy Crush. But three clicks into Facebook or even news articles and I get sucked into the ugly, and then I can’t focus on anything.  

Facebook has this wonderful newish feature called “snooze”—where for 30 days you simply don’t see a person’s posts in your feed. You are still friends, you are just avoiding the tsunami of ugh that maybe they are generating. You can avoid losing respect for people who you know in a face to face conversation might say very different things than they say when empowered by the veil and space of internet ranting. You can avoid the near occasion of yikes.

The effect on my own peace of mind is almost instantaneous.

It is ok to disengage (a therapist once told us this when Dave and I needed advice on some stuff with one of our children). It is ok to walk away. Many times THAT is the better choice.

Stay informed-yes. Know what is going on, absolutely. Get sucked into someone saying something so obnoxious that you stew about it all day (while quite likely THEY have gone on to play Candy Crush or something)….yeah no. There’s Zero Zen in that.

Sometimes the real zen is in stepping away, in continuing to love and respect from a safe distance WITHOUT engaging in destructive rhetoric that ultimately gets NOWHERE (much like we were counseled to deal with our child). Sometimes the real zen lies in holding onto what we know is true and right and being living  lights of those things – lights that will  hopefully will illumine the way back to healthy friendship again.

That’s my hope. Even though it sounds like a Velveeta Fest of Extreme Cheese—that is my hope. So—I’m here. Trying to hold on to what I know is true and good, trying to feed my soul with all the good I DO see people doing each day, and hoping that soon we will collectively remember that we truly are all in this life together, let’s not waste it in ugh.


Friday, September 28, 2018

Zen and the Trigger -- or, More Work to Do


For context: I do not have a #metoo story. I am the rare woman who does not—I did not know HOW rare until the last year or so. So many of my closest friends have been affected by harassment, assault, or abuse, I am appalled.

The fact that these women have gone on to do amazing things in defiance of what happened (or happens—ongoing in the workplace) to them inspires me beyond adequate words.

In my younger days people were mean to me because I exuded dorkiness, and back in the pre-Bill Gates days being a nerd was not so much understood as a key to power; now more folks understand that the smart folks will eventually inherit the earth, so to speak.  I rarely think about the perils of 1980s nerd-dom now, but when I see mean behavior directed towards my children, my response reflects my past, as well as my knowledge of how hard we fought to keep my child alive.

So—the thing that triggered me this week was the public discussion of a Supreme Court nominee’s yearbook.

I have wrestled for days with whether I should write about this or not.  But only through wrestling with vulnerability can courage be found (Brene Brown’s Dose of Daring for the week!)…so here we go.

At the end of the day, it is only partly my story to tell, so I can really only say that there was a situation in 2016 in which some male students tried to put a demeaning joke about my daughter in their class yearbook—in a small, Christ centered school, in a class with less than 30 students, most of whom had been in school with my G since kindergarten, through her entire brain tumor battle. 


I caught it—because in a peculiar twist of cruelty, they TOLD my daughter, knowing she would not understand the reference, and they did not realize that She Who Is A Walking Press Release would instantly tell me. And I know all the things.  I. Know. All. The. Things.


I am proud to say that being a nerd involves having encyclopedic random knowledge that occasionally comes in handy. Ugh.

Without going into more details than that—the yearbook advisor had NOT seen or approved this (and horrified—she got the reference, too -- and put the kibosh on it instantly), the principal (a mighty woman I deeply respect) rained down righteous fury and the day was saved. My daughter wanted to just move on, and respecting her wishes, we did.

At graduation I had a moment…when a male Board member spoke about the beautiful relationships formed in high school that would last a lifetime, the saintly students…in that moment I was torn between wanting to scream BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO like the crone in Princess Bride, and between screaming “bleepity bleep, Brain tumors, SHE GRADUATES TODAY!”…so ultimately I made the right choice and screamed NOTHING, I was in church, after all, and chose to embrace the abundant and hard-earned joys of the day…and tried really, really hard to put this behind me, because after all, that day was a victory for my mighty girl. 
And we moved on in the joy of that victory, and college has been a thousand times better for my daughter, and we are trying to all live happily ever after, ish.

But in the rhetoric of this week, the discussions about high school and saintliness and yadda yadda…I realized that there is a trigger for me—and bam, I was right back in the emotions of that week.  I realized Dagnabit, I have a lot of forgiving work to do STILL.

I THOUGHT I HAD DONE THE FORGIVING!

Dagnabit.

Zen? What zen? I don't have no stinking zen!

Dagnabit.

I still have so much work to do.

And yes, when frustrated I do talk to myself like Yosemite Sam. What in tarnation?

Sigh.


I return again to an amazing link perpetually open on my phone,— (language alert in title)  Forgive Assholes, by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber . I need to remember that I can forgive and break that chain of connection to the wrongdoing. 

Forgiveness is about being a freedom-fighter!”


The transcript of this is the first page of my bullet journal—and will be on every subsequent bullet journal I create.  You may find it helpful. I found it profound in all kinds of ways.

 I need to keep working, so I can be free.

I am so rattled by things I have not yet exercised today, or prayed, or done yoga, or anything. I had to think. And then I had to speak, to my friends…

 I will not comment here on the politics of this week. That is not what this blog is for, and I am all kinds of upset over what I have observed this week, especially from men I respect.  But these last few weeks have put me, without any personal history of sexual assault or abuse, in a really uncomfortable place—I cannot begin to fathom how painful this is for my survivor friends.  The “if it was that bad you would have come forward sooner”…the ignorance of the research on the way victims deal with assault…of all of these things are leaving new wounds on victims who deserve love and support.

THIS IS NOT A STATEMENT ON WHETHER OR NOT YOU THINK A PARTY IS GUILTY OR NOT. THIS IS ABOUT THE EFFECT OF THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION ON THE HEARTS AND MINDS AND SOULS OF SURVIVORS.

I must say, for my friends, my strong, amazing friends for whom this week has been an excruciating trigger for painful memories:

I love you.

I am sorry.

You are mighty, and brave, and worthy of all good things.

Your zen may be rattled right now. But know that YOU ARE LOVED. YOU ARE MIGHTY. YOU ARE WORTHY OF ALL GOOD THINGS.  You can find peace, your zen. I will stand with you. Probably awkwardly, and I will  nervously chatter about random things...but I . Am. With. You. 

YOU are not defined by rhetoric or being unheard or judged by those who have not even seen your shoes, let alone walked in them. 

You are strong just in every day that you keep going. Even when you don’t feel strong.

I hear you.  I see you. I am inspired to be a better me because of you.

For young women who may now be afraid to speak— you are not alone.  You too are mighty and worthy and will be heard by women who have walked the road before you.

The triggers will come. As a brain tumor parent, I know this is true…at a routine appointment a few weeks back I had to wear a medical robe that smelled like the detergent at CHOP…and my brain was instantly back in the awful days of scary inpatient days.  Certain songs, pictures, smells put me right back in the early days of our journey.

I will not let those triggers rule me, but I cannot deny their reality. Accepting them and working through them is part of finding Zen.

For my friends who have suffered so much this week especially, don’t give up.  We can help each other find that Zen.