Payday

I’m busy printing out proofs to attain a payday loan.  It is a long shot, last resort sort of move on my part.  There aren’t any options left beyond a ridiculous interest rate over 50% and steep penalties should I not meet the strict requirements of repayment of that criminal amount of interest.  It should be a crime for such life crushing loans to exist.  And yet I am working to get one, and desperate to hear them approve me for this loan that I believe to be criminal.

It is nonsense, really.  But it makes all the sense when you live in the margins, where there is never enough, and you are treated with contempt and barely considered human, much less treated with the grace and kindness and compassion that humanity should garner.

These days, I don’t know what “humane” means.  I don’t know that “humanity” exists in the way it once did.  Or, more correctly, I don’t know that it exists in the way that I had imagined.

I was running very late for a doctor appointment the other day and needed to take a Lyft instead of a bus.  My driver, a Somali native, said something along the lines of “selfishness is human nature”.  I wanted to argue that was not true.  I wanted to express the compassion and love that humans were capable of offering one another.  And then I thought better of it, knowing that I was suffering needlessly an economic situation that could be eliminated with just a few dollars from the people who call me “friend”, and knowing that this man, having emigrated from Somalia, knew selfishness and pain and racism and judgment and xenophobia and messed up fucking shit that I, an already despairing woman, cannot even imagine.  Who was I to tell him that humanity has something better to offer??

Instead, I made a statement about perspective and how much we are shaped by what we experience in our lives—hoping to avoid agreement that hurting those whom we can place beneath us so that we might rise is human nature, but also not arguing that we are better than that, because I don’t feel like we are better than that very often of late.

I sit at a desk covered in images of Wonder Woman.  I built it.  I covered it in these images deliberately, because I found it inspiring.  Not only do I sit and work atop a work of art when I am well enough to do work, but I also have a deep sense of justice and love and giving of myself to improve the state of the world, and she embodies that for me, and reminds me that my end goal is a world filled with love and justice.  What I do at this desk should be focused on that goal.  And to a great extent my work is focused on that goal.

But more and more my focus is fear.  There is worry over finances.  There is stress over what I read in the news.  There is the sadness and the horror that comes from seeing the world become more broken, fractured, confused, and afraid as a particular world leader creates xenophobia, insecurity, unrest, racism, and general hatred and chaos.  There is pain and struggle and the fear that the future will become even more difficult than the present.  And that isn’t just my personal fear, but the fear of millions, which is even more heartbreaking, because of my deep empathy.  Wonder Woman and her ideals seem worlds away while I work atop images of her from generations of comics.

I wonder if Donald Trump ever watches super hero films or reads comics.  Do you suppose he sees himself as the hero or the villain?  He certainly doesn’t have the ideals of the hero, so he must be delusional if he identifies as one.

I know that I am not the hero in any story.  I sometimes get painted as one.  Ask my brother-in-law about Christmas Day in Seattle and he will tell you a tale that makes me the hero of the story.  But I am not the hero, because I only did what any human should do—I helped a woman in need.  I felt her pain, I met her in it, and I made certain that she was safe in the hands of professional medical personnel before I left to attend to my own needs.  That is the least that we should be doing for one another.  The absolute least.

There is so much more.

So. Much. More.

Recently, I had dinner with my “brother”, Adam.  We were talking about need and giving and enough and excess.  He talked about aid that he had offered our nephew, and the way that he had added a component of “paying forward” part of the funding that had been offered to him.  Give to another, the way Adam gave unto you.

It sounds a bit biblical, right?

It is a bit biblical.  Because there is a verse in the bible that is pretty much the same.  It is found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 13, verses 34 and 35.  It says, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I suppose that means if my nephew pays forward a third of his college aid, he is a disciple of my “brother”.  Haha.  There are definitely worse men to be disciples of, so this is probably a good thing.

The point I am working toward here is that the goal that we as humans are meant to be working toward—according to Jesus, and according to Adam, and according to Wonder Woman, and according to the feeling in my gut—is offering love and compassion and physical needs and grace and equality and honesty and kindness and more than enough.  And I don’t know when or where we lost sight of that, or whether we ever truly had that in our sights as a society at large.  But our heroes—the embodiments of the best of us—have always had that in view.  We need to cling to that view.

I should be focused on what I can do to continue living out the ideals of Wonder Woman, not on what I need to desperately print out to prove that I am worthy of a criminal payday loan! No human being should be forced to sell their soul so Speedy Cash out of fear that they won’t live from the 28th to the 1st, and will lose their home, contact with their family and friends, and the ability to obtain sufficient calories to sustain their body. And when some of the people are in this state while others are jumping off of fancy boats in the waves on a weekday morning, we are not loving one another as we have been loved.  We are not giving to one another as Uncle Adam gave to us.  We are being selfish.  And we are letting Somali men believe that this is just the way we are as humans—that this is just who we are and will always be: selfish bastards who trample one another to elevate ourselves.

Are you a selfish bastard who tramples others to elevate yourself?  Is that who you want to be?  Is that what you want to be known for and what you want others to believe defines the human condition?

I cannot abide that.  I cannot tolerate that.  I cannot accept that.

I won’t let humanity be a giant game of “king of the mountain” where the ruthless climber is the winner.  Not if I can do anything to help it.

And I can do something to help it.  You can also do something to help!

We can all stop accepting the idea that selfishness is a part of our DNA and refuse to let humanity be defined by anything but the heroic ideals of love and generosity and compassion and care and grace and good.  We get to define who we are, as individuals, as a society, and as representatives of the human condition.  We decide.

So, decide now.  Are you the kind of person who lets payday loans take the souls of disabled, poor women struggling to make ends meet, or are you the kind of person who changes the narrative and refuses to let this be the way that we treat the people in the margins?  Are you the kind of person who is ready to stand up and work hard to eliminate the margins?

It will be difficult work.  Change always is difficult.  You need to learn, you need to change the voices in your head, you need to assess the things that you believe and challenge the beliefs that you have held for many years.  So much of our bias is unconscious, and it takes a lot of self-reflection to work out what we think, and then to consider the ways that thinking might be incomplete, inconsiderate, or just plain wrong.  But if the choice is between doing hard work or letting down humanity, I choose hard work every single time.

Today, I still need the payday loan.  And it breaks my heart to know that I need to sacrifice in this way.  It is a terrible choice.  But there aren’t good choices in the margins very often, unfortunately.  Maybe at some point I will have better options, or there won’t be margins, and humanity will not be seen as selfish, but as loving and generous and compassionate.  Maybe on that day payday loans won’t exist—they actually will be criminal, as in illegal—and disabled women will not be afraid of starving or living under bridges because of financial challenges.  If enough of us choose care over selfishness, this will be reality.

So, choose heroic ideals instead of payday loans.  Don’t let Somalian Lyft drivers believe that this is who we are as humans.  Don’t be this as humans.

We can do better.

I know that we can do better.

Follow Jesus, or Wonder Woman, or Adam.  Choose heroism over selfishness and do better.

As I have loved you, so you should love one another.

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On Being

I made a plea for funds on my fundraising page recently.  This happens a lot, because I have a lot of financial need at present.

I wrote something within that plea about being a human being, and therefore deserving basic human rights.  And not long after, I felt this unsettling feeling in my gut.  I felt that feeling because I realized that making this statement means that I believe that some of the people who know me do not understand basic human rights.  I realized that some of the people I know do not think all people deserve life and health and safety.

That is the worst feeling!

I am making an argument for my dessert of life to people who know me.

Seriously, let that sink in for a moment.  People I know need to be told that I deserve life.

It is hard for me to imagine that others think existing on the most basic level is not a right.  It is even more difficult for me to conceive of, because many of those same people are insistent on the rights of a fetus.  Before your life is viable, you have rights.  After being born, you cease to have those same rights?  I find that concept difficult, if not impossible to argue.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights lays out a number of rights that all human beings deserve, simply because they are human beings.  One of those is the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of a person and his or her family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his or her control.

This right, that is offered for all who are human, is denied me on an ongoing and regular basis.  I’ve been living without that standard of living, and without that security for the last two years while I wait for my disability hearing to occur.  And I have been living without that standard and that security for pretty much my whole life.

Obviously, I don’t count childhood in the financial failings of the system of social services, so my adult life has been plagued with poverty and lack of security.  But I have been without life, liberty, and security of person since childhood, since I was not free and not safe during that time.  Life, liberty, and security of person is one of the rights expressed by the declaration as well.  And I didn’t have that.  I still don’t.

And I am not alone in my lack of life, liberty, and security of person.  Millions of people share this state alongside me.

We make all manner of excuse for why this life and liberty and security and standard of living and equal pay and recognition and participation in government and freedom of thought, expression, religion, and peaceful assembly are not offered to all humans.  And all of them are inexcusable responses to the failures of our society to meet these standards.

At this moment, in the United States of America, there are children being gunned down in the streets, and unarmed people of color being murdered in the name of “feeling threatened” by the police.  There is a violent response from law enforcement to the peaceful protest of indigenous peoples on their own land.  There is humiliating punishment, torture, cruel punishment, and slavery within our prison systems (that are privately owned and income generating).  People are not protected from arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.  Political refugees are being refused access and protection.  There are millions assumed guilty until proved innocent, instead of the other way around.  There is arbitrary interference with privacy, family, and home with the NSA listening in on the American people.

All of the above are in direct conflict with the declaration of human rights that the UN puts forth.  All of the above are not acceptable.  And all of the above are excused by claiming moral failure or some form of action that pretends to nullify the humanity of those without adequate human rights.

So, at this point, I am offering the whole of society a command:  STOP.

Stop treating me and others as though we are not human.  We are human.

Dehumanizing happens in many ways, but at its core is the idea that we make someone seem like less of a person in order to ignore the responsibility we have toward other humans.  We take an individualist stance, and we find reasons to say that people deserve what they have received on an individual level, so that we can ignore systems of injustice and refuse to change, share, care, or relate to others.

I sometimes feel like I live in a society of toddlers.  When you are a toddler, you don’t yet understand that the world is not revolving around you.  As an infant, you cried and someone responded.  All the things were about you.  And then, suddenly, you are thrust into social interaction, and all the things are not about you.  “Mine!”, becomes your war cry.  And all the adults are telling you to share, to respect boundaries, to not harm others, and to see your life in community instead of seeing it as a place where your voice is met with immediate action and all the things are meant for you.

The society I live in is struggling with the concept of sharing.  Adults are still using “Mine!” as the war cry.  My woman.  My home.  My paycheck.  My desserts.  My right to take and never give. My parenting style.  My business.  My tax breaks.  My neighborhood.  My border.  My ego.  My viewpoint.  My voice.

But that isn’t how a society works.

We cannot be a group of individuals all working toward our own interest and ignoring the interests of others and believe that this manner of being will lead to justice and equity.  It won’t.

It cannot. Because society is not just a bunch of people doing their own thing.

The word society originates from the Latin word “socius”, which translates into the concept of “companion”.  A companion is one with whom you are a friend, a partner, a complement.  Companionship requires the consideration of others, and the partnership between parties.  Somehow, we have forgotten that those within our communities are companions, partners, and friends.  Somehow, we have supplanted the idea of “individuals in a space” with the original meaning of “society” that includes companionship.

Our concern ends at those we consider “close”, both in relationship and in common interest, and we no longer extend our concern to those we see as outliers or strangers or “threats”.  The comaraderie of society ended as the shift from the 16th century meaning was made and we began to look at life in the way of the toddler, by fighting to keep our individual self at the center of the universe.  Society became a group of individuals sharing the same space, and lost sight of our responsibility to one another.

I’ve studied social justice for some time now.  I’ve lived a life that denied me basic human rights for even longer than I studied.  And I can tell you, both from an academic research standpoint and as a person affected by the way we view rights, that being a bunch of self-interested individuals who pursue our own agendas in the same space is not working.  The increases in crime, in protest, in outrage, in violence, in refusal to help and share and identify with others, are all symptoms of the problem of that individualist thinking.

We need to find that understanding of society and companionship once more.  We need to see all human beings as deserving of the basic rights that the United Nations has put forth.  We need to look at all other humans as equal to us in their humanity, regardless of race or religion or poverty or moral failures or any other standard we might assign to others in order to dehumanize them, and to justify our lack of companionship with other human beings.

We need to treat humans as human.  We need to care for each as we might care for the one we consider our closest companion.  If you wouldn’t treat your friend or partner in a particular manner, then you ought not treat any human being in that same manner.  Would you leave your partner homeless?  Would you submit your partner to torture?  Would you deny help to your best friend when they lost their job suddenly, or became ill?  Would you tell your child to “deal with it” when they are profiled, policed under different standards, and denied education?  Would you find excuses to allow the harm of those closest to you?

If the answer to those questions is “no”, and I hope the answer is no, then the answer should remain “no” when that person in the scenario or circumstance is not your partner or best friend.  We should refuse to allow that treatment to any one of our companions—any person in our society.  We need to begin thinking of our society as our companions, our partners, and our complements.  When we work together, we create good things for all.  Symbiotic relationship doesn’t apply only to the nature channel’s programming.  Society is a symbiotic relationship, and each individual within it should benefit from the others.

I once had a conversation with a man on the bus who was in tattered clothing and appeared to be transient.  We talked about his kids, and about his previous experiences, and about his life now.  He lives in a tiny room above a bar, and he has a sign in his window that says, “Piano lessons, classical” and has his phone number below.  He has that sign because he was a concert pianist.  A talented and well-traveled, educated man was sharing this conversation with me.  He told me of the places he had been, and the people for which he performed.  He was famous in cultural, musical circles.  And now he was without resources, because playing the piano doesn’t necessarily pay well anymore.  When people pass him on the street, they think of him as a bum, a drain on society, a dirty or bad or frightening threat to the wellbeing of “good, clean, responsible” citizens.  But he isn’t what they imagine.  And if they could see him as a comrade, as a companion, or as a friend, as I saw him, they would enjoy beautiful tales of extraordinary fame and fortune.  They would know, if they could see him as their equal, that he was more accomplished than anyone else on that bus.

But they don’t see him as an equal.  They don’t offer him the human rights to housing, clothing, food, medical care, and social services.  They don’t offer him more than a look of disgust, or the ever-present tactic of pretending that he doesn’t exist.

I’m not offered the human rights to housing, clothing, food, medical care, and social services either.  I’ve been disabled for a few years, and I still haven’t been given resources to survive and remain safe.  I don’t have what I need to live—to stay a human being and not become a pile of ash—unless I plead with people to meet my needs on an almost daily basis.  The pleas are met with resources, thank the Divine.  But those resources often come from the same six or seven individuals.  The rest of my acquaintances ignore the pleas, or offer reasons that I do not deserve resources or should “get a job” to gain resources.  They don’t seem to care about my rights as a human being.  They don’t seem to believe that I deserve the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his or her control.  They don’t seem to believe that I have the right to live.

I do have that right.  And if you would treat me as your companion, your comrade, your complement, you would see how much I, as a human being, have to offer, and the importance of offering me life.

You hear much about “the system” or “systems” of late.  People whom I stand in solidarity with are being oppressed and denied their basic human rights.  We have created ways of acting within society that cause systemic damage, meaning that the whole of the society is affected.  We have created a society where individualism, racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and all sorts of other “isms” are infecting every part of the whole.  And many think that the answer to this problem of an unjust system is to spew forth more hatred and division and insistence upon individualist approaches to finding solutions.

But when the whole is affected, you cannot simply treat one part of the disease, leaving the sickness to spread in other areas.  The whole is affected.  And the treatment plan needs to begin with addressing the whole, not a part.  The cure for our society’s ailments begins with adherence to the declaration of human rights.   We need to stop being toddlers and grow into compassionate adults, who share and work together and have concern for others.  The way to justice and equity is clearly spelled out for us—life, liberty, and security of person.  The way to justice and equity is seeing people as human beings, and treating them as such.

I am.

Descartes stated that thinking was the basis for being—I think, therefore I am.  But I believe that he was off by just a bit.  I am, therefore I am.

Being is what makes us worthy of being.  Living is what makes us deserving of life.  Existence is what demands I receive resources to maintain my existence.

I am.

That is the whole argument.

And none of us should need to plead for our lives, no matter who we are, what we look like, where we come from, or what we do or do not accomplish.  We should be offered a basic standard of living because we exist.

We are human beings.

We are.

 

Same

There is this way of speaking that has taken over much of the communication between me and my daughter, and some of my friends as well, I suppose.  We shorten things.   It just seems like a whole lot of flourish and extra syllables isn’t necessary or important.  And while, as a writer, I am a huge fan of the flourish and the big words, in life they aren’t always helpful.

So, when we are thinking, “I completely agree and have a very similar perspective on this issue”, we instead say, “Same”.

I’m in the mood for pizza.

Same.

I can’t believe the state of the world and am grieving deeply over the pain and wounding that is overwhelming millions.

Same.

I wish that I could be in La Jolla right now.

Same.

I’m overcome with grief and don’t know how to express anything clearly, but everything hurts.

Same.

Yesterday I received news of the death of a good friend of my parents.  And all day I was feeling the weight of grief.  I was feeling it not just over the loss of her life, which is definitely significant and important, but also I was mourning the loss of my own mom.  And I was drawing all sorts of parallels between the lives of these two couples and feeling for those going through what I and my family went through a year ago.

All day I wanted to reach out to the daughter of the deceased wife and mother.  But there were not words.  There weren’t words when my own mother died either.  And the platitudes and “she is with Jesus now” assurances helped not one bit.  In some cases, they did more harm than good.

So, in the evening, I finally realized that what to say was that there was nothing to say—that nothing makes that pain lessened and nothing changes the complex feelings and nothing brings back the mother that you long for now more than you ever did when she was alive.  And I reached out with exactly that: an assertion that nothing would help and that I wouldn’t pretend it might.  I offered my love.  I offered my listening ear.  And I offered my sympathies.

And she shared a huge piece of her heart in reply.

As she expressed her feelings and her struggles and her joys and her surprise and her pain, I realized that all of these long years, we have been living a parallel life.  As she spoke of her many-faceted emotional state and the journey that she had been on as her mother became sick, her father became a care-taker of sorts, and her mother passed, I could have replied with that often used, “Same”.

We were sharing a history, but doing so apart from one another.

When we were kids we played together when our parents got together.  And it wasn’t as though we didn’t enjoy hanging out, but over time, as we became old enough to not be dragged along to our parents’ social events, we stopped spending time together.  And there were times when we connected over the years—running into one another at Christmas or a special event when we were all present once more.  But those little interactions became cordial and socially acceptable, instead of times when we played with abandon or shared secrets or did all those things that come easy when you are young, but cease to be so as you grow up.

Peter Pan had the right of things, in many ways.  Growing up steals much of the honesty and joy and many of the dreams which childhood allows, and even encourages.

What was stolen from this woman and myself was the opportunity to share our similar journeys.  Until last night, we had not had the opportunity to bond over shared experience, or to support one another.  It took the death of both of our mothers to recognize one another on a path we had been walking together for years.

I’ve been thinking much today about this sameness, and this similarity, and this shared experience.  I’ve been thinking that we all felt the weight of struggles alone, and all of this time we could have been bearing them together.  I have had other childhood friends express feelings that I have struggled with: I’m not enough, I’m not good enough, I cannot compare with person X, I don’t fit in, I can’t do anything “right”, I didn’t want to treat person Y like that but wasn’t brave enough to put an end to it and went along with the crowd.   All of this time, we were all young women (and a few men) who felt alone in our struggle.  We were not alone.

We are not alone.  We are united in this struggle.

The organizer in me wants to shout from the rooftops that we need to come together and fight against our common enemy.  But the pastor in me knows that such a strategy isn’t necessarily the right approach here.  What might be helpful is for me to express continually my struggle, and to allow others the safe space to express their struggle.  Because SO MANY TIMES I find that we are coping with the same feelings, and have so much in common, and could be bearing burdens together.

I’ve said before, and will say again, that I label myself as “spiritual but not religious” because organized religion has left bad tastes in my mouth time and again.  I believe in the Divine.  I don’t name it in terms of a triune god, but I believe.  But one of the things that many religions teach, and that I think is a divine directive, is that we share in one another’s burdens—we carry the heavy shit together to make it lighter.  And for some reason the place where I grew up chants the religion like a name at a boxing match, but also chastises individuals and tosses burdens onto their backs while they whisper behind their hands at the failures of those individuals to carry the load.

It is a sick practice, really.  It is wholly other than the divine imperatives to care for and love and welcome and heal and help everyone—like literally everyone.  All of those imperatives tell us to help carry the load, not toss it on the back of another.

I broke under the weight.

So many people I know broke under the weight.

And still the weight is piled.  My daughter experienced that weight when we moved back to that area.  And I left, rather than have her live in that place and in that way where you never feel like enough and people are constantly trying to hide their brokenness by breaking the person next to them.

Today I see that we can fix this.  Today I see that we were fighting the same war, but we were all at different battle sites.  If we could have been honest then, in our adolescence, and shared how we were struggling, we could have become a powerful force for change.  We could have swept that town of gossip and lies and shaming that keep the focus off of the problems of one, only to shatter the life of another.  We could have united to bear one another’s burdens.  We could have lifted the weight and held one another up and shared a journey.

We didn’t.

But I am committed to doing so now.

The past doesn’t change when we change in the future, but it can transform in some ways.  It has the benefit of perspective, and new perspective can shed light on events, even though the events themselves do not change.  And I am ready to look at this childhood in this place with these people in a new light, and with new honesty and connection and trust.  I believe that looking at it in this way will transform not just the past, but will transform us as women and men who thought for all these years that we were alone in our struggles.  Knowing we were in it together and talking about it together in this later stage of life empowers us.  It lets us acknowledge and release the bad and lets us acknowledge and embrace the good.

And that doesn’t happen overnight.  And some events you don’t get over completely—or at least there are some I don’t think I will recover from completely.  But knowing that the burden is shared, and that I am not the only one carrying the weight of those events puts me well on the way to recovery.

So, here I am, people of my youth (and any other time period, really).  I’m standing open to receive and to offer with honesty, with trust, with grace, and with understanding the journeys—mine and yours and ours—and the events and the feelings and the burdens.  I’m here, committed to change, committed to new life, committed to carrying the weight together.

Let’s all try to open up.  Let’s try to do it before any more of our parents die.  Let’s know that the circumstances of our childhood don’t define us.  Let’s know that molds were made to be shattered in order to exhume the beauty within.  Let’s know that we don’t need “thicker skin” or to keep our business private or to hide or to hurt.  We are allowed to be—in all of our ways of being we should feel comfortable and free and alive.  Let’s stoop under the weights of our friends and neighbors and partners and brace ourselves underneath, helping to lighten the load a bit.  And when enough of us are willing to stoop down and take some of that weight, we all find relief.

Community.  I’ve studied it for a long time.  And I keep coming back to this idea, that burdens are borne together, or we are crushed.  So, in order to survive, we need to start looking at the plights of those around us and responding with the short and effective communication that my daughter and I have come to use so frequently.  Same.

There is a quote I use often, and love from Lilla Watson.  “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

It is time for us to work together.  In my childhood community, in my current community, in my social circles, in my city, in my country, in my world, and in my universe it is time for us to work together.

It is time for us to understand that the liberation of one is bound to the liberation of all.

We can only be free when we are free together.  We can only bear burdens with all of us carrying the weight.  We overcome only because we do so together.  And we do so together because in many ways we are all on the same journey—not just in the specifics of events or feelings, but in the sense that we are all evolving and developing into a better version of humanity (or we should be, at least).

We are meant to look to the person next to us, to see their experience and their perspective and the events that shape them and to declare, “Same”.  And if we cannot do that, we will be crushed under weights we didn’t imagine would ever be placed upon our shoulders.

I think we see that in the news every day of late.

We join in sorrow over things that were caused by a refusal to bear burdens of another.  Discrimination doesn’t hurt us personally—that is the burden of the gay or the black or the Muslim—so we don’t enter the fray.  And we are seeing the results of that failure to stoop and lift with our fellow human beings.  When we don’t bear the weight together, people break.  But there are consequences felt throughout the entire community when those individuals break.  You can’t escape the aftershock of the seismic events.  So, why refuse to help hold the weight that might prevent those events?  Ignoring the problems of others doesn’t work.

We lift together, or we are crushed.  All of us.  The whole of humanity.  The entire planet.

And saying it that way makes it seem an enormous task.  But it really just starts with us listening and bearing the weight of the feelings and experience of another.  A world full of people caring about the person next to them is a world that resembles what most would see as a heaven or a paradise.

That heaven, that paradise, is achievable in the here and now.

It can happen if you open up and share your journey, and listen well to join in the journey of another.  It will happen if we simply love one another, care for one another, and bear one another’s burdens.  It will happen when we hear the struggle or joy of another and can respond with a genuine agreement.

“Same.”

 

 

 

 

Documented

Documents and documenting are serious themes in the past few weeks to months.  It is interesting to me the ways that we are forced or encouraged or inspired to document, and all the different reasons that are used to justify or explain that documentation.

I recently had to make a trip to my local office of the Chicago Housing Authority.  I had used their new online participant portal to upload requests for a rent renegotiation due to household income changes in both August and February.  In August, they denied my claim, saying I had not attached documents proving my claim—but I literally uploaded them per the instruction of the site, and had copies and receipts of all the attached information.  Last week, they claimed that I had never made a request in February, and that my mailed documents of proof (which I had mailed to avoid the same result I was met with in August) went to the wrong address (the address listed on their form and web page, by the way).  So, they claimed there was no proof that I ever applied for a renegotiation.

Not true.  I had documents and receipts a plenty this time.  There was no way I was letting the lack of documents be my downfall this time around.

So, I went into that office with an entire folder full of documents.  I brought documents proving I applied with proper documentation in August and was denied.  I brought documents proving I applied again in February, and supporting documentation that I deserved the rent adjustment at that time as well.  And, for good measure, I brought in documents removing my daughter from my household over a week before she moves into her own apartment.  All of those documents were copied and admitted and dealt with by the office manager at the office, and then she said, “Now, the only thing we are missing is two documents signed by your daughter and we can get all of this processed.”

Gaaaahhhhh!!!!

I called my daughter and asked if she would head down to the office after work to sign these added documents.  They closed at 5, and she made it there at 4:45, signed the documents, and in the next 30 days, my mailbox will receive documents that tell me whether or not I am allowed the revision in rent, whether or not they will back-date to the dates of application, whether or not I will receive a refund of the monies I overpaid due to these errors on the part of the housing authority, and a document that tells me to come into the office again and sign about 45 other documents so that they can give me documents to take to my landlord, so that he can accept my voucher sans dependent child document and let me keep living in the same home I am currently living in.

If you thought being poor was tied to laziness, you are an idiot.  I fill out as much paperwork as any doctor or lawyer I know.  I just don’t get paid for filling it out—unless you count rental assistance and food stamps as getting paid, which I don’t, because safe housing and food security are basic human rights. (A fact that most developed countries have embraced and created systems of care to ensure. But not the United States, because we are selfish, entitled brats who believe we somehow earned our privileges—in other words, ignorant assholes.)

And if you thought you heard the word “documentation” enough for a lifetime in my earlier paragraphs, then prepare to be disappointed!

There are all sorts of other forms of documentation that are tied to my disability case.  The disability system is such that you are denied the first time.  Almost everyone not in a wheelchair, nursing facility, or mental ward is denied.  That is just the way it works (inefficiently and expensively).  You acquire documents from all of your doctors, you fill out numerous assessments, you add in assessments filled out by those who know you or live with you, and then you wait for documents that say you are denied.  After the denial documents, you go find a lawyer, and they make you sign about 87 documents because you must sign disclosure statements for every lawyer who might work on your case, not just the law firm, according to the state, effectively requiring the disabled person to sign the same document 4, 5, or 6 times, depending on the number of lawyers in their particular firm.  Then you wait for the exact same assessments to arrive and be filled out another time, and collect the same medical records, but your lawyer asks you to keep them informed of any changes in treatment or diagnosis and to document your wellness or lack thereof, so you give all the paperwork you did last time, plus you begin logging your daily mood, daily function, daily tasks, and any and all changes that happen, to support your case when your redetermination is denied, and then you have to file paperwork requesting a hearing, and get back a document that says you will be given a court date in about 10 to 12 months.  Then you document changes and function and symptoms and such for a year, while you wait to bring all the information amassed in the past three years before a judge.  Who, if we have done all the things correctly, will create a legal document stating that I am, in fact, disabled.

It isn’t difficult to understand, at this point in the post, why I hate documents.  I am so overwhelmed with paper that I sometimes feel it is drowning me, and paper cuts are just par for the course in my situation.  If I don’t have any, I worry that I must have missed some paperwork that needs filling out or filing.

But yesterday I was introduced to a new form of documentation.

Yesterday, two friends came over to help me create a video for my fundraising page.  And we started by documenting things.  One suggested things that we could document, and the other started slowly, but surely, taking video and still footage of all the things.  We started with adaptive tools—the things I need on the daily to live life: special knives and peelers and openers for the kitchen, a tool to tie buttons and pull zippers, various adaptive pens and pencils and cutters (because I can’t use scissors without severe pain and injury), and more.  Then we moved on to the overflowing basket of medications and the daily pill organizers that are filled with multiple doses of many of those medications.  We also printed a copy of my next two weeks of appointments, which required three pages of paper.  And we looked up the list of current illnesses, which wasn’t complete since not all of the things are recorded in the same place, but still took almost an entire page.  Next was physical therapy and occupational therapy papers that show what exercises I am to be doing daily.  We spread them out over the floor, and as I was preparing them I dropped papers that scattered all across the living room.  My friends filmed as I sat and worked to collect and organize this pile of documents once more, and caught on camera the fact that I cannot see some of my therapists due to insurance refusals, documenting that my medical needs are sometimes not met because of money.  And by that time we were all exhausted and decided that we would need another meeting to document all of the ways that my illnesses affect my life—maybe two.

But this documentation, this mini-documentary of my daily life, being made by the son of two documentarians and his fiancé, was eye-opening and expressive of things that I hadn’t imagined.  My life is really difficult.  And there are all sorts of proofs of it.

However, the thing that was most shocking to me was that I am doing all these things.  I am doing my exercises and using my splints and walking in water to get some cardio and eating 1100 calories and none of them sugar and filing all the papers and bringing in all the documents and taking all the medicines and attending four and five medical appointments each week and stretching and meditating and coloring mandalas and doing art therapy and studying nutrition and gardening and using my paraffin bath and doing yoga and writing and more. I am doing far more than anyone might imagine, because I am doing far more than I could have imagined.

When I look at all the things that make up my life, and I am drowning in the sea of papers, and exhausted or craving chocolate or in pain, and feel insignificant and incapable, I rarely look at the proofs of all that I am doing.  I look at all the documents that show I am not “good enough”–poor and sick and lacking.  I don’t look at the documentation that shows me doing every possible thing I can do to be the most well I can be.  I get dragged down by the negative proofs and don’t even consider that there are positive proofs.

While some might not understand the life of the chronically ill person, and will refuse to believe the proofs laid out in my mini-documentary, I know that I am doing so much hard work to live my best possible life.  Whether that means I walked the dog, or I ate vegetables, or I colored for a bit, or I remembered to connect with my breath, relax my face and neck, and engage my core when feeling fearful or overwhelmed on a stressful transit ride, or I washed the dishes, or I asked for help, or I practiced new body mechanics, or I managed to finish an article or blog post, I am doing everything that I can do to live well.

My previous ideas of living well were not good ideas of living well, in many ways.  And when my focus shifted from living out my pain in ways that brought more pain to creating a life that included education and progress and sufficiency and stability, I thought that meant I was on the path to living well.  And I believed that documents like my resume and my degrees and my personal and professional references were the ones that would bring me other good documents, like the deed to a house and paystubs that showed more than three digits before that decimal point and an insurance card that I could bring to the orthodontist to receive services.

But I had it wrong.  None of those documents are proof of living well.  I know plenty of people with bigger incomes and better insurance coverage who are not living well, but are full of contempt and hatred and negativity.  I know plenty of people with lots of letters behind their name from years of education who are completely ignorant on important points.  I know plenty of people who are physically and financially well, but complain every time I see them about one thing or another in their life, refusing to see anything that has good or peace or acceptance or joy at its core and only seeing the negative.  None of those people are living well.

Documenting my life started as a project to garner support from others, by offering proofs of my need.  And, I suppose, that is still one of the goals of the project.  But, it has become much more than that for me.  It has become a proof of the fullness of my life, and the extent of my dedication and strength, as I work day after day after day to live a life of wellness—improving my body and healing my mind in any way possible.  This video will be something that shows others what dealing with constant physical and mental suffering is about, and give them a glimpse of why my financial need is great at this time, and demonstrating why I am incapable of working enough to support myself and depend upon the generosity of others.  But, for me, this video is the catalyst I needed to find self-compassion and to stop denying my tenacious work toward a life well-lived, but accept and proclaim and honor the fact that I am a warrior.

I am not weak, but stronger than almost anyone I know.  I am not lazy, but offer my body the rest it needs to heal and cope and survive.  I am not stupid, but suffer cognitive impairments due to my illness.  I am not reclusive, but work to foster and put energy toward only the best of relationships with the best and most supportive people in my life.  I am not crazy, but deal with multiple mental illnesses that affect my thinking and choices.  I am not playing the victim, but am coping with the ways that I was truly and deeply victimized by all manner of perpetrators.  I am not scared, but am learning to manage hypervigilance and overstimulation and anxiety caused by my diseases.  I am not giving up, but am fighting for every moment of every day to create the best possible life I can live with my challenges.  I am not begging, but I am placing my need before my community in the hope and the trust that provision will be offered in return.  I am not desperate, but I am allowing myself to be vulnerable and open and honest in expressing my struggles.  I am not whining, but I am telling the truth about the realities of chronic illness—and if you think that telling my truth is whining, note every time you complain about a thing, and see which of us expresses more complaint per actual struggle (I’ll bet on you, unless you are dying or also have chronic illness).  I am not lying, exaggerating, or making things up, but I am telling the harshest of realities without any sugar-coating to make it more palatable or acceptable to others.

And I know that it isn’t very palatable or acceptable to discuss any sort of true suffering in our society.  I know that we generally avoid pain, and we lie about who we are and how we are doing on a very regular basis, and we chastise or castigate or cast out any who express in their words or actions or being any hint of the lies we are telling or the avoidance we are seeking.  It is the reason we don’t make eye contact with the pan-handling person on the corner, or look down on the addict or the sex worker, or pretend that we “earned” our privileges and not that we are taking part in a system of injustice that is harming others and refusing helps for those in need.

I wonder, though, if it is possible to truly live well when we can’t look in the eyes of the homeless, or see the addict and the sex worker as our equal, and admit that we have privileges and seek to create a more just system that offers basic human rights to all people.  And I move toward an answer of “no”.  The more I identify with the least and the lowest of the society, and the more I hear people’s judgment and lies and excuses to reject my illness or my need or my deserving assistance, the more I believe that I am living well, and those others are living sad and sorry lives.

I know that I am living well.  I am putting every ounce of energy into being stronger, more able, less dependent, more mobile, calmer, more balanced, thinner, more educated, more aware, and just better than I was yesterday, and I am doing it in a way that doesn’t deny my experience, but embraces the reality with which I am faced and by which I am surrounded.  I am doing it without shame and with honesty and vulnerability.  And I am doing it in ways that recognize my privilege and stand against systemic injustices.  I am living well, and am proud to be doing so.

So, I am no longer afraid of or weighed down by documentation.  I’m learning to embrace the documents in my experience as proofs of transformation and hard work and betterment.  I’m learning to see every piece of paper as a document that shares life and fights disease and seeks equity and justice, even when those papers are also annoyingly redundant and seem ridiculous.  And I am also recognizing that every word I write here, and every thank you note sent, and every photo with friends and family and my dog, and every selfie of a new haircut, and every update or post or page that is put out by me or on my behalf or with me tagged is also documentation, and it is documenting a most beautiful life.

Bring on the paperwork, world.

Paper cuts or no, I am ready to keep on documenting and to keep on being the best and the most I am able to be.  And no matter how many diagnoses come my way, and no matter how many treatments and therapies are added to my daily routine, I am going to keep on adding documents that show a life of wellness—maybe not in my body, and maybe not in my psychology, but definitely in my spirit.

I will live life well and share a record that screams of legacy and not of lack.