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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And the Storm Rages On

It isn’t easy for me to be vulnerable.

I remember a friend from cohort saying to me once that I was very open by not very vulnerable, and I was upset by that statement, because I didn’t think it fair to separate the two out in that manner.  Being honest was, in my mind at that point, being vulnerable.  Now I understand more fully that there is a difference, and that Chris was correct in his assessment.  It is easy for me to tell the truth, and it is hard for me to be open about how that truth can harm me—how exposing the heart of me is different from exposing the facts of my situation.

I was recently quite vulnerable about the financial situation that I find myself in, and the subsequent challenges that my daughter is experiencing.  I let people know how hurt and frustrated and damaged and judged and punished I was feeling as a result of all sorts of things that are far beyond my control.  And I didn’t shy away and rewrite and edit and try to add decorum or lessen the blow of my emotions.

Overall, the response was positive.  I had a few people who commended my authenticity and vulnerability in stating not just the true facts, but the challenge of my own feelings about those facts.

But there was one response that has been eating away at me for days now, and I can’t help but craft some sort of retort.  I won’t start some strange, heated Facebook argument about it, however.  So, instead I want to address it here, and, hopefully, give it a worthy apologetic.

After lamenting that my daughter was forced to drop out of her educational program just 6 weeks prior to graduation due to financial constraints, and noting that my own challenge of being trapped in cycles and systems that keep me in an impoverished state, rather than offer me the chance to thrive—both of which I consider to be rather unique to me in my particular circles of acquaintance and/or influence—I received this comment in reply:

It’s not just you, Christy.  Nor is or (sic) just single income households. The economy is tough and there are a lot of people that I know right now that are struggling to keep the lights on. 

                I’m so sorry. I know what you’re going through when the stress, the anxiety, disability, and desire all meet in the perfect storm.

                I’m praying for you guys…

And under that was a meme that said:

Sometimes God calms the storm.  Sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child.

I later texted another friend that I was “Zen as fuck” until I read that comment.

I can’t fully express how upsetting comments like this are for someone in my situation.  The idea that my situation is just like a whole lot of other people’s situations is laughable.  To normalize what is incomprehensibly abnormal as a strategy to deny me aid is not one that is foreign, unfortunately.  People love to rationalize their refusal to help their fellow humans as “reasonable” instead of cruel or evil in all sorts of ways.  And the easiest way to do that is to dehumanize the person in need—using racism, classism, moral relativism, or some other ism to blame the needy for their own struggle.  That dehumanization is much more difficult when you sat beside said person in seminary classes and your child was babysitter to mine, so you resort to the second easiest rationalization—the “lots of people” argument.

“Lots of people” have disabilities and they…

“Lots of people” are divorced and they…

“Lots of people” are having financial challenges.  “Lots of people” have anxiety.  “Lots of people” want life to be different than it is.  “Lots of people” struggle.

All of this is true.  So, in the mind of the one arguing for the many, the one is simply an exaggeration of or a dramatic expression of what all sorts of people are dealing with.  They “understand”.  They “sympathize”.

Bullshit.

I call bullshit.

And I get to call it because of this ugly feeling in the core of my being whenever I get to read these sorts of comments under my vulnerable posts.

Ironically, just above this comment was a series of comments and replies that talked about how I hate to open up because of the times that I opened wide my arms for a hug and got a gut punch instead.  This “lots of people” comment is a gut punch where there should be an embrace.  And I will tell you why this feels like a gut punch.

My vulnerability is not something that is shared by lots of people.  It is an intimate thing, to share my heart and my deepest wounds and fears.  To say that lots of people are touched in the same way—even if it were true—is a betrayal of my trust.  This comment is akin to a friend confiding in you that they were raped, and you saying, “Lots of people get raped.  I know what you’re going through.  Sometimes you need to let go of shit and let God change your perspective.”

Gut fucking punched.

I’m deeply involved in all sorts of methods for changing my perspective, by the way.  I meditate almost every day.  I practice yoga.  I practice gratitude daily.  I use several mindfulness practices, and I have all sorts of routines in place to keep my heart open, my outlook positive, and my disordered thinking in check.  When I said that I was Zen, I meant it.  I could not have been calmer when I received that offending comment.  And I addressed it in the calmest manner possible:  I ignored it.  I talked to a close friend about how it made me feel, and she supported me through the event and helped me to keep a positive perspective throughout the situation.

So, even after being gut punched by the insensitive rationalizing comment, I kept my cool demeanor.  I didn’t need “God to calm his child”.

But the storm is another story.

The storm should NEVER have been here in the first place, and yet it rages on.

This common little meme, and the saying upon it, are very upsetting for me.  They assume that the things in life that harm us are somehow meant to be hanging around our heads so that God can teach us some sort of lesson in how to keep our cool under pressure.  And I don’t understand where that idea comes from, but it is a terrible sentiment, and we need to put an end to it.

My challenges stem from disabling conditions, yes.  And those disabling conditions might never go away or be cured.  I understand that a certain amount of coping is required for me to navigate life with those conditions.  In that sense, there with always be challenges.

But “the storm” for so many of us can simply go away if people stop using the rationale to avoid helping one another and affect change.

My storm includes a system that doesn’t fully support those in our society who have disability, and only offers me $750 in cash and $15 in food benefits, plus a housing stipend.  Adding those together doesn’t make a livable situation, and I am constantly in need and constantly in danger of losing my home, starving, not having my medications, or some other disastrous challenge.

My storm also includes the challenge of mental illness that has been present since early childhood, and which left untreated for so long has influenced my life in countless ways, making it impossible to consider any decision I’ve ever made one that wasn’t made under duress, and challenging me to figure out who the hell I am, and why.  I don’t need a midlife crisis, because I’ve never had an independent identity—my crisis is ongoing.

My storm includes a divorce from a horrible man, whose damage to my person and my psyche cannot and should not be downplayed, for any reason.  And that also means an absent father is a part of my daughter’s storm—and the storms of our children influence our own storms.  The weight of being a single parent goes far beyond “single income” households—and I’ve generally had a no income household, because of my difficulty with employment due to PTSD.  Having a completely absent parent, who contributes in NO way, is not anything that a person who lives in a two-parent home can ever imagine.  It still infuriates me when married people say things like, “I’m a single parent for the week”, when their partner is away on a trip or something.  Having a partner who is physically absent for a matter of days is nothing like having no partner at all.  You still have all sorts of support, financial and emotional just being the tip of the iceberg.  You can’t imagine none of that being present, ever.

My storm includes debt totaling over $250,000.  Most of that is from student loans, and much of the rest is due to the three years’ time that I spent waiting for my disability claim to be approved.  I was unable to work and waiting for the Social Security Administration to look at the body of proof that I was unable to work and sign off on my meager $750 a month payment.  In the meantime, I had nowhere to turn but credit cards, my dad, and charity.  So, I owe far more than I could ever pay back on my own, but I am not eligible for programs that would forgive these debts.  So, I sit and owe, and the interest just increases the amounts and increases the amounts.

My storm includes the complicated situation where my adult daughter cannot be considered an independent student, according to the rules of the government, but I cannot claim her as a dependent, according to the rules of the government.  This leaves her with a shortfall that other students don’t need to deal with regarding their own financial aid.  She can’t take out more money, but I can’t take out money on her behalf.  Because she is in this weird limbo state, because I am a disabled individual.  This isn’t her fault.  This should not be a storm she needs to weather, because I should be able to provide for her.  But I can’t.

So, my storm also includes the constant feeling of guilt because I cannot offer my daughter enough to put her in a position where she is on equal footing with her peers.  She isn’t set up for success.  She doesn’t have the advantages that her cousins and her friends and the children of the commenter on my post have.  I can’t offer her a chance at starting out at zero sum and working her way up from there.  She starts with my handicap.  She starts at the back of the pack, because I can’t give her an education and rent money and clothing and food and care packages and enough love to make up for the losses that she has suffered and the abandonment that she has felt.  I have loved her fiercely.  I have done and continue to do all that I can.  But it will never feel like enough.

My storm includes shame.  So much shame.  Not being a pure virgin girl, and not knowing how to stop being abused, and not understanding what that abuse even was or meant.  The shame of hiding and the shame of secrets and the shame of difference.  My storm later became one that was volatile and violent and full of rage—so much rage.  I felt like I was the storm, or like the storm lived somewhere deep within me and it was trying to get out and I was desperate to hold it in—failing to hold it in.  And then the storm became the shame of promiscuity and feeling like all of those words that are used to keep women captive—whore, slut, bitch—were the only thing that I could be, tainted that I was.  And it felt good to be used in a sense, until it was over, and then the dissociative state wore away and the wave of shame washed over again and I started holding in the storm again, as long as I could … until the next time.

My storm includes being all the people that you could rationalize away as not quite human.  Homeless.  Addicted.  Divorced.  Unemployed.  Mentally ill.  Using my body as currency.  Shielding my body from blows and then crawling into bed next to the one who wielded them.  Perpetually single.  Having sex with partners that were not my husband.  Having sex with partners who were not men.  The girl who stays out too late.  The girl who mows her lawn on Sunday.  (Oh, yes.  Some people consider that a grievous offense!)  I received anonymous notes about my bad behavior.  I was told I could lose my scholarship for having sex.  I got dirty, side-eyed looks from others.  When I talked to your husbands after church, you would suddenly appear at their sides and pull them in a different direction—like talking to me would lead to me stealing them away to mow lawns and suck on body parts by sundown.  In truth, I was just interesting and unconstrained by convention.  It’s an attractive thing to be interesting and unconventional.  (Translation:  read some books not written by female bible study developers and then discuss the contents with your husband … he’ll be mowing your lawn in no time.)

So, my storm also included years and years and years of not having my needs met. Hence the comments about opening my arms for a hug and getting a gut punch.

I’m still not surprised when I open myself up and somebody hits me hard, instead of offering me love and support.  Unfortunately, it is what I have come to expect.

The dumb thing about that meme is that you don’t have to tell me that the storm might not go away.  I fully expect that storm to fucking tear me to pieces and kill me.  It takes weekly therapy, twenty drugs, a host of friends, and all sorts of self-care strategies to convince me that the storm can be survived.  It takes every ounce of energy I can muster to get up in the morning and face the storm again.  It takes all manner of strategies to be my Zen self in the midst of all this chaos and terror and shame and unmet need.  But I do it.  I do it day after day after day.

I keep on facing it.

And some days the storm wins a little, and I freak out on a new potential partner with a host of doubt and shame and fear.  Other days I wake up and counter that with a bit more of the Zen and apologize and open up and tell him why I reacted that way, hoping that he will meet my need and connect with what I am saying … and not gut punch me while my arms are open.

But I face it.

And your job, as the people who would support me, is not to remind me that there is this big, ugly, terrifying storm that I am working so hard to live in the midst of without losing my shit.  Your job is to do everything that you are able to make that storm disappear.  Your job is to offer support where there wasn’t any.  Your job is to accept me and not shame me.  Your job is to love and not harm me.  Your job is to prove that the storm isn’t going to win, and that we can make all of that crap go away by being better than the crap.  We can change and grow and not hurt one another anymore and counter the falsehood with truth and slay the dragon of cruelty with a sword of kindness and acceptance and love.

That is the only way I know how to continue to face the storm—by trusting that we can eventually find calm skies for everyone.  Without that assurance, facing it is a worthless effort, and I may as well off myself now.  (That isn’t a suicidal statement, fyi.  That is me drawing on the extreme to make a point.)  Because if there isn’t an end to the need and the shame there isn’t really a point in moving forward.  And I don’t mean just the money—I mean the need for understanding and connection and love.  But I define love as “meeting needs”, so the money is a part of the equation.

If you are to assist another, you need to do more than tell them that there is struggle all around them and to work on their perspective.  You need to work to end the struggle.  Because no matter what your perspective is, if the struggle persists, you aren’t doing what you should be doing.  You aren’t helping.

I know that standing up against the storm isn’t an easy thing.  It is much easier to say, “Check your perspective” or to hide in some shelter and hope that the storm passes.  But for many of us—and for me—the storm rages on, indefinitely.  And that storm can’t stop.  It won’t stop without the change of perspective from many other people who are not me.

It is often not the people suffering, but those who are unaware of or those who are causing the suffering who need to change the way that they are operating in the day to day.  I’m usually not the one doing things “wrong”.  I’m generally suffering because of the things that are unjust, not the things that I cannot accept but that are perfectly fine.  And the ones suffering an injustice generally don’t have any power to make the change required to stop that suffering.  If they did, the change would happen hastily and without resistance.  Because, despite the lies that many in power like to feed you, people don’t wallow in poverty and addiction and illness and homelessness and sex work because they want to.  Just like Kanye West is an idiot for presuming that slavery was/is a choice, anyone who thinks that people live in the middle of storms because they like how lightning feels is an idiot.  Those people don’t have the shelter they need.  You must find ways to provide it for them—preferably by asking them how you can best provide them shelter.

Robert F Kennedy once said:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

This is the type of shelter-building act that we need in response to those who are in the middle of storms opening their hearts and asking for assistance.  Building currents that sweep down walls—sweeping away the clouds of the storm and bringing, perhaps for the first time, calm, blue skies, should be the goal that we aspire to reach.  Asking people to be quiet and calm in the middle of injustice is not the answer.  Fighting against injustice is the answer, on the grand scale.

And meeting me in my storm, with open arms and an embrace—not a gut-punching meme that seeks to discredit my need, devalue my expression, and normalize an injustice.

When you are met with someone who opens up and seeks to be authentic and disclose their struggle, don’t tell them to sit quietly in chaos, please.  Don’t ask them to be happier with the injustice that swirls around them.  Act to improve their lot.  Strike out against injustice.  Send forth that ripple of hope.

And if you won’t do all those good things, at least stop sending gut punches.

 

Contribute to Christy’s fundraiser here if you wish to help lessen her storm’s raging.  Thank you!

Avoidance

I’m supposed to be paying bills.

But there isn’t enough money.

So, I am doing this thing that I do.  Some like to call it procrastination, but I’ve started to use terms that are more honest wherever possible, so this thing is called “avoidance”.

When the thing cannot be done comfortably, efficiently, without stress, or with relative ease, I avoid doing the thing.  “Avoidance”.

Right now it is about the bills, because there is stress, discomfort, inefficiency, and a bit of struggle involved in trying to figure out how to make money multiply without a magic wand or the art of alchemy to assist in the task.  I don’t know what to pay and what to leave unpaid.  I don’t know who might be gracious and who might attack the credit score I have been working so hard to improve.  I know that all of the things need to be paid, eventually.  And I know that one way or another, through begging or borrowing or more high interest loans that bury me in even deeper debt, things will be paid, but that doesn’t make the job of maneuvering and managing a too small budget less uncomfortable or less stressful, so I still want to avoid it.

A long overdue blog post is better than an attempt at bill payment … even one that details the stress I feel over the bill payment attempt.

I think that part of this avoidance is built into our DNA.  We didn’t survive as a species by running headlong into danger with great stupidity and zero planning.  We avoid situations that seem like losing scenarios as a matter of survival.  Avoidance helps us stay alive, in many ways, so it can be an excellent mechanism for the continuance of the human race—which is likely a good thing.

But there may also be a negative side to this tendency toward avoidance.  That negative side is the part that I think frequently trips me up and leaves me face down on the proverbial pavement of life.  It is the tendency of our culture to avoid any sort of suffering, pain, or pretense of unease—or dis-ease—whatsoever.  It is the glossing over of the lament in favor of pretending that all is well and good and easy, all of the time.  It is the lie that we don’t just avoid the things that are uncomfortable, but that the things that are uncomfortable don’t exist—and if they do exist, that something is wrong and needs to be “fixed” and fixed immediately.

If you’ve read anything else that I have ever written, you already know that I suffer from chronic illness, both mental and physical in nature.  Something will always be “wrong” with me.  And the desire to either “fix” or deny the existence of the problem is, therefore, always with me.  I’ve found, through many therapy sessions and lots of searching of my own spirit, that this desire is based largely on cultural perceptions.  It is shameful not to “work”, “have a job”, “do something with your life”, “have a purpose”, and it is shameful to “beg”, “live off other’s hard-earned money”, “take what I didn’t earn”, “play the victim”, “act sick”, “sit on my ass all day”, “be lazy”, or not “suck it up”, “get over it”, “take some Tylenol and get off my butt”, “push through the pain”, or to be like “my friend”, “my husband’s cousin”, or any number of other people and “run 5k’s”, “go to work every day”, “take care of five kids”, even though they have [insert one of my illnesses here] “just like you”.

Not only do I cope with my illness every day, but I deal with the public perceptions and the cultural shame that goes along with being chronically ill.

A court has determined that I cannot work—that there are no jobs that I can do given my particular limitations, diagnoses, skills, educational background, work history, symptoms, and the way that those things intersect with the job market in my geographical location.  “There are no jobs.”  That is literally in the court transcript for you to read, if you were to read through the lengthy hours of Q and A that were required for us to get to the point where a judge determined that I am disabled.

But that transcript doesn’t matter to probably about 85% of the people who I come into contact with in my day to day interactions.  It doesn’t matter because of this negative sense of avoidance.  I’m supposed to avoid suffering and illness and flaws and bad shit.  I’m not supposed to acknowledge that, but fix it, and fix it fast.  I’m not supposed to admit that I can barely sit at this desk right now because of the pain in my back.  I’m not supposed to admit that I’m at this desk and not a “work” desk because I am disabled.  I’m not supposed to BE disabled.  I’m supposed to take some Tylenol and get off my ass and run a 5k like aunt Janet from West Virginia!

Because we avoid suffering.  We get over that shit, or we lie about it, or we become the kind of people who complain all the time but only a small, acceptable, mundane amount of complaining that is socially acceptable around the water cooler at our jobs.  Because we are allowed to be moderately miserable all the time if we are still productive.  But real, serious, deeply affecting problems are not socially accepted.  Those we avoid.

I sometimes wonder who decides which challenges are acceptable and which are not.

When all the women have ovaries that stop producing more eggs, we call it menopause and call it normal.  When all the men start having limp, less adept penises and lower sperm counts, we call it “erectile dysfunction” and make a billion-dollar industry out of making them hard again, instead of accepting that aging men can’t always perform sexually on command.  It’s normal for a woman’s sexual function to change, but it is a problem to avoid and be “fixed” for a man?  Who decided that?  The pharmaceutical companies?  The medical professionals?  The sex work industry?  Who made this a thing?

And who made being chronically ill unacceptable but being terminally ill perfectly fine?  That question makes me sound like an asshole all the time, I know.  But it only makes me sound like an asshole because of the perceptions already infused into those terms.  Chronically ill.  Terminally ill.  One is a drain on society.  One is a sainted state worthy of all the compassion.  We all know which one is which.  I’m not the sainted one worthy of all the compassion.  I’m the other.  And I am an asshole for pointing out that there is a bias.  I am an asshole for pointing out that dying faster somehow makes you worthier of care.  (At least in the eyes of many in our society, that is—it doesn’t actually make you worthier of care.)

Who decided that I need a “real job” to be treated like a “real person”?  Who decided that I am allowed to be treated poorly because I am in a state of poverty—or that I deserve to live in an impoverished state if I cannot work due to illness?  Who decided that $750 per month is the amount that a disabled person who has less than 40 work credits should be forced to live on, making this entire post even a thing that exists?  And why do I not get any credits for the early years of my work history when I was delivering papers and babysitting, or for the years when I was working two part time jobs and going to school and raising a daughter as a single parent.  That was more damn work than I have seen most anyone do—ever.  And that doesn’t “count” for anything.  Who decided that doesn’t count as work? Who decided I get $750 instead of $3000 because of those years?  Who decided that my life isn’t valuable enough to be offered what I need to not be sitting at this desk, in pain, avoiding my bills like the plague.

If I had the plague, I would get more benefits.  Because it would kill me.  If you are dying they let you have a better quality of life than if you will live.  Oh wait … not socially acceptable.  We already went over that.

So, this avoidance, this thing that was written into our DNA as a positive survival instinct has somehow become a thing that we use to cover up and shame and deny and harm whatever is connected to our socially unaccepted suffering.  And I don’t know that I will ever get a complete, straight answer about how that came to be, or who determined and decided what was or was not acceptable, but I do hope that I will someday begin to shape the conversation around why we do this, and why we need to stop doing this.

We need to stop avoiding suffering and pain and bad shit that happens, because it happens to all of us.  It is part of the human experience.  And it is an important part of that experience. While much of my suffering was regrettable, and I obviously would choose to go down another path if I could, the person I am today was forged in the flames of that suffering.  Those challenges shaped me.  And they made me a better person.

They didn’t make me a better person right away.  In fact, they led me down a dangerous road to some very dark places.  But that happened when I was trying to hide and avoid and stuff away all of the bad things.  If I had been able to and allowed to cope with what I had experienced as a child, or a teen, in positive ways—expressing the pain and the betrayal and the confusion and the suffering openly and in a safe space—I would have avoided that road and those places altogether.  I might have avoided mental illness and chronic pain altogether.  (Nobody knows what causes fibromyalgia, in distinct terms, so I cannot know that for certain, but it is linked with stress and often presents in tandem with post-traumatic stress, so it is possible that without the PTSD there would be no fibromyalgia.)  Our society’s insistence that pain be hidden likely caused me more pain.

But now that I am in a space where I am able to process and cope with and express all that I should have been allowed to express all those years ago, I am becoming strong and wise and good in ways I might not have were it not for the experience that I went through.

Lament shapes the spirit in beautiful ways.

Pain makes us compassionate, kind, understanding, gracious, loving, connected, and strong.  That is not something that we should hide.  And that is certainly not something we should avoid.

We still shouldn’t run, stupidly, toward danger without a plan.  But there isn’t a need for us to hide and avoid something that makes us compassionate, kind, understanding, gracious, loving, connected, and strong.  Frankly, hiding that seems like a stupid run toward danger … it probably is.  And that is probably why so many things about our society today seem so messed up, in the sense where one person refuses to lay down their “right” for the lives of, potentially, thousands of others.

We are in danger, and we are being stupid.  Because we have hidden so well and avoided so effectively the thing that makes us compassionate and kind and understanding and gracious and loving and connected and strong, that we have become the sort of society that breaks apart and leaves individuals to be slaughtered as “they”, somehow apart from us and without our compassion, rather than feel the pain of the truth—that we have become so unfeeling that we cannot mourn our own brokenness, so we deny it again and again.

We have put some imagined dessert to rights of the individual above the conscious collective of the society.  I now becomes more important than we.  And that is a grave error.

We, the people—that is how it begins.  Not, I the individual who wants a gun and an erection despite the compassion and the biological facts that are required for me to understand the world around me.

“I don’t suffer.  I don’t have pain.  I take a Tylenol and go to work.  I have rights.”

But that isn’t true.  We all suffer.  We all have pain.  We all have days when no painkiller will dull the ache we feel—be it physical or emotional.  And, most importantly, WE have rights—all of us together, in concert, and being accountable to one another.  The only way to accurately see that, is to start to uncover the pain and suffering and to acknowledge it, to express it, to cope with it, and to begin shaping yourself and your life into one that has compassion, kindness, understanding, grace, love, connection, and collaborative strength.

Stop the avoidance.  Embrace the lament.  Feel.  Suffer.  And come out the other side a better version of yourself.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to suffer through paying my bills.

 

I See Stupid People

There’s this M. Night Shyamalan movie that has an monologue that a friend and I once transformed a bit.  We took the word “dead” and inserted “stupid”.

I see stupid people.  They’re all around me.  They don’t know they’re stupid.

Today I have been dealing with the frustration of not being able to express my frustration at what I consider stupidity.

I should be ecstatic right now.

After months and months of waiting, my housing situation is finally resolving, and I am signing a lease on an apartment!!!!!!

And I am ecstatic, but I am also feeling assaulted by constant texts and calls and questions and threats by the owner of the apartment that I have secured.  It isn’t that they are intentionally being hurtful or aggressive.  They just don’t understand anything about this process and they are continually looking to me for answers.  And I am frustrated to the point of tears, because it isn’t my job to hold the hand of my landlord while they figure out how to deal with a leasing agency or the Chicago Housing Authority for the first time.  They should be looking to the leasing agency or the housing authority for that assistance.  But they are not.  They are basically harassing me because they don’t understand shit.

I see stupid people.

This morning, after assuring the landlord last night that everything was on track with the housing authority, and that the leasing agent would be connecting with the processing department regarding funds I put aside in December and how we would disperse those funds, and saying that I would be in touch as soon as I had news, I got a 9 am text: Any news … on when we are meeting

Shortly after, I got a phone call, and when I explained that we were trying to iron out the details, but all would be fine, and we could sign the lease later in the day, once that was done, I was told, “as long as this happens today”, “we have waited way too long”, “I’m very unhappy with their [the leasing agency’s] service”.

And while I held my tongue and gave all sorts of kind and cautiously worded assurances on the phone with the landlord, a few minutes later, my best friend got a text that said, “I’m just getting upset because suddenly the landlord is like ‘this happens today’ ‘we have waited too long’. And I am like, and I have been waiting since October! I’ve been discriminated against and turned down and stressed out and screamed at and living in fear.  You’ve what? Waited through February for me to pay you for your fucking empty apartment with cash I begged friends and family for? What right do they have to be so indignant and demanding?”

Then I apologized for letting the feelings that were coming up from the interaction with the landlord come out toward my friend.

But at least they came out … because I went for acupuncture for the first time yesterday, and my acupuncturist was telling me about how acupuncture helps release the emotion and stress and trauma and unvoiced stuff that gets trapped in our body when we hold on to all of that shit.  However, if we keep holding it, the problem will remain chronic, because the problem is holding down the shit, and acupuncture can’t stop us from doing that.  We need to learn to stop the cause, not keep treating the effect ad nauseum.

Anyway, the financing was worked out, and the housing authority once again expressed to me, in detail, the situation with the case, and assured me that all is well with moving forward and signing the lease today.  The leasing agency, whose services have been AMAZING, by the way, said they would call and explain the payment details to the landlord, so I don’t need to stress over that anymore and can focus on finishing up packing and getting the lease signed so that my move can happen in two days.

All is well, and I am moving back toward the ecstatic end of the spectrum.

And as the calm sets in, I start to think on my own moments of being a “stupid person” this week.

I got a different phone this week.  In an effort to save money, I switched wireless carriers.  Switching carriers was easy (and saved me a load of cash!).  Transferring my data from one phone to the other, however, proved far more difficult.  I know that the lovely young man in the store told me to take the phones home, update the old one on my computer, reset the new one, and restore.  Somehow that doesn’t work.  I don’t know what I am doing wrong, but I cannot make that work.  I know what should happen when I work through that process, but that isn’t what actually happens.  And in the meantime, I can’t keep carrying around two phones, a watch, and a tablet that are all alerting me to different things and have bits of critical information that need to combine to create a functional Christy.

So, I simply downloaded and signed into and reorganized and started over with apps and calendars and accounts.  But that means when I go to check in with my lovely young man on Saturday to see how I am getting along with my new phone, he can’t even do the restore thing for me, because then I will lose all of the new things that I have done on the new phone if we restore from a tabula rasa.  I no longer have a blank slate to start with.  I’ve worked to create a slate full of organization and function.

Am I a stupid person when it comes to updating phones?  Absolutely!  Am I a stupid person when it comes to advanced mathematics?  Absolutely!  Am I a stupid person when it comes to any number of things that I am not skilled in and do not understand as well as another person?  Absolutely!

Here’s the thing:  I’m really fucking intelligent.  I am.  I’m not ashamed of that, and I should never have to hide that so other people don’t feel less intelligent than I am.  It is totally fine that I am smart.  It is great, honestly.  But I am not skilled in and informed about every subject.  There are lots of things that I am not good at and plenty more that I am not educated regarding.  Sometimes I am the stupid person.

At one point or another, we are all the person who is stupid.  And at one point or another, we are all the person who has perspective, information, and guidance that another needs.  What is most important is not whether we are the one needing guidance or offering it, but how we are treating one another in both of those situations.

When I am in the phone store, and the lovely young man is assisting me to figure out the new technology, I am kind, apologetic, and grateful.  I listen.  I ask for him to write things down on paper if I can’t follow along in my head.  I thank him repeatedly and tell him how valuable his skills are, and how appreciative I am for his assistance.  This is how I be the stupid person.

When I am the person offering the guidance, I hold my frustration for another space and time.  I ask for another to call and explain, since it shouldn’t fall to me to handle the situation.  I say things using different language, and I repeat things when needed.  I offer encouragement and assurances.  I try to remain calm and keep my voice soft, metered, and sweet-sounding.  I send documentation, source materials, and copies of proofs. I do whatever I can to make things clear and calm.  This is how I am when I am the one who is dealing with the “stupid person”.

Somehow, the way you act and react in the situation makes all the difference.  And that is how we get through life without harming one another in all sorts of ways—by not being stupid or smart in ways that are indignant, threatening, stubborn, superior, rude, harassing, demanding, ungrateful, or hurtful in any way.  We manage to learn from one another, and to help one another through the challenges, by being grateful and kind and patient, and by caring for one another through these interactions.

I think that much of what is wrong with America in particular, and the world in general, these days is that we have forgotten that basic common decency.  We have forgotten how to care for one another through these interactions.  I’m not sure how that is possible.

Because we all seem to be crying out to be cared for while we refuse to care for anyone else.

This is a two-way street, people.  It goes both ways.  If you want to be cared for, you absolutely need to start caring for others.  You don’t get one without the other.

It required an amount of gratitude, patience, support from others, meditation, self-care, and self-soothing that I almost could not summon to cope with persons who wanted me to guide them without offering me the care and gratitude and patience that I required from them.  When they didn’t offer me that, I needed to find it elsewhere.  Most people don’t have a wealth of gratitude and support and patience and Zen to draw from.  I’m lucky to have found the value of amassing stores of such things as a tool for maintaining mental health and managing chronic illness, so I have it to call upon in situations where others forget to care in our interactions.  But most are not amassing stores upon which they can draw.  Most are pushed beyond breaking points and that frustration and anger and pain of not being offered respect and care and gratitude fly out into the open, creating volatile and even deadly situations.

What would the world look like if we offered the care and avoided the open expression of that pain?

I think it would look very different.  I think it would look much better, much more kind, and much more beautiful.  I think it would offer us freedom and would decrease our anxiety and fear.  I think that it would bring many of us the peace and the positive feedback we needed to keep on going through the challenging moments.  And it would let all of us breathe a big sigh of relief.

This is the first time that I have the insight that I am the stupid person all around someone else, and that understanding how I am stupid, and how I am smart makes a huge difference in my interactions with others.  I hope that my insight might offer you the opportunity to consider your own interactions.

How do you act and react when you are “smart” or “stupid”?  What ways can you add care to those interactions, and what difference might that make?

I’ll put it out there so none of the comments need to … I used to be an asshole about being smart!  I loved knowing stuff and being smarter than others.  But I think that was largely because there was so much pain in other areas of my life.  I was terrible at relationships.  I was keeping devastating secrets.  I was living in constant fear.  Pain fueled the way I interacted then.  I’m not the same person now.  I’m not the same person in this moment that I was at 9 am, frankly.  The insight I’ve gained while writing this post has literally changed who I am.  But, the last 4 years of therapy, and study, and mindfulness, have changed the place from which my interactions originate.  They don’t always come from fear and pain any longer.  I have new spaces—better spaces—from which to draw.

We don’t need to keep interacting in the same ways we always have.  It can take a lot of difficult work to change how we interact and from where we draw that gratitude and fortitude and support.  But it is worth it.  I believe it can change the world.  That is so worth it.

Up Again

It’s been difficult to write.

That’s not entirely true.

It’s been difficult to write something that doesn’t sound like suicidal ideation blended with complaint and condemnation and a little bit of protein powder to make an “I fucking hate everything and everyone and can’t remember why I keep trying at life smoothie”.

And I am relatively certain that nobody wants to read that.  Or taste that.  Or whatever.

On the bright side, I’m not literally suicidal.  And all sorts of pop songs are cycling through my brain—not death metal—so, all is not lost.  Though I did tell my dad yesterday that things were going to get very Dantesque around here if I don’t get a ruling in my case soon.  “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”.

But for the moment, I am only a depressing mess in written word, not in other facets of my life.

Today I have been wondering about that a bit.  And I am wondering if there is an element of true self and false self, or of seen and hidden, or of private and public, that is expressed through the writing and being.  Is there a tie that binds my writing with my deepest feelings, and keeps it honest?  Or is the best of me brought out in person, leaving the struggle for the page?  Is there some way that my craft expresses only one bit of me and not another?

I don’t know how to answer that.

And now I am tired.  Tired beyond all telling or explaining.

Just considering one or two questions exhausted me.  And my splint just hit buttons without my consent and tried to send my document over the internet for translation?  What the fuck, splint? Why are you acting out?  I know why the dog and cat and offspring are cranky—not enough play time, no fresh litter liner, and no access to cigarettes or boyfriend, respectively.

And I am cranky because everything and everyone else needs and wants my attention and affection and compassion and concern.  But I don’t even have enough of that for me.  I can’t give what I don’t have.  But I keep on trying.  I’m a fucking bleeding turnip.  I’m a fucking bleeding stone.

So, while the dog is fed and the cat is sleeping in the window and the temperature is below 80 degrees and the daughter is out, I’m going to stop trying to express my thoughts and start taking a nap.

Because the one thing I know for certain is that no matter how many times I fall, I’ve always gotten up again, and I think that is the truth for all of us in this household—whether I hold us up, or whether the others lift me up, or whether we all take turns dragging one another from the depths.  And lying down this afternoon gives me an opportunity to wake in an hour or two, and get back up again.  Rested a bit, I hope.  Ready to fight—in the good and righteous way where we make it through life no matter what challenges are thrown our way.  And the longer I have fought, the more I have learned that you stop the monsters by throwing back love and kindness and good.  So, I need to regroup and give myself the attention, affection, compassion, and concern—the care and love and kindness—so I can keep putting it out into the world and overcoming the challenges.  That’s right: We fight with care and love and kindness.  It’s the only way to win.  It’s the only way to get back up again.

 

Shifting

I was talking with my dad yesterday, and our conversation turned toward the topic of change.  Particularly, we were talking about what it takes to change your mind—to move toward a new idea or concept and abandon your previous thinking.  And that discussion led to some thought about how my own progression and development of thought has come about.

Admittedly, I have had experience and opportunities to gain knowledge that others have not.  That knowledge and experience have definitely been part of my transition from one school of thought to another.  But I sometimes feel that there is something more leading my shift in ideas.  And I began to consider what that might be.

At times, I think that my childhood traumas might have had an unintended consequence of pushing me toward something new.  The stark difference between what I was told and what I was experiencing motivated me to look for something that seemed more honest and authentic.  And the shame and struggle of being different and feeling tainted or marked in some way caused me to seek out a framework that didn’t make me out to be some evil, sinful thing, awaiting a horrible hell where I would burn in eternal fires.  (Mind you, I was feeling that way because of what was being done to me, not because of anything I had chosen to do.)

I bore the weight of many things, and I didn’t even remember some of the things until college.  I was always sort of unaligned and a bit mistrusting and a tad weird, but my first year of college was the start of the journey toward full-blown PTSD crazy.  Crazy isn’t a diagnosis here, but more of a title for how others began to view me.  Because symptoms of rage and nightmares and flashbacks and depression and risk-taking behaviors seem like crazy to the untrained eye—and also, it would seem, to a number of professionals. (My mistrust of rural doctors is founded upon the continued failure of rural doctors—especially those of the psychiatric persuasion.)  And when you are “acting crazy” you start to feel even more crazy, because you don’t really want to act out in those ways, but there is a compulsion within you that is far stronger than any reason you might try to hold onto. There isn’t really a way for the brain to rationalize away trauma, no matter how hard you try.  And, for some, the harder they try, the more dissociative their condition becomes—moving toward dissociative identity disorder, which is sort of the peak of dissociative brain activity.

Luckily, my symptoms hovered in the PTSD realm.  And I was also able to compartmentalize well in later years, and to push my trauma into particular and less “crazy” behaviors, like risky sex and smoking and manipulation and petty theft.  While those things weren’t great for me, they helped me keep the world blind to most of the symptoms I experienced, and kept me on a more even plane, temporarily.

But, I am getting into tangent territory.  And the point here wasn’t my struggle with the symptoms that arose from my childhood, but with change and shifting ideas.

I had symptoms that pushed me out into the world.  I moved from city to town to city to hilltop commune to city, and I experienced life in ways that many have not.  I saw poverty and abuse and homelessness and sex work and violence and mental illness and struggle of many kinds.  And I saw them up close and personal, not through huffpost articles, but on the actual street and in my real life.  You can’t live with and in those spaces without changing the way you think, because the truth of those things is forced upon you, and no amount of rationalizing or pontificating will make that truth go away.

But when you come back to “civilized” society after living off of trash can food and free clinics and using your body as capital, somehow the “civilized” people want you to stop believing in the truths that were evident in that other portion of your life and experience.  They don’t want to hear that the poor are made so by their action or inaction.  They don’t want to know that abortions happen because of careful, thoughtful consideration by intelligent and capable women.  They don’t want to believe that gay people are such from birth.  And no matter how many stories of civilized people with struggles I would tell, there were those who refused to believe what I knew to be true—that love lives in those people and in the midst of those challenges, and that they aren’t evil.

I remember the time when I was still attached to the thinking of my family and my hometown and the people within its boundaries.  I believed in the badness of sex and drugs and curse words and poverty and moral failure of many kinds.  I spoke out against abortion and thought homeless people needed to get jobs and believed that I had the right to judge others based on my superior attention to religious law.  But I was wrong.  I was very, extremely, ludicrously wrong.

I am fine with people being wrong due to their limited experience and understanding of a thing.  I was that person.  The challenge is the people who will fight to the death over their belief, which can be easily refuted with more experience and understanding.

Information is everywhere these days.  You don’t have to look long or look far to grasp a greater understanding of things.  But there are still many from my history or in particular circles who demand that their limited view is the correct view.  They believe they have the right to judge others based on their superior attention to religious law, even when I can tell them clearly and concisely how their view of the law is incorrect.  The problem, in their eyes, is the failure of my seminary training, not their understanding.  And they will continue to insist upon the truth of something that is easily disproved.

Some might think that I am the same way, because I have things that I hold to and will not deny credence or accept variance.  But the difference here is that I have researched and studied those things, and have not yet been offered an alternative proof.  I’m not closed off and refusing to accept anything.  I’m very open, or I wouldn’t be at the place I am today in my thought.

I started the shift, in some ways, when I was very young.  It didn’t make sense that god is love but god didn’t rescue me from illness and abuse.  I didn’t want to be in the place where I was suffering that illness and abuse.  I wanted to get away.  And this may have fueled my running, but it wasn’t the reason I left the ideas of my rural, religious, right-wing-esque home.  I left those ideas because they were based on false assumptions and not on the truth.  And when I use the term truth here, I don’t mean my opinions, but things that I have tested and found to be based in fact and supported by the stories and anecdotal evidences I have encountered.

As I moved farther from the religious teachings, and closer to the people living out a different life and expressing other ideas, I came to find that I loved learning.  I loved learning so much that I decided to obtain an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees.  And the more I learned, the more I discovered that those closely held ideas in my hometown were not facts.  And the more I expressed facts, instead of those closely held ideas, the more I was labeled and challenged and discounted by people in that hometown.

Yesterday, when talking with my dad, I mentioned that with every degree and every new experience, I get farther in my thinking than the previous group I shared life with.  My experience in Chicago and in study of social justice moved my thinking slightly “left” of that which I believed when I was in Phoenix and studying theology.  My experience in Phoenix and in study of theology moved my thinking slightly left of that which I believed when I was in Sioux Center and studying philosophy.  And my experience in Sioux Center and in study of philosophy moved me slightly left of that which I believed in Kansas City and Rock Rapids and Sheldon and some remote area in Oklahoma’s red hills and in studying life’s hard knocks.  So, as we dissect the course of my life, we get back to small town high school days … and the people who were in the seat next to me in high school think I am so liberal that I am going to a horrible hell where I will burn in eternal fires.

And it matters not that I can put forth an argument against a literal hell so good that I got an A+ on the paper where I did put it forth while in seminary.  That first community is still filled with people who view me as the crazy, liberal, leftist evil that belongs in hell fires.

I struggle to understand people who would deny the facts, and ignore every study, and refuse to accept any anecdotal evidence, and not listen to the stories of others, but hold fast to what has been proven untrue.

I’m not that type of person.  I love change.  I love learning.  I love knowing more and being more informed and having more ideas.  I love testing theories and researching topics and gathering data.  I love the moment when you say, “Oh”, because you have just discovered that you were wrong.  And I love the moment when you say, “Aha”, because you have just discovered that you were correct.

So, I guess the only direction that I can go as I seek the close of this post is toward encouragement.  I encourage everyone reading this to open up to an idea.  Just start with one.  You don’t need to live on the street and be an addict and get divorced and explore your own sexuality and go to seminary and study philosophy all at once.  And you don’t need to start with the idea you hold most dear.  But start with something.  Pick one topic and research it and talk to people affected and gather data and take information from a variety of sources, and see if you feel differently at the end of that process than you did at the beginning.  You can’t manage this type of study, however, if you cannot come to it with the understanding that you might be wrong.

All of the shifts in my thinking required this one thing:  the willingness to be wrong.

I had to accept that I might be wrong about what is evil and what is good.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about what causes poverty.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about racial injustice.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about personhood from conception.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about the morality and personality of sex workers.  I had to accept that I might be an addict.  I had to accept that I spent years fighting battles that I now am ashamed to have fought.  I had to accept that I don’t know much at all.  I had to accept that I don’t have all the answers.  I had to accept that my concept of the divine may have been very wrong.  I had to let myself be incorrect and let myself learn from others.

I might be a stubborn and belligerent gal, but I have never not wanted to learn.  And this openness to ideas has caused shift after shift after shift.  And those are good.  Those are well researched, touched by truth, seeking the divine, open to any outcome shifts.  They weren’t all easy shifts to make.

It wasn’t easy accepting that the creation story or the story of Jonah and the whale aren’t literal.  It wasn’t easy accepting that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law.  It wasn’t easy to accept that a fetus is not the same as a live birth.  It wasn’t easy to accept that I have white privilege.  It wasn’t easy to accept that disability doesn’t devalue a person or their life.  It wasn’t easy to accept that gender is fluid.  But I would rather work toward accepting something with difficulty than work toward demanding a lie be accepted as truth.

And there is a chance that I am wrong about all the things I now believe.  There may be new information that comes to light, or new experience that shapes my ideas, and I may be proved wrong.

Then I will need to shift again.

In many ways change is life and life is change.  I believe that in order to live fully, I need to explore in ways that allow for change to happen.  This includes the humility of accepting the times when I get things wrong.  And I get them wrong plenty of times, but I seek to leave my ego at the door when I engage in study or conversation, so that I can keep learning from others.  And as I learn, I change.  But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

As I change and shift, I become a better person.  Contest that all you want, I won’t retract that statement.  I may not become what others wish I were—I may not fit their concept of “better”.  But I am better.  I am more knowledgeable and more open and more kind and more considerate and more accepting than I have ever been.  And one day soon, as I learn and shift and learn and shift, I will be even more so.  Not because I can shoot down other people’s ideas with fabulous amounts of sarcasm and snark, but because I can listen and learn at every moment and in every stage.

When my mother started to slip toward dementia, she went through some periods of regression.  Some of the comments she made were very racist.  But I knew that wasn’t my mom today coming out in the moment, but it was my mother in her youth, before she made the shift from the racism of her family members and the challenges of race in Chicago during her teens.  I was watching her shift in reverse, going from the loving and caring woman she became back to the girl she once was.  Those early ideas were so offensive.  And my mom was a much better person at 55 than at 15.  If I suffer the same disease she suffered, I might someday make an anti-transgendered comment, or say something about poor people needing to work harder.  But I won’t mean it.  Because I have evolved past that point.  I’ve become more open and more loving and more caring, just like my mom did.

And I have rocketed past my mom’s development, and the shifting of some others, but I also come behind those who have flown to the front of the pack, leading me into a new age of thought and action and understanding.  I love knowing that there are others pioneering, and that I am in good company as I continue to learn and to change.

Evolving, shifting, and changing should be seen as good.  None of us should be stuck in the same rut for 80 years and then die.  Not just because I see transformation as positive, but because I believe that transformation and growth are at the heart of being human.  We have one of the longest periods of development of any creature on earth.  We change slowly.  We grow slowly. We reach our pinnacle at a very late age.  And I don’t think that is accidental.  I think we were meant to keep changing in order to keep evolving into a better form.  We are designed to move forward.  We are made for shifting.

I work on creating new neural pathways and reintegrating parts of my brain all of the time.  Old humans can learn new tricks.  We are supposed to do so.  And the more we work at learning, the healthier our brains remain as we age.  Learning, which our brain needs, always begets change.  It is a natural progression.  And maybe your progression won’t lead you as far “left” as mine has led me.  But don’t be afraid to learn and don’t be afraid to change.

Evolve.  Become better.  Shift.

Birthday

I  started bawling while I typed out a text to my daughter.  She turns nineteen today.  I can’t even wrap my head around that.  That tiny seven pound bundle of smiles and tears that was placed in my arms all those years ago changed everything about life and love.  And I know that lots of people will say things like, “I didn’t know what love was until I became a parent”.  I don’t really subscribe to that.  What I will say is that I had never felt love so deep and so full and so beautiful until I held that gorgeous bundle in my arms.

I think this is the worst part about human development—that we forget that moment when our parent first held us and looked into our tiny face and beamed love toward us.  All the late night feedings, and lullabies, and peek-a-boos, and looks of love and joy are left engrained in the mind of a parent, but lost for the child.  And by the time we start remembering our parents’ actions and interactions with us there is discipline and disappointment and distraction between parent and child that wasn’t there in those early days when all we could possibly show our babies was unadulterated and unconditional love.

I realize today, in ways I never have before, that my own mother looked at me that way once.

It was hard, listening to my siblings express their views of my mother and who she was to the funeral director as we sat planning for her funeral.  They knew a different woman than I did.  That was painful, and illuminating.  They received and remembered love and generosity and selflessness.  I remembered a harsh and argumentative history of always feeling not good enough and being a constant disappointment to my mother.  I loved my mother dearly.  I couldn’t figure out how to like her for most of my life, but I loved her.

But once, she looked in my face like I looked into my baby girl’s face and she felt only love and joy and possibility.  I wish I had the ability to remember that moment.  I wish I knew that look and that feeling more fully.

My mother was the first person to hold my daughter at her birth.  I was divorcing by the time I gave birth, so my husband wasn’t present for the birth. (That was probably good, because his attendance might have led to me being charged with murder, or assault at the least.) My mother took his place at my side, and neither of us could have anticipated that she would be at my side for 40 full hours of labor, but she was.  And at the end of the two day ordeal, I was too exhausted to hold my own child.  So, the pictures of my baby meeting her grandma precede the pictures of her meeting me.  I was thinking on that long ordeal yesterday, and what it took to get this beautiful nineteen year old woman into the world, and how my mom was there for every moment.  And I remember, exhausted as I was, seeing my mother look at that baby in that moment, with more love than I knew she was able to give.  With more wonder than I thought possible, and with more grace and generosity and selflessness than I knew she had within her.

I didn’t understand in the moment of preparing for my mother’s funeral that the way my mother looked at her first granddaughter was also the way she viewed me.  But she did.

When I texted my daughter this morning I told her all the things I wish that I had heard my mother say to me when I was nineteen.  And I didn’t do it on purpose.  I simply realized, after offering all the love and encouragement and pride that I could muster in a text message, that I wished my mother had been able to tell me those things when I was that age.  She didn’t, or couldn’t, or didn’t know how.  And that was why I knew a different woman than my siblings—because I couldn’t remember that love from when I was so little that the discipline and disappointment and distraction became primary ways of interacting, and when I was old enough to know my mother well, we were divided by so many differences of opinion and a similar stubborn will that we couldn’t express well the love that had been there at the beginning.

It was there at the end.

The end for me was years before her death, but the first year that she began to forget my face, when she clung to me as we said goodbye after a visit and cried and repeated over and over and over that she loved me.  She was trying to make up for lost time and opportunity, I think.  To say it enough that it would sink in—be remembered.

It is remembered, and so is the moment when they placed my daughter in her arms and I saw my mother’s face turn to pure love and the fullest joy.

My daughter is one of the best people I have ever known.  And she brings me all that love and all that joy every day.  She is intelligent, compassionate, caring, kind, generous, selfless, strong, loving, loyal, talented, and exquisitely beautiful.  She follows her dreams.  She calls out the bad and promotes the good.  She gives her last dollar to someone who asks, just because she can’t bear to see people in need or in pain.  Since her childhood she has offered her all for others, climbing up on the counter to reach foods and bring them outside to passing homeless men and women from the age of seven, at least.

And while I find her utterly fabulous, we also have differences of opinion and similar stubborn wills that make it difficult for us to see eye to eye at times.  But, unlike in my relationship with my mother, I have learned to let go of some of my stubbornness, and to let my daughter hold her own perspective and pursue what matters to her.  My mom couldn’t let go of that control—the desire to shape me into what she believed I ought to be, instead of let me be the person I was.  For my daughter’s sake, I am trying to let go of that control.  Sometimes I fail, but I apologize when I realize I have done so.  I look back to those moments of late night feedings and peek-a-boos and lullabies and I hold onto that picture of love and joy, and at the humility I felt—so undeserving of such a beautiful light in my life, of a being who offered me so much and stole nothing.  And I seek to let her be that light today, without my interventions.

It can be hard to let go, as the birthdays pass by.  It can be hard to remember that moment of love, looking into a newborn face.  But I encourage you to hold onto that moment.  Remember it when your child colors on the walls, or when they pee on the living room floor, or when they break your favorite vase playing a sport indoors, or when they bring home that boyfriend with the crazy hair and the smoking habit, or when they hate piano lessons, or when they want their nose pierced, or when they quit their job, or when they marry an asshole (I mean, some of us do), or when they tell you they hate you and you are stupid and they wish they had some other parent, or when they fail at a subject in school.  Remember the light they were and the love you beamed back at them.  Remember that life is short and goodbyes are difficult and loss is devastating.  Remember that no matter who they become or what they do or how they succeed or fail that they are that bundle, placed in your arms when all there was between the two of you was love.  Hold that love close, and speak of it often, and share it with your child and share it with the world.  Because all of us want to be remembered in the end as the one who is loving and generous and kind.

Let love be the thing that is remembered, from the beginning to the very end.