I AM PRO-THRIVE

Recently, I have noticed that many people on Facebook have a purple banner at the bottom of their profile picture that reads, “I AM PRO-LIFE”.  

 

Now, I am not one to condemn free expression, since I love my own and hate when people try to silence me.  But those little banners annoyed the crap out of me after a while, and I needed to say something about them.  But I chose to say something here, instead of saying something on my Facebook profile, because I thought that my response required more explanation than a few sound bytes.  It required something more fully reasoned and more fully expressed–with some history and some anecdotes, perhaps.

 

And as I started firing up the Chromebook and getting ready to respond,  the first two songs on shuffle play were Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield and All I Want Is Love from A Great Big World, which just seemed to be signs from The Divine that I was on the right path writing this here.  

 

I am not “pro-life” any longer.  Lots of people assume that is because I am liberal.  And I suppose, in many respects, I am.

 

But blanket terms like “liberal” don’t always describe what we think we are describing, and I would call myself progressive, not liberal, as a point of fact.  Because I don’t agree with things along a party line, and am an independent voter, based on whatever and whomever I think follows what I believe is “right”–ethical, beneficial, and based in love, beauty, and truth.  

 

This is the point where lots of people want to yell comments about killing babies not being ethical, beneficial, or based in love, beauty, and truth.  But that assumes a lot of things. That assumes that you believe life begins at conception–which I don’t think is a true statement. That assumes that our society deems all life equal–and it doesn’t.  That assumes that “benefit” and “love” are seen through the eyes of a fetus and not a pregnant woman–which I don’t believe it should be or can be, exclusively. And I understand those assumptions because I used to hold them as facts to be demanded, not assumptions to be challenged.  I used to be pro-life and a supporter of anti-abortion causes and rhetoric. I hope that I will be forgiven for my narrow-minded, single-focused, self-righteous stance at that time in my life. Because I should have challenged my assumptions and listened to the stories of others and wondered at the courage of women who walked beyond a line of picketing jerks to get an abortion, and why it was so important for them to make it through that door–because it couldn’t be that they were just liberal Jezebels with no love in their hearts, if I had stopped to think on it for a few seconds.  There were really good reasons. But I didn’t stop to consider those reasons for far too long.

 

I’m not entirely certain when the break came for me.  It was a gradual understanding that things couldn’t be as I believed when I was back in high school and my first year of college.  Maybe part of my consideration of women’s choices being valid came because I started losing my own fetus on a regular basis. One live birth out of six confirmed pregnancies–and a couple of suspected early miscarriages where I missed and then had heavy menstruation.  My body killed one in six babies, at least, on its own, without any interventions. And that takes a toll on a woman, even when she doesn’t particularly want to be pregnant or give birth. Then the child that survived did so at the most inopportune time. And I love that daughter with every fiber of my being, and didn’t consider abortion for a moment of my pregnancy with her, but I did learn the challenges of adoption agencies and the choice that is offered to many women as an “opportunity” to place their child in a “loving family” that can “better meet his or her needs”.  

 

I called bullshit on adoption.  I would hear many more stories that called bullshit on adoption later in my journey, but most of you won’t like to hear those stories.  You prefer the idea that adoption is always good people saving helpless children from lost souls. Bullshit. It’s terribly corrupt–especially when it involves children from overseas–and it is damaging for children in significant ways, but even more so for parents.  The suicide rate for birth mothers is outrageously high, and their risk of substance abuse AFTER placing their child (not before) is also much higher than that of the general population. Placing your child harms you in serious and debilitating ways. But we don’t like to talk about that.  We like to pretend that adoption is all about the babies and saving their lives. I’ve had more adopted children, as teens or adults, tell me they would rather have died than been placed where they were, than I can count on my fingers. But nobody wants to hear that part of the story. Nobody wants to hear that we took a baby and placed it with abusive parents who ruined the life of that boy or girl in really terrible ways.  And we can’t say, “At least they are alive!” We can’t promise that not living would have been worse. We cannot prove that hypothesis!!

 

I’m always struck by the instances in the biblical text where there are cries such as “Oh that I had never been born!”  There were clearly those who thought not living was better than suffering.

 

I’ve been there.  I’ve been in struggle deep and affecting enough that I wished not only for death but that I had never been born to suffer this way at all.  If I had a choice. If we went back in time, and The Divine laid before me life with all that I have suffered, or not living, it would be a very challenging decision.  And if I knew that dying in the womb brought me straight to some afterlife, where living made me suffer first and then brought me to the same end, I would probably skip to the end.  

 

There’s been a ton of joy in my life.  Don’t misunderstand. I’m not discounting that joy.  I’m just saying that the suffering has been far outweighing the joy for most of my existence, and other people don’t get to say that my suffering is better than not being around to suffer–joy or no.  Other people don’t get to define the limits that I can tolerate, or the impact that events have on my person, or the way that I choose to cope with what I have endured and will endure. We don’t get to tell other people that they are better off alive and suffering than they would have been if their parent would have chosen to abort.  We don’t know that. We can’t prove that. We want that to be true, but that doesn’t mean it is.

 

That sounds crass, but it is true.  I can’t say that being born is better.  I can say that I am glad those people are here and that they offer great things just by being alive in this world.  So, it isn’t as crass as you might imagine, in practice as it is in theory.

 

I almost typed that I “would never express that a person is better off dead”.  That would have been a lie.

 

Lol.  Now some people are really stirred up!!

 

But I did say that.  I thought that sometimes when my mom was suffering a lot from her Alzheimer’s and would cry uncontrollably and be confused and frustrated.  It was hard to see her that way, and there were times that I said I wished her disease would progress, because I wanted that suffering to end.  I, obviously, didn’t want my mother to be dead, but I didn’t want her to suffer. I felt that way because of how much I loved my mom. I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling–the love you feel that makes you let go of someone.  

 

Earlier, I said that many would not believe that being pro-choice could be a thing that came out of love.  But it can be when you consider that feeling–the love you feel that makes you let go of someone. And that is the love that lets women let go of the potential of a person.  It isn’t yet a baby in the mind of most–because science. But even if it were a person, and it were a medical necessity to let go, love is still the driving force that makes that decision.  It isn’t selfish. It is selfless, almost always, to choose to end a pregnancy. And often the challenge is that you cannot provide the home that this child will deserve, because you have other children to feed and care for and cannot take on the responsibility of another.  

 

I know, the trope is the irresponsible, young girl who gets knocked up … and like all the tropes, it isn’t true.  

 

I have hundreds of stories and all sorts of scientific facts that I could tell, and they would express my transition from someone who didn’t understand that most abortions are had by women who already have children, and that there is a decidedly racist and classist reason that black women are more affected than others by unplanned pregnancy, and that Planned Parenthood saves far more lives than it has or will ever end (my own included in those saved), and that the decisions of others regarding procreation are not anyone else’s business, to someone who now does understand those things.  I am happy to share statistics and happy to share stories at any time. From the 12-year-old friend whose mom pimped her out for drugs who had 2 kids by age 14, to the friend who suffered trauma from placing her son with an amazing family, to the intrusions of others into my own choices about my body when I had to have a hysterectomy. I have people in my life who have had abortions, who have been placed or placed their children for adoption, who have adopted with relative success or adopted and been faced with a host of problems, and who have faced all sorts of choices and challenges regarding procreation, fertility, birth control, and similar subjects.  But none of that is what I want to take away from this post.

What I want to take away from this post, is the ways that being “pro-life” tends to ignore the “life” portion of that statement once that life has gotten beyond the point of gestation.  Really, many of those who have that purple banner under their name should say, “I AM PRO-GESTATION”. Because once that baby is born, it ceases to have any support or care from most of those same people who proudly shout at innocent mothers and spread propaganda against Planned Parenthood.  

 

I found this out the hard way.

 

So many people were pro-baby Bloem before I had my child as an almost divorced mom.  After I pushed away the baby-grabbing adoption agency and they essentially called me a crazy person for keeping my child, my parents offered their full support.  Many others offered support as well. But my parents were the only ones to keep their promise. The rest were loving and supportive so long as I kept that little one gestating safely, and lots of people were also loving and supportive for a month or so after she was born.  After that?

 

I remember crying as Bill Clinton addressed the country in his State of the Union in 1997 and promised reforms that would make life easier for women like me on welfare.  I didn’t know then that welfare reform would mean lifetime limits and work demands that were impossible in my tiny community, and that would actually make life harder. It would toss millions off of the rolls, and pretend at success, but would actually disappear those families–many of them forced into homelessness, sex work, illegal enterprise, or fraudulent use of programs to survive.  The laws still haven’t been reformed from Clinton’s crap reform, so the number of people forced to survive off the damaging and difficult circumstances that the late 90’s forced people into has stayed relatively steady, and the welfare rolls don’t increase much with the strict rules still in place. So, while this desperation and struggle continues, there are many who promote their pro-life agenda and also still call for cuts to spending on social programs.  They think too many people get “handouts”. Too many people on food stamps. Too many people on disability. Too many people on welfare.

 

I wonder, how many is too many?  How many is just right? Who is the fucking Goldilocks of social programming who decides what is the correct number of disabled and hungry people, and then how do we make that number equal with the number of people in society that actually NEED these services???  

 

If you won’t vote for MORE social safety net funding, you aren’t pro-life.  Because if you won’t vote for more such funding, you don’t want all people to thrive.  Do you think life is worth living in a state of constant need and hunger and suffering?  Do you think it is great to sell your vagina to buy formula? Great! You do it! Otherwise, vote for equal pay and equal rights and more funding for every program that helps people who are not you.  And if you will not, then do not say you promote life. Say that you promote gestation and birth, but not life, per se.

 

Let’s move beyond that subject to another aspect of thriving–prison!  The most obvious thing to bring up here is the death penalty. If you support killing people who break the law, but not a fetus, I call bullshit.  And you can quote the Old Testament until you are blue in the face, but before you do, let me remind you that I went to not one, but two seminaries.  So, I can not only quote the bible back, but I can explain why the New Testament offers an alternative to the penalty of death and asks you to extend mercy, not judgment.  Does the law allow for death? Yes, in some cases. Should it? Absolutely not, if you claim you are pro-life. You can’t ask for life on one hand and death on the other. If life begins at conception, then once god conceived of you, regardless of your sins against him, you deserve life.  If not, then we can talk. But you can’t have the cake and eat it too, people. Pick one and stick with it.

 

Secondary to this is the treatment of humans in general.  Being beaten, raped, tortured, etc., is NEVER acceptable if you are to claim you want life for all.  What kind of life is that?? Nobody deserves such treatment, and if you aren’t supporting an end to mass incarceration, rights for foreign detainees, and just treatment of prisoners everywhere, then you don’t want life for all, but you want gestation and birth for babies.  Once they are born, and make a mistake, you don’t care who does what to them. And that is NOT the will of any god that I will ever serve. If you are fine with the rape and torture of anyone, anywhere, you should seriously evaluate your heart.

 

Please don’t tell me, “Those people committed crimes!”  So did you. Every last one of you has gossiped, or committed adultery, or lusted, or lied, or, at the very least, driven over the speed limit.  You are all just as depraved as the next, right Calvinists? So, don’t tell me now that you are better than those criminals. You aren’t. They may have sinned differently, or gotten caught, or just been unfairly treated by an unjust system that leans toward punishing black and brown boys, but they certainly are not less human or less good than you at their core.  They are people–every bit your equal. And they deserve equal rights, as such.

 

I can go on and on.  An end to war. Equal pay for women.  Ending sexual violence. Gender justice.  Racial justice. Stopping this incessant whining about immigrants taking something from you when you are extremely fucking privileged and losing nothing to them.  

 

I am Pro-Thrive.  I consider all of these things when I speak, write, read, vote, and live out my days.  I consider the actual LIVES of the poor and marginalized, not just their births. Because what the fuck does it matter if babies are born if you won’t do anything to fight for justice in their lives after that fact?  If they die of hunger, or they have to sell their bodies to pay for necessities like food and housing, or they end up in prison at age 14, or they die by war or suicide or gun violence at a young age, then what was the point in funneling all that money and energy into keeping them gestating until birth??  Was that better?? I don’t think it was good enough!

 

We can do better!!

 

The fact is, I don’t particularly love abortion as an option.  I’d love to see free birth control offered to everyone, so that we can limit abortion.  I’d love to see, science-based, comprehensive sex education courses offered to everyone, so that we can limit abortion.  I’d love to see social programs increase, so that we can limit abortion.

 

But I would never tell a woman what she is or is not allowed to do with her body, because I don’t have that right.  I’m not her. And if there is one thing that being sexually violated teaches you, it is that NOBODY tells you what to do with your body but you.  So, I would rather she get a safe, legal abortion, if that is her choice, than go back to the fucking stone age and endanger the lives of women who do make that choice.  

 

Regardless of my personal preferences, however, the point here is to look at the whole life of a person, and to make whole life a consideration.  If you claim to be a person of faith, and you claim to honor life, but you support war and torture and the death penalty and cuts to medicare and SNAP, something is off-balance.  If you wish to claim that you are for life, you must be for all of it, in all of its forms and for all of its people. If you are not for life for all people, at all ages, in all circumstances, you should come up with another claim.  You are not pro-life. You are not pro-thrive. I’m not sure what you are, but it isn’t very inclusive and it isn’t very much like the Christ of the bible that most of you claim to be following. So, that is a concern that you might want to take to heart and consider for a while.  

 

In the meantime, I’ll be hanging out over here in my progressive corner with The Divine.  I am pro-choice.

 

But I am also PRO-THRIVE!!   And I am very glad I have evolved to that point.  Hallelujah!!

Advertisements

Next

I’m not certain if control issues were inherited or ingrained, but my mother was the pinnacle of having things in order, and bits of her need to control all the things all the time were handed down to me, and I handed bits down to my daughter.

It isn’t always a bad thing to want to be prepared.  It isn’t always a bad thing to desire control over a situation.  As a person who felt they didn’t have autonomy and agency at many times in her history—and even in the present moment—I am a big supporter of having some control over what happens in my life.  I like to be prepared.  I like to know what is coming, whenever possible.

But I also know that life isn’t controllable.  Life isn’t boxed up neatly and organized and cleaned up and put into order.  Life is chaos.  Life is dynamic.  Life is unpredictable.  Choose your own adjective—but the point is, you cannot maintain control of all the things all the time.

For almost three years now, I’ve been living in a situation that magnifies a lack of control a thousand times.  It has not been easy for me.

It isn’t that I am just like my mother, and need all the preparations and all the order and seek them in an anxious and worried manner that cannot allow for others to see the internal chaos—the private chaos that all the preparations are meant to hide.  I also have, whether inherited or ingrained, my dad’s propensity for being laid back and letting life happen, while offering peace and calm and love to everyone around you as a counter-measure to life’s chaos.

One of my employers, many years ago, said of my dad, “Dave is the kind of man whose pants you could light on fire and he would say, ‘Hmm. It’s a bit warm in here.’”  And that was one of the best descriptions of my dad’s manner of being that I ever heard.  I’m not that chill and laid back, but I am at least, I believe, half that laid back.

But the other half.  The half from my mom.  The half that wants order and shuns chaos. That half is feeling tortured right now!

The living situation that magnifies my lack of control, and the dependence and humility and trust that not having that control forces me to develop, has, in many ways, helped me become less like my mother and more like my father.  I’ve started letting go of control.  I’ve started asking for help without shame.  I’ve started to trust in divine providence.  But the last few weeks of this living situation have brought out the control freak in the most unflattering ways.

After almost three years of waiting, I am now 25 days from my disability hearing.

25 days.

I’ve waited more than 25 months for this day.

And I am terrified, because I have no fucking clue what happens next.

The other day I emailed the paralegal that is working with my lawyer to prepare my case.  I asked him what my next steps were.  I asked him what I do now—after I dutifully went from doctor to doctor, asking if they agree that I am disabled and getting their detailed documentation on record when they did agree.

The paralegal said I do nothing.

Nothing.

Next I do nothing.

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

I am completely incapable of doing nothing with 25 days standing between me and the decision that determines how, or even if, I survive from this point forward.  I can’t do nothing while a stranger—a man I have never met—looks over all of those detailed documents and decides whether I get the assistance I need to live independently, or whether I am forced into some other sort of situation, where I don’t have the right to the freedom and independence that people who are not sick all the time take for granted.

That freedom and independence might not be granted in that courtroom.  Or maybe it will.

Either way, I don’t know what comes next.

This ominous unknown “next” is looming before me, and I am told that my response right now should be to do nothing.

I’m not doing well with that.  All the parts of me that desire control and preparation and order are screaming out in pain.  All the parts that need to know what to do and need to know how to best prepare for what is coming are feeling tortured.  I forget to breathe sometimes.  There is a tightness in my chest, on occasion, that I can’t be sure is from my current respiratory infection, because I have a suspicion that it is a sign of panic instead.

I emailed the paralegal again today.  I asked him what happens after.  What happens after I am awarded benefits?  Do I get them right away?  Do I have to wait even longer?  Does my fundraiser need to sustain me for two more months?  Eight more months?  When do I get the $21,000 that the state wrongfully withheld from me while they argued that I wasn’t “disabled enough” and could do “some unskilled work”, even though my medical records and my work history told a very different story?  On what day do I feel vindication and validation?

And what happens after if I don’t?  What happens if the judge does not offer me vindication and validation and $21,000 in back-payments?  What happens if I can’t work but the judge says I must?  What happens if I can’t hold down a “real” job for any significant length of time?  What happens when my physical and mental state deteriorate as I lose time for self-care and therapies and coping strategies that are essential to my wellbeing?  What happens when I become what I was three years ago—a bed-ridden mess of pain and mental anguish?  What then?

The part of me that needs to prepare and create order and keep things neat feels like she is being drowned.  She is choking on the unknown as she tries to remember how to breathe.  She is suffering and dying.

The part of me that is laid back and offers peace and love seeks to console her.  She is nearly inconsolable.  No amount of meditation and diaphragmatic breathing and coloring mandalas seems to quell the shaking of her frame.  So, the peace-filled part accompanies the out of control part to my desk.  Together they research and add and subtract numbers, experimenting with all the possible sums and trying to find a way through the chaos.  Trying to determine what the next stage might look like—what “next” might be.

The two parts sit together on the yoga mat, trying to clear my head of negativity and fear and shame and confusion and stress.  The two parts sit together and recount all the things for which I am grateful.  The two parts sit together on the sofa, trying to distract from the chaos by watching Netflix and becoming invested in a fiction instead of hyper-focusing on my reality.  The two parts sit together as I attempt to do nothing, and to go about life as usual—therapy, doctor visits, gym, pool, massage, yoga, meditation, food prep, cleaning, baths, walks, updating the fundraiser.  They try to help me live my life as though it were “normal”, and try to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

But they aren’t succeeding in any significant way.

I am stressed beyond comprehension.  I half expect to have a stroke before my court date arrives.  But then the other half reminds me that I have waited for 30 months, I can wait 25 more days.

And the decision on the 21st isn’t necessarily the thing that I fear the most.  It isn’t the thing that might make or break me.  The thing that might make or break me is whatever comes next.

I don’t know if the making or the breaking comes next.

And I don’t know how to prepare for either.

I don’t know how to do nothing.

I am terrified of what comes next.

I’m not sure how to survive the next.  Because I can’t figure out how to be prepared for next.  And I have no control over what comes next.

There is this strange mixture of hope for the future and dread for the future that is happening within my person.  And while I talk about myself as two halves to make the point that both of those are present, I am only one person, feeling all of those feelings, and being both the hopeful and the dread-filled woman, simultaneously.  It is a strange feeling.  It is terrible in many ways.  I feel at odds with myself.  I feel like I am out of control as I fight with my own psyche.

But today I realized that there is reason for hope.  And that reason is my parents.

I get the worrisome and ordered parts from my mother.  I get the laid back and love-offering parts from my father.  And that combination of traits created a long-lasting marriage.  It wasn’t always the perfect relationship, but it was beautiful even through the difficult times.  And it worked.  It lasted until death parted my parents.  Those two parts made a beautiful whole, that endured all sorts of struggles with strength and grace.

My court date falls on the day after what would be my parent’s 48th wedding anniversary.  It comes just three days after the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s death.  The unpredictable chaos of life, and the melding of personalities into a loving relationship are both represented in this week in June.  The caregiver, my father.  The lost mind of one who never stopped striving for control, my mother.  The ways that they stepped and swayed and moved toward and moved back made a dance of life.  It made a dance of the things for which no one could have been prepared.  It made a dance of the struggles, because the two sat together.

I see that which was passed down by my mother and that which was passed down by my father, the two seemingly competing aspects of my personality, and I know that all is not lost.  I know that these two parts can work together to recreate that dance.  To step, sway, move forward and back, and to find the way through even the most shocking and unexpected moments in life.  They found a way.  And I am a part of each of them, so I can find a way also.

Grief hits harder than you might expect in the second year after losing your parent.  I’ve been avoiding that subject lately, preferring to focus on what I need to be doing to get through the next 25 days regarding my hearing, my livelihood, and my important planning for the future.  But today, knowing that I am instructed to do nothing, and that the disability case is out of my hands now, I sink into the truth that it still hurts a lot to be without her—without them together, and the ways that they interacted.  I still have my dad, of course.  And I am so grateful for him.  He is a rock of support that no other can rival.  But I miss my mom.

That is a thing that I was not prepared for.  It is odd, because we had years to prepare for losing her, but I never expected that the mother whom I argued with and struggled to understand and who I strived to please and never gained approval from would be so missed.  That in the weeks leading up to an important moment in my life, I am looking back to the weeks that lead up to the end of hers.  That I would have to look at her picture to remember all the details of her face.  That I would suddenly be relieved that I have nothing to do, because I think what I should do—what I need to do for myself—is to be sad and grieve, and let this season be about more than the dance I am doing internally as I struggle toward my disability hearing, but allow it to also or instead be about the dance of my parents, and the overwhelming emptiness of the space next to my dad, where my mom used to dance beside him.

I’m so grateful that I am made up of the stuff of both of these amazing individuals.  I’m so lucky to be a part of them, and to be their legacy in the flesh.  (As an aside, I am the only one in the family who has a child that carries on the family name—and we are a little bit too proud to be the ones who bear the name of that legacy.)

I still don’t know what comes next.

And I’m still a bit terrified, to be honest.

But having witnessed lives that pressed on through the good times and the bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until death parts them, I feel stronger.  I feel a little less helpless and a little more capable.  Because I am the product of those lives.  I am an embodiment of those promises.  So, if they could make it through whatever unexpected trial or joy might be coming up next, I can also do so.

I’ll meet what comes next.  I’ll lean into whatever comes next.  I will overcome whatever is next. Or be grateful and enjoy what comes next.

I am the dance.  The two parts sit together and create a good life out of whatever comes their way.

The two parts sit together and discover what is next.

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.”

 

 

 

 

Plans

Yesterday I received a rude message.  It made accusations against me, because I had posted on Facebook both an update to my fundraiser, requesting donations to pay bills in May, and a request for pictures of items my mother had painted, to utilize at my tattoo consultation.  In the mind of the one offering the rude message, these two things were linked, and I was asking for money to pay for “luxuries” like tattoos.  This is untrue.

And I could probably create an entire book about how paternalistic judgments of how the poor are “allowed” to spend their very limited resources are completely unnecessary and unwarranted and unwanted.  Trust me. The poor have a far greater understanding of thrift and priority and hard work and collaboration and kindness and care than most people.  Until you can hold a single $5 bill in your wallet for two months without spending it on anything, or furnish a household using only the items others discard, or own a wardrobe where every article of clothing was purchased on clearance or secondhand, don’t tell someone with limited resources how to use their money.  They know far more about money and value than you could imagine.

But I won’t focus on the aforementioned paternalistic judgments today, because what I have been pondering more fully is the idea of making plans.

The tattoo artist I met with last evening is booking appointments for January right now.  If I choose to have him do this tattoo (which will be an amazing commingling of what I had imagined as 2 tattoos), that honors my mother and my daughter and covers most of my right arm, I will need to wait until next year before any inked needle pierces my skin.  So, last night we talked about design and created a plan.  I spent no money.  And I used the Facebook comments as a forum for explaining that I had spent no money, nor would I spend fundraising money for tattoos, or any other personal entertainment or luxury items.

But later I was thinking about how great it is that I am even making plans for next year.

When you have as much disease plaguing you as I do, and when you have so few resources that you aren’t sure how you will make it to next week, you could posit that plans are something superfluous, and that the present moment is the only time and place where the focus should lie.

I think that would be a sad position to hold.

Please don’t misunderstand. I work very hard to live in the present moment—to put the past behind and to reduce anxiety or worry that comes from looking forward.  I love the present, and being present in each moment.  Mindful living, where you fully embrace and enjoy each moment as it is, without judgments or adjustments, is living that I am working toward every day.  I meditate, and color mandalas, and do yoga, and work to taste my food rather than devour it, and allow all sorts of sensations and emotions to arise and coexist and leave without trying to change them.  Being mindful in the present is extremely important.

But the future, and living toward it, is also a beautiful thing.  I sometimes wonder if my life will go on for many years, or if my days are short in number.  Especially lately, in the face of testing for early onset Alzheimer’s disease, I think about what my end might look like.  And while I am not worrying over it, and will accept my end with as much grace and compassion as I am able, no matter what happens, I love the idea that I am still planning a future.

I am planning a wonderful future!

I was browsing in a boutique last night.  And the first thing I said to the sales woman when I walked in was, “I have no budget for clothes right now”, but that wasn’t where we left things.  I also told her that I love every outfit that comes up in that boutique window, and I nearly give myself whiplash as my bus goes by the shop, and that one day when my finances are better I will definitely be in to purchase some clothes.  As the conversation continued, at one point I commented, “I in no way believe that my past or my current situation define what happens in my future.  I absolutely believe that I will have better circumstances in the future than I have today.”  The shop keeper echoed my statements, and we had a lovely philosophical discussion about the practical subjects of our lives.  And that moment was filled with hope.

Later, while I was walking down the avenue, I reflected on that conversation, and on the earlier tattoo consultation.  I decided that plans are a sort of miracle for me, and likely for people with situations similar to mine.

I cancel plans often.  There are many days when my health hijacks everything and leaves me in a state where I cannot do what I had planned to do.  But despite the fact that I cancel often, I keep making plans.  I could sit at home every night rather than disappoint others and upset calendars with rescheduling.  I don’t.  I keep placing meetings and social events and mating rituals into the little boxes that frame my time, even when I know a good percentage of those boxes will later be altered.  I keep living, even when life isn’t easy.

Realizing that I keep living in these little ways brought up thoughts of long-term planning.  And I also noted that I have long-term plans.  I plan on having a home filled with things and people and animals I love.  I plan on growing old.  I plan on getting married, or living in a long-term partnership.  I plan on being near the beach.  I plan on having resources.  I plan on finding a way to create art that funds my existence.  I plan on having enough and not feeling any lack.  I plan on having a full and rewarding and beautiful life.  I plan on being covered in tattoos!

There is so much future hope in the way I live today.  And, interestingly, I find that the more time I spend focused on being present in this moment, the more positive my plans for the future become.  The more meditation and mindfulness exercise and mandala coloring I do, the more full and rewarding and beautiful my future life seems.

A few weeks ago I had a date with a man, and when we eventually got around to setting a second date, he followed up the planning with a “we will see what happens” comment, that sort of felt like it gave him permission to flake out on the second date.  At the point when he began to flake on the second date, saying he was still stuck at work, I abruptly ended my connection with him.  I didn’t do it to dump him first, or because I thought he didn’t like me, but because he seemed to be in this space where “we will see what happens” trumps “we will”.  I didn’t want to be in that space with him.

I want to live in a space where planning for a great future happens, and speed bumps are slowly and carefully overtaken, but that doesn’t make me turn away from the fabulous things I see ahead. I want to live in a space where the best and the most and the loveliest are assumed.  I want to plan for a life that is outrageously good.  And I want to put all sorts of energy into the present, in order to fight for that future.  I don’t want to see what happens.  I want to shape what happens.

This week has been filled with conversations with a lovely woman.  And she and I have been looking for a time and space where we can have a first date.  And while there are no plans set in stone, and no little boxes on the calendar that currently hold her name, we both see only a future where we get to spend time together.  “We will be in touch.”  “[We will] talk soon.”  “We will find a good spot.”  “We will do that another time.”  “I will teach you about that.”  “I will show you when I see you.”  “I’ll tell you that story when we go out.”

A future planned together, even without definitive plans, is far superior to not committing to anything that might sound like a plan for a shared future.  And a future planned with good things and fullness and love is far superior to waiting to see how things transpire and what life hands you.

For many years now, I have been a “we shall see” type of person, who would wait for what life handed her and then cope with the consequences.  But the last couple of years have brought about something new.  They have brought out the “I will” person.  And she plans for the best possible future, even while the present threatens to overwhelm her and the past pulls at her ankles, attempting to drag her underground.  She assumes that better things are coming.  She believes that life will offer her more.  She knows that the divine wishes her survival.  She knows that she is allowed to—meant to—thrive. She makes plans.

I make plans.  And they are not based on what I currently see around me.  They are based on what I know lies within me.  And what lies within offers all beauty and fullness and goodness and grace and love.  That is the future I am planning toward.

So, on a day next year, I will have Joseph add some fabulous ink to my right arm.  And I will pay for it with money I have earned, either through my slow and steady work or through my long and arduous fight for disability payments.  And I will shop in that little boutique, and take some of those coveted clothes from the mannequins in the window and put them on my body.  And I will weigh less and cope with my illness more. I will be more self-compassionate and I will trust and love others more than I do today.  I will have an amazing partner, and get married in a pink dress, and live on the waterfront, and travel to beautiful places and have money in my bank account and on and on and on…

Because I plan to live the best and most treasured life I am capable of living.  And even with over twenty forms of illness to live with, I am confident that I will be capable of living in amazing and wonderful ways.  If at some point those plans need to be cancelled, so be it.  But I’m not going to cancel a beautiful life before I have planned one.

I’m going to plan one, and do my best to see it through, with every little box of time containing something or someone amazing.

With every little box marked “LIVE”.

Bravery

I was thinking a lot the past few days about what it is to be brave.  I had a friend tell me that I am brave, and the next morning I was engaged in a guided meditation to help me be less afraid.  I am always afraid, in a sense.  PTSD keeps your system in a state commonly referred to as “hypervigilance”.  Basically, you are always assessing for threats, even in environments where there is little or no danger.  And your body and your mind and your spirit are always feeling threatened by everything.

And all of that is totally justified by some form of trauma, but it makes being brave a difficult thing, while also making simply stepping out your door a step toward bravery.

There are lots of conflicting, dichotomous, and counterintuitive things about this illness, so the whole scared/brave thing is just one, but it often gets me thinking.

I remember a day when a friend labelled links to other friends’ blogs with one word descriptors, and mine was Brave.  I think I cried when I read that.  I never feel brave.  I always feel chaos and fear and indecision and doubt and whatever other anxiety-ridden thing you can think of.  Every moment.  Every day.

And it isn’t a fixable thing, really.  You cope, but your brain chemistry was altered at a critical time in your development, so there isn’t really any fixing the problem.  You live alongside it, and you delve into it, and you learn skills to combat it, and you find ways to rationalize it.  You never end it.

Yesterday, I went to the geneticist and then to the lab.  For the next month I will wait to find out if I carry the gene that likely caused my mother’s dementia, and find out if I might also have indicators of other dementia.  That was the act that was considered brave, but somehow it was the easiest thing I did.  And maybe that is because the other things I did had elements or consequences that I might have some control over.

I have no control over my genetic makeup.  That ship sailed over forty years ago.  And if I have the gene, I have Alzheimer’s to plan for and work against, so there are things I can control after the fact, but I can’t control the result of this test.  There isn’t a way to mess it up.  It either is there, or it isn’t there.  And knowing has consequences, I suppose, but not knowing has them too.

The other things I did yesterday, like going on a first date and going to a new pool and finding my way when I got lost in familiar surroundings, seemed harder.  I felt less brave when I walked in the door to that gym, or stopped to open up my map application to find my way, or met a new man who may or may not be a good man, or got on the bus, or let that man drive me home, or stepped out my door, or started a conversation with the other naked girl next to my gym locker, or did anything that day.  And maybe that is simply because my genetic makeup is like my PTSD.

It isn’t a fixable thing.

And I can learn to cope with it, but I can’t stop my genes from being my genes any more than I can stop my brain chemistry from being my brain chemistry.

In my mind, I’m not brave.

I’m honest, and I’m practical, and I’m self-aware. And maybe those things masquerade as bravery, but they aren’t.  I face what I must because I must, not because I am stronger or better or braver than the people around me.  If I had a choice, I wouldn’t face half of what I have faced in my lifetime.  But I didn’t have a choice.

So, I guess if the definition of bravery is facing what you must, I could be considered brave, but it isn’t a state that I see myself in.  It isn’t how I would characterize myself.

I am a survivor.

I fight my way through life, and I don’t back down from the challenges that come my way.  But what I feel—what is deepest and most prevalent during those moments—is not bravery, but fear.

There was a moment in my history where I stood over a man, with a sword at his throat, and demanded freedom and justice and an end to his tyranny.  That sounds like an epic tale of a brave knight, but I was terrified in that moment, and after, when I was safely away from the situation, I cried and shook violently as the adrenaline of the moment left and the terrified aspect came to the surface.  My demands had been met, yes.  But the way I felt in and after that moment was indescribably bad.  I didn’t talk about it until years later, and even then I had to have another clarify that the moment was real—that I didn’t dream it.  Afterward, I dissociated from the event, because I was that frightened.

Fear motivates many of the things I do or have done.  I’ve been divorced for 19 years not because I was brave enough to leave my abusive husband, but because I was afraid enough to run for my life.  I’ve raised a daughter on my own, not because I am a brave woman, but because I was afraid of what might happen to that daughter in the care of another.  I’ve survived homelessness, and sexual violence, and physical violence, and living in impoverished areas, and going back to school as a non-traditional student, and working in stressful environments, and physical and mental illnesses because I have two choices.  Survive or don’t survive.  Live or die.  Make it through or don’t make it through.  And I wish that I believed it was more nuanced than that—that I contained within my being some strength that others cannot draw upon, or that I had many options but chose the best ones to get me to today.  But I don’t think it was.

Most of my life has been lived in a state of laser-focused survival instinct.  Most of my life there were the two choices.  Leave or stay.  Fight or flee.  Live or die.

Over and over and over and over, I just choose to live.

So, yes, I went and faced the fears of the genetic testing and the unfamiliar gym and the first date, but I wasn’t necessarily brave during any of those parts of my day.  I just had to choose to live, like always.

And we are all meant to survive.  The instinct is so ingrained in us that even those who choose to die, struggle in the act of doing so.  Their bodies and their minds seek to stop that death from happening.  We are designed to keep fighting, keep reproducing, keep eating, keep drinking, keep breathing, keep going.  So, either we are all brave, or none of us is brave, from an evolutionary perspective.

I just do what I was designed to do, and I keep going.

There was a day several weeks ago where I didn’t want to keep going, but I did.  I kept saying aloud, “I can’t do this anymore.”  But, it turns out that I could do it, that I could persevere, that I could keep working and keep trying and keep fighting.  My instinct to survive took over, and I did what needed to be done to keep living, even when I didn’t want to and didn’t believe that I could.

I’m not brave.  I just follow my instinct to survive.

Sometimes I hear people comment that bravery is not the lack of fear, it is moving forward in spite of your fear.  And, to some extent, I can allow that by this definition I might be brave.  I keep moving forward in spite of my fears, but I don’t think I do it consciously, and with purpose, and in ways that I find noble or exceptional.  I just don’t know how to live in a state other than fear, so I have to push through it or I have to stop living.

That might sound strange to anyone who isn’t hypervigilant and trying to reintegrate disparate parts of the brain inside their head, but to me it makes all the sense.  To me, living is being afraid.  The absence of fear is death, and overcoming fear is an impossibility.  It will always be there.  And I might be able to use mindfulness and mandalas and yoga and CBT and all sorts of other things to cope with that fear, but it will never go away entirely.  And I have two choices: live in fear, or stop living.

I go on.  I always go on.

A month or two will pass, and I might have huge relief that I may not become like my grandfather and my mother, slowly slipping away until I am a shell staring into nothing, or I might have the knowledge that I will absolutely become like them, and work to put in place safeguards that give me and my daughter the best chances at choosing the way we deal with becoming like them, and choosing whether or not to risk creating another generation of those long, slow ends.  And I might have no conclusive evidence of risk or not risk, and simply have to wait and see if I lose my mind when I am old, like everyone else.  But none of those options include a caveat that says I might not go on.  Because I haven’t survived all of these things and gone on and on and on to give up on my survival instinct now.  I will go on.

And I don’t believe that makes me brave.  I think it makes me human. I think that when it comes down to it, and we are faced with survival or death, we all do what it takes to survive.  The actual doing may be harder for some than it is for others, but we all choose living over dying by default.  And I would rather live in hypervigilant fear, going out into the world and chancing whatever it offers me, than not live at all.

So, tomorrow, I will face another day, with new fears and new challenges or old fears and old challenges, but I will face it.  And though I don’t believe I am braver than the rest, I know that my commitment to facing what comes is strong and resolute.  I will go on as long as I am able, and in the best way possible.  Even if that time and that way are both filled with all sorts of reservations and anxieties and fears.

And to all the people who are thinking today that you can’t go on, it isn’t true.  You can go on.  You were designed to go on.  Whether you are brave or afraid, you will still go on.

 

Making Enemies and Infuriating People

I have a friend who often uses the hashtag #makingfriendsandinfluencingpeople, which I believe is based on a book about doing just that—using specific strategies to create connection and influence others.  I also believe that it was a book popular within business circles some years ago, so I have suspicions that the influence part was what was stressed, and the getting what you want from others is the point of using the strategies.  I don’t know how much we can then call that “friendship”.  (But I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak to its tone or effectiveness with certainty.)

My friends—the true and real and lasting ones—are people whom I suffer with and rejoice with through all sorts of circumstances.  And I don’t think that a book of strategy for connections would have been useful in the development of those relationships, because they were forged in fire, in many ways, and that forging was often horribly uncomfortable.  Really, the way that we became friends was by not appeasing one another, and by venturing into dark waters together … some of which I thought would drown us both and destroy our connection.  But the thing about being willing to sacrifice your friendship for the good of your friend is that it strengthens the bond with the people who are best for you, and offers those who would not be your friend through both thick and thin the opportunity to walk away.

I was recently speaking with a dear friend via Skype, and we questioned how we became friends at all, since we were both very closed to connection and guarded and mistrusting and walled off at the time.  But, as we discussed it, I realized that sharing mutual distrust for humanity was what bonded us.  And that sounds a bit weird, but we created a connection out of not connecting.  We shared uncomfortable space.  We were both different.  We were both damaged.  We were both in need.  We both knew frightening dangers and horrible pain and devastating events in life.  And because we shared all of this, we were able to quickly dive into the dark waters together.

Other friends have been less quick to dive in.  Some friendships were not cemented until years without communication had passed, and the realization that the challenges the other had placed upon us were meant to love us, and not to harm us, and the remorse and the forgiveness and the forgetting of the division and distance made the bonds strong.

Suffering plays a big part in friendship, because the best way to connect is to break together and to heal together.

Religious texts mention this frequently.  Warnings against fair-weather friends, and commands to support one another, and models of rising and falling together abound, not just in one religion, but in many.  Life together means a life of ups and downs together.

I think that one of the reasons we fail, and make enemies instead of friends, is that we react harshly when we are incapable of rising and falling together.  When we think that individualism is of high importance, and we refuse to imagine that those falling are doing so because that is half of life, but believe that falling is a moral failure, we speak in ways that harm others.  When we are falling, and nobody will hold us as we do so, we sometimes lash out in what looks like anger, but is truly fear at its core.  When we are afraid of falling, we pretend to be rising, and we become disingenuous and dishonest and untrustworthy, which breaks apart bonds and ruins relationship.

We make enemies and infuriate people when we don’t allow ourselves to enter the dark waters together.  When we avoid the falling half of life, and try to wish away the times of struggle and the dangers and horrors that accompany life together, we cannot treat one another in positive ways.  We make up excuses and judge individuals harshly and create scales of worth and value or hierarchies of wrongs and sins and evils in order to justify our refusal to join one another in the sorrows, and be half-friends who only stand in the moments of joy or praise or pride with others.

I am in a season that lacks joy or praise or pride, and others use the scales and hierarchies in attempts to discredit me, so they don’t have to accept that this season—this falling—can happen to any of us at any time.  They hurt me with accusations and define me with degradations, in the name of fairness and righteousness and, at times, even in the name of god.  And I don’t quite understand the instinct to distance one’s self from the one falling.  It seems like far more work to uphold the excuses and the judgments and the scales and the hierarchies than to simply hold onto one another as we fall and as we rise.

I understand that the dark waters are a bit frightening, and that it takes work to swim through to the other side.  But many of us aren’t offered the chance to ignore those waters.  Some of us have been drowning in those dark waters since we were small children.  Others of us wade in the dark waters daily due to lack of resources or abusive acts against us or illnesses or addictions or living in the midst of violence or deep loss.  But those who have a choice, and those who choose not to venture into that space are failing the ones who are falling, and pretending at goodness by attaching themselves to those that are rising.  Being that fair-weather half-friend makes a liar of you, because your joy and praise and pride is not your own, but it is stolen from another.

As one who has been in the dark waters for a lifetime, I want to share something with you.  It is terrible and desperate and contains horrors … and you should long to dive in.  Making friends and influencing people is meaningless if it is this false, half-friend sense of friendship, and the only influence is yours upon others, and not theirs upon you.  Diving into dark waters builds relationships that last and that stand firm in the face of overwhelming circumstances.  Diving into dark waters, and holding one another while we are falling and while we are rising, offers us the fullness of relationship that superficial connections cannot achieve.  Trust, boundaries, vulnerabilities, honesty, and deep love can only accompany these dark-water friendships.  Everything else is insufficient, and you are missing out on love and life if you don’t have people in your life who are holding you while you rise and while you fall—who don’t attend your struggles the way they attend your happiness, who come to the parties and not the funerals.

This is the fullness of love—the “unconditional” that we hear about, but rarely experience.  Rising and falling together.  Suffering and celebrating together.  And refusing to hold on to any judgments or scales or hierarchies.  Wading in the dark waters, and connecting in the midst of that murky river, with walls stripped down and conditions removed and humility and trust and the knowledge that brokenness is not all-defining, but that we can build a beautiful love from the bits and pieces, is a most fabulous use of time and energy.

I don’t often make friends and influence people.  I live a relatively humble life, and I don’t get out into the world to make connections very often.  And sometimes I make enemies and infuriate people, but not for the reasons listed earlier in this post, but because I push back at people’s refusal to accept the existence and the pervasiveness and the importance of the dark waters, and I try to break down the judgments and scales and hierarchies that some hold more dear than love.  But I seek, every moment, to be the type of person who holds humanity in high regard, and who seeks to hold every human I meet as they rise and fall as a result.

I don’t always succeed.  Because even as I seek to break down judgments, scales, and hierarchies, I was conditioned to hold them in higher esteem than humanity and love.  So I know that it is a fight to continue to hold everyone as they rise and fall.  I know that it isn’t easy.  I know it doesn’t always come naturally at first, and there are days when you will revert back to the scales or judgments by default (and you are usually overcome with shame when you realize you have done so).  However, every moment of that fight and every discomfort that results from diving into the dark waters is worth it.

Love—in the most deep and pure and deconstructed form—is worth it.

Rising and falling together is love.  Meeting needs is love.  Standing together in the darkest of moments is love.  And if you don’t brave being in the deep, you won’t find love.  You will find the half-friends who let you remain unchallenged in the good times, but abandon you in the difficult times.

When the deep rises up and you find yourself wading the dark waters, you want to be held by true love, and friends who are there for the whole of your experience.  And you want to hold onto others as they rise and fall.  Because a deeper, richer, more full life is the reward for holding on.

I want that life.  I want those friends.  I want that love.

Do you?

Dare to dive in.