Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Butter of the Spirit

Last Monday, after picking my son up from his first day of baseball camp, I noticed he was tired.  I’d bought him new shoes for camp but that morning, he’d forgotten to use his new shoes and instead used his old shoes, which were pretty worn out.  He said his feet hurt and I immediately felt a pang in my heart – both for his pain and for the pain of insecurity I felt in that moment as a mother.  Why didn’t I double-check the shoes he was wearing that morning?

I’ve talked with a good number of other parents who feel insecure in moments like this.  There seems to be an endless supply of moments in which we are given the opportunity to second-guess our decisions as we are continually learning to how to better parent our evolving offspring.

I let my own insecurities go for the time being and focused on what my son might be feeling after a long day.  We had to go to the grocery store before going home and I thought, let’s get in, get a few things and get out.  I’ll make dinner, he can watch a show and afterwards, we’ll read from this series we both love and, then, I’ll put him to bed.  

As we’re perusing the aisles, I start to notice frustrations in other people.  It felt like a case of the Mondays as I’ve heard some people call it.  People who seemed tired, not wanting to be navigating aisles with a cart after a long first day of the week. 

It also felt like a heaviness – a kind of fatigue mixed with a low rumbling anger.  A “sick-of-this” feeling.  Whether it was work, home, family or politics – people seemed passively angry.

I’ve faced a lot of anger, a lot of fatigue and a lot of heaviness in my life.  I believe the way through it is to face it, because through facing it you learn more about yourself and you grow.  And, I’ve learned in facing these things the best way through them is with compassion.  Compassion is like the butter of the spirit.  It helps it move. 

Back in the store, we’re navigating through, trying to be mindful of the people around us.  I’m also trying to keep a certain level of levity between my son and I because I can tell he can feel the fatigue, anger and heaviness, too.  Since coming in, he’s quieter.  He seems to be getting embarrassed a bit more easily.  He’s not as easy-flowing as he normally is. 

We get in one of the long lines to check out and realize that they all are extending into the aisles.  Standing in line, people are quiet and their faces looked pained.  Not smiling, but absent yet present – in  a painful way.  The lines are slow moving.  Large carts are trying to get through, between the aisles and the counters.  Holes in lines are form between counter and aisle which make it confusing as to who is in line and who might be just passing through.

A woman, older, in her early sixties maybe, steps in front of us.  She’s carrying a box with food.  She looks tired and overwhelmed.  At first I don’t’ think she understands where the lines are, so I gently say, “Excuse me…ma’am?  This line ends back here (pointing behind me).”  She looks directly in my eyes and I realize, she’s tired of holding that box.  I know how painful it can be to hold a heavy box.  Maybe she has arthritis like me, or maybe her arms are just tired.  Either way, I immediately offer to let her put her box in my cart. 

As I’m asking this, I realize that she probably has a box because she didn’t have a quarter.  We are at a grocery store chain that requires a quarter to be able to use a cart.  You get the quarter back when you return the cart but you need a quarter to get one.  She must not have had a quarter.  Putting her box in my cart, I felt how heavy it was.  She had a few gallons of liquid – juice and tea, some cans of vegetables and a bag of rice.  I would have been tired, too!

She doesn’t speak much English but with her eyes says, thank you.  We wait in line with her a bit behind us, not sure where to go, as she’s technically at the end of the line but her food is with us.  I realize this after a few moments and invite her to go ahead of us.  It’s not a big deal. 

I notice the faces of the some of the people around me lighten.  I remember this one woman, she looked like she was within five years of my age.  When I first got in line, she had this city, stone-cold, don’t mess-with-me woman-look, which I understand and recognized.  I’ve lived in cities for four years as a single woman.  A smaller single woman at that.  You’ve got to have a don’t mess with me face.  It makes me sad that many of us feel like we have to wear that mask, but we all wear masks.  It’s part of the world we live in.  For now. 

After the interaction with the older woman, the younger woman’s face softened.  She wasn’t as cold.  She had a small smile on her face when I looked in her direction.  I shot a small smile back.

We moved through the line, from the aisle past the gap and closer to the counter.  In the store, we stumbled across a football for a good price and I said we could get it.  My son’s face is drained.  He’s ready to eat and relax.  We start talking about football and baseball to pass the time in line.

In a moment, I hear a loud man’s voice in the aisle next to us.  I look over and he’s an older man with a cane, who looks like he’s trying to eclipse the cart of a young woman in her twenties to get ahead in line.  She responds, fast and angry – speaking too fast for me to really understand what she’s saying, although, I’m quickly putting the pieces together. 

The situation escalates into a very heated argument.  They are both holding their ground.  The older man is digging his cane into the ground, refusing to move.  The younger woman is shocked - almost flabbergasted she’s so angry.

In her voice, I hear the voice of a woman who feels like she’s being taken for granted.  Her voice is heated, hot like electric gas shooting from her mouth.  The man is stagnant and defiant.  Indignantly standing firm.  The argument becomes very uncomfortable, for everyone around. 

I look at Una.  He’s feeling it all, just like me.  I look into his eyes and see, from a place deep down, him asking me to comfort him.  He’d never admit this.  In fact, in my experience, when children are scared and want comfort, they don’t ask for it.  They push you away, eyeing you the whole time to see if you’ll really deliver.  My situation with my son – sharing him between with a different household in a different state for much of his life – has fostered many opportunities to really deliver the things my son needs from me.  Sometimes, he needs to know that I’m there, which is why we have talked nearly every day he was not with me.  Sometimes, he needs to know that I hear him, which is why I listen, most especially when he tells me he’s in pain or sad.  Sometimes, he just needs me to hold him, for the times he wanted me to and I wasn’t there.  Every time, I meet him.  Because meeting his needs is everything to me. 

I know he’s hungry.  And, I know he knows I’m going to try to comfort him.  We’re having tacos for dinner – something he’s been excited about.  I look over the ingredients we have in the cart.  I’ve made tacos for him before and knew he liked simple tacos the best.  Meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese.  But, to distract him, I ask him in a quiet voice, encouraging him to pay attention, what he wants on his tacos.  We start talking about dinner, and what show he might watch when he gets home. 
The argument in the line over gets louder but instead of trying to pretend it’s not happening, I stop talking.  It’s loud, you can’t deny it.  My son tenses up, I tense up.  I look around and people are tensing up around us. 

I’m disheartened in that moment. 

My son just moved from half-way across the country to live with me for his 6th grade school year.  I’ve been working towards this for years.  I moved to D.C. specifically to be able to support him for this move. 

Facing this anger, this fatigue, this conflict – I thought, what if he says he doesn’t want to live here in this city?  He’s seeing the anger – the same anger I felt when I first moved here.  Then I thought, why do I want to live here?

But then, I caught myself.  I said, wait a minute Aaluk, it’s not just here.  It’s everywhere.  People all over America are frustrated and tired.  What you’re seeing here, is everywhere.  It’s a lack of understanding in emotional awareness and intelligence.  We don’t live in a society that teaches children, and adults, how to handle this kind of thing.  We used to.  But now, most people just avoid conflict, anger and fear.  And as a result, when difficult things present themselves, people react without practice.  Without wisdom.  It scares them because they don’t understand it.  It scares me sometimes, too.

I heard the man say, “You’re acting like you haven’t eaten today – you definitely haven’t eaten.”  This comment drips with sexism in a way everyone hears.  In a moment, everything is more tense.  I slowly look around the room at the faces of the people closest to me.  They look tight, tired and frustrated.  I could feel the collective groan as people realized that by standing in line for their groceries they were forced into facing these very things: conflict, anger and fear.

I look back at my son, catch his eyes and give him a special smile – one he knows means I love you.  His face softens, he knows I’m here. 

In that smile, I realize not only that I can’t shield him from this, I can’t shield myself from this.  The world is full of uncomfortable situations.  Of anger, fatigue, sadness and conflict.  No one wants to see it more than we have to and certainly not in a grocery store after a long day.  We also don’t have control over what happens around us.  But, we do have control over how we react. 

The argument continues.  I worry someone might say something and make it worse. 

But, people hold steady. 

They are pissed, they are tired, but no one erupts.  I’m surprised, in a good way.  It galvanizes something I inherently believe: that if encouraged to face our demons, we will always choose strength, compassion, courage and love.  Even in moments where all that takes, is to hold steady until a challenging moment passes. 

I’ve always said my son is my best teacher.  Because he inspires me to grow in the ways he needs me to.  These ways are always more patient.  Always more compassionate.  Always with more wisdom.  
As a mother, what he needs is my highest priority.  What he needs is my biggest calling, my most important endeavor.  He is a part of me in the most fundamental ways.

Yet, I am also my own person.  And, through learning to be, grow and live as the person he needs me to be, I have become who I’m meant to be. 

The argument subsided as quickly as it started and we went home.  On the way home I told him we needed to talk about what happened in the grocery store – either now or later.  He said now.  I had so much to say about what happened but remembered, he was tired and that was a tiring event itself. 
I simply said, “Sometimes people get upset and they don’t know how to deal with their emotions.  You will likely encounter this in life.  That’s why it’s important to face your fears, your anger and your sadness.  Because when you face those parts of you, when they are triggered, like they might have been in that grocery store, you know how best to respond and comfort yourself.  The world isn’t an easy place but you can create a place within yourself that is happy, that is safe.”  He didn’t say anything but I felt like he heard me. 

The rest of the night was good.  He watched a show while I cooked tacos.  We read from our book and he went to bed.

Falling asleep that night, I smiled.  Recognizing the perfection in what the universe put before me that day.  I’m not sure I would have responded in the ways I did if my son, my best teacher (and student), wasn’t there to ask those responses of me. 

We are all many things.  My son, brings out the best in me.  He reminds me that nothing is separate. That we are all connected.  He asks of me, through his very existence, to show him how best to navigate, learn from and grow in this world.  And for that, I am eternally grateful.  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

flying through the shadow to get to the light

My son is coming to live with me for the school year in August!  It's been a long road in getting to this point. This point in this journey.  In the whole, interconnected journey.

Within each of our lives we travel through so many different landscapes.  Within ourselves, we grow through so many relationships - with each other and ourselves.

I am on a journey as a mother; as a friend; as a lover - of people, the planet, life and space; as all the ways I can care. And, in each identity, a journey.  And yet, all journeys one, as all parts of us are traveling together.  The amalgamation of all the ways I journey, all the ways I grow, holistically creates who I am.  We are all travelers, and the canvas of growth we each traverse is different yet vast.  All the individual identities we are growing synchronized in motion and step within ourselves.

As a mother, which is my most treasured and most enjoyable identity, I have been traveling toward him coming to live with me this Fall for the majority of the time since my divorce began, 10 years ago.  But, even longer than that, since my son's birth, I've been traveling to get to the place I'm nearing, the place I first set out to be as his mother.  I see this point in my journey as a mother nearing.  A place I have been working toward reaching with him all his life.

There are points in any journey, moments of pause for reflection, celebration and loss. Sometimes, I pause in awe,  Awe in the way I feel hope or joy or awe in the way I feel pain or loss in the journey.

This Fall, with my son coming to be with me, day in and day out, for his 6th grade school year, I feel like I am coming up on a moment of marvelous awe and joy.  It represents, and is, a crossing in space from a place founded in struggle into a place founded in hope.

This moment stretches across the landscape of my soul from my place as a mother, to my place as a person.  I see something else coming, with him, through him.

Looking in, I see myself.  I've feel like I've been walking through a desert.  From the heart of the desert I've been waking, traveling to the edge, and now, before me in the distance, I see a cliff.  And light so brilliant; a soon to be setting sky.

The cliff is high up, and I smile because I didn't know I was so high.  I've felt so low so often, that I never thought I might be this high.  I smile at the irony and humor of the Universe. What they know and can see and I can't, yet.

Looking at the cliff, I suddenly want to run. Run and jump into the setting sky. Fly.  Through the passionate colors of the sky.  The colors of an evening in today's journey, as the world dips into a time of darkness. Dips into a place to build.  A place of stillness and quiet to build a new day, a new light.

My son coming is the sun for me, a brilliant light.  He is a symbol of rebirth to me. From pain and loss into hope and love.  I trust the hope and love I have and see in him.  Unconditionally.  The sexual trauma I experienced as a kid created extra barriers in learning to trust.  As it happened over and over again for years, for my childhood and first few years of my young adulthood, it was hard for me to trust in love, hope and joy.  That it would stay or was real.  But my son, through his very existence, upended the world of fear and isolation I was living in and trying so hard to escape.  In the building of our relationship, we began a journey, growing existence into a place of beauty and love, too.  And it is. It really, truly, is.

What's interesting is how this part of my journey as a mother is coinciding with another part of my journey.  The journey I'm on with my body.  My body is also going through a period of darkness.  A different kind of darkness.  One that isn't peaceful but fearful.  I'd had a relatively quiet journey with my body until I was about 27, four years ago.  I was healthy and strong.  The challenging journeys were in my heart and mind up to that point, my body was pretty reliable.  That world has been upended too, causing so much pain.

In thinking about the journeys I've traveled through in darkness, I've realized that for most of my life, some part of my experience has been plunged into what I call the shadow of life.  To me, the shadow is a challenging place full of uncertainty and sadness.  As a child, I only lived in the shadow, unable to feel light, facing the wounds and pain of my spirit, through my heart, over and over again. Depression and suicidality felt like places in the shadow I had little control in steering myself away from, and places that I found myself in repetitively.

At 25, I fully committed to facing the depths and truths of the trauma in my early life.  Since then, I've been working though the wounds I've encountered while healing and growing a more compassionate and loving self.  I've been able to heal and steady my heart and my mind, easing the pain.  Now, I am plunged into a different place of pain.  A different kind of physical pain.  That triggers and tests the very foundation I have built in my heart and mind around facing wounds.

I realized earlier this week it'd been years since I was physically comfortable in my whole body at the same time.  Most of my body has been inflamed for long periods, which is interesting.  I'm not sure if it's the Rheumatoid Arthritis, or the Lupus, or the Mixed Connective Tissue disorder, or the Sjogren's, or the Hashimotos.  And on some level, it doesn't matter.  What we call our ailments - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual - it's all a part of the same system.  It's interesting to me how my experiences with pain have prompted me to travel through different journeys, both separate and together at the same time.

Like a choreographed dance through time.  A dancing journey.  Walking, moving, flying, jumping.  A dance I do not know but through listening, find my next step.  I listen with everything I am.  My heart, my mind, my soul, my spirit, my body.  And, in listening to them all, all the time, I hear an orchestra of experience, building the song of my life in real time.

There is purpose to this choreography.  This song of pain and growth.  Through the pain, the trauma - the wounds - can come to the surface and be let go.  And, sometimes, we can carry the wounds of those we love.  The wounds of the world.  I feel like I am carrying more than just my trauma, but some of my family's, my biological father's, all of us healing together - wound coming to the surface.

First through the heart first, then the mind and now body.  Purposeful pain.  Pain to grow.   Through the pain of my heart, my mind, and my body to make space.  Space to grow.  Wings, to fly.

Each of our spirits come from a place in which they - first - learned to soar.  We get burdened down by life's pain and forget what we can do.  Who we are.  That we can fly.

Which is why, I realize, I like running.

Regardless of how fast I run, there's a part of me that feels like I'm flying.  Even more so now with my body's limitations in ability and motion.

But, although my body is often inflamed, I can still run, sometimes.  Maybe not fast, maybe not long, maybe not in the winter, maybe not many things, but I can still run.

I can still move my body forward in this journey through life, and run - with my heart, my mind, my body and my soul - toward that cliff ready to jump, to fly.

Off into the setting night sky to meet my son in tomorrow's light of a new day.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Why Blog?

This woman, Emily Esfahani Smith, touches on one of the reasons I keep this blog. 

I saw this on PBS Newshour today: 

This particular part struck me:

“In recent years, psychologists have started looking more closely at how the single-minded pursuit of happiness affects us, and they have come to what seems like a counter intuitive conclusion: Chasing happiness and obsessing over it, the way our culture encourages us to do, can actually make people unhappy and lonely.

But it’s different when we set another goal for ourselves, when we search for and pursue meaning in life.

Human beings are creatures that yearn for meaning. 

When we look up at the stars, for example, we don’t see random balls of fire. We see swans and bears, we tell stories and myths, and we wonder 
about where we came from, our place in the universe, and 
how we can make our lives count.

Making a narrative out of the events in your life provides clarity. 
It offers a framework that goes beyond the day-to-day. 

It’s the act itself, and not necessarily sharing their story with others, that helps people make sense of themselves and their lives. 

And we all have the power to tell or to re-tell our life story in more positive ways."

I write here, crafting my own personal narrative.  Through writing, I find purpose and meaning in my life; during moments in the daylight of my life, when things are bright and flow with ease, and, moments in the dark, sometimes full of fear and pain.  I share my narrative for me, but, also in the hopes that others reading might think about how crafting and sharing their own narrative through life might bring meaning and purpose.  

People find meaning and purpose in many things.  And, what we assign as meaningful or purposeful matters - those things lay the foundation for why we think, talk and behave in the ways we do.   

Listening and learning from each others journeys will only help us grow more individually and together.  We are all here for different reasons, evolving through experiences of joy and challenge and everything in between.  Learning from each other's experience strengthens us all. 😊

Saturday, March 11, 2017

finding purpose through pain

I watched this PBS NOVA episode called Iceman: Reborn.”recently; it explores the life of a 5,300 year old man found buried in ice in the Italian Alps in 1991. Researchers found 61 tattoos on his body – 61! The tattoos are mostly straight lines in different configurations and patterns.  They are grouped in specific areas on his body; in areas he was experiencing a lot of pain.

Researchers think Ötzi suffered from a whole host of painful, chronic conditions.  Like arthritis in his wrists, knees, feet, and spine.  They think the tattoos were a kind of ancient acupuncture as they were in areas acupuncture targets for inflammation in the joints and seem to be more strategic than decorative. Looking at the tattoos all over his body, its pretty apparent that this guy must have been in a lot of pain! But, he was always on the move.  Hunting, maybe trading. Climbing mountains.

I think about this man, who lived over five millennia ago, who felt the same kind of pain I do, in the same places.  I think about him climbing mountains.  I bet he felt pain every day.  Every day I feel pain, too.  I think about him walking the mountains as I slowly descend and ascend the stairs to my 2nd floor apartment, wondering how he managed through it.  Years ago I might have judged myself saying something like, he climbed mountains, you struggle with stairs.  But I’ve learned since then that pain is pain.  And the best way to heal is through compassion.  Something that made me smile was that they found him with a kind of mushroom we now know helps with inflammation but wasn’t something we thought humans that long ago understood.  We tend to put what we think people before us knew and understood in a limited place of understanding.  That seems to be a box we are continually breaking down and in the process of reshaping our understandings, re-creating.  I hope as we are continually reshaping what we see before us, whether it’s before us in the present or rethinking the past, we always leave space to expand our perspective.

Looking back at this week, it was a particularly painful.  I realized this week I’ll probably have to quit taking the metro to work in the mornings because it’s becoming too painful to walk or climb stairs in the beginning of the day.  Tuesday, as I limped into the office, I was nearly in tears not only because of the pain but because of how limited I’ve become some mornings. 

But, because of my limitations, I’ve also been given some unique opportunities to slow down. To schedule less. To be present right now. To plan each day in the moment, based on how I feel and what I can do now.  Walking and moving slowly also gives me pause to think. As I move. About many things. About Icemen and mountains and the resiliency of the human spirit – through pain.  Walking up the stairs yesterday I thought, Ötzi had to keep moving. 

Arthritis is interesting; it forces you to live in between the ashes and the flame of motion.  You have to move; enough to keep the pain from rooting in your bones and joints like cement but not so much that the you catch fire and become inflamed. 

Ötzi moved out of necessity.  And so do I.  I am strategic and judicious in how I move.  I am limited not only in how I move but how often I move.  For a few months I was pretty scared I would trip and fall on my hands.  My wrists are quite inflamed much of the time and so it’s hard to bend them and very painful when I try to bear any significant weight with them. 

I’m not scared anymore; more mindful.  It would hurt like hell if that happened but sometimes, life hurts like hell.  I bet Ötzi hurt like hell sometimes. Sometimes we fall. And even if it hurts and I fall on my hands, I’m still catching myself as I fall.

This isn’t the first experience I have with chronic pain that hurt like hell.  Before the arthritis/lupus/mixed connective tissue pain I felt pain. Deeper pain. Deeper than my bones.  Subcutaneous pain.  Internal.  Heart pain. Head pain. Soul-wrenching, falls of the spirit pain.
I feel like my whole life, I have been falling.  But not falling down, falling through and I think eventually, up.  

It started when I was very young. Each time someone used my body for their own means, I felt pain in  my body but most importantly, I felt it in my heart.  Sexual abuse is a spiritual assault as much as, if not more, than a physical assault.  It’s a stab to your heart, a penetration in the place you grow love. From wounds to the place from which we birth human life.  The place from which my son emerged into this life.   

That pain and how I learned to live with it, work through it, is the origin of this pain I’m feeling now. Today, it is just closer to the surface. Which is a good thing.  A good sign.  Despite the pain. The pain is service of something greater.  Wellness. Pain working its way out.

It started as heart pain, spirit pain. Healing the heart and the spirit requires compassionate listening, and sometimes gentle therapy. Always love. It took me a while to get to the bottom of the pain in my heart and invite love in.  You can try to do heal the heart by pushing through or with what many call mental strength but when you aren’t actually healing the heart. You are finding band aids. 

Many people tell themselves to heal. Many people treat healing as a strategic and annoying exercise. How can I maximize healing while minimizing effort and discomfort? You can’t do this with the heart and that approach will only heal the surface.  It won’t get you to the depths of pain from abuse, trauma or loss.  And those kinds of pain, after they are inflicted, live in the heart.  To heal the heart you have to listen first and thoroughly, however painful. And even though painful, it is a truly beautiful experience to heal the heart.  Healing the heart, although painful, can bring so much joy. 

Healing my heart and spirit became an urgent endeavor at a young age.  I began fantasizing about suicide by the time I was five; by the time I was ten, it was dangerous.  I’ve spoken to many people who don’t believe children can be suicidal at all. I think they imagine all children to be in a blissful state of ignorance.  And many are but I wasn’t.  Ever really.  One of the things I had to heal my heart from was loss.  The loss of my childhood.  When you are forced into very adult situations as a child with no control over what is done to you or your body, you lose any idea that life is blissful and you work fast to become as least ignorant as you can. 

There are many painful things about being forced to heal from pain at a young age but there are many good things, too.  And, if I didn’t do that work then, I’m not sure I could handle the intensity and frequency of the pain I’m feeling now without falling into a deep depression.  I struggle some days emotionally because I am in so much pain and so tired, but those feelings pass. Because I’ve been working on matters of the heart for over 25 years.  And I’m grateful for that. Not for the abuse, but for who I’ve become in response to the abuse and how that training in listening and working with my heart has prepared me to deal with how my body is in pain today.   

I was talking to a co-worker last week about having rheumatoid arthritis.
After saying, “The good thing about arthritis is that it’s often worse in the morning and gets better as the day goes on.” He looked at me and said, “I didn’t know there was a good thing about arthritis!” 
I laughed at that thinking, but there are. 

There are good things about everything.  And I think that’s one of the great challenges in life.  To see the suffering, to feel the pain -in ourselves or others - but, in the same hand, hold the light.  Feel love. 

I know there are many, many other people, now adults and children who feel pain. In their hearts. In their heads. In their bodies. In their spirits.  We are all healing in some way shape or form.  There are people walking around who have reached a place of existence where they can see and accept the pain but don’t see it or feel it as good or bad. It just is.  It doesn’t hinder their ability to experience the joys that exist in each and every present moment.  I think seeing and accepting pain in ourselves is a part of the journey to that place.  I think it takes lifetimes for most people. 

 I don’t know what lifetime I’m on but I know I’m on a journey. One step at a time. However slow. And I’m walking the same Earth with the same kinds of pain people have been walking this Earth with for millennia upon millennia.  

We are not walking alone.  We are not feeling alone.  We are also not abusing each other alone.  In each opportunity we have to heal ourselves we are also given the opportunity to heal human society. Step by step, with each life.  And I think a big part of that is connecting.  Through love, through joy and through pain.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Organizing the Kitchen

I'm in pain. right now. and every day. I didn't used to be. About two years ago, chronic pain became a part of my life and it's never left. In December, I learned more about what was going on.  I have more than of a few conditions that are encouraging my body to attack itself.  Like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.  

I've hesitated in sharing this online for a while. I wasn't ready to be that vulnerable.  I've accepted the pain but it's been much harder to accept how vulnerable I can feel when dealing with the chronic pain. I'm significantly limited in how I can use my hands, how I walk most days,and what I use my back and knees for. I don't like feeling limited in how I can use my body, especially in public. But, because I walk to the metro about to and from work everyday, I've had a lot of practicing accepting vulnerability in public.  Most days it hurts to walk at least in the morning if not all day. I don't mind walking slowly because its less painful; it has been hard to accept that people you don't know can tell you are in pain, can tell you are limited, can tell tell you are vulnerable. Just by looking at you. That also happens when I'm at work and trying to hold things, or open a drawer.  At this point, I'm ok with how I move alone in my home.  I've learned new ways to brush my hair or use knives because of my hand and finger pain.

But in public, it's different. I can't change how I have to walk some days, but, I've learned to look at how I walk in public differently. Instead of it being a handicap, I'm learning to see it as opportunity, to slow down. And it is. It makes it easier to pick the empowering choice when you realize you don't have to see things in certain ways. Many other people in society might see how I have to use my body as a handicap. Bu to me, it's an opportunity. To listen and slow down. And, that way of looking at it is just as accurate.

But it wasn't until now I felt uncomfortable sharing this new experience with physical vulnerability online.  I've shared other experiences of vulnerability on this blog.  And in many ways, this blog was created as a way to share how experiences of pain and vulnerability can be transformed into opportunities for strength and growth.  A place to share and encourage healing. And I'm ready to do that now with this new evolution of chronic pain in my healing journey.

Today, I was in the kitchen, trying to organize  cabinets for the first time in months. Looking at my cabinets, I knew doing this work would be painful. There would be moving and shuffling and lots of use required from my fingers, my wrists, my shoulders and my knees.  Those things were already aching, but I wanted to do it; it sounded both meditative and energizing.  And the sun was out, shining in that crisp, cold almost-spring way.  I'd rested most of yesterday because of pain and fatigue and wanted to do something productive. I wanted to organize my kitchen so when I looked around I felt a sense of peace seeing the space and organization.

There is something both meditative and energizing about things like organizing for me. Doing meditative and energizing things helps me listen and find balance between my heart, my head and my body.

I worked on part of the kitchen.  Under the sink. And was happy with it when I as done. As I tried to get up, my knees felt tight. But, they also felt a bit bruised, like the bottoms of my feet do most mornings. Standing there, I felt the pain throughout my body in that moment and I saw a picture of my body, with all the areas in pain inflamed. Red was everywhere...hands, fingers, wrists, knees, feet, neck, shoulders.. I thought about the RA and the Lupus. And the mixed connective tissue disorder. About the thyroid stuff.  About how after a day and a half of resting I still tire quickly.  And, I became scared. I thought about how the pain has spread over the last few years. I worried about what would happen if it didn't stop. If these illnesses took over. Trying to reason with myself, I took a breath and said this just means you have to be careful.  You have to take care of yourself. My body ached all over. I felt sad.

I took another breath, trying to keep positive and looked at where my plates and cups and things were. Then I looked at where I put my dry foods and had an idea that lit me up for a second. If I switched the contents of both cabinets, the pantry with the plates, it would make my kitchen easier to use while I was cooking.  My knees surged with a tight pain in the next moment and looking down at my fingers they were swollen. I was exhausted. I'd barely worked thirty minutes and needed to rest. Even though I wanted to take on this project, I faced the pain and realized I couldn't do it.

I think at a different time in my life, I would have gotten upset by that.  I would have felt more defeated.  And at times, I do feel defeated with this pain.  At times I cry, I feel like I've lost something.  I get upset thinking about what I used to be able to do.

But I always stop. Because they are stories. It's ok to feel sad or upset over the loss of something. I let myself cry. Looking to the past at what I used to be able to do doesn't help me see what I can do now. Which is why I stop saying defeat.  It's a challenge.  To face something new and however challenging, however painful, empower and support myself as I work through it.

At a different time in my life, I wasn't telling myself these things.  I was sinking into a different kind of pain. Of wound.  It wasn't in my hands, or my feet. It was in my heart.

Leaving the kitchen, I sat down at my table. And realized, it's time to share.  It's time to connect. We are all healing. We are all facing challenge. And so I wrote this post.

To myself and to those of you also experiencing pain and trying to heal: we are not our pain. We don't deserve this. There is nothing wrong with us inherently to invite this.  Pain is not bad, it is an opportunity. To listen to our bodies, our hearts and our minds. And grow from it.

We are all working through something.  We are all on journeys. Amazing journeys. And as we live, as we grow, we are challenged.  We are traveling. The more we continue to connect with ourselves and others on this journey, the more we accept everything, including hardships, as opportunities to grow, the more we work to heal our wounds and have faith we are going somewhere amazing, the better. For us all.  We aren't all practicing this. But we all can. We are all brilliant spirits traveling through space and time.   We are all given opportunities to grow.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

National Museum of African American History and Culture Opening: Sept 24, 2016

This country was built on the backs of black men and women, forced into slavery.  Our country wouldn’t be what it is today if we didn’t have the free and arduous labor black men, women and children provided on the plantations.  How our early economy faired paved the way for America to sustain independence.  But black lives weren’t only used for economic reasons – they were enslaved for social reasons, too.  Black slaves dressed their masters in fine clothes while they lived in rags. They cooked and served five course meals while they ate cornmeal, lard and molasses.  They often couldn’t even have the left overs without getting whipped, or worse.  But not whipped with a belt, a hard chord of leather with fragments of sharp glass stabbed into the end instead.  Slave women nursed and raised master’s children while their own children were ripped from their arms as babies only to be sold to the highest bidder.  Even working to expand their own intellect through something like learning to read was punishable, sometimes by death.  

Many people don’t know much about the lives of slaves. Most schools don’t want to talk about things that could be disturbing children or parents. But it's not just in schools we shy away from talking about uncomfortable things.  Society, by and large, doesn’t want to face this stuff either.  Things that make us feel sad, or scared, or ashamed. 

credit: Phil Freelon of
The first National Museum of African American history and culture opened today.  Honoring people who dedicated their lives, literally, to the building and evolution of our country's future, by giving of their bodies, their minds and their blood. For over 400 years, American society not only denied black people their rights, we also denied them their place of profound importance as builders, creators, teachers and leaders of our evolving American existence and culture.   Our president, who is black himself, opened the doors to an institution built to stand against that denial.  Built to honor the black people of yesterday and today.  To say I'm sorry and I respect you.  Your history, your culture and your spirit.  We stand, all of us - black, white, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Islamic, Christian, young, gay and struggling, together.  But we are not just together, we are all uniquely magnificent and equally strong.  We need to do what we did today.  Stand together at the opening of those doors, and say, I see you.  You are valued.  You are beautiful.  You are strong.

We need to remind each other of our strength to be able to grow stronger together.   For centuries, we denied an entire people living with us, space in society to show their strength. Their insight.  The purposes they chose for themselves.  This is a huge part of our history as a nation. A history that we  have been reluctant to face fully, because of our shame and our fear.  But this museum provides a space to face it.  To talk about it.  To learn and to think.  Conversation by conversation. Museum by museum. Day by day.  Let’s dig up these roots we have connected to abuse, pain, fear and loss and rebuild.

I’m ready to stand in front of the slave cabin, the auction block and the slave shackles the Museum has in its collection.  But, I’m also ready to stand next to Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet.  Facing fear and celebrating strength. Beauty. Resilience. 

This museum isn’t just for African Americans, but for all Americans.  This is all of our history.  We all have work to do and we all have gifts to contribute.  Towards a future we all share. 


Thursday, August 18, 2016

His mom

Reading with my son on FaceTime started my evening off on the right foot. My day was ok, but after the busy-ness of work was over and I got home, I felt a little, eh. Driving to Costco and buying new contacts sounded tiring. The idea of going to the gym didn't stir up any feelings of motivation or excitement. Dinner options were, meh. Sitting there on my couch, trying to motivate, I called my son. We read the beginning of the next book in this series we love. We read, were delightfully interrupted by two of his brothers, both toddlers and read some more. It only took a few minutes for me to feel my chest lighten. As we connected over the excitement in the story, the sadness, the silliness, I felt better. Watching him giggle over small jokes through FaceTime lit my heart. When we hung up, I smiled and thanked the universe for my son. For my life. For being given an opportunity to see the beautiful things - the things that help make things lighter. Learning to see and be open to accepting those moments of lightness, in my heart, has been a journey. The existence of my son has been a big part of that. A foundational part. There have been many times as hard as I tried to see light, I couldn't. Times that were much worse than, eh. I've been practicing, for a long time now, how to see I can feel differently. Life is so many things. Before us at any moment we have material to work with - cultivated both from within ourselves and from others and life around us. Material that evolves and changes over time. Material that we shape, either consciously or not, into what we understand to be our realities. Our ever evolving understanding of ourselves in each moment of existence. And, I think, clearly and non-jugementally seeing what is before us is probably the first real step in recognizing what we can truly do with that material. My son reminded me of what I needed today to be able to face some slightly painful reflections in the material before me today. Love. And connection. To the person who matters most to me. After we got off the phone, I put on my running shoes and went for a run. I felt like I was gliding through the air, shifting my weight and balance as I advanced forward. I felt rooted. Open and connected. To the world and life around me and inside me. Going to sleep tonight, I feel my son in my heart. Beating. He comes from there and when I feel him at home, in my heart, it beats stronger. With more depth. He starts middle school next week, and although at times my heart feels heavy being so far away, it also feels light and full, because we are connected. Like this message he left me on his drawing/white board easel: "we are always connected." The green lines are the lines from our hearts connecting to one another. He wrote this for me as a message from him to me for when I was sad and missed him. I look at it everyday - sometimes out of sadness, sometimes out of gratitude. Always with love. I got pregnant at 18 and had my son when I was 19. I don't recommend this for everyone, but for me, his birth and his life couldn't have come at a more needed and meaningful time. He'll be 11 in February and I don't know what my life would be without him. I thank the universe every day that he chose me to be his mom.