Cats and raindrops bless us

Sherman Alexie said “I don’t believe in magic, but I believe in interpreting coincidence exactly the way you want to.”

So when a stray cat wandered into the circle of grief-stricken neighbors gathered outside the former home of Rachel Gardin-Gonzalez and made itself right at home, I chose to imagine that Rachel was back in this beautiful calm form to bask in the comfort and love of people who cared about her.

Rachel and her mother Kimberly Redford were murdered in this home last week. Interfaith Works had come here to hold a Moment of Blessing. A time for neighbors to reclaim peace in their community and love in their hearts for the entire family that was devastated here.

Seven years almost to the day, I wrote my very first post on Can You Relate about a Moment of Blessing for Vanda Boone who herself was murdered in south Thurston County.

Every single domestic violence fatality and injury and hurt is preventable. Without exception. So I wonder, now and all the time, about what it will take to end the violence.

Can You Relate has changed its focus recently to call out/call in the perpetrators of the violence. Ultimately it is they who control all these tragic outcomes. I know it’s hard to imagine, but rapists and batterers are the ones who need to understand what drives the violence and understand what it is going to take to stop it. We can provide all the support and care possible for victims (and we should) but they will just keep coming until we know this.

Unlike Sherman Alexie, I don’t know if I believe in magic. But as the circle of grief was breaking up today, a few drops of rain fell from the hot smoky sky. Was that raindrop blessing a bit of magic or just a coincidence? We’ll have to ask the cat.

The ribbon pole with the names of most of the people who have died from violence in Thurston County since 2005. With the magic cat in the background.
Tragic additions to the list of victims.

 

Stuck

I got stuck in the elevator last week.

stuck in elevatorI got in, pressed 7 and rode up. The doors opened, maybe 4-5 inches, slammed shut, then everything froze.  I pressed every button on the panel, including the alarm. Nothing.

I’ve never been stuck in an elevator before. I know a lot of people say this is their worst nightmare but for me it really wasn’t that bad. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely experienced a little adrenaline rush. I was all by myself so I gave the door one last pound with my fist, sat down on the floor, looked around and thought “Wow, I’m stuck in an elevator.” It really does wake a person up.

(Spoiler alert, I got out.)

All week, I’ve been enjoying the quirkiness of the experience and playing with it. I’ve  been watching various things unfold from that wide-awake stuck-in-an elevator point of view. Like, I’ve been thinking about our national healthcare debacle, the mistrial of Bill Cosby, the happenings at my beloved alma mater The Evergreen State College; all of these as embodiments of the cosmic elevator in which our entire nation seems to be stuck.

How are we ever going to get out?

Today I’m thinking it has to be about everyday conversations where we learn to navigate the world with more finesse and not so much stuck-ness.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday, I watched two people end a heated debate with “let’s just agree to disagree.” Ever said that? Or had it said to you? That expression means so many captive things, including:

  1. My eyes are seeing that your mouth is moving and sound is coming out. But I am too busy in my mind thinking about how to represent and defend my point of view. When I see your mouth stop moving, I’ll tell you all about it.
  2. I am the one with power here (said both parties) and when this godforsaken conversation is over and we agree to disagree, each of us will return to our corners and shore up our power where we have it.
  3. You’re wrong.

Allow me to indulge you in a story someone told me once about “you’re wrong.”

There was a monastery in Thailand where people from the U.S. occasionally went to join the Buddhist monks to study and meditate. A woman traveled there and for several months practiced rigorously, Returning to the U.S., she found herself attracted to an evangelical church and eventually pledged herself to Christ. She vowed to return to Thailand to convert the monks. Her return to the monastery was greeted with great warmth. But as the days went on, they became increasingly confused and then annoyed by her preaching to them as they tried to study. Finally the monks went to the abbot to seek his wisdom about what to do. The abbot listened intently to their account of events, considered for a time, looked at his wide-eyed followers, shrugged and said “She could be right.”

Which is just to say, “agreeing to disagree” is to be loyal to a story that may be right. It may be wrong. Who knows?

Or may not even be the only possibility. What if there were a third, fourth, or  fifth story; one we can’t even imagine because we get too stuck on the only one we know?

Or maybe all the possibilities are not mutually exclusive? What if two things that appear to be at odds, are actually not and can both be true at the same time?

What would happen if we flipped the script and committed to “Let’s agree to work to agree”? Getting unstuck. There are solutions to every problem we have created for ourselves.

Including getting out of an elevator. Half an hour after I rang the alarm, two guys from the Olympia Fire Department pried open the doors and let me out. Ultimately, I’m left with only one question. Is it possible to be stuck in an elevator and be both annoyed and dazzled at the same time?

You can take the girl out of the protest, but you can’t take the protest out of the girl

I grew up on the Pawcatuck River. It’s a short little thing as rivers go, dividing Rhode Island from Connecticut and flowing into the Atlantic. As children in the 60s, all of us kids were strictly forbidden from swimming in the river because our moms said it was polluted.

This prohibition, however, only prompted us to “accidentally fall in” as often as we could get away with it. For decades now, we have worked together to clean up our messes. Today, kids can swim in the Pawcatuck River. It seems a shame to go backwards on this now.

I was snorkeling over a reef with amazing fishes a few weeks ago. Hearing news of the gutting of the EPA and thinking back about my childhood water and air quality prompted a half-assed protest. When I was packing for vacation, I didn’t include waterproof protest sign materials. Still, I did my best to make a splash. SAVE the EPA.

Save the EPA

This is so basic. The broad conversation on violence and relationships includes the violence we heap on our beloved mother earth. Our survival depends on resisting.

What ways are you finding to resist violence of all sorts and advance your values around peace and justice? Let’s see your best protest signs!

I SAID I was SORRY

There are not many things that are awkward per se about being a gardener. But there is one. Sometimes I overhear things happening in my neighbor’s yard that I maybe should not.

Like one fine spring day when my neighbor’s front door SLAMMED and their really quite adorable teenager turned round on the front stoop and screamed back at the closed door “I SAID I was SORRY!” Car tires squealed. Calm settled back.

I know it’s not funny, but I said I was sorry – big emphasis on SAID and SORRY – has since become part of the vernacular in our house. When we do something stupid and apologize but the other won’t let it go I SAID I was SORRY can sometimes break the spell of an argument that is going nowhere.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I’ve been thinking about apologizing and making amends more than usual lately. I mean, I’ve thought about it a lot over the years related to my work. How batterers and sex offenders can apologize and make amends for the terrible things they have done to their loved ones and others.

And is that even possible?

And yes it is.

But now, every day, I’m watching the much bigger picture of our nation coming to terms. Watching as the scabs and scars covering our many national shames split open and bleed.

For instance, this New York Times article: A public apology for the inconceivably wicked crime of the lynching of 16-year-old Austin Callaway, taken from a jail cell and murdered on September 4, 1940 in LaGrange, Georgia.

Ernest Ward, right, the N.A.A.C.P. president in Troup County, Ga., said he had “a newfound respect” for Louis M. Dekmar, the police chief in LaGrange. I am in awe of the people in LaGrange. Those with the courage to stand up. To face the past and to face the present. To be together. To struggle even as it gets messier and messier.

It is incumbent on me, on all of us to be together. In person. To lean in toward one another and whisper in each others ears “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” To bust wide open and tell one another our stories and see where that takes us.

A path to your door

When I was a little kid, my friend Jan and I beat a path through the tangle of brush in the vacant lot that separated our two homes. We were always so desperate to be with one another that we did this to cut 23 seconds off the time it took to get to each other’s door.

Our bedroom windows were facing and we would flick our lights to signal our mysterious childhood doings. Once we even tried stringing a tin can “telephone” between our windows. “Can you hear me!?” we screamed into the cans. And we could.

Path to a house

Today, I am looking out my window and noticing that my neighbors and I have beaten similar paths. At times like these, we are desperate to be together. Knowing that there will be some form of comfort, of reassurance.

In this solstice season, with all the fear and strife in our country and in the world, find the paths to your loved ones. Linger in your hugs. Share your savories and sweets. Care for one another more deeply than you ever could have imagined.

Fire Drill

I am going to interrupt the first paragraph of this blog to tell you the aftermath of writing it. This is simple too ironically delicious to pass up.

Go to Google images and search “Fire Drill 1960s.” I mean, really.

I went looking for a good picture idea to illustrate a story of growing up in the 1960s and doing fire drills at my little rural school. A story I don’t need to tell you now.

What I found was NOT a fire drill 1960s style, but rather an atomic bomb drill 1960s style.

duck-and-coverWhat tickled me so much about these pictures of children huddling under their desks (which, by the way I did not experience as funny at the time) is that how we prepare our children these days for the actual threats they face is very much like this google-search-gone-sideways result: we are leaving our children huddled under their desks when the real problem is that the building is on fire.

I thought of a couple stories to illustrate how we can use the notion of the fire drill to practice things with our beloved kids before it is an actual emergency. And to show how weirdly odd we grownups behave in the face of actual emergencies.

Fire drill: unintended pregnancy

I once asked a young woman friend of mine who was headed off to college what kind of birth control she was using or thinking about using. She’d had a serious boyfriend in recent months and I was thinking they were likely sexually active so I was just curious. She looked at me with a stricken look on her face and didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then she blurted out, “I’m not opposed to abortion.”

“Um, sweetie” I replied “you know there are ways to avoid getting pregnant if you don’t want to be right?”  And the conversation unfolded from there.

We grownups waste unimaginable quantities of energy and money arguing about whether abortion should be illegal or legal. Available or unavailable. In the meantime this is the stupidity our children are saddled with. By losing our focus on what is actually happening with our kids, we outright deprive them of meaningful access to the information they need. Metaphorically, we leave our teens huddled under their desks. Come on. We can do better than this.

Another time, some friends and I were talking about Plan B (the emergency contraceptive) when their teenaged son walked in. It struck me suddenly that teenagers may not even have any idea what the concept of a plan B is. I mean, do you? Plan A is we meet at the corner to walk together to lunch. Plan B, we meet at the restaurant and I’ll save us a table. Right?

No surprise, the young man didn’t have any idea what plan A and plan B meant. But then, poor thing, I subjected him to some questions about the contraceptive Plan B. What followed was a wildly entertaining conversation which I will leave for another time.

Back to Plan B which is, after all, the fallback. It is not the first line of action for young heterosexual sexually-active people. And yet we adults leave our children huddled under their desks while we argue about regulating the actual drug of Plan B–in fact, all the way to the Supreme Court. The building is on fire people. Grownups get your act together and help kids with Plan A for sexual health and wellbeing, contraceptive and otherwise!

Fire drill: gun violence

I don’t own a gun, but I got a free gun lock at a recent event and gave it to a friend of mine who has school-aged kids. She doesn’t have guns either, but we gabbed about if and how she asks about guns when her kids go to play in their friends’ homes. She said she has struggled with this in a mighty way but has not yet figured out how to ask. It is just so hard to talk about it.

And this is completely understandable. We have locked down the conversation around guns rather than the guns themselves. Even the most basic common sense actions are taboo because any mention of guns leads straight to the second amendment. Even when all we’re talking about is keeping our children from accidentally shooting themselves or someone else. Children have a natural curiosity around guns, secured or not. Again, we leave them huddled under their desks while we argue about politics.

Fire drill: rape and domestic violence

Let’s face it. Even approaching thoughts about a beloved child raping or being raped—being battered or battering is more than most of us can endure.

And yet, no victim or rapist, no victim or batterer comes into this world as such. We unintentionally put our children on a path the moment they are born with our ideas about what it means to be a boy or a girl. And we follow that up with a million actions, individually and culturally.

But we do not need to fix all of our million transgressions against our children at once. One at a time works. Each one of us doing one at a time.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Action Month. And I’m here to tell you that in the same way that we don’t have to wait until our daughter or son is accidentally pregnant or our child shot to do something, there are simple ways to help kids learn about and navigate healthy and unhealthy relationships. You may never know if something very simple that you say or do plants a seed for a child or young person and helps them avoid a small problem or a large catastrophe.

Grownups. We can do this. It is not hard. It is actually really fun and, I have found, often hilarious. Try these ideas and let us know what happens. Write about your stories in the comment section below, or on our Twitter or Facebook page. We can help each other learn how to safely usher our kids out to the playground!

Special delivery

I’ll admit it. It’s a work day, and I am goofing off. It’s one of those days where every task looks either insurmountably difficult or just too eye-rollingly boring. I pick things up and put them down again and again. Do you ever have days like that, or is it just me?

Super frustrated, I wander down the street for some caffeine. Maybe a reset will help.

Coffee in hand, and still not convinced I have it in me to get a single useful thing done, I follow a delivery guy back into my building. He holds the elevator door for me.

I study the four boxes on his handcart. They’re for us! Inside squeal. I know what these are. Things are definitely looking up now.

I start talking with the guy. I talk to everyone. This works exceptionally well for me because I have no children to embarrass.

So while I’m yammering with the delivery dude, I unlock and hold open the door. He hands me the electronic thingie to sign and he says, “So what do you guys do here anyway?”

Me: (blah blah blah my brief and generic answer about what one would do at a domestic violence coalition if one were not goofing off.)

Him: “I ask ‘cause I’m the victim.”

Me: (nonverbal tell me more signals)

Him: “Well, I’m really kind of on both sides.”

Me: (more nonverbal now-we’re-on-the-right-track signals)

Him: “Do you have places to send people? Like counselors? I mean I’m willing to be accountable for what happened. She’s not, but I am.”

Me: (Wow, he actually said the word accountable. I wonder where he learned that word and what he means by it?) “Well, you can only be responsible for yourself. You can’t control other people.”

Him: (Surprisingly knowing nod.)

Me: “SafePlace knows a lot more than me about who the good counselor folks are in town. Give them a call.”

Him: “It was my drinking.”

Me: (more sympathetic signals) “Yup, all those things get tangled up with each other.”

Him: “Yeah, I got 90 days.” (From the context, I assume he means sober, not jail time.)

Me: “That’s great! You have kids?”

Him: “Four. They’re proud of me. 90 days.” (I’m right, sober.)

Me: “Yeah, grownups need to get their acts together for their kids.”

Him: “Yeah.” (Gathering up his stuff.)

Me: “Really, call SafePlace. They’ll be able to help you. Good luck and hang in there.”

Him: (Friendly departure.)

Still wondering what was in the boxes that I was so excited about? Irony of ironies, and honest for real. Here’s what he was delivering: How’s Your Relationship? Conversations with someone about their abusive behavior.

cards in box

This weekend, we gave 1,500 sets of these cards out to the crowd of people who showed up to run or walk or volunteer at the Goodwill Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field.

My fondest wish is that you hear my story of the delivery dude and imagine that you can have a conversation this casual and kind. Support your friends, brothers, or delivery guys to take tiny steps. Help them because you can. Talk so they’ll figure out what they are doing that hurts themselves and others and how to turn it around. You can do it!

P.S. Feeling inspired to donate some money to this prevention campaign? Here’s a link to the fundraising page I set up for the Goodwill Refuse To Abuse® 5K. Donate today!

Digging in

I wrote last time about anxiety and I’m writing about it again. Because it’s just not going away.

This presidential race is deadly to my mental health. Let me be crystal clear so nobody gets in trouble, I don’t care which party you belong to, or which revolution you are firing up your torch for. This post is an equal opportunity slam on the whole shebang.

Anyone else out there losing sleep? The anxiety is spreading out like an oil slick. I am not kidding you, I was lying in bed at 3am last night boiling over with hate about the protesters outside of Planned Parenthood in Olympia and fantasizing about revenge. My friends, this is bad. Very bad. In point of fact, it’s very, very, very bad.

old rusty shovelI always wish I was wiser. Like so many people around me, my response to watching people dig into extreme positions is to dig into my own. It’s like I’m standing in a graveyard digging deeper and deeper. And next to me is someone doing the same. Maybe they’re digging because they agree with me (which is reassuring―like maybe this is a winning strategy) or maybe they’re digging because they hold the opposite view.

Friends. It seems like, as reasoning animals, we could behave differently. I mean, we can stop.

For the love of god, could we just stop?

Imagine, I lean up against the side of my hole I’m chest high in, look at you. Wonder out loud, what the hell are we doing? You stop and wonder the same thing. We climb out and go for coffee.

The other day, a sliver of light cut through the haze. My friends at the local SURJ group were schooling us in the practice of calling in rather than calling out. On my good days, I think I’m kind of hard wired to ‘call in’―to be curious, kind and patient and find out what is motivating other folks to think and act the way they do―particularly those with whom I disagree. One of the worst things about the anxiety I feel so deeply these days is that it makes me impulsive. More likely to overreact and call people out rather than in.

So many people are doing positive and affirming things to counter the hate and fear. I just need to get out of the hole I’ve dug and hang out with them. Care to join me?

What to do with the weight of this world

statue-with-globeOne of my most normal friends confided in me the other day. She said she’s feeling deeply anxious in a way she’s never experienced. She’s worried about being so worried.

My less normal friends and I have been feeling this way for a looooong time.

It’s not surprising that we’re freaked out. The world is shouting at us.

Wrong. Doom. Racist. Threat. Get out. Women-hating. War. Guns, guns and more guns.  This election year will undoubtedly kick all this up a notch, if there is even a notch left to be kicked.

There is a growing mountain of evidence that our brains are hardwired for negativity. Think about it. We were able to survive through multimillions of years by remembering which berries made us puke and which of the other animals are inclined to attack or eat us. Whereas, remembering whether blueberries taste better than raspberries was of very little survival value. Positive experiences just don’t have the impact or the staying power in our brains.

Learning this helped me overcome the natural inclination toward the negative. I learned that I had to work harder to help the positive messages and experiences stick.

I’ve been paying attention to my amped up anxiety of late. And watching to see if doing stuff actually makes me feel better.

Last week, I went to a meeting of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. It’s ironic, but talking about guns made me feel better. Connecting with 25 like-minded women and men, walking away with two free gun locks to give away, and signing up for their lobby day felt good.

I’m donating $3/day to the gohomemalheur.org campaign. Where previously I was filled with rage at the overentitled white supremacist militant jerks holding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge hostage, once I donated and saw that I’m in the company of so many others (all giving to organizations that the militants would loathe, including the Paiute Tribe and the Southern Poverty Law Center) I’m fine with what’s going on. They can stay as long as they want.

And finally, deep breath. I walked around Capitol Lake. Silently, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. At the conclusion of the walk, our leader suggested something he calls one finger Zen. Holding up his index finger, he mimed pressing down as he urged us to tap the off button.

Indeed. Walk away from your screen. Get off your couch. Go see for yourself if working for social justice helps.

 

 

Five greetings of holiday cheer

‘Tis the season. I close out my blog writing for 2015 with a string of holiday-themed confessions and advice. Please, grab an eggnog and pull up a chair.

Peace on Earth

Make peace with the earth.

I grew up outside. The outdoors is where I go when I need to experience renewal, re-creation. My first political activism involved working as a student intern in the 1970’s under the guidance of chain-smoking, tough-as-nails environmental bulldogs Flo Brodie and Jack Davis. Sadly, they are both long gone, but all of us owe a huge debt of gratitude to them for stopping an industrial logging export facility from being built right next to the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.

Blessings to Flo and Jack and to those young and very much alive activists who point out that earth and climate justice are the same thing as racial and social justice.

Home for the Holidays

Re-friend your people on Facebook. Make peace with your uncles, cousins, and former classmates who have posted hateful things that resulted in you tossing them off your friend list.

My cousin Bill posts pictures of guns and voices wildly different perspectives from my own. I once came close to unfriending him—but I resisted because I love him so much. I’ve discovered that arguing back in a clear, kind way actually results in him moderating his position a bit. I should ask him if he ever stops himself from posting something because he thinks of me. Probably not. But I know I think about what he’s going to say when I post certain things—and part of me can hardly wait.

I know you don’t want to re-friend your “cousin Bill.” Do it anyway because if you don’t argue back then we will all end up living in thicker bubbles among the dwindling pool of people who agree with us on everything. This trend toward isolation and intolerance of any view different from our own cannot end well.

Merry Christmas

Dig a little deeper into the story of Christmas and reflect on refugees past and present. Find ways to make it clear refugees are welcome here. Capitol_protest_Tyra

A small crowd gathered at the capitol the other day to express the opposite. They howled “Refugees are NOT welcome here.” I went to the counter-protest to see if I could persuade the people holding “Vets Before Refugees” signs to reconsider this us vs. them thing. I told them that I agreed that we have done a terrible job caring for returning vets. In the above photo captured by the Tacoma News Tribune, I was pointing to a vet’s Union Gospel Mission patch. He said he worked there. “Then you have experience working with folks who are caught in the crossfire of life circumstances. That’s gotta give you some sympathy for the Syrian war refugees, right?” We might have continued that conversation, but the rally organizer came over to hiss “Terrorists are embedded with those refugees.” She was not budging on that point. There was nothing more I could say.

The Syrian refugees are not terrorists. They need a home. I was taught that Mary and Joseph were refugees too. If we cannot learn some lessons from 2,015 years ago, what’s the point of celebrating the birth of that famous baby?

Joy to the World

Be happy for the liberation of yourself and others.

As difficult as these times are, I find joy in movements organizing for justice. Black Lives Matter to me as a white person because I want to live in a world where African Americans and have equal access to the same things that have brought me comfort, happiness, and peace. It is not asking too much because it can be done.

I recently joined Olympia SURJ and follow the leadership of Full Circle United as they direct me to take action. Find the group that is organizing in your town. Bring joy to your life and to the lives of everyone around you.

Silent Night

Rest and be well.

At times, I am shaken awake long past midnight by fear and worry. When that happens, I take a deep breath. And listen to the silence. Some nights I get up and creep outside to be in the stillness—the quiet darkness. We are all loved by the silent night. Be at peace. All is well.