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Change yourself to change the world. Keep it personal today. (Horoscope for Taurus, February 25)

I usually read my horoscope in the daily newspaper, not because it rules my day. I’m curious. Sometimes the advice is so vague it could fit any situation; other times it fits in an odd serendipitous way—like accidentally opening a how-to book to the right page—without effort.

Last night my husband and I went to a fun, well-attended family wedding. I noticed we were seated at a table with relatives who have polar political views. Yet, we did not discuss them. We shared our love for one another. Our lives as they are. I felt blessed. When we separated, I experienced a sense of loss, a longing to see these good people again as soon as possible.

If we had delved into our differences, I suspect the bond could have been tested. The differences need mending. Among families and in the world. However, the breaks can’t be healed in a single discussion. They can’t be adjusted within the us-versus-them void.

Have I changed my mind about laws that affect the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized? Absolutely not. That does not mean I need to react with name-calling. What I say reflects who I am. May the power of the written and spoken word add healing, not pain. Eventually…

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Right now, I am trying to be in a place of calm, a place where I can chill out and then handle the chaos of life better. You don’t just get it overnight; you have to work at it. It’s a daily struggle. (Jackée Harry)

I have a bookcase, better described as cheap than inexpensive. It is a strictly functional piece. The back is as thin as a pizza box and leaves some shelves open, vulnerable. Perhaps, a dark wall showing through would make a nice decorative touch. However, my office also serves as a toy room. (Stuffed cow, twin watering cans, and children’s books get the sturdier case.) The room’s ambience has a more turned-over toy box look than showroom feel.

Items from my shelf frequently fall out against the wall. However, an old phone book has dropped from the top and set off an avalanche. Books, papers, and notebooks followed like sheep to slaughter.

Okay, I guess it’s time to organize. Not reorganize. Most of my life is filed under miscellaneous.

First, I empty the bookcase and place it against the desk instead of the wall. If my system doesn’t work, escaped items can be retrieved under the desk. As backup I have a stack of magazines in the way—to protect computer wires. Yes, someday I’ll get a nicer bookshelf. For now, I’ll deal with what I have. I’m satisfied with functional.

Each stack of items becomes less defined in the small area. How did all this fit in one bookcase to begin with? Ooh!  Sun Magazine. Did I finish reading this July article? I am hesitant to throw away my favorite periodicals. Focus, Terry, focus.

Somewhere in the chaos I find the manuscript for an unpublished story I wrote fourteen years ago, not bad, but it needs editing and development. Time to keep on trucking—continue to steps two and three. In the present, possibilities to follow.

I think about real life, how much I’d like to tackle the whole of a world situation, settle it. Now. I can only send out a pebble onto the water and let the ripples flow. Toward justice, peace, recognition of all people.  I pick up one item in my mess and face my limits as well as my strengths. The existence of a flaw does not deny a talent. For anyone.

The three photos of my mundane work space below combine to show art coming from chaos. In this picture, a MiFrame program did most of the work. In the everyday, it isn’t as easy.

I see you; you see me. As we are. We grow from there.

organizing

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (Albert Einstein)

My sacred agenda is being tested. The sky is blue and the outside temperature holds in the low sixties—for a few hours anyway. My husband and I plan to explore a new subdivision in the neighborhood, to see how many new homes have sprung-up, while we enjoy spring in February.

And my mate is taking a lot longer to get ready than I expected. I tend to take on a little too much and move as if I were rushing out of a burning building. He enjoys the spontaneity possible in retirement.

Finally…finally we set out—at least an hour later than I wanted. However, he must have been listening to angel time. I was deifying my plans.

In the new development, Jay and I meet an incredible couple who are also walking along a cul-de-sac toward the back of the newer section. Three lots display sold signs; each area has not yet been excavated.

M and D will be moving into the neighborhood next week. They are much younger than we are. Nevertheless, we share common interests with them. I am buoyed by their capacity to actively care for others. Their church, close to the poorest areas of the city, assists the homeless.

“What items do you need most?” I ask.

“Socks and gloves,” M answers.

I remember a pair of socks we received in the mail as a gift after donating to an Indian foundation. I have never worn the socks because they don’t match anything I own.  A thought crosses my mind. Obviously, I have more than I need.

I have two more pair of socks that have never been worn, as well as red gloves I’ve been saving for that day when one of my old-faithful-pink-knitted-bargain-store specials, falls from my pocket and finds its way under the tires of a truck in a parking lot. 

The items are not as thick as I would like them to be. Maybe they would be useful in layers. I suspect the church will accept cash for whatever their ministry needs.

“I’ll drop some things off at your house after you move in,” I say. “And just leave a bag outside.”

Perhaps we will see M and D again after I drop off a bag or two. Maybe not. Either way, these two people were blessings.

I forgot about all the miscellaneous chores that were so essential a few hours earlier, and I focused on ways I could help someone else. Sure, the laundry can’t wait forever, but a rinse cycle that begins a few hours late won’t delay the world’s spin on its axis.

Something or someone? I’m grateful for the difference.

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Joy is the simplest form of gratitude. (Karl Barth)

Today is Groundhog’s Day, although the critter isn’t on my mind as I drive a familiar route home. The sun is out. Six weeks until spring—or six times seven days of winter, however you want to look at it. Essentially, the cold doesn’t last forever. Nothing does.

Right now, I look at the strong contrast between blue and shadow. I think about hope and try to see its expression in nature, in recent events. Not many of those moments fit into the world scene, although a few examples of courage stand out, people risking high-ranking positions to protect folk ousted because of prejudice, fear, hate.

In my middle-grade fantasies I write about good being stronger than evil. (The first book came out in 2015; the second should appear in May.) In the real world, I pray for awareness. How do I find it and stay with its power? Good can only be strong when it shines past the gray, inside the gray, despite the gray.

Tomorrow, or at any moment, the dullness can reappear. I celebrate the temporary and all that leads to gratitude.

I’m home before I realize my car is in the driveway. My gratitude list is not yet completed…

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If we all do one random act of kindness daily, we just might set the world in the right direction. (Martin Kornfeld)

At water aerobics, I decide not to use water weights, even a lighter set. Yes, physical therapy has brought enormous improvement. However, I feel twinges, minor muscle pulls warning more pain, and decide to stop while I’m ahead. I’ll do the exercises my therapist gave me later, with deep breaths, seeing all as well—even if that wellness only lasts until the next news broadcast.

Another member of the class asks if I want a set of weights. I tell her why I’m abstaining today. She is relatively new to the class, and exudes a gentle friendliness. When we meet, we smile at one another as if we’ve been friends for years.

“I’ll pray for you,” she says.

I’m surprised by her response. After all, I am basically okay, almost-there recovery-wise. Yet, she offers concern on a spiritual level. A blessed presence.

“Thanks,” I respond. “That means a lot to me.”

Later, dinner has ended and dishes are washed, although there are other chores that swim through my head as the wash machine heads toward a final spin. I work on manuscript edits. I wonder if my head is moving faster than the whirl in the basement.

Then I hear a soft ping on my laptop. A message. From Cecelia, my almost-daughter-in-law. How are you? The chores will wait. She genuinely cares. Perhaps we will chat for only a few minutes. Then again, we may converse for an hour. It has happened before.

The everyday has been interrupted by another everyday experience—a simple reaching out, an act of love.

The state of the world has not changed. The state of the moment has. May this moment weave beauty into the next, with enough strength to defy the ugliness. May I work toward peace and not return hate with any of hate’s relatives, subtle or blatant.

 

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Acceptance and tolerance and forgiveness, those are life-altering lessons.  (Jessica Lange)

Today’s blog is the longest I have ever posted. Yet only this introductory paragraph comes from me. Kelsey Timmerman wrote the rest of it; I copied it verbatim with his permission. If you come from a different political platform, please hold on until the end. The purpose is not primarily political. It is human. Step into someone else’s shoes—at least for a few minutes. Peace, upon all:

…”I hated them because they voted for a man who I despised because of his hate speech. I hated hate so I hated and hated myself for hating.”

I wrote this piece on my blog after the election. Sharing again here on inauguration day:

THANKS FOR THE INSPIRATION, DONALD TRUMP. LET’S GET TO WORK.

There are a lot of reasons I didn’t want Donald J. Trump to be our next president, but there is one reason (and probably only one) that I’m glad he won.

The night of the election, I went to a watch party hosted at The Downtown Farm Stand. Gary Younge from the Guardian was there too. (Can you get more liberal than drinking organic beer and eating organic free-range, potato chips with your GMO-free friends, including a reporter from The Guardian? Probably not.) Like everyone else we expected to watch the election of the first female president. I can’t say I was a vigorous supporter of Hillary Clinton (there’s something rather unappealing about political dynasties), but earlier that day when I cast a vote for her I did get the “feels.” I have a daughter and if her fascination with burping and farting ever goes away, I’d like to think she could have any job, including President of the United States.

At the party, I thought, “If Trump did happen to win by some miracle, I’ll be more inspired than ever to get busy on my personal work and my work with The Facing Project connecting people through stories to strengthen community.”

At 9:30 PM it was obvious that Clinton was in trouble. The myth of the “silent Trump” voter was a reality. I stayed up until 3AM. I watched President-elect Trump’s victory speech. I felt like someone had died.

I had solid reasons to feel this way:

Since I’m a freelance troublemaker, we get our insurance through the ACA healthcare exchange. I have an autistic son who receives more than $100K of therapy each year. If/when President Trump repeals Obamacare, will a private insurance company outside the exchange insure us with Griffin’s “preexisting condition?” Or will we have to end therapy altogether?

Then there is Trump…

Did I mention I have a son with disabilities?

There’s the rhetoric of hate, fear, and misogyny. But I don’t want to write about all the reasons President Trump scares the shit out of me and makes me disappointed for our country, and how I feel for anyone that’s been labeled an outsider or other by the creepy nationalistic vibe that he represents. I want to write about how his being elected has inspired me more than ever to build empathy through stories.

On Wednesday I mourned. I skipped my morning workout and zombie-like drove Griffin to preschool. As I moved through the day, I’d see people and speculate that they voted for Trump on the smallest detail–what they wore, what they drove, facial hair. I was prejudging everyone and once I determined that they were a Trump voter, I hated them. I hated them because they voted for a man who I despised because of his hate speech. I hated hate so I hated and hated myself for hating.

On Thursday I was giving a talk at Northern Kentucky University. First year students at NKU read Where Am I Eating? as a common read. I had decided to make the talk entirely about the election and not mention our election once.

I told the story of a family who lived in the Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi Kenya. After a disputed election in 2008, violence spilled out across Kenya. The losing party was protesting the results of the election in which a candidate of the Luo tribe lost to a candidate from the Kikuyu tribe. Luo protestors went door-to-door in Mathare Valley and asked questions in their native tongue. If their questions couldn’t be answered, they killed all those inside. Shaddy Hopkid Marsha, the middle brother of the family, spoke both languages. He gathered up his neighbors and hid them inside his shanty. He answered the questions. He saved the lives of his neighbors.

“How many houses, dorm rooms, apartments, do you have to go from your home until you don’t know the names of the people who live there?” I asked the students and myself.

I shared a story about standing outside of a mosque in Bangladesh while men in prayer robes poured out. This was 2007, and, as much as I liked to think that the constant barrage of “fear the Muslims” in our media and society hadn’t sunk in, it had. My heart beat faster. I was nervous that if they knew I were an American, they wouldn’t like me. I was afraid. But then I spent then next month hanging out with people…people who were Muslim. They were amazing.

“How can we fear people who we’ve never met?” I asked the students and myself.

I shared Amilcar Lozano‘s story. Amilcar left his job as a garment worker in Honduras and risked his life to come to the United States where he works today supporting his family in a way he couldn’t if he were actually with them. No matter where you are on the immigration debate, you can appreciate the sacrifice Amilcar made for his family and the courage it took to make his journey.

“When we start with stories instead of politics and ideology, we can have a conversation with anyone regardless of what political team they are on or who they voted for,” I told the students and myself.

I talked about knowing our neighbors, listening to them, not fearing people we don’t know, and about the responsibility we all have to use our own privilege and opportunity to help others.

It felt so damn good not to hate. It felt good to take positive action to make a difference instead of complaining about things I couldn’t control.

On Saturday, the Facing Racism Project in Muncie project shared 38 stories of people in our community who had a racism story to be told. The event sold out in a matter of days. I’m the co-founder of The Facing Project, a nationwide nonprofit storytelling initiative that seeks to build empathy, and I was also a writer and a part of the planning committee for the project.

The stories reminded us all how far we’ve come as a society, yet how very far we have to go. To collect the stories, volunteer writers sat with volunteer storytellers to listen and collaborate on each story, and actors brought the stories to life. Well over 100 people were involved in the project.

The participants and the audience reminded me that there are people who are willing to sit and listen to difficult subjects. There are people who are willing to connect with people who are different than them.

After the election, we didn’t wake up in a different country. This is our country. If you were surprised by the results like I was, we obviously weren’t listening to other people enough. We let our politics and our politicians divide us. We need to connect and seek to understand those who have different opinions than us.

Universities, bless their souls, are providing safe places for students to mourn the election results. I’ll give you Wednesday. Wednesday I needed a safe place to just not do Wednesday, so I stayed home as much as possible. But Thursday? We don’t need quiet places to be alone, we need to be meeting people, getting engaged with all parts of our community and not just people who look, think, and act like us.

I will make this important caveat though: I understand why certain people are afraid of a Trump presidency. They are afraid of being deported, having a loved one being deported, being rounded up into an internment camp, of being unmarried to a loved one, of not being able to afford health insurance. Those of us who are less impacted by the possibilities listed above need to be there for the groups of people who feel like they may lose rights or be discriminated against. We need to listen to them and stand with them.

We also need to listen to the people who voted for Trump. I have loved ones who I believe are some of the best damn people on the planet and they voted for Trump. I side with Jon Stewart on this.

Here’s what he had to say to Charlie Rose recently:

“I thought Donald Trump disqualified himself at numerous points. But there is now this idea that anyone who voted for him has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric. Like, there are guys in my neighborhood that I love, that I respect, that I think have incredible qualities who are not afraid of Mexicans, and not afraid of Muslims, and not afraid of blacks. They’re afraid of their insurance premiums. In the liberal community, you hate this idea of creating people as a monolith. Don’t look at Muslims as a monolith. They are the individuals and it would be ignorance. But everybody who voted for Trump is a monolith, is a racist. That hypocrisy is also real in our country.”

We fear what we don’t know. When we don’t know our neighbors, we fear them.

We all need to listen to each other and have empathy for one another. This election has reminded me of that and that the work that I do and the work of The Facing Project is more important than ever. I hope you have similar work to pour yourself into that isn’t just a Facebook post, or a Change.org petition, or protesting. Those things are fine, but if you really want to make an impact, you need to go beyond being against things and work on the things you are for. You need to become part of the community out your actual front door.

If you aren’t sure what to do and want to build empathy story by story, The Facing Project needs volunteer coaches and editors. We also need resources–you can donate here to the Building Empathy Story by Story campaign – http://give.classy.org/empathy .

Since the election, I’ve completed the first draft of a book proposal and shipped it off to JL Stermer–another global quest–and feel absolutely reinvigorated and as passionate as ever toward my work with The Facing Project.

And for that I’m thankful. It’s not a new world. It’s the same world and this election has been a reminder we still have a lot of work to do.

photos taken from Facing Project web page, highlighted with Word tools

A team studies possible approaches in the top photo. Autistic children celebrate who they are in the lower pic.

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Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

I am in a small circle of friends, sixteen people today. We have religious roots. Some of us cling to them more than others. However, dogma doesn’t come up in our sharing. It is secondary. Spirituality, how-we-live, is another matter. One woman in our group has brought her daughter and six-month-old grandson.

As expected, he steals the show. I pull out my iPad to sneak a picture as he points to the words in a songbook. However, my library of photos is overfull. No picture happens. A message appears: Go to settings and… This moment will need to stay in my memory. Perhaps, even better, I will need to find meaning in what is happening now, over and beyond a cute pic.

I consider the baby’s innocence. As we sing, share, pray, he brightens even more, his sweet smile blessing all of us. We discourage political discussion—particularly in depth—less as a set rule than as a directive. We are on the same page politically anyway. Rants prove nothing. We try to work toward peace, toward being peace.

Quiet acceptance and encouragement refreshes my spirit. I suspect baby felt that presence long before I did. It allowed him to goo and coo his acceptance of the much older folk in the circle.

Yes, prejudice and hate masquerade as virtues: taking a few incidents and calling limited evidence the whole, posing as victim. However, pointing out another person’s flaws rarely helps. Most folk have an instant defense system. Closed ears, open mouth, or both.

Now, how to love in a world where hate is the norm? That question may take more than a lifetime or two to answer.

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photo taken from my iPad (Yes, I finally accomplished that small challenge.)

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