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Posts Tagged ‘intangible gifts’

Sometimes the best wisdom and advice comes through the simple purity of a child. They don’t see the world as complicated as adults do. (Nishan Panwar)

Dakota and I set up a ramp for his cars in the living room. Since the action tends to include a lot of collision and upside-down accidents, an on-site mechanic becomes necessary. I have the six-year old man for the job.

While his work is magically quick, he doesn’t have a concept of money yet. His bill for removing a nail in my vehicle’s tire is $300. True, the bill includes a heart and secret code, DN. Dependable NASCAR grease monkey? I don’t ask. The F and heart placed together definitely don’t require mentioning. Besides, Dakota accepts invisible cash.

Later, we take turns as airplane pilot. The plane is the couch. Take-off begins in recliner mode. Believable or not, I’ll take it.

“How far are we going this trip, captain?” I ask.

“Twenty miles,” he answers. “And it will take twenty hours.”

“Okay,” I reply, then call back to our ever-changing number of passengers to buckle their seatbelts. My belly laugh remains inside, saved for later. For now, levity heals any lingering abdominal pain.

“I love you, little buddy,” I finally get a chance to say. He doesn’t need to answer back. His grin is enough response. I’ll go back to grownup mode in a few hours—with just a little bit more energy to face the ugly places.

 

 

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There is always more goodness in the world than there appears to be, because goodness is of its very nature modest and retiring. (Evelyn Beatrice Hall, biographer, 1868-1956) 

Since I have three granddaughters, stuffed animals, dolls, and plastic dishes rule our toy room. Dakota needs some male space. We go to a local discount store to find the first installment on a transition toward a more balanced collection. I can’t afford renovation. Gradual change is more fun for a little person anyway because our one male child is in on it.

As Dakota places his five-dollar car purchase on the counter, he smiles. The cashier responds. “Okay if I give you a hug?”

My little guy looks confused, his eyes searching his hairline, but he accepts the quick squeeze. He has no idea how much charm he emanates. Since I am present, I suspect he knows the cashier’s gesture is okay.

Dakota and I arrive home and create a mini traffic world. Up and down the grass outside, on the rug in the living room. Life is contained and uncomplicated—at least for a while.

Later, I smile as I think about how fortunate I am that this little man came into my life—a future step grandson.

The news repeats the same stories in an endless loop. Rationalizations for maintaining the status quo continue. The word change becomes a platitude, no more than a vague promise hidden behind plans for the wealthy to grow richer and stronger.

The world needs more than any one voice to discover answers. Argument is counterproductive. The world could use more people who give a gosh-darn for more than themselves. Political motivation gets in the way. Forget party affiliation; look at what is happening to human beings—everywhere. Simple, not easy.

In the meantime, beauty lives hidden within places that keep the spirit alive. In the nonjudgmental acceptance of a child, in the presence of each day, in genuine friendship, in the ability to continue to give.

Peace, upon all.

My little man likes to clean. He is cleaning our coffee table and dusting pictures.

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The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal. (Aristotle)

Monday’s focus: the eclipse across the United States. Nature’s rare event preempts hate broadcasted in a continuous loop—at least for a while. The moment was so brief many of the clickable links have already been removed.

I had appointments during show time, so I look for photos taken by other people, extend that moment and revel in it.

The shadows. Conquering real-life human darkness remains.

Us and them.

Blame taken to blind extremes.

If taken literally, of course all lives matter. However, the notion bypasses struggle that doesn’t fit the whole. Equal as human beings? Yes, we are—in universal acceptance of that fact, no. The privileged don’t need to fight for privilege.

In several different groups, the same topic comes up, and I wonder if it is a divine accident. As friends, the people in these groups trust one another. We talk about both understanding and misunderstanding in the nitty-gritty of the everyday. The blatant and the subtle, the repercussions. The details of our sharing can’t be spread in a public blog. The common human threads can.

The moon and the sun aligned this week. May the people who rely on Mother Nature, eventually, join as family.

(pic: made from public domain photos)

 

 

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

Ella is excited. We are meeting her daddy for lunch. Even in play she lowers her voice as she goes off to an imaginary workplace. She is the daddy. He is her introduction to words—she has been reading for several years now. He is her fun. Daddy makes her laugh and lets her know she is important, no matter how many challenges she needs to overcome. 

Two uncles are joining us. An all-around special day. The uncles have taken a wrong turn and need directions, so Daddy steps outside to help them by phone. Ella sees a man, alone, waiting for a table.

“Hi,” she says, and within minutes the man has a friend.

The talk seems general at first, as Ella chats about Daddy, chicken and fries, and games. I join in, obviously pleased with my granddaughter. Then the man shows us a picture on his phone of his twenty-five-year-old son.

Like our granddaughter, he has Down syndrome.

I ask about him and get a mini version of his journey, yet never learn either of their names. They are gifts Ella found—or intuited. I don’t know. I’d like to learn more, gather father and son as friends, treasures. Instead the moment becomes a single valuable pearl to savor and remember.

Sometimes higher ranked gifts come wrapped in an innocent hello, meant to be passed on—as far as possible, into the lives of other people.

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My grandchildren are fabulous and funny. (Erica Jong)

Nine-year-old Rebe (Rebecca) announces that it is time to play. Her tone suggests Grandma hasn’t been feeling well and needs more entertainment and less work. At the same time, she is here to entertain and be entertained. It’s the nature of the grandparent/grandchild relationship.

Imagination explodes through these small rooms as Rebe and thirteen-year-old Kate feed off one idea after another.

“I’m getting married,” Rebe announces.

She’s marrying a famous film star Kate suggests. However, Rebe constantly calls him by the wrong name, Ansel.

“You’re marrying someone, and don’t know his name?” I ask.

“That’s okay. I’ll just call him sweetie.”

She leaves the room to hunt for bridal gowns—at a local dollar outlet.

On the offbeat wedding day with the famous-actor-without-an-identity groom. Kate and Rebe design the veil: a shawl, held securely on her head with a pair of antediluvian white cotton underwear.

Then, seconds after Rebe removes the bridal dress, one of my white t-shirts, she is ready to deliver her first child. Or rather fifteen babies.

I don’t have anywhere near that many dolls and stuffed animals. Our fertile mama’s hyperbole delivery lowers to ten infants. Kate improvises the last child. She designs a creature from some of my summer clothes, and a pillow, held together with an Ace wrap and stretch band, with a toy Dora, the Explorer backpack head.

My grandchildren’s ingenuity can’t stay wrapped around pillows and scattered across the floor as make-believe infants forever. However, I celebrate this moment and cough through laughs.

No life is perfect. Illness, as well as problems both personal and world-wide, interfere and must be faced. Yet, beauty is not dead. I see it in two pair of bright eyes and hear it in two young voices.

I can echo Erica Jong: my grandchildren are mighty fabulous and funny, too. And I am grateful.

 

 

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What can go wrong will go wrong. (Murphy’s Law)

My computer is unplugged. Temporarily. A few minutes. No more. Its battery is at 69%. I checked two seconds ago. Then, the screen goes as dead as the inside of a serial killer’s conscience. The blackout has just destroyed 83 pages of edits.

On my final manuscript.

Scheduled to go to my publisher.

Today.

Yes, I do know how to write complete sentences. However, under the circumstances, my mind isn’t thinking in complete thoughts, especially as I realize the do-you-want-to-recover document I was editing contains an uncorrected way-too-common phrase I changed on page one.

And, no, I did not wait hours before hitting save. The save button would have a hole in if it were made of any earth material—including diamond.

Glitch two—some missed connection with my new Microsoft Word. No-o-o, a two-letter word that now has at least ten syllables.

Time to breathe before starting over. Two friends help make that happen, Ann and Shannon. They are coming for lunch and a personal concert. Fortunately, lunch has been prepared ahead. Simple. Homemade soup and tossed salad. Bagged tortilla chips. These two women appreciate. Excess is unnecessary.

Ann is blind. I pick her up from home and lead her up the steps leading to our house. She has no difficulty finding her way. Her sunshine greeting, light coming from her spirit, encourages me.

I realize there is no way I could have started over on my manuscript in a milieu of internal darkness. Shannon is already at the house and she is talking to Jay. Her laughter greets us as we enter the house.

We begin our afternoon with music. Neither of my friends could come to the Get Lit Festival last Saturday sponsored by Post Mortem Press. (Lit refers to Literature, not buzzed.) Local artists and writers brought their art to sell. I read a short section from my next middle-grade urban fantasy. I also played and sang three songs.

Nathan Singer from the Whiskey Shambles, rocked the program. He has an established following.

However, Ann and Shannon cheer as I play two songs on my guitar—just for them. Jay claps as well, even though he has heard my music so often, I close the door so he can concentrate on something else, anything else. A song may be incredible, but any sound repeated 7, 468 times requires ear canals as calloused as my fingertips. It’s called survival.

My heart lightens by the time I get back to start-over mode. And that is valuable because one beat after I get to the last page, Murphy’s Law shows up again. The computer freezes. Donkey-stubborn, won’t-get-out-of-bed, it refuses to budge.

My unprintable response remains in my husband’s and my memory since the computer is comatose now. It couldn’t hear if it were a living being anyway. Moreover, I reserve questionable language for the computer. I reboot the gosh-darned thing and pray my story has lived.

Trembling, I consider one of the last changes I made. Perhaps one of the angels my friends left in the house is present because I remember two edits. They are both intact.

Bye-bye, manuscript. Have a good time being formatted into a fantasy kids can enjoy where the good guys win. And hello, real life. No, I did not use the hammer or axe on my computer. The old thing will, however, be replaced. My birthday present from Jay.

After all, the innate beauty in life returns. Eventually. Murphy’s Law never destroys goodness completely.

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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.

kelseys-post-hatred-is-not-the-answer

 

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