20th Anniversary, Week 20 in the Time of Transition

I’m teary this weekend.  It’s hard to watch the news because my mind pivots to the many clients who spoke of their losses the days, months, and years post-9/11.  As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, those of us who remember can clearly recall the exact circumstances when we witnessed or heard of the attacks.  I am one of the fortunate who worked downtown, but I had taken the day off to attend a seminar.  I never worked in the World Trade Center, but our social service center had a direct view.  There were so many other stories like that of those who for unforetold circumstances were not in the towers when they fell.  

I was out of social work school for three years when the planes crashed.  Having had training in trauma, but not much experience, I was asked to work with employees in companies who were downtown. It was a quick, intensive training on mental health first response.  I had the privilege of listening to individual stories in a new chapter in tragically disrupted lives.  Each person I heard had so much courage. They came from all walks of life surviving while countless loved ones, coworkers, colleagues, and others did not make it.  

I recall the kindness and caring that New Yorkers shared.  There was a common grace for others.  Sadly, I also remember the fear from Muslim friends and those from the Middle East who were harshly judged, misunderstood, or seen as the enemy.  Their love of our shared country unacknowledged.  On the one hand there were so many acts of kindness.  On the other hand, there was so much blame going around.  

So much sadness, so much anxiety.  Both defined the days and months that followed.

  

Post-trauma can alter our nervous systems.  Twenty years later we’re all familiar with that.  The last eighteen months have played havoc on our nervous systems.  Sometimes we are upset or act out which then affects others who are in a vulnerable state, and on it goes.    

It’s a challenge to give someone else the benefit of the doubt when there is so little room to accept our own confused emotions.  With practice we have a bit more patience, a bit more benevolence to get through these days without rushing to judgement of ourselves and others.  I cried today.  I could have gone on the defensive.  Well, I did for a bit, then I cried some more, understanding that vulnerability was the strength I needed to harness rather than residing in a distrustful stance.  So many moments leading to big changes. 

  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When you react with anger, impatience or in an accusatory manner, take a moment to ask yourself what might be going on.  Then, if you’re able, see if there’s something you can do to care for yourself.  Perhaps a few minutes to regroup. 
  • Stretch.  It’s easy. And it can help to move to the next moment with ease.  
  • Read a child’s book or poem aloud.  Read it in a voice other than your own.  Being silly and indulging in play is a mood changer.  

Happy Pride! Week Nine in the Time of Coronavirus

Happy Pride Day.  Today our trans son is celebrating.  24 years ago we unwittingly scheduled our wedding on Pride Day.  Some friends fittingly missed our straight wedding to celebrate their identity while they marched for their rights.  Others gay friends were generous to give up their place in the parade to witness our wedding.  And everyone had to deal with the traffic that was rerouted to accommodate the crowds and the parade.  Larry and I realized then the privilege we enjoyed by being able to get married in 1997.   

The world has come a long way since then.  It took another 14 years for same sex marriage to be legalized in New York state.  Yet in many ways we have a long way to go.  I see this as Alex enjoys the freedom to be himself among his friends, however, he gets judged in others’ company.  Not all, but some. 

When I was young, I naively believed love would heal all.  I am a true believer in love.  And I believe we all have the right to love.  But healing often takes love, respect, compassion, listening, non-judgement, hard work, and much more.  Love can be a foundation for change, but it’s not a one-word solution. 

I hope I see a time when all will enjoy the undeniable rights of living freely in an accepting world.  One in which expression and personal sovereignty are available to all.   

Self-Care Tips

  • Take an action for pride month in a way that supports LGBTQIA movements, organizations, groups or individuals
  • Celebrate summer.  Eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, have a BBQ, take a nature walk, or enjoy summer in any way that you like. 
  • Enjoy a summer nap.  There’s nothing like taking a break in the heat of summer. 

How Are You? Week 55 in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s a rainy Sunday, overcast and wet outside.  I ventured out early to capture the sunrise on the East River, instead I was welcomed with grey clouds and mist.  Beautiful in its subtly, but not as majestic as even a partially cloudy day.  A day like today can be difficult for those going through hardships, the bereaved, the infirmed, caregivers, those suffering from mental illness, parents with young children, parents with older children, the lonely, and anyone else who is dealing with their own life struggles.  One of the worst questions, yet most often asked is, “How are you?”  How do we answer that in a pandemic?  

When we ask, “How are you?” we see the slight hesitation before the respondent says, “Fine.” The habitual question and answer are from pre-pandemic times.  It’s automatic, but not current.  I make mistakes from time to time and ask how someone is doing.  I then double back, and qualify it by inquiring, “How are you given the pandemic?”  At least then I’m acknowledging some hardship in our present reality.  Nonetheless, the question remains flawed.  Perhaps we can find other ways to connect.  

We can ask “What’s new?”  I’m joking.  What’s really new when we’re still socially distanced?  I’m more inclined to ask, “What are you reading?” “What are you watching?”  “What are you enjoying these days?”  “Do you cook or order in?”  “Anything you can recommend?” I ask all of these to assess how my friends, colleagues, and family are doing.  

I remember a neighbor who used to ask how I was.  I’d always say, “fine.”  However, her ask was more of an invitation to ask her how she was.  When she answered she was long-winded.  It surpassed the parameters of polite neighbor banter, and leapt into intrusive and annoying.  Needless to say, I smile politely when I see her now, but I pass by quickly with no curiosity of her state of being.  I merely feel relief that I dodged her socially-inappropriate bullet.  Maybe we all feel a sigh of relief for the absence of similar encounters. 

How are we?  We’re tired, we’re grateful, we’re sad, we’re joyful, we’re frustrated, we’re patient, we’re absentminded, we’re mindful, we’re angry and we’re peaceful.  It’s a veritable bouillabaisse of emotions.  Perhaps no different than pre-2020, but probably more noticeable than in our recent pasts.  Even so, we may not be able to tease out one feeling from another at any given moment.  So please refrain from asking, “How are you?”   

Self-Care Tips:

  • When speaking to someone, rather than asking them how they are, try another question or phrase.  You could say, “Good to speak with you, or see you.”  Or “Tell me what bores you these days?” 
  • Write lists and cross off items as needed.  We’ve been forgetting things, so writing lists help us to see what to do, and what we can forget about doing.  
  • Watch “In and Of Itself.”  It’s a magical theatrical performance now available on Hulu.  
  • Be silly. 
  • Find an app like www.myfridgefood.com to make quick, easy recipes for ingredients already in your pantry and refrigerator.  

What We Don’t Know, Week 45 in the Time of Coronavirus

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure that the judge I watched numerous times on Law and Order was Fran Lebowitz.  It looked like her, but was she a doppelganger, or was she, in fact, the writer?  After watching “Pretend it’s a City,” Martin Scorsese’s excellent (in my opinion) docu-series of Fran Lebowitz, I was happy to learn that, yes, it was her as Judge Janice Goldberg in the original Law & Order. 

The short series on Netflix was a delightful, laughter-filled escape from current events this past week.  I learned a lot, evaluated my own thinking, and admired FL’s ability to speak her personal truths, thoughts I often have, but don’t share aloud.  Somehow the cable show also had me pondering on the wonder of all I don’t know.  I’m not even sure how I arrived at that thought trend, but once there, my mind wandered endlessly to all that is yet to be explored.  I’m not speaking of subjects that vaguely interest me, but not enough to occupy my time, like physics or economics.  I’ll leave that to the experts. Then I’ll simply read their selective theories.  I’m more thinking about what curiosities I can discover in a day, or in a new place, or with those who think differently than myself.  Am I willing to let go enough to be in awe of the newness of an experience, much like a young child?  I’m willing to try.  I’ll see how it goes.  If nothing else, I’ll learn more about my curiosity or lack thereof.  

I can’t say I was in child-like wonderment whilst I tried to learn two new computer programs today.  It was more like initial confusion followed by adult frustration.  My curiosity quickly morphed into baffled exasperation.   Though I wasn’t as open as I would have liked, I was able to marvel at my reaction, and my limited ability to take in perplexing information.  I will try again briefly today, but it appears I need more time and energy to learn these programs.  May I say that the tutorials for both wrongly claim the ease in which one can get them up and running.  What I didn’t fully appreciate before is that I cannot rely on old knowledge to magically create aptitude for new skills.

It helped to admit that I couldn’t figure out how to launch the programs. Though I was hoping not being able to master the first program, I could figure out the second one.  Not having the bandwidth to take in anything new happens more now in the pandemic.  And, if that’s not enough, even old facts leave me with limited mental access.  If I once knew something but can’t recall it at a particular time, I’m more embarrassed than if I never knew it at all.  Or, if I am familiar with a topic, but know no specifics about said topic, I’ve been reluctant to admit that.  I am happy to eschew that behavior by proudly admitting all I don’t know.  I certainly don’t know how this will go, but I’m curious to find out.  In the meantime, I’ll reread Fran Lebowitz’s essays.

  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Admit that you don’t know something. It’s better to learn by not knowing than to be uncertain of what you might know.  
  • Make room for making mistakes, it’s bound to happen, and it helps us grow.  
  • Shape recommendations or suggestions to accommodate your life rather than shaping your world to acclimate to specific advice. 
  • Watch Netflix’s “Pretend it’s a City,” or something else true to your sense of humor.  
  • Place a light fragrance on your wrist, sniff it periodically, to get you through tough times. 

Blog Break

 

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I wasn’t planning on taking a break from my blog, but that’s what happened. I’m glad I took this break. I’ve needed a breather in general for a while, and the blog was just a part of what I needed to put aside. I enjoy writing, but I noticed something as the weeks went by without penning a word. I noticed that I felt relieved at times, and frustrated at other times. Same circumstances, different responses.

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As the weeks went by I started criticizing myself. I was hard on myself for not writing even as other obligations loomed large. I’d think,  “If I don’t write on a regular basis it’s predictive of not publishing later.” I questioned myself. “Could my attention on family and professional training simply be an excuse?” Of course it can. Or, more likely, it’s the choice I’m making at this time.

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We all make choices. And each choice excludes another. To spend more time with family I give up writing. To choose a concert this summer I give up going out this weekend. To work more I give up a cleaner home. To write this I give up some sleep. We make choices large and small every day.   Tonight I chose to write this short piece. And tomorrow? We’ll I guess I’ll see what choices I make and how they translate.

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One imperative option is to take a break from self-criticism. Whether I have a blog post or I skip it, I am doing the best I can, as we all are.

 

 

 

 

Paris Burning

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As I pondered what to write I heard about the terrorist attacks, as we all had.   It’s so sad and tragic. What more can be said? It’s hard to imagine the mentality that focuses so hard to harm so many people in Paris, in Syria and throughout the world.

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The one thing that did come from the Paris terrorist attacks is that we are not thinking of terrorism as something that takes place in far-off places. So many of us have a connection to and have been to Paris. We can no longer be limited to the belief that terrorism is only in Israel, or Iraq, or other Middle Eastern or foreign lands.

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Throughout my life I heard and repeated, “Peace on Earth.” And when I was a child we would sing the song, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” What exactly has that meant? In theory I want that. I know we all want that. And, yet, there has been more hate and violence towards one another. I marvel at the Buddhist monks whose job it is to pray daily for world peace. They are trained not to become attached to the outcome, but to identify with their lives’ purpose – Peace on Earth.

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I know kindness is an important component if we are to have peace. I know compassion is also key. What can I do to expand those in my life? Is it as simple as being less snarky if I don’t like something or someone? Perhaps I can have more patience instead of jump to anger and self-righteousness when I come upon two mothers in double-wide strollers talking while passers-by struggle to get around them. Would that help?

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I don’t see how that would end police brutality, or terrorism, or other hate crimes. I could read up more. Try to understand what ISIS is demanding. Find out the roots of the movement and feel compassion for the conditions that would spawn such a movement. It might help me converse better, but would it help to bring world peace? As I think about how we can make a difference, I am stuck. On the one hand I think small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness always make a difference. Smile at a stranger, help keep the door open for the person behind. But, then I think how naïve that is.

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Large acts might be more useful, but the fight on terror has resulted in more terrorism. Sending money to various causes make us feel better, but does it actually do the work we intend? World-wide negotiations haven’t been effective with ISIS and other terrorist groups. I know I’m not alone in feeling powerless. And, in many ways the acts of terrorism speak of the terrorists’ powerlessness, or they wouldn’t feel compelled to murder and hurt others as a communication device.

I will continue to explore ways in which I can be part of a peaceful world. Perhaps if we all just do our best to do better in our own lives we will, in fact, do better as a whole.

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To World Peace.