Grief Shaming

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Last week on Facebook I had changed my profile picture to one with a transparent French Flag on top of my face. When I was in college I had gone to school in Paris one summer studying Art History and French. The art history stayed with me, the French, not so much. It was a seminal summer for me. Memories surged after the bombings and I responded based on my relationship to my past and those in my present. Yet, shortly after that, so many people started writing pieces or making comments about how wrong it was to change our profile pictures when so many more had been tortured and killed in Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, Sierra Leone….. And the shaming began.

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I would much rather see a way in which we can educate and inform rather than tell one another that what has moved us isn’t good enough, or is racist or wrong. We’re all served well to learn more. But nothing is accomplished when we’re shamed into feeling bad about what matters to us.

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The irony is that often it’s in an attempt to create tolerance. Instead it creates a rift. “My way of seeing the problem is better than what you’re doing,” is the implication. And, though we see it online, we also hear it in our lives. There are so many times that clients will tell me that they’ve been criticized for the manner in which they’ve mourned a loss. If someone is relieved that a parent has died, they are considered cold-hearted. Alternatively, people who mourn for a year or two are asked when they’ll get over it. If someone loses a dear pet, eyes roll.   Why are we so dismissive of how others handle loss? And, what have we lost as a result of that?

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The Kindness Con

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Last week I spent the day in Central Park to see the Pope. The day was beautiful. It felt like an early Autumn Day, sunny with a bit of wind, low humidity, but not too cool. I love Central Park, so giving up a day to stand in lines to join a crowd of 80,000 did not really seem like a sacrifice.

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I went with a friend. Given our busy lives this was a rare occasion to spend quality time together. We stood in line for a couple of hours before reaching the security check point at the park entrance at Columbus Circle. During that time we spoke with a group of moms from Queens, a couple from the Bronx, girlfriends from China, and faithful individuals from the tri-state area. The energy was positive. There was glee in the air, and it was infectious.

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When we finally made it into the park we went were directed to The South Drive. It looked like the front line was already filled, but we found a prized position in-between a mother-daughter team in the front, peeking out between their shoulders.

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Swiftly the rows behind us filled out. There was some wiggle room, but not much. For the most part there were lovely people around us. There was a large group to our right sitting and picnicking. There was a young mother and father with their 5-month old. There was a technology professor who brought his mother. And there was a father and his son. The father was around 65 or so, his son in his mid-30s.

They had a plan. First, divide and conquer. The son, I didn’t get his name, sidled up to us to show us pictures from his phone. This is after he played the same con with the couple behind us. Now he was next to us, rather than two rows behind where he started. We didn’t ask to see the photos, nor did we care about his arbitrary relatives, but that was his M.O. At some point after the son made his way next to us I went to the bathroom.  I knew I’d have to pay for the coffee earlier. So I stood in a long line for a port-a-potty.

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There were a couple of guys in line, a teacher from Yonkers and a homeland security off-duty officer from Texas. Good conversation made the line move quickly. Though, when I got back I barely had room to stand. The dad, I didn’t get his name either, started a campaign to move into my spot, telling those around him that my bag, which I used as a space holder, was really large and took two places. It didn’t. I found my sandy bag underneath a stroller and I had to squeeze to get in, angling to reach my bag. At this point the dad was playing with a baby, volunteering to hold her so he could be up front. Then the mother of the professor started getting faint and he leapt to help her, wrangling a closer spot. There were already four of us assisting her. He was oh, so helpful. With each act of good will he moved one row closer  to the front. The two in front of us had to tell him to move from their spot. The mother in front of us went to nap since she had worked all night, and his concern for her was amazing. “Is she okay? I hope she’s okay, I’d hate her to miss the pope.” To his daughter, do you want to check on her? I’ll hold your space.” He was three people away from her.

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His son was quiet now that he was as close to the front as possible, but he kept working the crowd, hoping his kindness and concern would pay off. When the faint mother was ready to stand up hours later, he stretched in front of me to “help” her.

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And, when I said to him, “Stay where you are. You’re not fooling anyone.”

He came back with, “Calm down. Take it easy. We’re all in this together. We’re all here for the same reason.“

Smiling at those around him with a knowing nod, as if I was the crazy one. At one point he repeated, “We’re all here for the same reason.”

To which I replied in earnest, “You’re giving me a great opportunity to test my spirituality.”  The father and son were incredibly annoying, but everyone else gave us renewed faith in humanity.

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And then the Pope drove by quickly, yet with aplomb. It was a wonderful moment. we were able to get the mother & her baby stood in front, sans the self-perceived, good samaritan. From there we made our way through the park, no one in sight. It was glorious.

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Accepting Our Flaws? – A Grounded-Spirituality Post

Why is it we’re so loathe to accept the darker side of our personalities? I am impulsive, impatient and impassioned. These are not my only character flaws, but it serves as a sampling. This weekend I spent more than I had budgeted, I ate more than my hunger warranted, and I got angry when things didn’t go my way. I don’t like when I feel those feelings, so I then deflect them onto others. I felt all that while away this weekend and when I got home, happy to be home, Emma was ensconced in front of the TV, and Larry was busy doing laundry. I had missed them and longed for them to greet me with joy, especially after the traffic getting home from the airport.

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They were busy living life when I interrupted them. But I was tired, and wanted some attention. I got attention, but it wasn’t the attention I wanted. It was conflictual. They would have been happy to go about doing what they were doing, but I provoked them, and then I had to deal with the upset.

I’m not proud to tell you this. I would like to share wonder and light. However, this is the messy deal with life. We behave in ways in which we are not proud. And, we have to make repairs given the upset we create in ourselves and others. I was able to work through some of my unfulfilled expectations, and Larry and Emma were amenable to engage in my self-indulgent confession and apology.

Facebook and other social media give partial glimpses into our lives. And, they often sound more glamorous than everyday life. Whatever wonderful moments we share with pictures and captions, we leave out the messier times.

Tonight I had to learn, once again, that I can ask for what I want. I didn’t this evening, but I’m one upset closer to asking for it next time. Or, if not then, perhaps the time after that  And, then maybe I’ll find other ways to express the impulsivity, impatience and impassions. I don’t think I can rid myself of my flaws. Nor do I have to pretend I’ve totally embraced my imperfections. At this point, I’m willing to admit to them and to work on listening when they show up.

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Napping; A Ground-Spirituality Post

DSC_0001I admit it, I take naps. They are a small delight given my crowded schedule. I used to think that naps were a luxury I couldn’t afford. I had to get on with life, seizing every moment. Days were filled with activities, proving how busy I was. Somehow being busy justified my existence. Or, rather, I defended against the notion that I was lazy. It all started when my Grandmom Becky called me lazy when I was a teen. To her it was a nasty trait, with filth as a close second. She spent hours mopping her white tiled, kitchen floor. When finished she’d scrub any perceived grout from her bathtub. If she wasn’t cleaning she was exercising, staying fit well into her late 90s. Although I could never keep up with her undiagnosed OCD, her unbridled criticism had a long-term impact. I learned to have a lot going on. Now I’m undoing that training.

I started with planned naps. I would schedule a nap as a therapeutic response to exhaustion. Naps were utilitarian. No longer. Now I am happy to take a nap, planned or otherwise. I long for a Mediterranean lifestyle of yore, one in which siestas were a way of life. I like getting up early, and I enjoy working or going out at night. In-between a nap creates a civilized break, a refreshing reprieve ending one part of my day before the start of another.

Our overly crammed lives have taken us away from the natural pleasure of a short slumber. Like eating when we’re hungry and stopping when full, napping is a way to honor our body’s exhaustion level and take care of ourselves. The fullness of our lives don’t lend themselves to regular napping. But I’m happy to learn from infants. When they’ve had enough they’re down for the count. Napping might not have the spiritual cache of mindfulness or mediation, but turning off our minds has a positive impact. It’s like reading a good novel rather than an important self-help book. At this point, I read a few pages of fiction before I nod off, telephone on silent.

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Nice; A Grounded-Spirituality Post

images-1This winter got to me. I became grumpier. I’ve been quick to judge. Yet this past week something renewed my faith in others. I had a rare late dinner with a friend. We laughed and caught up, enjoying this reprieve from our busy lives. I went home on the bus, slightly tipsy from the glass of wine I enjoyed with the meal. It was rainy, so when I got home I was happy to unload my umbrella, rain coat and bags in the vestibule. I took off my rubber boots, went online and received an email. It was from a name I didn’t recognized. Luckily I read it. Noam Franklin wrote that he was the last to get off the bus and saw my bag so it brought it with him. He was ten minutes away. Maybe a 15 minute walk in the rain. I put on my soggy coat and boots, grabbed my umbrella and my dog, and took we walked in the rain. When I got to his friend’s place, Noam had a big smile on his face. And, when I wanted to give him the little money I had in my bag, he refused. Told me to, “Pay it Forward.”

Well, thank you Noam. You were thoughtful and generous. May you always enjoy the kindness of strangers. You lifted my mood, and reinvigorated me. I forgot that some, like you, are kind for no reason other than the fact that you have it in you. I forgot I didn’t have to be so cranky. You gave me back my bag and a new attitude. I won’t promise that I’m not going to be ill-tempered, but I do promise to be kind from time to time. I do promise to pay it forward.NYC_Transit_New_Flyer_5753

Rushing to Yoga; A Grounded-Spirituality Post

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It could have been any day.   I woke up, and immediately did a mental check list of all that had to get done before I left the apartment. I had promised myself that I would make room for yoga. It had been too long and I missed the class and the benefits from going. So, in addition, to gearing up for a busy day, I was in a crunch to get through the family rush hour to make it to class.

First-things-first. I meditated, or I sat down on a mat, spending time with myself, trying not to think of anything except the moment, but getting caught up in the quagmire of my thoughts. Every thought took me away from the moment in which I had the thought. Oh well. Next I brushed my teeth, took a shower, got dressed, made breakfast for myself and my daughter, ate, read and answered emails, and made a list of everything else to be done that day. If I didn’t write the list, then they wouldn’t get done, and I’d have a faint sense that I was missing something. Okay, I was left with a mere five minutes to catch up with my husband. We did that, promising we’d be in touch during the day. I dressed for the cold weather and I was out the door. Down the steps, and I turn back around since I forgot my yoga mat. Then I flew out the door, ran down the stairs and ran to the gym, where I took class with a wonderful Hatha Yoga instructor, Suzanne.

I made it just in time. Well, actually, I was a couple of minutes pass 8:30 AM, but the teacher was speaking with a new student about her assorted injuries. I set up, and I was good to go.

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It’s funny to me that getting to yoga, an activity which grounds us, and has the capacity to bring us inner-peace, is fraught with anxiety and hurried angst. I seem to live in two worlds. The one world is filled with my to-dos. The other world is all I do to remedy living in a hectic environment. I take yoga to feel better. And, I feel better when I take yoga and other things like it. Yet, I haven’t bridged the gap between my yoga class and the rest of my life. At this point, my sense of humor will have to suffice in the absence of a constant Zen presence. Maybe I can find a laughing yoga practice. Another to-do.

Grounded-Spirituality

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“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I wanted to start writing a bit about accepting our humanness. There’s so many ways in which we can feel badly about ourselves. The point of these short blog posts is to accept our flaws and learn from our mistakes.
Selfishly, I’m writing these as much for myself as for anyone else. I can be oh, so critical. I’m hard on myself and judgmental of others. I’m not proud of this, but I can be a snob. For example, when I go on vacation, I try to avoid personal conversations with strangers. As a therapist I need to distress and have some alone time, or family fun. However, I find that people on vacation like to make fast friends. I’m usually not interested. And, as a self-defense tactic, I find reasons I formulate in my mind why I want to keep my distance. I necessarily close myself up. Maybe I’m justified, but I can have an edge when trying to ensure my privacy.
Now, I don’t know that I will become less of a snob, but I would like to be able to laugh at myself. In fact, I look forward to enjoying laughing much more, in general. So, this series of posts will be about having more room for our foibles, and appreciating life as it is, including the imperfections.
The plan is to post weekly. I’ll see how that goes, and adjust, if needed, with limited judgment.