Posted in individuality, personality

From My Journal – We Want to Leave Our Mark

Yesterday I gained an unexpected insight. Looking back, I see this has been a process over time as I have observed certain traits in myself and others.

We live in a condo and when we first moved here there was a mystery tenant who always left a bit of evidence behind in the elevator, or the elevator waiting area–a small windowed room in the parking garage. It might be an empty cup, a candy wrapper, a tissue or another small item. Every day there seemed to be at least one new piece of trash. This no longer happens, so I think the tenant must have moved away.

I think about graffiti. It’s sort of the same, leaving your mark. Doing things differently.

We don’t all want to be cookie cutter people. We want to be distinctive.

I’ve noticed a couple of celebrities starting a trend of baring all for the public. Unfortunately this sort of has the opposite effect, because it reduces us to one common denominator. Without our clothes on, we don’t have a lot of distinctions, except for variations in color, shape and size, and of course our unique gender identity. But, if you are the first, or one among few, then you can stand out. When everybody is doing it, then it’s no longer remarkable.

This past weekend my husband and I were assembling a piece of furniture that required a lot of precision. The reviews were bad because people had trouble with stripped screws and misalignment. Aware of this, he put in extra effort to prevent these problems from occurring and the result was that we have a beautiful desk and had no difficulties with assembly.

I thought about a previous project we worked on, where I noticed that he always put the screws in crooked. I commented, “It would be just as easy for you to put them in straight.” With a little bit of attention, he did. But it had been part of his identity not to be good at wood working.

So, that’s where I was at when I made a discovery about myself.

When I was in school I always had a messy desk. That’s not even really my personality. I like tidy spaces. The problem was I did not pay consistent attention to my desk, and I ask myself, why? Perhaps it was part of my uniqueness too. Why be like everyone else? Or maybe there was more?

I gained some insight, yesterday, as I prepared to put a display of art up on a wall in the house. I began calculations on a small piece of paper. I actually needed more space to write but I thought I would make do. I scribbled down some figures and then drew a sketch. My calculations crowded onto my sketch and it began to look messy and almost illegible.

“I can still make it out,” I said to myself, thinking, even if nobody else can. Then it hit me. I have a habit of concealing. It was the same thing I did with my desk in school. It was enough for me to be able to see everything clearly. I didn’t want to give others access. Maybe I wanted to be mysterious. I wasn’t really the person you saw when you looked at my desk.

Or maybe it was just the rebel in me resisting conformity.

For many years in our marriage I would speak cryptically. I didn’t do this consciously. I grew up with this model. Occasionally I said something humorous and if my husband didn’t get it, then it was my own private joke. After awhile he became amused as he began to catch on that I was being funny and he started watching for my humor but for years he didn’t notice. I had a friend who got my humor. One day I realized that it was not only my humor my husband wasn’t getting. He wasn’t getting me. Concealment wasn’t working for me.

I see our son has inherited this trait and I find I don’t really like it. The reason I don’t like it is because he remains hidden to us, and I want to know him. He is like me, in that he thinks this is some sort of fun game. But only he is amused. Sometimes we are even irritated. My husband would become irritated with me when I did not take the time to explain myself clearly. Or worse, he would not understand me at all, and come to wrong conclusions about me. Over the years I have learned to take time to elaborate, even to come back to subjects and offer more clarification.

As I said, my patterns stem from my family of origin, where fewer words were better. This is because we didn’t want to be like my dad who, for a period in his life, talked so much that others didn’t get a chance to speak.

At one of my recent jobs I was misunderstood because I didn’t speak up. I didn’t clarify. I didn’t add important information. I didn’t talk about what I had accomplished.

I grew up believing you should never talk about your accomplishments because that was being boastful and proud. So at my job, I would present problems and not talk about solutions I had worked through. These were things people I worked with didn’t know about, but needed to know to get the whole picture.

I still have an aversion to drawing attention to what I have done, but I can now speak comfortably about my accomplishments. I am even beginning to learn the art of self-promotion which seems to be a requirement for bloggers. But I will probably always be challenged in this area.

I looked at the scrap of paper I held in my hand and realized that this sense of satisfaction that I could figure out what I had written, even if others couldn’t, wasn’t a very good thing. It mean’t I was not sharing well. Perhaps I was unique in some way, but not in a good way, just like the person who had the annoying habit of leaving scraps in the elevator cubicle.

Nobody wants to be squeezed into a mold. We don’t want “one size fits all.” We want a unique identity. In this way I think we are all alike. We want to be uniquely identified and appreciated for the things that make us special.

As a parent I learned it is important to praise what a child’s actions reveal about them. When I was a child we were rarely praised, so I did not cultivate this art. As an adult I find that it is indeed something I need to learn. Finding just the right words to express what you see in a person is a gift. This is why the card industry flourishes. Writers say for us what we don’t know how to put into words.

I ended up getting another piece of paper and making a very clear sketch of where I would put my art on the wall. Anyone could have used it as a template. Revealing myself is actually working out well for me. My husband, for one, is much more understanding of me now and this has improved our relationship.

Posted in Coronavirus, COVID-19, Health, masks

Using Masks With Common Sense

When I walk into a public place where I will encounter people at close distance, particularly if it inside a building, I wear a mask.

Let’s talk about the common sense of mask wearing.

  1. First of all, we can still get Covid while wearing a mask, because a mask is only partially protective. Since the virus is spread by droplets coming out of the nose while sneezing or out of the open mouth while talking or eating, a mask will catch some of the droplets. But only an N95 mask is designed to catch all the droplets, because of its construction.
  2. The point is to avoid getting droplets in your eyes and your mouth. This is where the virus can enter your body. So far the evidence indicates that the coronavirus is not spread via airborne particles, meaning it is not just floating around in the air. However, if someone sneezed into their hand and then touched a surface, another person can come by and touch the same surface and then touch their mouth or eyes and contract the virus.
  3. Washing or sanitizing our hands before we touch our eyes or mouth can help prevent contracting the coronavirus. It is important to wash our hands after being in places where others have touched or transmitted droplets onto surfaces. This can happen even when they are not coughing or sneezing because our mouths can spray tiny droplets when we talk. Washing our hands is a way to rid our hands of the contaminants we might have touched.

Now let’s translate this information.

a) If you are alone in your car or your home, you do not need to wear a mask because there is nobody who will dispel droplets in your direction.

b) If you are going for a walk outside and are keeping a six foot distance you do not need a mask.

c) If you are going for a walk and you pass someone coming toward you, but they have their mouth closed you are virtually safe from any transmission. In other words, the risk of transmission from one person’s mouth to another’s face is really only there once we open our mouths to talk, cough or sneeze. It is estimated that droplets don’t travel further than six feet at the most. This is why health officials have given us the recommendation to stay six feet apart.

d) We can still get the virus from touching surfaces that contain the virus if we touch our mouth or eyes after touching these surfaces. Once again, this is the reason for hand washing when we have been in places that others may have touched. Sanitizing our hands as we walk into a store protects others from the virus if we are carrying it. Sanitizing our hands as we leave a store protects us if someone in the store touched anything we touched. I have sanitizer with me and sanitize my hands after leaving a store, when I get in the car. The thing to remember is to only touch your face with clean hands.

So, common sense tells me that if I walk around the corner in a grocery store isle and someone is talking on their cell phone, facing my face, their droplets could reach me. This is why I choose to wear a mask in a store. It prevents some of their droplets from getting to my mouth. If the other person is also wearing a mask, there are two layers of protection. But remember, the virus can still get through each of the layers. It is just a greater protection than no mask at all.

If I have glasses, then my eyes are more protected than without glasses, but consider, for a moment, the trajectory of droplets. They will travel in a downward line, not upward. Essentially they would likely only hit your eyes if the person’s mouth is eye level with your eyes. However, a plastic shield will be more protective than a mask.

In summary, a mask provides some protection if we encounter someone with the coronavirus. If we are with people who don’t have the virus, there is no need for a mask, because there is no virus to transmit. The trouble is we don’t know who has the virus. People can have the coronavirus without having any symptoms.

However, anyone who knows they have the virus should definitely isolate, so as not to spread it to others.

There is a very good chance that we will not encounter someone with the virus when we go out without a mask, but we cannot be sure. It makes many people feel more comfortable if they see others taking at least a minimal precaution like wearing a mask.

Are we over-reacting? Maybe. Are we creating a false sense of security with mask wearing? To some degree we are. But masks offer a level of protection. For this reason, and to make others more comfortable, I think it is a good idea to wear a mask where distancing is a problem.

One more important precaution to consider is that if you do encounter someone with the coronavirus and the virus gets onto your mask, then you want to be very careful while removing your mask. When you remove your mask, remember to wash your hands as if they are contaminated. When you remove your mask, you have to act as though it has the coronavirus on it. Chances are that if your mask is contaminated you will get the virus even if you are careful removing it, but once again, if you are careful to wash your mask, or discard it, after using it, and to wash your hands after touching and removing it, then you reduce your risk of exposure to the virus.

If I walk around inside a store without a mask, I might make other people uncomfortable. If nobody in the store has the virus, including myself, then I am not at risk and I am not putting anyone else at risk. But we cannot be sure of this.

I don’t like to see mask wearing become a divisive issue. My guess, and this is only a guess, is that we still stand a 50% chance of getting the virus if we wear a mask and encounter the virus.

Use common sense and consideration. Personally, I think that it is reasonable to expect mask wearing inside grocery stores and places where there are a lot of people and it is difficult to distance. The risk of the virus being present multiplies with the number of people.

Posted in domestic violence, Self Regulation, violence

The Anger That Destroys

We teach our children self-control because we don’t want them to become monsters.

Anger is a feeling we all experience but it causes a different outward response in each of us. For some, anger sparks aggression and violence. It is acted out. Volume rises. Abusive language erupts. Arms and legs flail or the gas pedal goes to the floor.

There is a split second between anger and action. This is the moment of decision. For some the impulse to act a certain way has been followed so frequently that it is as though there is no space between anger and the resulting behavior. The two appear to be one and the same. But there is a fraction of time in between, when the body receives instruction from the brain. It says, “Now you do this….” It might even say, “This feeling justifies doing this….”

Anger is dangerous. But it doesn’t have to be destructive.

Unfortunately our anger not only hurts others. It often hurts us. We do things that cause injury to ourselves.

Picture a woman in a movie who has been hurt and becomes angry. What do we see? A man is likely to smash something but a woman will grab the ice cream container out of the freezer and sit down on the sofa and eat it all. This may look relatively harmless. It may even be called “soothing.” Soothing can be good. In fact, it is definitely the better alternative, as opposed to violence. But she is justifying a behavior that she will later regret, when her clothes don’t fit.

I’ve studied my response to anger and I’ve noticed something I’m not proud of. When I get angry I tend to justify behavior I might not otherwise engage in. In other words, I say to myself, “I am angry so I can do this.” What I am really saying is, “My anger is my justification for doing this. My anger makes this OK.”

This is a learned response and it is possible to un-learn it. But we often don’t want to change. It feels good to be angry. We hold onto our anger. This is where we get the expression ‘holding a grudge.’

In the story of Cain and Abel, God warned Cain when he was angry with his brother. He told him, “Sin is crouching at your door and it desires to have you.” To “have” means to “master” or “overpower” you. It connotes ownership. In other words, sin wants to “possess” and “control” us. Cain had a moment when he was still in charge. He could be angry without yielding to sin.

Our anger can be our master. It can overpower us. It can control us. But it doesn’t have to. Cain was essentially told, “At this point I am warning you and telling you that you have a choice. You can yield to this power, this ‘sin’ that wants to control you. Or you can resist it.”

Cain became angry when God accepted his brother Abel’s sacrifice, and not Cain’s, and Cain killed his brother. In one day his parents found themselves bereft of a son and face to face with his murderer, their surviving son.

Cain probably concluded that Abel was God’s favorite. He could also have looked at Abel and observed for himself what was involved in presenting a sacrifice that was acceptable to God. He could have said, “I’ll do as Abel did, since that appears to be the right thing.” Instead, he brooded and his thoughts became darker and darker. He called his brother out to the field where he killed him.

Jealousy and a sense of entitlement, or a perception of injustice, is often behind anger and violence.

Anger distorts our thinking. We get tunnel vision. We become fixated. It becomes all about us, and what we want, and about how others have wronged us, and how they have withheld things from us. Then the illogical conclusion is that we have to destroy, or at least harm the other person.

Recently my sister’s house was broken into while she was away from home. The thieves trashed her house and made off with her valuables as well as her important papers which were locked in a safe. On her recently installed security cameras she was able to see people in her house as she drove home. The police did not arrive in time to apprehend the thieves. She was outraged, and understandably so.

When are overcome by anger we can easily act irrationally. I spoke with an inmate who was serving time because he pulled a gun on motorcycle gang members who threatened his business. He shot and killed one of them.

There is plenty of injustice in the world. There are many things that trigger our anger. When we don’t see wrongs righted, or at least addressed over time, we not only become angry, we can become depressed. We can even despair.

The legal system is designed to punish and incarcerate those who commit crimes, but sometimes even the courts get it wrong. The justice system fails us. Law enforcement fails us. Life does not turn out the way we think it should.

What do we do when life does not turn out as we believe it should? When things are not fair? When we don’t see justice?

If we are wise, and in control of our anger, and resist the urge to seek revenge, we can sometimes be agents of change. Positive change can happen, but it requires vision, a plan, and perseverance over time.

I’ve been married for over thirty years and my husband and I have had our angry moments. There has not been violence, but there have been words, and some of them were very hurtful. It can be tempting to throw up one’s hands and leave. But there is a bigger picture worth considering. Over the years we have worked through a lot of things. It means coming back again and again to the same issues, with a new approach, to see if things will turn out differently this time. We’ve made progress. But progress cannot be made if there is not at least one person who is willing to put in the work and to remain consistent and committed.

The next time you are angry, pause during that split second between when your anger flares up and you react. Ask if you are hurting yourself. Ask if you are justifying your behavior. I know I do things to hurt myself. Maybe it’s eating that pint of ice cream or finishing off that bottle. Or maybe it’s saying something ugly that just came out of your mouth, but didn’t need to be said that way. Or maybe it’s something more serious.

Why are you so angry about this? Pull apart the situation and see if you can put your finger on an underlying reason. For instance, a husband might feel that his wife doesn’t respect his desire to provide for the family by limiting their spending. The wife might feel her husband does not trust her judgment in her spending, or that he is unjustly withholding things from her that she wants. Maybe they have the same goal, of being responsible with their finances, but they are not seeing each other’s dilemma and working together at solutions. Instead, their default is accusation and recrimination when they could sit down and work out a budget instead. But their personal feelings of not being appreciated are clouding their vision and causing them to react. In the process they are ruining the thing that is most precious–their relationship.

One of the most impressive things I’ve ever watched was a TED talk where a woman who received threats on social media actually contacted the perpetrators and went to their homes and talked to them. Many times the result was positive. Rather than respond in kind, she sought to build relationship.

At work I watched in amazement as a fellow employee talked down a very irate customer. This set me on a journey to learn how to understand conflict and anger management.

We will find ourselves at the receiving end of the anger of others. When in such a situation, try to remain calm, use an even tone of voice, and let the other person know you truly want to hear all they have to say and are willing to work with them to find a solution.

Anger is like smoke. It’s a warning. But it doesn’t have to turn into a raging, destructive fire if we manage it early.

Posted in Coronavirus, COVID-19, Depression, faith, Friendship, happiness

Surviving the Pandemic – When I’ve Exhausted My Creative Resources

My Desk

So, I’m a pretty creative person.

I tend to have a lot of ideas. I’m not easily bored.

I think of myself as a resourceful person who can find solutions.

I used to say to our kids that if they were bored it was because they lacked imagination and I still think that people with a good imagination are not likely to be bored. Lately, however, I’ve begun to lack imagination. Or, put another way, I’ve begun to exhaust my creative resources.

It’s not exactly the same as burnout, because I’ve been there. It’s more like ‘dry out.’ I’ve squeezed every drop out of this sponge of creativity or imagination or resourcefulness. I’m in the, “just put one foot in front of the other,” stage. Methodical.

This has its merits. At least the things that need to be done, still get done.

I’ve been here before, in some measure, maybe not exactly to this extreme. I recognize the territory. I tell myself this is not permanent. It is a phase. I will emerge, once again, and there will be creativity and passion.

When I feel this way, I tend to ask if there is a cause. If I can identify a cause, maybe I can find a treatment or an antidote. There are things I can pay attention to, like getting more sleep, eating better, relaxing, lightening up.

But this is about a deeper need.

I remind myself to delight in the little things. This adds sparkles to my day. Sparkles are beautiful and distracting and they make me happy.

Are sparkles enough?

And there is the constant rub. That word–enough. That sense of something missing. Maybe even a latent guilt over the very fact that I question whether I have enough, whether I am enough.

I’m not pursuing happiness, exactly. It’s just that happiness and contentment is a byproduct of something greater. It’s how I feel when my cup is full.

So, what goes in my cup?

And when do I know it is full?

It might also be helpful to ask, how do I know it is not full?

And why is it so important for my cup to be full?

Is it really necessary for me to always be concerning myself with having a full cup?

Can I live, fairly contentedly, with a less than full cup?

The last question is one I can answer and the answer is, yes.

If there is one thing I have realized during COVID-19 it is that I can do with less than. I can adjust my expectations.

My husband just brought me coffee in a fancy cup. His response when I asked him, why the fancy cup, was, because it’s Sunday. I asked, what flavor is it? Coffee.

COVID-19 has caused me to distinguish between the things that nourish and the things that add flavor to my life.

I like flavor. I like pretty things. I like stimulation. I like entertainment. And these are really important and even necessary. But they can be delayed. I can wait for them.

What makes me really sad is when people have to wait a very, very long time for ‘flavor’ in their lives. I don’t live in a bubble. I feel the pain of humanity. I think about what others are suffering, not in order to compare and rationalize, and console myself by telling myself my situation could be so much worse, but simply because I have compassion.

One of the most meaningful things in life is knowing we are making a difference, however small or great an impact it is that we are making.

My mother is in her eighties and recently when I have spoken to her on the phone she has frequently alluded to the thought that she is no longer making a difference. I say things to her like, “As long as you can smile and speak an encouraging word, you are making a difference.” Or I remind her of the things she has told me she has done recently.

Her days stretch long before her and I know that what makes the most difference for her is if her time is punctuated by visits from others. These are the highlights of her life. I remind her that she bakes muffins or cinnamon rolls or pies and this is a special thing she does for the people who visit her. In our family we have used common sense and not cut off visits to our mother during COVID-19, since the place where she lives is not on strict lockdown and she has a patio door, so people do not need to walk through the building when they visit her. Staying connected fills her cup.

It is something that fills the cup for most people. We are designed for connection. I think about the many people who cannot go to their place of worship, the place where they meet their extended “family.” This is a difficult time for them. Others connect by going to clubs and parties. Some connect by going shopping. A senior friend told me, during the strictest COVID-19 lockdown period, that she would go grocery shopping almost every other day, just to be around people. Unfortunately my mother no longer drives and barely is able to walk, so she depends on people coming to her house.

Visits with my grandchildren fill my cup like nothing else does. They expose me to so much spontaneity, so much personality, so much unconditional love, so much amusement.

It takes a lot of work to remain connected in this world. I come from a family where we easily back away from others when there is a slight altercation. We don’t like conflict. But even more, we don’t like the sense that our views or our person is not respected. I have to keep going back, keep trying to connect again, keep believing in the importance of maintaining the path, not letting it become overgrown with weeds. This requires courage and sometimes humility, but most of all faith in humanity.

Without these connections, I think we dry up. Without the sense that we are able to make a contribution, even a smile or a kind word, I think we dry up. It is not unreasonable to expect and desire this nourishment in our lives. I have not seen my grandchildren for months, or my mother. COVID-19 means we cannot travel to see one another. But a phone call helps.

I can spend my life employing all my creativity and all my resourcefulness and still come up short, lacking, feeling a need. For me this is not always about having enough, but about being enough.

In my life I have had periods when I have not lacked for friends and meaningful relationships and then there have been other months and years when friends seemed to be impossible to find. As the apostle Paul said, ‘I have learned both how to be abased and how to abound.’

I watched my husband during the months when he had no work. He teaches children music–a very stimulating and emotionally rewarding job. He is the optimist who will always talk about the cup as half full, not half empty. But I saw the truth when he wasn’t working. He felt the emptiness. Life wasn’t enough and it made him come to the conclusion that he will never retire. He will teach as long as he is able.

I have seen doctors and teachers and caregivers become depressed in retirement because they can no longer help. My husband’s father has nightmares of being back in his managerial position. He, on the other hand, loves his retirement.

During COVID-19 I have thought a lot about addictions. Some of us are addicted to helping. We get “high” only if we are helping others in some way, whether that is through our job, making our boss happy, volunteering, cooking food for our family, creating something to bring joy to others, or any other ‘helping’ activity. We have to be making a meaningful contribution. And when that well dries up, and we are no longer giving, we become depressed. In some ways this depression is a good thing, because it signals to us that things are not as they ought to be, and we ought to be contributing in some ways with our lives, but it does not signal that our lives are insignificant if we are not giving in the usual ways.

Work, itself, can be a drug. A stimulus. We get that sense of accomplishment. That high feeling that accompanies completion, after the rigorous employment of our mental and physical resources.

During COVID-19 we have to find substitutes. Some people are more creative and imaginative in filling the gap. Others have more energy to burn and feel frustrated because of this. If ever there has been a time to reflect and to come to know ourselves, this is it.

I’ve been engaged in a number of self-improvement exercises in the past months, which I will not go into here. I’ve also looked at what brings me joy, what is life-giving. I’ve watched to see how I am impacted by the various things I do. I’ve analyzed why I do them. I’ve asked if they are helpful? Are they truly me?

So what do I do when I’ve exhausted my creative resources? When it becomes difficult to motivate myself? When I don’t seem to be able to fill my own cup?

When my children were young and used to get cranky I would ask myself if they were hungry, tired, or needed a diaper change. If these were all looked after, then I asked myself if they were in pain or some sort of discomfort. Sometime they were teething. Sometimes a bath helped to ‘refresh’ them. Sometimes they needed a cuddle and a lullaby.

These are still the basic needs we need to address in our own lives and the lives of others, young and old. We need self-care and we need comfort.

There is another thing we need as adults. We need to feel like we are enough, and like we are good enough. If we live our lives being less than kind, we will feel disturbed, understandably so. This is contrary to our design, which is to be life-givers. Because we are designed to give life, not doing so makes us feel like we are falling short.

There is a longing in all of us to have the sense of being really valuable human beings. If I live my life reasonably well, I might still come under a sense of guilt, a feeling of not being adequate, maybe of not doing enough. Often this is a false guilt.

I’ve battled these feelings and I think most people do. If not, then I would tend to question if there has been any real introspection.

I’ve been interested in why some people are so quick to reject Christianity, when Christianity, rightly applied, is really a very hopeful religion. Wrongly applied, it can result in despair, so maybe this is the reason for objections.

Probably the central unique and attractive feature of the Christian faith is the introduction of forgiveness. The Bible is full of stories of men and women constantly failing and falling miserably short of the ideals God has specified in the Ten Commandments.

God can look like a stern judge, condemning us, but in reality he is a shepherd, guiding us, trying to keep us from falling off a cliff, trying to keep us from destroying ourselves.

When Jesus came on the scene he essentially brushed away all the extra rules that were added to the commandments and condensed them into two laws–love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus taught about the importance of having a good heart–keeping our heart attitude right. And of course, we all know that it’s impossible to keep our attitude right, so he introduces “redemption.” Essentially he tells us that we will never be free of the sense that we are failures, so we need some help. He offers forgiveness.

I’ve had to forgive myself. I’ve had to realign myself with the truth I know. I’ve had to learn to trust that I am enough. To believe that I am loved.

My mother has to embrace a new way of living in which she cannot derive her value from her ‘works.’ She has to derive value from her essence. The person she is. The person people meet when they visit her.

We are enough. I am enough. And when I fail, there is a remedy. It’s called forgiveness.

I still have resources at my disposal, even though they seem rather depleted now. My creative resources may feel like they’ve dried up, but it helps to remind myself that no matter what I feel, or what I experience, I, as a person, am still enough.

Even if I was paralyzed in a wheelchair, the very fact that I have life in me is enough to tell me I am worthy. I like to meditate on the miracle of life. This helps fill my cup.

This sense of worthiness, of knowing my life has value, restores my hope. It is a well from which I draw sustenance. So, when I feel like my creative flow is down to a trickle, I remind myself it’s not about doing. It’s about being. Everything I do flows out of the person I am and I am enough.

Things will turn around again. My strength will be renewed. This restful “nothing” phase is probably an important part of my recovery.

Posted in Coronavirus, COVID-19, De-stressing, faith, happiness, mental health

Surviving the Pandemic – Coping When the Props are Removed

Available at Art’s Nursery

If there is one thing that seems to be common to everyone, as a result of COVID, it is that this has presented us with time for reflection. I have looked at my life and identified a number of props I relied on for my contentment. Your props will be similar in some ways, yet different. For instance we find various ways of meeting our need to be with people. We have different forms of entertainment to occupy our time. We take care of our physical needs in different ways. We find a variety of ways to refresh ourselves. Many of our former options are not open to us now.

I’ve slowed down and had time to look inside, to evaluate my choices and my lifestyle. In a sense I’ve taken stock of the “essential services” in my own life—the things I can scarcely do without.

My greatest burden these days is for people who are responsible for caring for other people. They have to do this while postponing their own needs. My hat goes off to the parents and care givers.

I’ve looked inside and had a sort of crisis of faith. Or, put another way, I’ve seen that in crisis, faith is all I have. I can only continue to cast my cares on God and believe he will make a way. And if he doesn’t, I have no alternative but to wait and see what happens next, still trusting for a good outcome down the road.

I want to give answers, but I don’t have anything besides what I am doing. What I am doing is looking at my life when the props are gone, when the things I relied on for a good life are stripped down, or stripped away.

Who am I without props? How do I face my day without these “helps”?

Many times I have gone back to thinking about pioneers, people who came to a strange country and built it up. The props we’ve relied on are things others have put in place for us. They were instituted by people who had little to work with. I find it encouraging to think about the basics. In some ways I find myself at a kind of “Ground Zero.” This is when I become aware of the importance of inner resources like faith, courage, steadfastness, hope, insight, creativity, resiliency, perseverance.

These are the building blocks that are still available to us for the future even when we have lost many familiar supports. I’ve seen the importance of doing all I can to preserve my inner strength and I know nobody will do this for me.

I think we will find that some of the props we relied on will not be as necessary to our well-being, going forward. Life is going to be more about essentials and inner strength.

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Some Thoughts on Cancel Culture

Why does our current cancel culture bother me so much? It’s not just the fact that ordinary people, trying to peacefully live their lives, lose their very livelihood, although I feel badly for them. It’s not just the left/right divide. It’s not just the venomous hatred I sense, although all of this bothers me. It’s not even the hypocrisy of expecting a higher standard of someone else that does not match the lives of those who are tearing others down.

I get the sense, correct me if I’m wrong, that the “cancel culture” team actually wants others to join their team and they’re going about it in completely the wrong way. Instead of drawing people to their team, and their cause, they are alienating them.

And surprisingly I’ve found these people in the last place I would expect to find them. In our education system. Why would I not expect to find them here? Because the education system is the place where I would mostly likely expect to find people with understanding and superior communication skills. In other words, this is where I expect to find people who get other people, and know how to talk to them.

One of the biggest barriers to communication is fear. Fear is often covered up by projecting an inauthentic persona.

We all have fear, but fear doesn’t have to get ugly and attack others.

I’m going to share a pet peeve I have, that is shared by most common citizens I’ve met. It concerns our electoral system and our political candidates. Long ago I learned a lesson that I still believe to be true and that is you don’t step on the other guy to get to the top.

In the comments section of an article people were discussing the importance of character and integrity when suddenly there was a comment that looked very out of place because it contradicted everything that had been said. The commenter said he preferred “results” over character.

What comes to my mind is the difference between character and a result-focused parenting method. We can get quick results by threatening and punishing our children and making them fear us. Punishment does have its place, but only after much time is spent on correction and training. The rationale of punishment itself must be explained, so that if things ever escalate to the point where punishment is needed, the child understands that he or she has ignored the alternatives presented and chosen this action which will be accompanied by this outcome.

In the Bible we read that if a member of a church sins, we ought to go and confront him or her privately first, and try to bring about the necessary change. You see, I’ve figured out that this is what bothers me about cancel culture. They want to make an immediate example of someone and put fear in the general populace. It is of course a control tactic. Control tactics generally don’t go over very well. So, they are not choosing the best means to the end I presume they seek, which I imagine is to get people to agree with how they see things.

Of course, I’m not blind to the fact that certain entities of our society consider their way to be the only way and even slight deviation has to be publicly denounced. But this brings me back to the fear factor. They don’t have faith in good to prevail. Or, put it this way, the good they are trying to promote has to be forced on society because society will not accept it voluntarily. That of course puts their whole agenda in question. What makes it so unappealing to people?

There is a strong effort to re-condition society these days because, evidently, we’ve got it wrong all these years. Mom and Dad, for instance, who are raising their kids to be Moms and Dads one day, are suddenly no longer respected as capable of properly socially training their children. There is clearly a divide in society. Moms and Dads have tried to be tolerant of alternative lifestyles, but that is not enough. They are supposed to be allies.

So we have a basic difference in society and suddenly I see the rationale behind the fear and the irrational behavior. “Racism” has less to do with skin color or background. It has more to do with sexual orientation. And face it, every person ever born is the result of the union between a man and a woman, and to deny that there is male and female and that they are different and not interchangeable is indeed an indefensible position. It is an ideology you have to force on society, because common sense does not accept it. So there is, understandably, fear. Our heteronormative society is here to stay. Hence the extreme tactics that result from holding an untenable position.

This is no longer about negotiation or finding common ground, or even peace, as I naively imagined.

Posted in anxiety, Children, Coronavirus, COVID-19, faith, Health

Teachers Return to Work

Teachers are returning to work today in the province of British Columbia. They asked for more time before starting classes, in order to prepare, and were given two extra days before classes open on September 10.

Many, if not all, are filled with trepidation. This is understandable, with their concern for their own safety and that of their students, not to mention the vulnerable people in all of their lives.

It is a great blessing that the coronavirus does not affect children and young people as severely as those who are older and have underlying health issues. But we are still afraid because children can be asymptomatic. They can have no symptoms and yet carry the virus and be capable of spreading it.

Many of us have a faith background and believe in the power of prayer in these times. Some do not. Some may have become cynical after years of unanswered prayer. The truth I have experienced is that my prayers will not always be answered and I will not always get what I pray for. God is not like some magic wish-granting genie in a bottle. We may pray and still not be assured that we will escape harm.

Last week I prayed fervently for someone in need and even asked others to pray. On the weekend I asked this person how their week had gone. It had gone very badly. Much worse than before. I was shocked, because, after all, we had prayed.

Yesterday as we drove along the road we encountered two accidents less than a mile apart. Emergency vehicles blocked portions of the road and first responders stood next to the damaged vehicles, assessing the situation and providing assistance. As we continued on I became anxious. What if we were the next accident victims? In quick succession a couple of drivers made dangerous and unexpected moves in front of us. I was on high alert. The sight of actual damage reminded me of my vulnerability.

We’ve probably all been on high alert for months now. Each day we make choices that we hope will reduce our vulnerability. We decide when we need to wear our masks. We avoid certain high traffic areas. We are conscious of maintaining distance between us and others. We hear of the virus at a place near us, or near our loved ones, or perhaps someone we know has the virus or has died of it and this makes us anxious because we wonder if we are going to be affected next.

As we drove along I had to calm myself and reassure myself that there was no reason to expect we would be accident victims. Yes, the possibility was there, but the probability was low. It was no higher than on any other day and I needed to remain calm.

Anxiety itself has health risks and although we cannot entirely control our anxious response, we can do something about it. I know, because I have tried, and it has worked.

I wish, for the teachers, that they could avoid the situations that are causing them anxiety. But this is not reality for any of us. For months we have cheered on medical staff, first responders and essential workers. They are our heroes. They have worked on our behalf. Maybe you have been one of them. We are intensely grateful for the work of these brave souls. Now it is the teachers’ turn to step up to the plate. And it’s a scary thing to do.

Stepping up to the plate requires bravery. It means taking risk. There is the risk of harm.

All of the essential workers we have acknowledged and thanked during the past months have taken risks. They have been brave in the face of adversity. Somehow they have moved beyond fear to serve the public.

Bravery is what we need in the face of adversity. It is not the absence of fear, but the control of our fear that we need, so that it does not paralyze us.

I don’t want to have the coronavirus and I pray that my loved ones don’t get it. I do the sensible things I know to do to protect myself and them, and I hope this is enough.

As teachers prepare their classes, they are doing the same. They plan how the students and staff will take measures to protect themselves. After preparation, all we can do is hope for the best. The outcome is out of our hands. We have been faithful to implement the protections we know to have in place. The rest is beyond our control.

It’s very difficult to live with a life-threatening virus. It is frightening indeed when we increase our exposure to risk by going back to work. Having studied cognitive behavioral therapy I understand that there are ways in which we can alter our thoughts and our behavior that can make us more calm as we face the things we fear. In other words, we can have rituals and we can talk to ourselves to allay our fears, even if we cannot rid ourselves of them entirely. There are also unhealthy ways of coping that we need to reduce or eliminate.

One unhealthy way of coping is to not be honest about the actual risk. In other words, pretend that the risk does not exist. It is actually healthier to be honest about the risk, but not be overwhelmed by this realization. The reason for this is that then we can prepare ourselves appropriately. This means we take responsibility for seeking out information and get as complete a picture as possible so that we know what to do and what not to do.

Some say that this increased knowledge will also increase fear. If we habitually avoid facing up to hard truths in order to feel safe, then this will be difficult to do, because it can initially increase our fear. Facing up to challenging facts can be very frightening. It is easier to shield ourselves and to live in a protective bubble. Knowledge of the bad things that are happening in the world can overwhelm us. But not knowing certain facts can be dangerous and can put us at risk.

Dealing with disturbing information requires a few basic skills. I’ve already mentioned one—honesty about the truth of the matter. And I’ve alluded to another—limiting how much time we spend thinking about the problem and also limiting how many times we allow the problem to enter our thoughts.

When I think about teachers returning to classes, I think to myself there are probably two groups of people among the teachers. There are the ones who rely entirely on their own understanding of the situation, without any consideration for faith, or prayer or a divine will. For them this is probably the safest way to be, because I don’t think they would willingly choose this path if they did not believe it was best. They don’t want to rely on something or someone they do not understand and cannot see.

The second group opens their minds and hearts to the possibility that there is indeed a divine power or person that operates in the universe, outside of human sight and beyond our understanding. Their belief is in the goodness of this divinity. They may have derived their understanding from teaching in a church, or it may have grown as a result of observing the intricate balance and beauty of all that surrounds us. How could this world exist by accident? It does not seem reasonable to think so. There must be something, someone who is wise, who is insightful behind its design. And it follows that the author of life might ultimately care about matters pertaining to life. Therefore it is reasonable to trust this entity, beyond our comprehension, to actually look out for the good of the earth and its inhabitants.

This thought has brought me comfort. I embrace words I read in my Bible, such as, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whole shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” And, “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling.” And, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27)

I find that these messages anchor me. They help me face adversity with courage. I can choose to trust God with the outcome, even when my circumstance is challenging or unpleasant. In the face of sickness, or debilitation, or even death, I draw strength from this knowledge.

There are things in life that can cause us to lose faith. I’ve been tempted to abandon my faith in God when I have not understood how a loving Creator could allow evil, suffering, and decay. Although he allow this, he also promises a remedy that counters the difficulties of life and enables us to endure them. It is not his will for evil and suffering to prevail indefinitely. He is about the business of restoration and we can participate in this.

I prefer to live my life believing that the same God who looks after the intricacies of life and keeps nature in balance, who created the ecosystem, and the biome, whose wisdom is so infinite that we can spend a lifetime of study and still only scratch the surface in understanding the solar system, or microbiology, or human anatomy—this God is worthy of my trust.

As we go forward in the coming months, we can also draw courage from those who serve us daily, those whose services, we are reminded, are essential to our wellbeing. Today I specifically want to acknowledge the significance of the role of teachers in the training and care of our children. Parents need you. We need to work together and support one another as we train the future generation. Thank you for stepping forward in these incredibly challenging times. We wish you well as we entrust our children into your care.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Posted in Uncategorized

Feeling Happy

Art’s Nursery

This morning I read two blog posts that made me smile. At A Cup of Jo Caroline Donofrio shares the “tiny anchors” in her life that make her happy. She says,

Every night, as I’m getting ready for bed, I say the same thing…

“I can’t wait to have my coffee in the morning!”

Or she is cheered by the sight of a cardinal in her back yard. The little things she notices light up her day.

Then I went over to Advice from a 20 Something. Megan Lierley has a new article, How to Make New Friends during COVID. I feel like I’ve made a new friend, just reading the article. (I think she writes Advice from a 30 Something too!) I like her encouragement to ignore convention and just reach out.

In these times I grab onto anything that adds a bit of sunshine to my day. The other day I paused as I noticed a pleasant fragrance, like perfume, in one area of the house. I had no idea where it came from. I kept returning to that spot and inhaling deeply. There was nothing in the house to which I could trace the scent. I eventually figured out it was coming in from the hallway. The hallway air blows under our door, into our suite. I pictured a woman walking down the hall to the elevator, dressed for the day, wearing her favorite perfume.

I’ve begun to frequent a local Garden Centre that I call my new “happy place.” When I arrive I always walk through the fountain area first to listen to the trickling and gurgling and splashing of the water. My favorite fountain was sold last week and it gave me pleasure to think someone loved the same favorite I enjoyed.

Art’s Nursery and Garden Centre

I’ve noted that more than anything I love to capture images. Maybe one in a thousand will turn out to be something truly special and it’s the pursuit I enjoy.

I was texting with my sister as I walked through Michael’s this week and took a couple of photos to share with her. It almost felt like she was with me.

One day this week I asked my husband to drop me off at a park on his way to work. As I took photos of the trees and flowers and the landscaping I shared them with two other sisters who have visited the park with me. My three sisters live in another province. They were there, virtually, enjoying the view with me. After an hour I leisurely walked home. It was a long walk and instead of thinking about getting a cardio workout, I just immersed myself in the experience.

I find that if I keep my eyes open I experience all kinds of delight in each day. Sometimes, like yesterday, I allow myself to play and imagine doing fun things with my grandkids when I get back together with them. They only live an hour away, but there is a pesky international border between us.

I bought some tiny shells at the Dollar Store. They were so beautiful and I will put them in small jars with sand I picked up at Long Beach last summer. It’s fun to be a kid and play with shells. I took the shells and a tin with me and sorted them on the drive to the nursery, hoping to find clam shell pairs. Of course I didn’t find any, but it was fun. Why keep all the activity at home?

I wish I had pictures to show for the special afternoon we enjoyed last weekend. My husband and I packed up my guitar and his banjo and ukulele and headed for the park, where, incidentally, we sang Pearly Shells as we sat under the shade of some tall cedars. My husband was very self-conscious and I just laughed and thought that if I heard someone in a park, making music for an hour, I would think it was lovely that I happened to be there just then. He was afraid we would be a nuisance.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, we’ve started working on bonsai plants on our balcony and as a result I now know the difference between a pine, a juniper, and a spruce tree. Learning to identify different conifers was actually a goal I set for myself this year.

Our world is brimming with beauty and possibility. The discoveries are endless and each day can bring us new delight if we keep our eyes and ears open. I have become especially attentive to scents and to noticing the feel of a breeze on my skin.

As a writer, I am a bit obsessive about recording experiences. I am the same with photography. I take pictures so that I have a memory. However there is no way to record a scent, it occurred to me. This is truly only an in the moment experience.

Posted in Uncategorized

Thoughts on Raising Children

I came across some notes I scribbled down on parenting in the 1990’s when I still had children at home. Rather than toss them, I’ve decided to document them here. Take it or leave it. Unedited for the most part.

  1. Beware of children overhearing or being told what a nuisance they are. You want them to think well of themselves.
  2. Have good “customer relations” with your children.
  3. Hear yourself talking to your child. How many times is your conversation about correction? Does your child conclude, “Whenever Mom opens her mouth it’s to tell me what I should do or what I’m doing wrong.”
  4. Have a long term goal. Parents who were criticized for how they handled a difficult situation responded, “We have a long term goal.”
  5. Determine to raise your children in such a way that you can live with them.
  6. Think, “What are my child’s needs? Wants? What are my needs? Wants?”
  7. Your child needs a secure, happy childhood which you provide by nurturing, training, preparing and protecting them.
  8. You need a peaceful home and co-operative children.
  9. Think a lot about when your children leave home. Will they be prepared? Will they call you “friend”? What choices will they make when you are not around?
  10. Unreal expectations of parents from children. Children will “spill the milk.” Don’t slap them for this. Just clean it up. Accidents happen.
  11. Practice calm parenting.
  12. Beware of placing value on things over value on children. Beware of placing value on the opinions of others, versus the needs of your children.
  13. The unspoken question of children is, “How important am I really to Mom and Dad?”
  14. When children feel secure in the support and affection of their parents, they will not find an occasional “no” shattering or frustrating.
  15. Communicate to your child, “I love parenting you.”
  16. Protect children from “adult” problems (e.g. financial details).
  17. Don’t think they are too young to know when something is wrong.
  18. Explain what is necessary to satisfy their young mind.
  19. Never make them feel like they are a burden to you.
  20. “Take good care of Mommy” may be taken literally by them and this is not meant to be their responsibility.
  21. Be honest with them. Say, “It makes me sad, too.” “I don’t understand everything, but….”
  22. It is important to teach them responsibility and to work. They need to learn to experience the satisfaction that comes from a job well done.
  23. Don’t bribe.
  24. Pray protection over them.
  25. Pray with them daily. This is a great comfort to them.
  26. Don’t communicate anxiety to them. Concern is OK. Watch your verbal and non-verbal expressions.
  27. Overcome your own fears.
  28. Don’t expect from your children what you can’t deliver.
  29. Get your record cleared.
  30. Child rearing is going to take time, like a garden. A little planning and care, done consistently, at the right time, will yield good fruit.
  31. Watch and pray.
  32. Teach respect.
  33. They want to please you. It’s a good feeling. They want to discover something that pleases you.
  34. Enjoy your children. Have fun with them. Plan fun times. Be spontaneous.
  35. Teach them appreciation for beauty – make them observant. It will be rewarding later when they are the ones that point it out to you. “Look at this pretty….” “There’s a squirrel.”
  36. Enjoy things together.
  37. Look for progress. Don’t be an alarmist.
  38. Be consistent, predictable, reliable.
  39. Get in involved and communicate with other adults they respect, like their principal, teachers, parents of friends.
  40. Make them feel worthwhile and care for their needs in a timely way.
  41. Make occasional sacrifices to show them that what matters to them is important to you.
  42. Teach them that they cannot have everything they want. There are choices involved.
  43. Even if you can afford something, choose a lifestyle within a specific budget so that there are limitations for all.
  44. Set an example of giving to meet needs. Live to give.
  45. Teach them how to give their best. Don’t be a cheapskate.
  46. Your children are watching your relationship with your partner, so be considerate. Don’t discuss discipline in front of the children.
  47. Watch for attitude. Observe what you need to work on–what you need to catch.
  48. Don’t reward pouting.
  49. Try talking to someone else about a positive trait you see or want to see, within the hearing of your children. Not, “I wish my son would….” but “It sure is peaceful here tonight.” “The children have been very cooperative today.”
  50. Beware of praising, or omitting, or criticizing the other. They are listening very carefully and are excellent judges.
  51. Acknowledge your weaknesses to yourself but be very careful about generalizing about your faults openly so that they don’t “label” you.
  52. Broaden their experience.
  53. What to watch for – anger, resentment, selfishness. Discuss underlying issues and encourage self control, forgiveness and caring.
  54. Encourage (guided) independence. Be sensitive to their preparedness for responsibility.
  55. Balance protection and independence.
  56. Pray for deliverance from temptation. Pray for deliverance from the allurement of sin.
  57. Teach them to interact with other adults.
  58. Teach them with respect when you are in the presence of other adults.
  59. Accept that you will make mistakes but get back on track with your long term goal.
  60. Accept that you, as a parent, may need to change, e.g. do something you haven’t done before.
  61. Avoid being “judgmental” especially of appearances.
  62. Rather than criticizing, teach them to consider possible consequences of various choices people make.
  63. Love people.
  64. Invite people into your home.
  65. Remember, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
  66. Get to know your child. Be a student of your child. Know what makes them happy, what gifts they would like, where they would like to go.
  67. Have a few family traditions that you all look forward too.
  68. Don’t get bogged down with “do’s” and “don’ts”.
  69. Remember a long term goal is to have a happy child.
  70. Teach coping skills. Look for the good. Instill hope for tomorrow. Pray. God cares.
  71. Develop your own faith through church attendance, fellowship, Bible study and prayer. Leave good footsteps for your child to follow in.
  72. Cook for them. Cook together too. It is a great bonding time. Good or bad results, the memories will be of times spent doing things together.
  73. Keep a comfortable house with attention to the children’s rooms.
  74. Be careful where you “leave” the kinds and who watch who enters the house or spends tine with them, including relatives.
  75. Keep a balanced approach of caution but not paranoia regarding their safety.
  76. Immediately pay attention to hurts. Don’t belittle their pain.
  77. Make consequences fit the action, and ensure they are age appropriate.
  78. Try to be careful not to leave children alone too long.
  79. Occupy the children with activities while teaching them to find things to do independently too.
  80. Monitor their activities and keep a mental record. For instance, certain behaviors might be “learned” from friends or TV shows and they are “trying” them on you to see your response.
  81. Learn to understand the children by watching them.
  82. Teach respect for others and consideration for the opposite gender.
  83. Reward good behavior with acknowledgement, even if just a smile.
  84. Rather than say, “Bad” or “Don’t” with small children, distract them or remove them from the situation and say, “Come and see this” or “Let’s do this.”
  85. Any form of violent behavior must be addressed and prevented from recurring at an early age. (My grandmother had a violent foster child and her solution was to hold her tightly on her lap when she became violent, until she calmed down. Sometimes she would hold her for half a hour. A child will either learn to yield to the parent or the parent will lose control and there will always be a struggle.)
  86. Talk about future possibilities. Pray about the future with them. If they will get married one day, their future spouse is already living somewhere. You can pray for them too.
  87. Keep things simple and basic. Live your life so that you can manage it.
  88. Love your child. Give good gifts. Give yourself. Prepare your child to be a well-rounded adult.