WALK ON–Sharing Sorrow Into Joy

“What if we joined our sorrows? What if that is joy?”

Ross Gay, American poet

1.

On the first Saturday of October, I met with team WALK ON, and we wandered together on Mt. Tabor, a wooded park in Portland, Oregon. A dormant volcano, this seemed a perfect place to offer our final efforts toward raising awareness and funds toward suicide prevention and support for survivors.

Although the official and annual OUT OF THE DARKNESS walk was cancelled (due to Covid-19) our team of six decided to gather. The morning was autumn-warm and sunny.

After walking for a while, we found a glowing spot on the mountain and sat for a simple ceremony. We each shared the WHY of our efforts toward this cause. As team captain (instigator!) I told my story and was deeply moved to hear my friends share their reason for taking part—and helping to raise a lot more money than I’d set as our goal.

My reason for getting involved was a stumbling. I had begun to research. I want to write a novel about a kid who loses a loved-one to suicide and struggles to feel safe and connected and eventually finds strength through connection. My research lead to AFSP—the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

When I was 8 years-old and not yet healed from a childhood illness, I came home from school one day to find my father’s dear friend lying dead atop his blue Chevrolet, in our garage. The man had come from Georgia to live with us. I now understand why: My father hoped to help John to want to live. For I don’t know how many months, he lived in that basement bedroom.

It was horrible, and it tore through my family’s life, forever silent. Even today–almost five decades later–my father won’t talk with me about what happened or the aftermath. No one talked about it then though at some point they sent me to a shrink who I refused to talk with about anything.

Our pets died, probably without pain, sprawled on the couch. Maybe my dog, Buttons, breathed his final breaths on the pillow of my bed. He was my best friend. My parents promptly bought a replacement.

They did the best they could, but we did not deal with this tragedy together. I don’t think the AFSP yet existed in the early 70s, certainly not the internet or email, and we lived in the country. No surprise that my parents marriage eventually imploded—dying a cruel death.

Suicide is not a subject we easily discuss. The mention is often full of shame: For survivors, sometimes the question of What could I /should I have done? lingers. And the anger of abandonment is real, too. When survivors aren’t able or willing to talk about their hurt, the feelings can fester. They can haunt and will fail to find an outlet or an opportunity to be transformed into loving compassion that might help others.

In my experience—and in listening to my teammates that lovely morning—the simple act of reaching out for donations lead to rich and therapeutic conversation. Some people responded with their own stories of loss. And one team member reached out to many of the friends of his wife who died of suicide 12 years ago. They wrote him letters. They talked with him and also with his daughter in ways he hadn’t experienced over the years. They talked about suicide. They said and wrote the word.

When we speak of the sadness—the sadness of a person ending his own life and the sadness of losing a spouse, parent, sibling, friend, co-worker,  cousin, uncle, aunt, or neighbor to suicide—we walk toward healing. We learn something more about humanity, about ourselves.

And, healing often requires feeling pain–which can be frightening. A wound doesn’t simply reform to health. The scab itches. The skin is never quite the same. Although my tooth is cracked and sometimes hurts when I chew, I avoid the repair needed—the crown I might someday accept.

2.

My mission before I die is to forgive everyone—which begins with myself.

I’d best let go of critiques and if onlys.

In the same way I do not want to be held to my 10, 15, 25, 40-year old self–or even yesterday–I’d best let go, and let all beings be here now. Sounds like a lot more fun!

*

I know a 78-year-old man who refuses to talk to his 83-year-old brother. Maybe it’s mutual. I don’t know, but the anger, the condemnation, the abandonment now grows from their teenage selves, when the older beat up the younger. So much else has happened between then and now.

We could each be angry at someone for the rest of our lives—with darned good reason.

*

Humans all over the world do this thing—hold grudges, hate brothers, believe ourselves right.

When I lived for several years in a small village in the Philippines, I witnessed three brothers who wouldn’t speak to each other.

Two lived in neighboring houses. It seemed that when their parents died, the land and who owned the copra was not divided equally—or something like that.

My guess is their troubles began long before their mother’s death.

3.

I was 38 or 40 years old by the time I realized a deep fear.

In a house on the hill, in a small town where I taught at the community college, I lived with my husband. I’d be gone all day, every day, but he would stay home. He was looking for a job, remodeling the bathrooms, the basement, pulling up blackberry brambles and planting fruit trees. He built a kitty-condo for our neurotic feline.

But I felt worried. Was he depressed? No—he yelled. But how can anyone stay in that dark house day-after-day? I wondered and worried.

And then one day, as I sped home, chest tight, I realized my trepidation: What if I get home and find him dead? What if he is depressed, gives up—and I find the cat curled lifeless beside him, both sprawled on our queen-size bed?

I felt frantic.

That day I arrived home terrified—yet also relieved when I saw them alive. I knew I now understood something about myself, important though a bit overwhelming.

His response was fury—which, of course, made it all much worse for me (and for us).

“How can you think such a thing of me?” he berated.

He thought I saw him as weak. He only heard insult though I tried to tell him this was my fear, my problem. It had little to do with him.

*

Years later, I met a woman while sitting in the basement waiting room at Randall Children’s Hospital. A little boy we both knew, only 2 years old, was having a diseased kidney removed. This woman told me her father had killed himself when she was a child. Then, years later her marriage was shaky. She had two kids, and she realized her dread that one day she’d come home from work, and her husband would do what her father had done.

Like my husband, he wasn’t happy she’d think this of him. Like us, they’d need to work things out.

I’d never met anyone with this kind of story—a loss similar to mine with an outcome I understood. John was not my father, but I had fallen into him. I had trusted him. In a short time, my 8-year-old self had bonded with this man like a favorite uncle. And, he had killed my dog, too. How confusing.

For so long I’d kept it to myself. Then, when I tried to talk to my husband, he misunderstood.

Talking with this woman was a gift. I felt so connected—through our sharing of sorrows. I wasn’t crazy.

I knew my life would never be the same.

She had undergone years of therapy, me, too—and my writing habit had always helped me to process feelings and thought—but this sharing of sorrows, personal story, with an almost stranger–was a sort of joy that day, eight years ago.

The boy is thriving, his remaining kidney back to health.

4.

My mission

is small steps

through murky ponds

up craggly mountains trails

toward loving you

better and forgiving

myself enough

to begin

to forgive

the unforgiveables.

5.

What if when I listen to you, and you listen to me,

we fall into each other, momentarily

though more than superficially,

so we can no longer witness

each other’s pain as separate?

The witness would not wipe us out

or overwhelm but would invite us

to drop illusion

that my troubles and yours

do not live inside each other.

I imagine a world where we would

openly talk of pain and conflict

and no one could be left hungry

or sleeping on the sidewalk

because that would be neglect

of ourselves.

Such a web

would contain all life.

We would take and we would eat

only what we need—honoring

all who give

us nourishment.

6.

My Mission

can’t wait!

Since death is certain, and the time of death uncertain, I best forgive NOW!

            Join sorrows

            Share laughter

            Give freely

            Apologize

            Own Heart

            Acknowledge goodness in All!

We belong to each other.

And I know this is not so easy as I can write it.

And I’m sorry to each of you I have ever hurt.

And that probably include most of you.

And I likely won’t finish in time.

LINKS YOU MIGHT LIKE

https://afsp.org/ — American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

http://rossgay.net/ — Ross Gay’s homepage

AS THE WEST-COAST BURNS. . .

For three days we haven’t been able to walk outside. We open the door quickly to let the dog out for a pee. It smells like a campfire lit in a small room, all doors closed. I masked up several days ago to water some flowers and pick tomatoes. Today I’ll do the same. We’re lucky to have a well-sealed home and make-shift fans equipped with serious air filters, but the city hosts hundreds of homeless who live in tents, and many houses are filled will hazardous air by now.

Trapper Creek on Sept. 6, 2020–now threatened by wildfire.

Outside of our city, fires have decimated towns and homes, and forests burn–including an area north, along Trapper Creek in Washington where we had been camping with friends only one week ago. It has been our refuge for years.

As I write, 28 wildfires burn in Oregon alone. Until Monday, September 7th, the problem was manageable, but that’s when unusual winds from the east blew in–powering the flames. More than a million acres have burned in Oregon alone.

From so much loss all around us, I ache. And I am grateful to firefighters working all hours to keep flames from destroying our city and more. We hope for rain, but it’s not in our control.

I dream also of when we will realize together we’re guest on this planet–and stop blaming and get moving toward kinder, productive action.

In California today, our president’s message is scolding rather than compassion, You need to manage your forests better, he says. He also argues against science.

While employing men and women toward service to clean up the forests would have been a great way to put people to work on federal lands over the past months and years, support and action is what we need now–not looking backward.

Firefighters are exhausted—and we will need more people to join the efforts. A hurricane in Louisiana is now on its way, too. More troubled lands in our nation. We need collaboration, cooperation–and less talk toward re-election. Show us, don’t tell!

We also need respect for science and to teach the masses to think more critically.

Scientists are people of all sorts, but their business is to ask questions. A scientist makes a hypothesis—an educated guess about what is what—and then works to determine if his or her thinking can be supported.

Continue reading “AS THE WEST-COAST BURNS. . .”

No More Silence

I Want to Be a Part of the Change

June 14, 2020

It’s tough to figure out what to write and post. I know I need to listen, yet I also need to write and act—even when I’m not certain about what is the right thing to do or say.

Along with many, I’ve felt fear and a collective ache and grief since the murder of George Floyd by a policeman in Minneapolis. I’m sorry it’s taken until now for me to really wake up to the degree of ongoing injustice in the United States—for Black Americans. I regret my complacency.

The struggle for justice goes on.

 I’m no political analyst nor historian, but my grandfather flew airplanes for the German army during WWII. My great-grandmother, a house-cleaner and not well-educated—had tried to warn her daughter. She knew Hitler was dangerous. But my grandmother, her daughter, was swept up in the years, Nazi-youth, and didn’t listen to her mother’s warning. Hitler lead the country into the worst of human behavior, and he did it by instilling hatred between groups of people.

I felt shame for decades, knowing this history in my blood. But I grew up with the stories: Desperate people followed a crazy man, listened to a leader who lead them into darkness. He cradled their fears. He promised more wealth and power to those who wanted more for themselves and their children at the expense of the “others”.

So many died, and I’m sorry for these losses. The best I can do now is to keep alive awareness and to speak out and take part in action.

 Like so many people I know, a deep unease grew when the current president moved into the White House. Throughout his campaign he had spread hatred and demonstrated himself a bigot, misogynist, and clearly a man more interested in division than in unity or justice for all.

Continue reading “No More Silence”

Let’s Stay Strong & Find Joy in the Moments!

This includes supporting our body’s Immune System!

Welcome back to LIT ― Live(s) Inspiring Today! If you haven’t been here before, THANKS for sharing some moments now!

Our first Portland snow fell this morning, in mid-March; a friend was in town for a conference this past week and sent home after hundreds had arrived to Portland from as far away as Chile; people all over the world feel worried in new ways. YET, I feel a lovely surprise of “free time” to do what I often don’t do―such as blogging.

Given the challenges of now, let’s talk about the wondrous human body―and immunity. We want to stay healthy and strong. I might even bring poetry into this conversation!

Mostly, I what to remind you and me what we can do any moment of our lives to grow and remain resilient. Not that we control much, yet even when stuck at home, even as plans go berserk and we miss our usual workouts and events are canceled, even when our livelihood feels at stake―on our own time, in our own homes, phone calls and webinars–we can make small decisions that will help not only ourselves but neighbors we’ve never met.

Self-care is good for everyone!

Growing scientific evidence shows that stress reduces the ability of our bodies to fight off ALL diseases and illnesses.

Fantastic if none of these suggestions are new to you! Here goes:

1. Food First: We are what we eat, and when it comes to staying healthy, a colorful plate is an image to behold. While there is no one best diet for all of us, we each need a balance of all three macro-nutrients (fats, protein & carbohydrates).

We need good fat to utilize the protein we consume, and we need protein in our diet in order to digest fat. Carbs are everywhere, and getting enough of those is not a worry for most of us. Don’t forget the greens–lots of them!

Keep in mind that constant snacking is a drain on the body: If always busy breaking down and absorbing food, the body can’t complete its other essential functions―such as detoxification―imperative to a strong immune system and our vital organs working well.  Continue reading “Let’s Stay Strong & Find Joy in the Moments!”

Colleen Bunker’s Journey: Nutrition, Needles, Ease & Flow

“We live in a vastly complex society which has been able to provide us with a multitude of material things, and this is good, but people are beginning to suspect we have paid a high spiritual price for our plenty.”
Euell Gibbons

When I first met Colleen Bunker, LAC, with her needles and certification as a Nutritional Therapist, I was waking up at 2 or 3am many mornings and lying restless for hours. I suffered a chronic hip pain and hoped acupuncture might help me to hike the mountains and snooze through the night. Almost 50, enrolled in massage school, and learningg to use my brain, body and hands in new ways, I felt stressed.

Colleen had begun acupuncture school at age 45, after years of managing a whole-food co-op in Maine. Before that she had an acre market-garden, three green houses and grew food for the store and elsewhere.

While working at the co-op, her father fell terminally ill and moved into her home. She still had two teenage boys around, and a man on the board of the co-op noticed her distress: “You need to come see me,” he said, and those visits were her introduction to acupuncture.

She also met her now-husband, Joe, at the co-op, also a board member. They eventually moved to Vermont where he studied Meditation and Conflict Resolution. She continued to receive acupuncture treatments, and several years later they moved to Portland, Oregon where she enrolled at OCOM (Oregon School of Oriental Medicine). Continue reading “Colleen Bunker’s Journey: Nutrition, Needles, Ease & Flow”

Kinesiology, Shakespeare & Dog Training

sternocleidomastoid from Quizlet.com

Please forgive me for neglecting my blog–and choosing instead to focus on kinesiology!

Studying the muscles of the human body, memorizing where they originate and where they attach isn’t something I’d ever imagined myself doing. I am comparing this course of study to when I first began to read Shakespeare: It made no sense. As You Like It required translation. Before I could appreciate Orlando and Rosalind’s story, I bought a little red paperback–an American-English translation of this Shakespearean play.

As time went by, I took many more Shakespeare courses before earning my B.A. King Lear was my favorite–but the language of all the plays became natural to read and understand. My vision: Let it be so with kinesiology!

Rather than write to you about muscles and the miracle of the human body, I’d like to introduce you to one of the students I’ve met: Continue reading “Kinesiology, Shakespeare & Dog Training”

Here’s To A Little Boy’s Life & Hope for Healing–in Today’s High-Tech Internet World

 “Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.”

Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

 

Strength testing results say Edan's strong and ready for bone marrow transplant
Strength testing results say Edan’s strong and ready for bone marrow

Sometimes the internet, the interstates, airplanes and the speed of life leave us to feel disconnected.

Yet, my sister tells me they now have a milkman–delivering fresh cow’s milk to their doorstep.

In our urban backyard, kale, chard, lettuce and beets continue to feed us, even in March. Maybe this summer we’ll pluck blueberries off the vine. The neighbors grow their own vegetable garden–and invite us to pick figs from their trees.

The internet, fast trains, and certainly being able to type these thoughts on a computer rather than using the typewriter I took to college make a lot of life work way better.

And, when a child is born premature or with complications– like Amy’s son, Oriana’s granddaughter–or a little boy is diagnosed with cancer when he is only four years old–chances of survival are amazingly improved from back when any of us reading these words first took a breath.

In 2012, Edan Owen was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma.

This week’s blog post is dedicated to him and to appreciating today’s world, its advances in medicine and how the speed of life provides its reward. Continue reading “Here’s To A Little Boy’s Life & Hope for Healing–in Today’s High-Tech Internet World”

The Way We Make Our Lives: Kathleen Benz Soon to Retreat

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

Carl Gustav Jung

 

K. Benz

Last year, at the beginning of 2014, I decided it was time to search out–or simply notice–people doing cool things in the world and write their stories. “Cool” is relative, of course. What’s “cool” to one person is “absurd” or “crazy”–or maybe even a pure waste of time to another. I’m pretty sure some of you will find the story of Kathleen Benz puzzling while others of you will be inspiring and wonder “What would that be like? To spend three years cloistered, without any responsibility other than to develop insight and compassion?”

Last year I also began writing articles for a local newsletter once in a while–highlighting people and activities of a local Buddhist organization. So, it only makes sense to merge these two “platforms” once in a while. Since I’m rather new to hanging out with the Tibetan Buddhists at KCC in Portland–and some of these folk have known each other for decades–writing stories has given me a chance to ask questions and get to know people in a way I wouldn’t otherwise.

Lucky me! Continue reading “The Way We Make Our Lives: Kathleen Benz Soon to Retreat”

Risk, Reveal, Relate: The Poetry Circle Goes to Manzanita

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer,
it sings because it has a song.”

Maya Angelou

 

IMG_20150126_124136Last year my friend Stacey Hill told me she’d begun a ritual of gathering herself up three words to guide her for the year. She challenged me to do the same, and I did. But, by 2015 I’d already forgotten our new “ritual”. Stacey, of course, was on top of it, and I found a good old-fashioned letter in my mailbox: She announced her three words–“C” words.

“What are yours?” she wrote.

Finally, weeks later, mine woke me in the night–“R” words this time.

In the morning, they were still in my mind, so I texted Stacey. (No time for the old-fashioned letter, I wanted to tell her NOW.)

Only minutes after I’d sent the text, my phone rang–or, rather, sang.

“I love your words!” said Stacey. Which made me happy, and I asked her about her own, and we talked about the mountains of snow that kept her home from school for yet another day–as she drove her car home.

“Hang on a minute, Deb. The plow truck’s in my way!” Her driving in post-blizzard Massachusetts had me feeling nervous–but that’s another story.

Yes, in 36 inches of snow, this New Englander was talking to me (hands free, of course) while she drove home from a cafe! Continue reading “Risk, Reveal, Relate: The Poetry Circle Goes to Manzanita”

Certainty, Insanity in Paris

“We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values. Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity… We will answer hatred with love.”

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

More than a million people demonstrated for peace on the streets of Paris–40 presidents and prime ministers from around the world, leaders from diverse religions, ordinary people like you or me–and they marched together to show solidarity against a latest act of terrorism..

This outcry comes after 17 people died this week from an outrageous assault on the staff of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The writers and cartoonists dared to express themselves. The attackers did not agree with the magazine’s editorial decisions and chose to kill the people who held and shared opinions unlike their own. Continue reading “Certainty, Insanity in Paris”