theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

There’s no place like home.

I am procrastinating. I should really be packing.  The movers come on Sunday to officially move us into our new home and there is still a lot of work to do.  We have also had the keys to the new house for a couple of weeks now, so we have started moving stuff over on our own -one carload at a time.

It is a strange place to be with half of our stuff in one house and half of our stuff in another, and most of our things in boxes, neither house really feels like home at this point. This feeling was accentuated earlier this week when we received mail at our current home addressed to the soon to be new owners.

This process has been stressful. The decluttering, cleaning, packing, storing, staging, fixing, moving; it’s taken a lot out of me. And it feels unsettling to be in this in between space.  I wasn’t prepared for that. The longer it’s gone on, the more I feel like I am losing my center, my sense of ground.

So I’ve been thinking about the importance of ‘home,’ and the feeling of security that it brings to really have a sense of home.  It goes beyond the physical comforts of having a place to live. There is a mental stability in knowing that there is a place that is yours; a place where you are physically and emotionally safe; somewhere you can let down your guard and just be comfortable in your own skin.  To lose that, even temporarily, is jarring and has stirred stronger emotions than I expected when entering this process.

In my Warrior for the Human Spirit training we learned a Buddhist practice called, ‘Tonglen.’ Tonglen is a practice in which when you are feeling a very strong emotion, you close your eyes and identify what that emotion or feeling is. Then, you take into your collective consciousness all of the people in the world that you can imagine are also feeling that emotion.  Then, offer a prayer of recognition and peace to all of those people.  The idea is to remember that you are never alone in those strong feelings, to acknowledge the interconnectedness of all sentient beings, and to go from a place of “I am suffering” to a place of “There is suffering,” which takes the ego out of it a little bit.

Yesterday, I was feeling especially emotional and exhausted by this whole moving process to the point that it was keeping me from being productive. So this morning, during my meditation time, I decided to include Tonglen in my practice.  I decided to call into my consciousness all of the people in the world that I could imagine were missing home or searching for home and all of the people for whom home is not a safe space.  I thought about the refugees around the world, many who are in a permanent state of impermanence; I thought about the children separated from their parents at our Southern border; I thought about the members of our military stationed overseas and their families feeling incomplete at home.  I called into conciousness all who are homeless or in transitional housing or who are at risk for losing their homes; and those whose homes are not physically or emotionally safe spaces.  I tried to hold all of these people to the light and offer them a prayer of recognition and peace. I prayed that each of them, in some way, are able to someday find their way home. Finally, I said a prayer of gratitude that my situation is temporary and that our move to our new home is ultimately going to bring my family to a place of greater serenity and togetherness.

There really is no place like home.

 

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There is abundance- Part 2

In case you  missed it, part one can be found at There is abundance – Part 1.

The packing and decluttering continue.  It is getting easier to say goodbye to items that I haven’t looked at or used in years.  Even the kids are realizing that we cannot, in all practicality, move everything to the new house and yesterday, they said goodbye to our trampoline, helping to literally walk it around the corner to it’s new home with a neighbor who has young children.

Going through every closet, cabinet, and drawer is tedious and time consuming but I am trying to see it as an opportunity to be present and mindful and take advantage of whatever learning experiences exist in this process.  Here’s what I’ve been learning (or reminded of):

 It’s okay to let the past stay in the past.

While going through my closet I found a bridesmaid’s dress that I wore to a dear friend’s wedding in 1999.  In 2009, before “ghosting” was a thing, this friend abruptly disappeared from my life, with no explanation. After years of trying to reconnect, I finally accepted that I had no choice but to let this person go. And yet, the dress, which no longer fits, from a wedding almost 20 years ago, for a friend who chose to walk away, continued to hang in my closet until last week when I finally stuck it in a bag and dropped it off at Goodwill.  I have come across this dress in my closet a number of times over the years; I have thought about giving it away. Somehow, it always felt like a betrayal – that giving away the dress would mean closing a door that I somehow felt I had an obligation to leave open- just in case this person ever decided to come back.

Just. In. Case. I’ve decided those three words are more trouble than they are worth.  I realize now by leaving this and other doors from the past open, just in case, that all I have done is lug around a lot of unnecessary baggage that has only served to weigh me down. I was keeping this dress as a placeholder for this person, to whom I now know, I owe nothing.

A picture may be worth a thousands words, but a thousand random photographs just take up space.

Over the past two weeks, I have sifted through close to a thousand photographs.  My important photos are already in albums or have been uploaded to a digital photo site so these are all “extra” photos.  Some are blurry, some are the doubles to the pictures that are already in albums and there are pictures from those same trips or experiences that didn’t make the cut to get into the album. Why have I felt the need to hang on to these pictures? It’s not as if discarding the photo creates a glitch in the time-space continuum that cancels out that moment altogether. And, these photos have been sitting in boxes and envelopes for over a decade and have barely seen the light of day.  Goodbye old photos.

There is something to be said about the space we create by letting go of our stuff.  If the physical space we live in is too cluttered, we can feel physically restricted and can’t really see the space in which we are living. If our emotional space is too cluttered, it is largely similar- restricting our personal growth and preventing us from seeing a clear picture of our lives.  Creating space also allows us to be open to new ideas and experiences and to see the same things we have been looking at for ages in a different way.

People and relationships are far more important than things. 

My volunteer work takes me out into the community, talking to and collaborating with people of every age, faith, ethnicity, race, and socio-economic bracket. It is such a privilege to get to hear people’s stories and to connect with them on a human level. I have been fortunate, in my work, to develop genuine relationships through which I have really grown as a person.

I have had to pull back a bit from my volunteer work while I get us ready to move and I have been surprised by how much I miss being out in my community forming and strengthening those relationships and the institutions that support them. I would much rather being having a conversation with a stranger about the things that are keeping them up at night or which motivate them to get out of bed in the morning than to be sitting at home with my personal belongings.

That’s not to say that I don’t value my comfortable bed, or my coffee maker, or the painting of ‘Larry the Llama’ (our family mascot) which hangs on our dining room wall. But I do think that moving forward, I would like to be more discerning about what I choose to bring into our new house- is it useful or will it bring us joy? Or is something that we will, not so far from now, look at as only taking up space.  And can those resources, instead, be put towards creating and strengthening relationships and building community?

I can give without conditions. 

Finally, I am reminded that I am very blessed to have more than what I need. Having been reminded that I can give up some of what I physically have and still have enough inspires me to be more generous in my giving- of time, financial resources, leadership, or of anything else I have to offer. Letting go of the emotional baggage and stepping outside of my ego means that I can give without placing conditions on that gift. I do not need the organizations or institutions that I support to be perfect in order to feel gratitude for what they have given me and to understand what they provide to others. Having created more space, I can see more clearly what it is I am protecting and strengthening when I offer my support.

Happy New Year! I am looking forward to share more reflections and insights with you  in 2019!

There is abundance – Part 1

This spring, if all goes as scheduled, we will be moving to a new house a couple of towns away. In order to make this happen, we must sell our current home and my main priority right now is to make our house “market ready.”  This means clearing out and organizing closets and cabinets, determining what stays and what goes. What do we not need at all? What do we want to keep but can live without for the next few months? How badly do we need something that we can easily place in storage for the foreseeable future?

These questions, which I am now asking myself throughout each day, have raised another question for me. How did we accumulate so much stuff- and why is it so hard to part with?

Yesterday, I began to tackle the hall closet where we store our cleaning supplies, extra toiletries, medications and first aid products, and various household items such as light bulbs. I will not bore you with the full inventory of everything that was in that closet- but as an example, let me share with you that I found eight- yes eight- half-filled boxes of  band-aids. I offer photographic proof below.

bandaids.jpg

Can someone explain to me why any family needs eight boxes of band-aids? So I started thinking- we do not need to move to a new house with eight boxes of band-aids.  I should give or throw some of these away- which ones? Well those Ninja band-aids are totally adorable and they were a gift- we have to keep those.  I remember when I used to put those cute cupcake band-aids on my kids’ boo-boos when they were little. They have sentimental value. And those little free band-aid packets that we picked up at a booth at a County Fair five years ago- I was going to put one in my purse and keep one in the car– you know, just in case– but clearly that never happened because there they were sitting in my hall closet. So what did I do? I combined the band-aids from the 8 boxes into 4 and kept every single one of them. Because I might need them someday.

Why is it so hard to let go of our stuff? I go back to the thought of- what if I need this someday? What if down the road, I need something that I once had and because I gave it away I no longer have what I need.  What if I let go of something now and then someday, I don’t have enough? Am I even still talking about the band-aids?

Planning for the future is generally speaking a good thing. But since I physically live in the present I feel like I need to change the messaging, not only for the preparations for this move, but for life in general.  Instead of worrying about what may or may not happen in the future I can choose to see that now, in the present, there is abundance. I do not have to let go of all of it, but I can let go of some of it, dare I say most of it?- and I will still have enough.

There is a relationship, too, between this concept of I have enough and I am enough – and the personal baggage that we cling to so tightly. But I will save that for Part 2.  Until then, if you need a band-aid you know who to call…

 

Rational Lies

I have been thinking about this story from when I was in fifth grade.  Each year, my elementary school held a concert that featured performances from our school’s five musical ensembles: Chorus, Orchestra, Band, Jazz Band, and Hand Bell Choir (yes, my elementary school had a hand bell choir).

At some point in my elementary school career, I set a goal to perform with all five groups in the concert of my fifth grade year- my final year in elementary school. I can’t remember my reason for wanting to do this but apparently my roots as an overachiever run deep.  And, I succeeded. In my final year of elementary school I sang in the chorus, played the violin in the orchestra, played the clarinet in the band, played the bass clarinet in the jazz band, and rang the B-flat 6 bell in the hand bell choir.  My 10-year-old self was very proud of this accomplishment.

Of course, to make this work took some logistical finagling.  After the band performed and we were exiting stage left, I had to hand off my clarinet to a band friend who had agreed to put it away for me and run around to the other side of the stage where an orchestra friend was waiting for me, with my violin, as the orchestra was preparing to enter stage right.   When my mother tells this story, she says that they should have just put me in roller skates and pushed me back and forth across the stage.

As an adult, when I am presented with an interesting or exciting opportunity, I find that it is my 10-year-old self who wants to answer first “Oooohhh, yes, let’s do that! Can we, please?” And I start to think, who can I hand off my clarinet to in order to make this work?  Who can hold my violin? But life at almost 44 is far more complicated than it was at 10 and my grown up mind knows that it has to be more discerning.

It is said that when it rains it pours and I currently find myself presented with three potential interesting and exciting opportunities. My 10-year-old self is jumping up and down and yelling, “Challenge Accepted! We can totally do everything!!”  I picture myself putting my grown up hand on my ten-year old head and gently saying, “Slow down young self. Let’s think about this.”

About four years ago I attended a talk given by a Jewish educator called, “Gossip, Lies, and Lessons.” Among the lies she implored us to avoid were the lies we tell ourselves.  “When we rationalize,” she said, “we tell ourselves rational lies.”  To make good decisions, we need to be honest with ourselves and to do this, we need to be able to see a situation clearly.  Even if I could find someone to hand off my clarinet to I suspect I am looking for ways to rationalize being able to pursue any of these opportunities when perhaps I should be saying no to all three.

My 10-year-old self may throw a tantrum but the truth of the matter is I am already way over-committed.  I need to be dialing back, not putting more on my plate.  And more importantly, my attention is needed at home. That is the honest reality of my life and it requires radical acceptance not rationalizations.

I think of this quote by Buddhist teacher,  Chögyam Trungpa:

“I cannot change the way the world is but by opening to the world as it is I may discover that gentleness, decency and bravery are available not only to me but to all human beings.”

There are things about my world that I cannot change; they are beyond my control. So I instead present this to my ten-year old self as an interesting and exciting opportunity that we can say yes to:  What if I open myself up and be fully present to my world as it is, with all of the gentleness, decency, and bravery I already possess – what then?

A new perspective for a new year.

Love thy neighbor… and his brother…and his dog.

I have lived in the same neighborhood for fourteen years.  I have come to love it here- in all of it’s quirkiness.  My neighborhood defies labels.  You would be hard pressed to find a race, a religion, a political affiliation, or a socio-economic bracket that is not represented somewhere in the 500+ homes that make up my neck of the woods.  Over the years, I have seen many people come and go.  And then, there are the constants- those people who have been here since before I got here, the ones I see every day, who always wave or stop to chat, or to comment on how quickly my kids are growing up and where does the time go, anyway?

I have grown quite attached to my neighborhood and my neighbors so understandably, any time an ambulance go whizzing past my house, sirens wailing, I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and I send up a little prayer that wherever the ambulance stops, everyone will be okay.  Yesterday, the ambulance stopped across the street at the home of one of my constants- a gentleman, I’ll call him Max, now near retirement age, who brings us oranges every year around Christmas and has even been a guest in our home for Thanksgiving dinner. We have had many conversations over the years, Max and I, from opposite sides of his fence as I have walked by his house with my girls who loved to stop and talk to his dogs when they were younger.  Max loves this neighborhood too, with all of it’s rich diversity.  And he loves his one remaining dog, Buddy, with a fierceness that only another dog owner can really understand.

So yesterday, when the ambulance pulled up in front of Max’s house, my heart sank. Luckily, Max’s brother, Jerry, was there at the time and after the ambulance pulled away my husband and I crossed the street to ask if we could help by caring for Buddy until more information was known about Max’s prognosis.  Jerry gratefully accepted our offer. When we touched based with him earlier today he thanked us again telling us how helpful it was to have one less thing to worry about as Max is currently in the ICU and his attention is naturally focused there.

Buddy has been thrilled to see us each time we cross the street to let him out in the yard, feed him, and refill his water bowl.  I’m sure he’s mostly happy to have his needs attended to- but Buddy has a story too.  Buddy used to belong to another neighbor- a single woman who lived just around the corner before she passed away suddenly and quite unexpectedly about four years ago.  Max adopted Buddy and they have been fast friends ever since.

Love thy neighbor. My thoughts are, of course, with Max and his doctors and nurses in the ICU who will do everything in their power to bring Max back to full health.

Love also his brother. My thoughts are also with Jerry as he navigates all of the emotions, decisions, and bureaucracy that come with coordinating medical care for a loved one who cannot currently care for himself.

Love his dog. Buddy lost his first beloved owner to sudden illness. And each time we let Buddy out, as happy as he is to see us, he looks around for Max. And if you don’t believe me- you have clearly never owned a dog.

I love my neighborhood.  But really, I love living in a neighborhood that feels like a community. I love that even the dogs have stories and we know those stories because neighbors actually take the time to talk to each other.  Once you know somebody’s story it is hard to not care about them.

And if you have a moment to spare, please think of my neighbor and his brother and his dog.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

We have the right to remain silent

I have just returned from a week away in the beautiful mountains of Colorado where I was participating in a spiritual leadership training program.  Part leadership development, part meditation practice, along with a healthy dose of reconnecting with nature, the program asked each of us to explore the question, how can I be of best service to my family, my community, and the organizations in which I work during the difficult times we are currently facing as a nation?

There is a lot to unpack from this experience and I suspect I will be doing so for a while. My initial thoughts, however, come from the way we started each day while in training– in silence.  Each morning, from the time we woke up (for me that was about 6:00 a.m.), through our morning meditation, breakfast in the dining hall, until our first learning session at 9:00, we were asked to remain silent.

This was new for me- spending the first three hours of each day in silence even as I was at times surrounded by people.  And it has gotten me thinking about our need as a society to fill every moment of the day with activity, noise, distraction, and chatter.  A friend of mine pointed out recently that she can’t even fill her car’s gas tank anymore without a screen babbling to her in the form of advertisements, celebrity gossip, and “important” news of the day. From early in the morning until we collapse into bed at night, exhausted, we run ourselves and our children ragged racing from one activity to another- work, school, the gym, sports practices, tutoring, volunteer obligations and more-all while listening to podcasts, audio books or music while driving; receiving and responding to texts and emails throughout the day; updating multiple social media accounts with our whereabouts and pictures of our specialty ‘Frappacino’ and lamenting to friends and family that we would love to be spending more time with them if only we weren’t so busy.

Why do we choose this constant state of busy? And can we be clear that it is a conscious choice? As I theorize about why we make this choice I can’t help but ask myself these questions: What are we trying to prove by maintaining this constant state of busyness? What do we think we will accomplish? What are we trying to avoid? What is the void we are trying to fill? Are we so afraid to spend quiet time with our own thoughts and feelings?

I can’t answer these questions for anyone else but I can share what I learned by taking a few hours each day to slow down, be still, and be silent.  For me:

  1. Silence creates space for things that are often times squeezed out in the busyness of each day- divine presence; prayer; clear and calm thinking- just to name a few.
  2. Silence leads to noticing.  In these moments of silence I found myself more awake and aware of what was happening around me and inside of me.  I listened more deeply, observed more carefully, was more in tuned to how I was feeling.

You may be thinking- this is all well and good if you have three hours a day to dedicate to silence and stillness.  How am I, this very busy person, supposed to find the time to be silent? We may not have a few hours.  I certainly don’t in my “regular” life. I am suggesting, though, that perhaps we take back a few minutes from our day to sit quietly and see what comes out of it.  What will fill the space that you create with silence? There is only one way to find out.

Letting my soul take the lead.

It’s 4:15 a.m.  I’ve been laying in bed, awake, for the past hour or so listening to the wind blow. The power just went out and some electronic device with battery back up is beeping so I have gotten up to find it and turn it off before it wakes up everyone else.  I have given up hope of falling back to sleep so I am pencil and paper writing by flashlight.

These early morning hours are powerful for thinkers and writers like myself. Even with the wind howling outside it feels quiet and still in the house, especially without the low, normally ever present, hum of electricity.

I am sitting here in this beautiful quiet with the wind as my soundtrack and I am thinking about my current volunteer work as a lay leader with a non-partisan, interfaith, community organizing group.  It is hard work, sometimes frustrating, but worth it. Through this work I have gotten the chance to work with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met who have truly amazing stories. I am blessed in this work with inspiring teachers who are invested in me as a person and as a leader in my community. I feel like I am part of something larger than myself and with that comes a sense of purpose that I have not felt in a long time.

I have also been feeling a tiny bit inadequate. As I get deeper into this work I find myself faced with important questions: What do you want out of your involvement with this organization? What do you want for your Core Team? Why are you doing this work? For the life of me, I cannot get my brain to cooperate in helping me to articulate answers to these questions and I feel a little bit stupid because it seems like for something that I feel such strong emotions about I should be able to think of the answers.

But, maybe the problem is that I am trying to think of the answers.  I am quite used to my brain running the show- for better or worse. I think and overthink until my grey matter is so bogged down in grey areas that I become completely trapped by my own thoughts.

I am starting to get the feeling, that my brain is not in charge of this.  When I am asked why I am doing this work, the only answer I can honestly come up with is that I can’t imagine not doing this work.  The thought of walking away from this experience makes me feel like crying.  So I am thinking that maybe my brain is not the boss here in this particular circumstance. I am thinking that perhaps my soul is taking the lead on this one.

I’m pretty sure that my soul knows exactly what I want from this experience, what I want from my Core Team, why I am doing this work.  What I have figured out is that in those moments where I stop thinking so much and just focus on doing, there is so much joy and meaning.  When I just let go of trying to understand the answers at a cognitive level I find I am instinctively making many of the right choices, I am contributing, I am not inadequate at all.

So maybe it’s okay that I don’t have the words yet to articulate what I think. Maybe it’s okay that my soul feels like the leader of a marching band, deliberately and confidently stepping in the right direction while my brain is twenty steps behind trying to figure out how to play the tuba, read music, and march in time all at once.  My brain will catch up eventually and cognitive clarity will come when it comes.  Hopefully, the people who are asking for answers can be patient with me until then.

And until then, I’m going to work on having faith that my soul is not going to lead me astray. That’s hard work too and sometimes frustrating but also worth it.

Life lessons…

Lately I have found myself reflecting on the people in my life, past and present, whom I would consider to be my life teachers.  Some of them are permanent fixtures, others have merely passed through, but all have left me fundamentally changed in some way.

Today, I am thinking about Harry.  Harry was my supervisor when I was a Graduate Assistant during my second year of graduate school back in 1997-1998.   Harry was only in my life for about ten months.  But I am frequently amazed at how his words have come back to me over the years when I am least expecting it and how the lessons I learned from him twenty years ago become relevant all over again.

The first time I met Harry in 1997 he told me that several years earlier he had been diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure and told he had six months to live. His response to the doctors? “I’m not going down like that.”  And he didn’t.  Until his passing in 2005, Harry lived his life as equal parts sheer determination, courage, and heart.

Harry lived with a level of intention that I have only recently begun to appreciate.  He felt like he was living on borrowed time and viewed each day as a gift but in the time I spent with him, he never seemed to worry about what he might or might not get done.  Harry woke up every morning and made his bed. This, he explained to me, was his way of reminding himself that he would have control over nothing else for the rest of the day.  And then he would just get on with the daily task of living.

One of the things I appreciated about Harry, even then, was his ability to find joy in the smallest of pleasures.  I love that he kept a pint of ice cream in the office freezer and put a scoop in his coffee in the morning. Because, why not? One day, I showed up at his office for our weekly one on one meeting. Harry announced that we were going for a drive.  I can’t remember the exact make and model of the car- it was a boat of a Lincoln or a Cadillac and it had cushy leather seats and surround sound speakers and we spent the better part of an hour that day cruising around campus listening to music.   I think that was the most content I ever saw him.

There’s also this- If my husband were reading this over my shoulder right now he would remind me that Harry sometimes drove me crazy.  Mostly this was because he was constantly throwing challenges my way. I had never at that point in my life been pushed so far outside my comfort zone, and in his efforts to help me grow as a new professional Harry loved to throw me in the deep end of the proverbial swimming pool to show me that I could, in fact, swim.  In the most memorable of these instances Harry was supposed to give a speech at the Senior Awards Banquet- something he had known about for weeks, maybe months.  Shortly before the banquet Harry called me to let me know that since I had spent more time with the students than he had and since I was the one who had the closer relationship with them, that I should be the one giving the speech.  Public speaking has never really been my thing but with enough time to to prepare and practice I am comfortable.  But to get up in front of a room full of people and essentially speak off the cuff is my own personal version of Hell.  Yet, I did it.  And it actually went pretty well.  When I got back to my seat, Harry leaned over and said, “See, I knew you could do it.” When I started to protest, Harry cut me off and said, “Meryl, the only appropriate response right now is ‘Thank you for the opportunity.'”

I learned a lot from Harry in the short time I knew him.  I learned to look for moments of joy in the small pleasures we might otherwise take for granted. I learned that inside of every challenge is an opportunity and that sometimes the only response is to be thankful for that opportunity.  I learned that when life throws me in the deep end that I just need to start swimming. Most importantly, I learned that if you think about it, we are all living on borrowed time- we just have no way of knowing how full the account is that we are borrowing from.

 

From Empathy to Action

Back in September, as we moved closer to the Jewish high holidays,  I sat down with my ten year old daughter and asked her if she had a personal goal or anything about herself that she wanted to work on in the year to come.  After thinking about it for a while, she decided that she wanted to focus on trying to better understand how other people feel. In other words, she wanted to work on becoming a more empathetic person.

As the year has progressed, I have been checking in with her periodically to find out where she is in thinking about or working on that goal and quite frankly, I have been blown away by the stories she is sharing with me.  Recently, she came home from school and shared this:

There is a boy in my daughter’s grade who frequently passes gas.  My daughter has heard that the reason for this is medical- either the side effect of a medication he takes or the result of a chronic gastrointestinal disorder he suffers from.  You can imagine, I’m sure, the reaction that this boy gets from his classmates- laughter, teasing, and straight out ostracizing.  Nobody wants to sit next to this boy or play with him or be his friend.  My daughter readily admits that she is not looking to be his best friend but she has been spending some time thinking about how he probably feels- lonely, sad, angry- and she has decided to make a concerted effort to show this boy kindness.  If she sees him standing alone at recess she goes over to talk to him.  If he needs a partner in P.E. she asks him if he wants to be her partner. The boy, my daughter says, seems appreciative and she feels good about her choices.

What she doesn’t quite understand is the response that she is now getting from some of her classmates.  My daughter had hoped, that by role modeling kindness, and reaching out to this boy that some of her classmates might follow suit. Instead, she said, she feels like some of her classmates are getting angry at her.  They are questioning her show of kindness and inclusion and asking her why she is even talking to him.  This has given us the opportunity to dig deeper into my daughter’s quest to better understand how other people are feeling and we have begun to explore the question of why my daughter’s show of kindness to a child whom everyone else has turned their back on might cause her classmates to feel negatively towards her.

We have been talking about how fifth grade marks the beginning of those years where for many kids, what they want and value more than anything else is to “fit in.”  As long as they are not the one being singled out or teased they are content. Additionally, if in order to fit in it means they feel like they need to ignore or tease the boy that everyone else is ignoring or teasing then that’s what they are going to do.  And if EVERYONE else is doing it, then it must not be that bad, right?

My daughter has made the very brave choice to not go along with the crowd.  Perhaps, in watching her, some of those other kids are now examining the choices they are making and may be feeling conflicted in their hearts about those choices.  Maybe, I told my daughter, they don’t feel so good about treating this boy unkindly, but they are too scared about losing their own social status or worried about being singled out, to change how they are acting.  They may try to pull you back in line, I explained, not because they think you are doing the wrong thing, but because they know that you are doing the right thing, and having to deal with that internal conflict is more than what they can deal with at 10 or 11 years old (heck, many adults can’t quite seem to figure this out).  Understanding those feelings is also part of becoming a more empathetic person.

I wanted my daughter to understand, too, that just because she might come to empathize with the reasons that some of her classmates were upset with her does not mean she has any responsibility to stop making good choices in order to protect people from having bad feelings about bad choices.  In fact, that uncomfortable feeling that we get when we don’t make a good choice or when somebody challenges our worldview is supposed to act as a signal for us to think about why we might be feeling that way and get us to evaluate our thoughts and behaviors so we can make necessary adjustments.

I told my daughter how proud I am of her for the choices she is making and especially for how she is stretching herself beyond her goal of trying to understand how people are feeling to use that understanding in choosing to act in a way that exemplifies how she is living the values of kindness and compassion that she is realizing are important to her.   Finally, I thanked my daughter for the important reminder that it’s not enough to just think about doing the right thing.  Empathetic thoughts alone are only so helpful- but if we can use our empathy to spur us to take action then we really have the opportunity to both make a difference in someone’s life and challenge the thinking of those around us.

 

 

 

My father says I’m not allowed to play with you…

My ten year old daughter approached me a few days ago and said she needed to talk to me about something that had happened when she was playing online.   Being that she is very into coding and online computer/video games my husband and I have had many conversations with her about internet safety- never using her real name, or providing her age, photograph or location when playing games online with people she doesn’t know.  We have talked to her about online predators who might pretend to be something they are not in order to try to form a connection with her.  So when she said something had happened in an online forum, the following story is not what I was expecting.

My daughter was getting ready to start a multiplayer online game on the Roblox website when one of the kids on the site asked her via online chat if she believed in God. My daughter answered that she did but suspected there was more to the question and asked if the real question was if she was a Christian.  The girl responded by asking my daughter if she had accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.  My daughter replied that she is Jewish and that Jews don’t believe that about Jesus at which point the other girl told my daughter that her father had said they couldn’t play together anymore (even in an online forum).

My daughter told me that she asked the girl, “Are you willing to have a conversation about that -because if we talked about our faiths I think you might be surprised by how much they have in common.”  The other girl said “okay,” so my daughter started listing ways their faiths overlapped.  Typing away, she pointed out that their God is one and the same, that their sacred texts overlap, and that their faiths share many of the same values such as caring for the poor and feeding the hungry.  The girl countered that all that may be true but their differing opinions about Jesus Christ made them opposites. She reiterated her belief that Jesus had died for her sins, and that if one did not accept him as their Lord and Savior that they could not go to heaven and that if my daughter did not believe this that they could not play together.

At that point, my daughter did not know what else to say. The girl logged off the game and my daughter played with someone else.  Later, when she told me about what had happened, I asked her how she was feeling about it?  She told me she was a little surprised but that she was comfortable with her faith and mostly she wanted to know if she had handled herself appropriately. I told her she could probably teach classes on how people could handle themselves more appropriately and that I was really proud that she had attempted to open up a dialog with this girl.

We talked about, too, how lucky we are, really, to have so many friends, family members, and neighbors of different (or no particular) faiths.  My daughter adores her non-Jewish cousins and Aunts and places equal value on her relationships with them as she does her Jewish grandparents, uncles, and cousins. She has Jewish friends, yes, and she also has friends who are Catholic, Christian, and Muslim and I do not fear or worry about my daughter playing with any of them.  In fact, I welcome it because it is through these relationships that I believe the world becomes a little bit safer for everyone.  It becomes harder and harder to generalize about or hate entire faith groups, the more relationships you have with people of those faiths.  At the same time, learning about other religions can have a funny away of bringing us closer to our own faith by making us think more critically about why we believe what we believe and be able to better articulate our own beliefs.

So, fear not. If your child comes across my child online I can assure you that there are no Jewish cooties (“Jooties?”) that are going to travel through the internet and negatively impact your child.  It is entirely possible to both lay a strong foundation of your own religious beliefs at home and also allow or even encourage your child to interact with children of different faiths without prejudice or fear.

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