theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the tag “life”

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.

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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.

 

 

 

Being Temporarily Abled

My vision without my glasses is pretty bad.  My own hand in front of my face is blurry and even though I would probably be able to identify a large object that is ten to twenty feet away (something the size of a car or larger) I can’t see smaller objects or read any lettering or signs.  Anything further away then twenty feet is just a fuzzy blob of shape and color.

About twenty years ago, I went to a ‘Lenscrafters’ in a shopping mall in suburban New York. The frames to my glasses had bent but could be repaired while I waited (in about an hour!).   I sat down in a chair in the waiting area and picked up a magazine which I quickly realized I couldn’t read unless I held it about three inches from my face and even then it was tricky.  I put the magazine down and just sat there for a minute or two and then I thought of my friend who is has a visual disability and has used both a cane and a guide dog to assist her over the years.

I decided that instead of sitting in that chair for an hour staring at a fuzzy wall, I would use the time as an opportunity to try to gain even the smallest glimmer of understanding of what it would be like if my ability to see without glasses was the best that I could expect.  I assigned myself a task to find a coffee shop, buy a cup of coffee and then find my way back to ‘Lenscrafters’.

I was able to complete my self assigned tasks but not without asking for help.  Being unfamiliar with the mall I had to ask someone to help me find the coffee shop and then I had to ask the coffee shop employee to tell me what kind of specialty drinks they had and how much they cost.  I had to hold my money pretty close to my face to make sure I was paying with the correct bill.  I had to navigate getting on and off the escalator with limited vision.  By the time I returned to Lenscrafters,  I was grateful to be reunited with my glasses and my ability to see.

It was an interesting experiment which definitely required me to step out of my comfort zone. I felt vulnerable and a little uncomfortable having to ask strangers for help. But let’s be honest, any discomfort or vulnerability I felt was tempered by the knowledge that it was temporary.   Still, when I told my friend who is blind what I had done, she was touched.  She said very few people would even try to take it upon themselves to understand what it is like to be a person with a disability.  She also said that most able bodied people take for granted that they will always be able bodied, when in fact, at any time, any one of us could be faced with an illness or injury that leaves us with chronic pain, mobility issues, or an inability to see, hear, speak or think the way we used to.  Any one of us able bodied people could very well be so temporarily.

Why am I telling you all this?  I have a good friend who deals with chronic pain on a daily basis. She has recently had two major surgeries and hospitalizations but sadly has had no relief.  In addition, she is now facing mobility issues and finds herself needing to use a wheelchair to travel any significant distance.  To add insult to injury, as she has reached out to her friends and community for help and support, she has found that many people are shutting her out.  Some people have just stop taking her calls altogether.  Others have told her that her level of illness makes them uncomfortable or that they are not comfortable having a friend who uses a wheelchair.

I have two lines of thought about these feelings of discomfort:

1.) I understand that feeling uncomfortable feels, well, uncomfortable.  Anytime we are faced with a situation that is unfamiliar or new or in which we don’t know what to do or say, the temptation can be to avoid the situation altogether and shut down that uncomfortable feeling.  This can apply to visiting or supporting our friends when they are sick or injured or any other plethora of new or scary situations.  But before moving into avoidance and denial consider that the feeling of discomfort is also signaling an opportunity for personal growth.

By being willing to sit with that feeling of discomfort, we give our brain the opportunity to confront and resolve the cognitive dissonance between how we are actually feeling, and the guilt or shame we may feel for feeling that way.  Then, we can find our courage, lean in, and access feelings of empathy and compassion instead of succumbing to fear.  We may find that we are awkward and clumsy in our attempts to reach out in these situations- but at least it is authentic. And the more we are willing to try, the less awkward and clumsy it becomes.

2.) Consider the idea that your able-bodiedness may be temporary.  How would you feel if tomorrow you found yourself unable to use your body in the way you are used to using it.   Scared? Confused? Frustrated? Angry? Sad? Now imagine that feeling all of those feelings you reach out to people – who have been your friends for years – for emotional support or assistance and their response is that due to your not being able to use your body in the same way you used to they are no longer comfortable being your friend.  How devastating would that be?

It’s okay- normal even- to feel uncomfortable.  Imagine though, how that discomfort can be transformed into something so much more powerful if we are willing acknowledge that we can simultaneously feel uncomfortable and also make an effort to be empathetic and compassionate.  Can we find the courage to say, “I’m feeling uncomfortable with what you are going through but I’m working on it and want to find some way to try to be supportive.”

We don’t have to make a commitment to “fixing” whatever our friend is going through- there may not even be a viable solution.  And it is totally healthy to set boundaries.  I am not suggesting that it is required or even appropriate to be available to someone 24 hours a day.  I would say to try, for a moment, to put yourself in that person’s shoes and think about how you might feel if you were going through what they are going through.  Remind yourself that at any moment on any day your world might be completely turned upside down.  Imagine what it might be like if you needed to learn to navigate the world in an entirely different way.  And then choose your actions based on how you would hope your friends would respond to you.

It’s easy really- treat others the way you would want to be treated.  Even if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable.

 

The End of An Era…

When I dropped off my daughter at school this morning I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.  Today is her last day of Middle School.  I feel like I should bake her a “you survived middle school” cake.   My daughter had a very mixed middle school experience which (like many others) included mean kids who said mean things sprinkled with an abundance of early teen drama.  But when I look at the kid who entered seventh grade compared to the one who is today finishing eighth I can tell you, she’s come a long way.

Even though I’m frustrated about some of the more negative aspects of her middle school experience, today, I primarily find myself feeling grateful. Education happens as much out of the classroom as it happens inside of it.  Part of the benefit of having forty minutes twice a day in the car with my daughter is that we have had a lot of time to talk.

Here are some of the important lessons my daughter has learned in middle school.

When you set a goal of learning how to “deal with difficult people” (as my daughter did this year) the universe sends you a lot of “difficult” people to practice on.  She is still practicing.  However, she is learning that sometimes it is important to call people out on their words and behaviors and other times it makes more sense to let it go and walk away. She has learned that sometimes people are “difficult” because they are hurting and others are just mean. She has learned that her choices go beyond making friends or enemies.  It is okay to have neutral relationships.

She has learned that sometimes when you tell the truth people will try to quiet you.  Tell the truth anyway.  My daughter was criticized quite a bit in middle school for her “radical honesty.” When I pressed the administration for more information they said that she wasn’t being mean or saying anything that was untrue but expressing honest thoughts that were making other people feel uncomfortable. One example of her radical honesty turned out to be telling visiting students the truth about her experience at the small private school which meant she had perhaps become a bit of a marketing problem. My daughter has learned that she has no obligation to make herself smaller or to lie to make others feel more comfortable.  She has some pretty important things to say.  Good luck trying to stop her.

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Going out in style on the last day of Middle School.

Finally, she has learned, when you have a group of loyal friends who have your back, you can survive almost anything that middle school will throw at you. I am so grateful that my daughter found a group of friends who have really stood by her.  They have shut down gossip about her on days she was absent and they have stood up for each other, particularly when some of the boys have made mean or inappropriate comments.

My favorite story she has come home with is this one:

One of the boys in my daughter’s class told her friend that her bra strap was showing and it was “distracting” him. The four girls, in unison, said, “So, don’t look.” So, the boy tried to explain: this girl was more attractive, more developed than the other girls in the class and so he felt it was beyond his control to not look and therefore he was “distracted.” My daughter, in all of her radically honesty, called the boy out.  “Is it more or less distracting” she asked, “then when you and the other boys stick your hands down your pants during class to shift your private parts?” (Drops mic, walks away.)

I used to worry about my daughter.  I mean, she’s my daughter so I’ll always worry about her to some extent.  But I don’t worry about her the way I used to. She is gaining self-confidence, finding her voice, and figuring out how to put herself out in the world in a way that is authentic to her.  She has learned that she can endure but that she can also set her own boundaries. She is learning that she has the same right to exist as everybody else and she won’t apologize for taking up her space on this planet.

If you ask my daughter about her middle school experience, she will probably focus on some of the more negative experiences she has had.  I am writing this so when she looks back later I can remind her of how much she grew as a person during these tumultuous two years and because I have never been so proud of all she has accomplished.

Please Stop Expressing your Condolences that I have a Teenage Daughter.

I met a new neighbor yesterday.  Upon hearing that I have a teenage daughter, she replied, “I’m sorry.”

This happens quite frequently.  Someone asks me how old my children are and when I mention my teenage daughter the response is often, “My condolences,” or “I’m sorry,” or “Can I get you a glass of wine?”

I’m writing this today to ask of you: please stop expressing your condolences that I have a teenage daughter. I’m not the least bit sorry or upset about it.

Yes, she sometimes rolls her eyes or uses “that tone.” Occasionally, when I ask her to help me to unload the dishwasher she replies, “No thanks, I’m good.” My daughter some times does these things, but these things do not define her. Look past the occasional eye rolls, dramatic interludes, and the ear buds that seem to have taken up permanent residence in her ears and you will see that my teenage daughter is not someone who needs apologizing for.  She is, in fact, nothing short of amazing.

Diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in first grade, my now 14-year-old is one of the bravest and strongest people I know.  Every morning, she gets out of bed knowing that at some point during the day she will need to battle an inner demon and she knows there is a chance she won’t win.  Yet, every morning, she gathers her courage, puts on her emotional armor, and goes to school.  Do you remember middle school? Not exactly a nurturing haven of emotional safety nets (even at her tiny private school there is a fair amount of middle school drama and kids who say mean things).  Nevertheless, she persists.

My teenage daughter is fierce.  She is a self-proclaimed feminist and social justice warrior who is forging her own path in the world.  She has relevant and informed opinions about issues impacting our town, our country, and our planet. She will stand up for people if she thinks they are being treated unfairly – even if they are someone my daughter considers to be, in her words, “a butt.”

My teenage daughter is developing a strong sense of self. She has no interest in wearing something because someone else is wearing it and, so far, she thinks peer pressure is “stupid.” She is authentic and real and won’t apologize for being an independent thinker or outspoken young lady.  She is unapologetically her own person and we encourage her to be just that.

My teenage daughter is interesting.  She reads books and asks questions and is curious about the world.  And yes, occasionally, halfway through my answer to a question she has just posed to me she will completely stop listening. She is, after all, still a teenager.  She is still learning.  But I’m an adult and I’m still learning too.  Sometimes, I roll my eyes and use “that tone,” and overreact to a frustrating but inconsequential situation.  Where do you suppose they learn that behavior to begin with?

It seems to me that women already apologize far more than necessary, sometimes, merely for existing.  Do we really need to exacerbate that problem by apologizing for teenage girls even being a thing? Again, I can’t speak for anybody else’s teenage daughter but I suspect that if you look past the eye rolls, and the obnoxious tone of voice and the drama that sometimes accompanies them you will find that there is a lot of complex, beautiful, and amazing stuff going on right under the surface.

So, if I mention that I have a teenage daughter, ask me how she’s doing or what she’s involved with or what her opinion is on a $15 minimum wage (she does actually have an opinion on that) but please, do not apologize.

 

I am light.

I will be completely honest.  When I woke up yesterday morning and confirmed the election results, I had a moment where I wished I could be my dog; blissfully ignorant and content with digging holes in the backyard and receiving the occasional belly rub. Like many parents, I struggled with how to tell my kids that our candidate had lost.  Like many of my friends, I was worried about what this election means for our country.  And like many people I have spoken to and read about, I have shed some tears.

I have stopped reading the articles that try to articulate how we got here because the fact of the matter is this is where we have landed.  We need to decide how we are going to move forward and in doing that, each of us has a decision to make about how we are going to put ourselves out into the world from here on out.  The great thing is, that with so much work to do, there are many roles to play.  So how I decide to put myself out there doesn’t have to look exactly how you decide to put yourself out there.  The important thing is, we have to put ourselves out there.

Yesterday, my daughter, who is an 8th grader, texted me a selfie of herself and her good friend Lubabah.  To see this beautiful picture of my Jewish daughter with her Muslim friend reminded me of why we must continue to do meaningful work to affect change and why we must refuse to be silenced.

I woke up this morning with great clarity of my purpose in this world. As I drove home after dropping my daughter off at school, these were the words that were streaming through my head:

I am light.

I am peace.

I am love.

I am calm.

I am listening.

I am a beacon in the storm.

I am a safe harbor.

I am gratitude.

I am powerful.

I am kindness.

I have clarity.

I  have purpose.

I have vision.

I have been practicing for this moment in time for my whole life.

I am a soul.

I AM LIGHT!

I am shining.

I am unafraid.

I am unstoppable.

 

This is how I am choosing to put myself out in the world.  Every day. I will make a difference by putting myself out into the world as the best version of me that I know how to be.  I am excited to see how all of you put yourselves out there too.  With every great challenge comes great opportunities.  Go be the best you.  Only you can make your contribution.

Accountability. Kindness. Forgiveness.

I was driving my 13 year old to school this morning and I may or may not have committed a minor traffic violation.  Without going into too much detail, I allegedly made a left turn at a four way intersection at a time when I apparently was not supposed to make a left turn.

There was a woman in her car, stopped at a stop sign at this intersection who started honking and yelling  at me as I made the left turn.  I didn’t realize at first why she was yelling so when I cleared the intersection I stopped my car and rolled down my window.  To say that the woman was unhappy with me was an understatement.  Her window was rolled down as well. She was screaming quite loudly, waving her arms, and pointing out my apparent error.  She was angry, really angry.

Once it sunk in that in this woman’s mind (and very possibly in reality) I had done something that had triggered this response I had to figure out how to respond.   A few thoughts went through my head:

  1. My 13 year old was in the car with me and I wanted to set a positive example.
  2. If there was even a possibility that I had, in fact, screwed up I should take responsibility and apologize.
  3. It didn’t matter in that moment whether or not I felt like the woman’s reaction was out of proportion to the situation.
  4. It was not my place to  judge that woman or her reaction to my error.

For a few seconds I sat there and just listened to her yell.  Then, when she paused, I said, “I am sorry.  I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention and I made a mistake.  Thank you for letting me know.”

The moment the words, “I’m sorry” came out of my mouth the woman’s whole face changed.  The anger disappeared. Then she looked confused for a moment.  Then she gave a small nod, quietly said, “okay” and then she drove away.  The whole interaction probably took less than 30 seconds.

My daughter and I were both quiet for a minute.  Then my daughter said, “that woman was really mad at you.”

I replied, “yes, she was.  But that’s okay.  She was allowed to be angry at me.”

My daughter asked me, “did you make the mistake she said you made?”

“Maybe,” I said, “I’m not actually 100% sure.  But I don’t really think it matters either way.”

“But she YELLED at you,” my daughter said.

“She was upset.  Or, maybe she yelled because she thought I was going to yell back,” I responded.

In those moments, it was not about who was right and who was wrong.  It was about how I thought I could best diffuse the situation; and I followed my gut instinct.

Just driving off did not seem like the right choice in this particular scenario.  I did not feel at all threatened.  I had (inadvertently) caused someone distress.  Becoming defensive and yelling back would have only escalated the situation. As soon as I apologized and saw the woman’s face completely change I knew that I had made the right choice in this situation.

Sometimes, even when we suspect we bear at least some responsibility for a situation, but especially if we suspect we don’t- and especially if someone is screaming at us, there is a temptation to flee or to fight.  If we can take a moment and take a step back, sometimes there is a third option.  Accountability, Kindness, Forgiveness.  I was completely sincere in everything I said to the woman but the look on her face suggested that she wasn’t expecting that response from me.  She looked confused, shocked, and then having had her feelings validated, and without the need to continue to yell, she left.

I don’t know if I handled this situation correctly.  Someone I shared this story with earlier today expressed concern that my safety may have been in jeopardy if the woman had possessed a weapon or been mentally unbalanced.  Perhaps.  But I also wonder how much power each of us have to diffuse a potentially negative or even violent situation if we can put our egos and fears aside and just treat each other like human beings.

It’s likely that when the woman got wherever she was going, she told somone this story.  It’s likely, that the story started by pointing out something stupid I had done.  But maybe, by choosing to apologize and be accountable, I was able to rewrite the ending of the story and she was able to choose forgiveness instead of carrying that anger around all day .  All I know is that with so much judgement and negativity in the world right now, I didn’t want to add to it.

We are human.  Sometimes we are the person making the illegal left turns.   Sometimes we are the person who yells at the person who just screwed up.  Today I decided to be the person who stopped, listened, apologized, took responsibility, forgave, and let go.

 

 

 

 

Prayer as Action

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris this past weekend the twittersphere blew up with the hashtag #prayforparis.  This was quickly followed up by requests that people also #prayforlebanon, #prayforhumanity, and #prayfortheworld.  I saw other people posting messages of a different nature saying, “Paris doesn’t need your prayers;” “France doesn’t need more religion;” and “Don’t just pray- actually do something.”

I both identify and struggle with both sentiments.  As a fairly secular Jew, prayer, in the traditional sense, is not typically my ‘go-to’ reaction.  However, as someone who does lay claim to the Jewish faith, belongs to an organized congregation, and feels like it is important to recognize that there are forces at work in the universe that reach beyond my comprehension, I can understand why some people immediately turn to their higher power in times of darkness.

Within my internal struggle comes a rejection of the idea that to pray is to do nothing.  This rings especially true for me if I broaden the definition of what it means to “pray.”  Traditionally, prayer is generally defined as a direct communication between a person and their deity, and that can be a truly beautiful thing.  But, I think that prayer can be broadened beyond that definition. As I contemplate the events of the past week here is how I am defining and practicing prayer:

Self Reflection as Prayer

I am fairly vague when it comes to my own definition of a “higher power.”  However, I do have a very strong “G-d Voice.”  My “G-d Voice” is that little voice inside of me that speaks up when I feel very strongly about something.  It guides me in my daily decision making, parenting choices, and choosing how to put myself out in the world.  This past week, I have found myself asking my inner voice some important questions:

What kind of American do I choose to be?

I choose to be an American who remembers that our country is a country of immigrants; that we are the protectors of democracy and freedom.  I choose to be an American who knows that our diversity only serves to make us stronger.  I choose to have the courage to approach those who are different than myself with curiosity instead of fear. I choose to seek out factual information and not buy into media hype.

What kind of Jew do I choose to be?

I choose to be a Jew who remembers that our collective history is laden with our people being forced from our homes, cities, and nations at the hands of extremists and bigots.  It was not so long ago that Jews trying to flee the Nazi Regime were turned away at every border.  Brave souls who stood up to the extremists of that time were hard to find and propaganda was easy to buy into.  I choose to be a Jew who stands up for innocent people suffering at the hands of extremists, and who knows that the only way to fight the dark is to spread light.

What kind of human do I choose to be?

I was telling someone recently about the nice Muslim family who lives down the street from me.  My daughter plays regularly with their daughter in both of our homes or at our neighborhood park.  The person to whom I was speaking with wanted to know- how did I know that this family wasn’t just being nice to my face while they were actually thinking, “we hate Jews.”

I guess we can’t ever really know what people are thinking but I choose to be a human being that evaluates people based on their words and actions and not on what they might be (but most likely are not) thinking.  I choose to be a human being who tries really hard to not make fear-based, media inspired decisions.  I choose to be a human being who believes that our best chance at peace is to look deep within ourselves and identify and then work on our own fears and biases.

Right Action as Prayer

Nothing makes that little voice inside me sing louder than when I do something to help make someone else’s world a little brighter.  Doing a good deed- whether it is donating money, standing up for someone who doesn’t have a voice, or collecting food or needed resources for people in need, is for me, as close as I get to feeling like a spiritual being.

My daughter, who suffers from separation anxiety, likes to say, “mommy is a lighthouse,” in emphasis of the idea that a lighthouse can protect and guide surrounding ships from a distance.  I love this analogy and choose to take it one step further.  We can all choose to be a lighthouse- a beacon of light, calm, and dependability- helping to steer each other through stormy waters.

Gratitude as Prayer

For me, there is no better way to pray than by practicing gratitude.  If you are currently reading this, you are likely doing so on an electronic device that you are thankful to own, in a house you are thankful to live in, or at a job that you are thankful to have.  Life is not perfect.  We live in an increasingly scary world.  It is easy to focus on the negative, the scary, the unknown.  But I am trying to see the world, each day, through grateful eyes.

I am grateful for love, for stability, for peace everyday we have it.  I am grateful for the courage to write all of this knowing that there are many people out there who will disagree very strongly with what I have written and may have less than kind words for me.  I am grateful that I live in a country where people have the freedom to disagree with what I have written without fear of persecution.  I am grateful for the voices that are different than mine because they allow me to look within and clarify my own system of values and beliefs and to broaden my scope of understanding of the world in which we live.

Prayer is many things to many people and it is completely optional.  But I don’t think that prayer is akin to “doing nothing.”  If we pray in a way that leads us to a place of greater peace, self awareness, gratitude, and right action, then it impacts the way we put ourselves out in the world and better allows us to shine our own lights.

Until next time, I will be praying in my own way for peace, love, and stability for the world.

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