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Leaning into the Discomfort and Looking for Respect

I have an interesting job for this time in our culture. Over the years, as a therapist, I hear people talk about their varied concerns.  These last two weeks, I have more about the same subject, the election. Thoughts, concerns, worries, musings, humor, fear, agitation and indignation.

Living in a Blue state in a metro area, it is not surprising that most of the people I hear from are talking about their shock, sadness, anger and dismay. images-3.jpegPeople have various ideas on how to proceed with their feelings; get involved, avoid the news, protest or barricade themselves at home.

In the last weeks, I have heard the some words repeatedly; echo chamber, the bubble,  phone bank, the media, donation…among others. One thread I am following is confusion and desire to know and understand. It slowly comes out that we need to talk more and that doesn’t just mean to the people whose answers we already know. It is time to lean into the discomfort.

The weekend after the election, I was at a locally owned store we frequent and the owner and I have a friendly banter. I asked him if we was one of the 59 million who voted for Trump. He looked at me a bit sheepishly and said, ‘I don’t talk about it much for fear of being judged’.

I stood back in took him in. ‘Oh, okay’, I said. ‘Tell me, how did you decide?’ He told me it was for his business and thought that change is needed at the higher levels of governing.images This man has a disability and has family member that is also disabled. Somewhere, he feels disenfranchised with the current system.

I nodded, thinking that this seems like a reasonable, political point, especially if you are fiscally conservative. That being said, I asked, ‘Well, okay, but can you explain him to my kids?’ as I pointed to my boys who were hovering nearby. He said, ‘That part is harder. I don’t like the behavior of this man..’ and he trailed off. We spoke a bit more and moved on to other topics.

Seems like we are going to have more and more of these conversations. Many likely at the Thanksgiving table this year. I am not picking sides (yes, I am left leaning) but, it seems we all know what our ‘peeps’ will say. We need to lean in ask the tough questions of ‘why and how’. The open-ended, curious questions that show we are not just waiting to talk again but, we are listening. We all want to be heard.

Now, I get it there is a lot of extreme rhetoric out there and it’s hard to know who believes what from a glance but, also we can’t assume. If someone has an opinion we need to ask ‘why?’  Myself, I work hard to teach my kids how to be good citizens and that means a lot of explaining about differences, privilege and the varied things that make a person and I don’t have all the answers. images-2I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I really screw it up but, I try to circle back and revisit the best I can.

While living in a progressive, lefty city, I grew up in rural Red State where Reagan was a God and my Dad was the preacher. My Dad was not a religious man by any conventional standards but, he was definitely the spokesperson (and financial contributor) for the importance of the Republican party. He had many flaws (like all of us) and one if his big ones was that he didn’t have room for discourse.

There was no space for an exchange of pluralistic views at our dinner table and many times he called me a ‘tree-hugging, fish-kissing’ liberal. Whether that label was a friendly jib, earnestly or not, my exploring views were not well tolerated in his presence. So, I stopped sharing them.

We moved on to less political topics and we rarely opened the door on these thoughtful, provocative topics. We played it safe. I believed I knew him and his rhetoric and I imagine he thought I was crazy or at least misguided. We didn’t ever say, ‘tell me why you think that way’ or ‘help me understand’.

Sound familiar? Again, we can find the people to agree with us but, to sit through the dialogue of those with which we disagree, that is the hard part. There is no guarantee that it will feel good or we will feel heard.images-1 That part is called vulnerability, as Brene’ Brown says, ‘it’s scary and brave at the same time’.

I don’t have the solutions, the method or the way out of our conflicts but, I am a listener of others and I see that when we respectfully listen people usually feel heard. When we feel heard we can then move on to problem solving. We  obviously have a lot more conversations about how to deal with racism, homophobia, the haves and have nots, the 1%, equity, xenophobia, and that is just a start.  Let’s start with leaning in.

Disappointment elections Expectations Fitting in Grief and Loss mom blog politics Uncategorized worry

An Experience of Grief-Elections

All over the world we still are talking about this election. It took me until today to feel like I could write something down. I wondered about why it has taken me so many days to write as I have a lot buzzing in my head and then, I realized, this is because I am still going through stages of grief. Several stages a day even.

In my work, my clients and I frequently talk about grief. We discuss that grief can be not just the loss of a person but, the loss of an experience, an opportunity, a thing or an idea. images-3The example I use is by looking at your dead car battery.

Say you wake up in the morning and get ready for school or work, go out to your car to get to work and the car battery is dead. The first thing you do is to try to start it again. You are in denial that it won’t start. ‘Of course, it is going to start”, you think to yourself. It hasn’t passed your mind that anything is wrong. You think, the car is starting and you’re going to do whatever it was what you were expecting to do. It would function. You shake your head, ‘huh?’ you think. You try to start it over and over. You don’t really believe that it won’t start.

Then you move into bargaining. You plead with the car to start, you beg and you coax. You may say that you will take the car to get high-octane gas, go to church next Sunday, anything to get the car to start. You may even fiddle with the air, music or other levers in the car to see if that will change the outcome and help it spring to life.

But the battery doesn’t start and then you move into anger. You are hitting the dashboard and yelling at the inert engine to start. You are pissed. You use choice words either under your breath or loud enough for the neighbors to hear and yet, the battery is still dead.

Sadness comes next. You moan, collapsing in your worries about how the day has gone to pot and if you don’t get to work or school on time everything else is also is going to fall apart.

Then, acceptance. You pull out your phone to get AAA, a Uber or race off to catch a Trimet bus to get going. You get it and understand the battery is not going to come to life and fire up the engine.

This week millions of people of all diversities and majorities have been progressing through these stages. I kept refreshing my screen to the 538 website which I had been using as my barometer to help balance my stomach clenches over the last couple weeks. Tuesday morning, I thought that a 70.2% certainly of a Hillary win was pretty good. Then when the numbers fell and the states were too close to call I was definitely in denial. I couldn’t compute in my head that this could actually be happening.images-2 As I cuddled with my boys on Tuesday night, as per our ritual, I cozied up to my seven-year old’s sleepy form while hoping against hope that the next time I refreshed my screen it would show better numbers. It did not. As I lay in the dark talking to myself in my head, I really thought that it was just a bad moment, denying that anything could really go wrong.

That night, I stayed up holding my phone, listening to NPR and watching CNN until I heard that Clinton had called Trump. As I kept switching sources, I felt I was truly watching a horrible crash that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from. I willed the outcome to be different. I went through bargaining, anger and a lot of sadness. I woke up my husband to tell him the news and we held each other, we talked and I cried for the better part of two hours. images-1We scrambled our approach to tell our boys the outcome in the morning. The night had started out with us having a civics lesson on coloring in a map of America was the states were called out for the electoral college numbers. Those red states are still stained on our dry erase place mat as a reminder of a bad night.

I went back to hanging out in bargaining for a while on Wednesday since all the votes had not yet been tallied and was trying to convince myself that maybe, just maybe the electoral map could change. I have a problem with chronic optimism when faced with bad odds. Later I sunk back down into sadness with smatterings of anger and, I suppose, acceptance. I know what has happened is true but, I really can’t stomach processing it all.

The rest of the week I was the witness of several client’s experiences of grief in the process. Emotionally washed up at night, I took to baking, listening to musicals and treating the radio like a hot potato. imagesI would turn it on for a bit and then suddenly flick it off.

So, here we are five days later and we are all still processing. I think if Hillary had won there would be another 50 million or so going through their own experience of grief. We are a nation in conflict and grief. It will take more than a support group to help us get through this. I want to be hopeful but, my well is a bit dry. Today was #WorldKindnessDay and I checked in with a couple of friends who had big events in their lives and that felt good.

Over the weekend, we watched Les Miserables and Fiddler on the Roof. I explained to my children the grief of those stories and it helped me to see them confused by such horrid behavior, racism and anti-Semite rhetoric in the story lines. They, who have grown up with the only president they have known being a man of color, were shocked to learn that pogroms existed for decades and not too long ago. I felt I took a little of their innocence in explaining these stories, however, I also loved that they instinctly knew that it was not okay to act like this as a human today. This gives me hope.

In my grief, and this week they have seen me process a lot of it, my boys have supported my new acceptance in ways they don’t know yet. Yes, this has happened but, the story does not end here. We have work to do to continue to teach, learn and practice empathy. They don’t know it but, my boys are already guiding me in this process.

Berlin Berlin Wall Expectations family travel round the world travel travel travel blog worry

My Brush with Political Change, 27 Years Ago as the Berlin Wall Fell and Hope Grew. What Will This November Bring?

I am socked down with a cold that is like a very unwelcome houseguest. It needs to go! When I am sick, I realize how mindful I can really be. Sad that I don’t do this more when I am feeling tip-top but, it makes sense that I am acutely aware of the goings on within my body as they are abnormal; breathing is different, labored and stuffy. My thinking is foggy, less efficient and I am losing my train of thought. It wavers more than a sleepy driver on a long stretch of highway.

So, I am loaded up with medications that help drain my sinuses yet, provide a plastic like feeling of awareness in my brain. It feels clearer but, fake. Yet, in these times I do find that my mind drifts to other times. My daydreaming comes back in waves. I get a mind hook on a thought and suddenly, I am plunged down into a wormhole of memories that I haven’t accessed in a while. I kinda like it at times as it brings up thoughts and memories I haven’t visited in a while.

This is where I have been this week, being ill and watching autumn in full splendor I am tripped back to my memories of living in the Netherlands in the late 80s and early 90s. In particular, the date of November 9th comes into focus.fullsizeoutput_828b The day the Berlin Wall fell. That fall of 1989, I was on an exchange program living in Northern Netherlands attending University of Groningen or more formally, Rijks Universiteit of Groningen.

I was a 20-year-old with a backpack and new awareness of what it meant to be studying  in a European college atmosphere. There are no campuses for 300 year old colleges. The academic building are spread throughout the ancient city. Our housing was too. Due to some concerns the study abroad advisor moved several of us international students to a former academic building that was ‘transformed’ into house. Transform is a loose definition of what was set up.

We had portable showers set up in closets and our bedrooms were the former offices of academics, cozy and of varying shapes. Our kitchen was made out of the former library supplied with two hot plates and two mini fridges and a host of boxes individually marked to store our groceries we bought at the market a couple of times a week.


Sporting my serious look in front of the Berlin Wall four days before it fell. 

I learned the skill of buying on the day of when you were cooking and that most things don’t need refrigeration (I still adhere to many of these lessons today although, our American culture doesn’t. That is a story for another time).

There were nearly 30 of us living in this building. We had doorbell and one phone that echoed in a large, looming portico that was empty but for the table on which the phone sat. We might receive messages from people who called but, mostly they would be surprise discoveries on scraps of paper, “Oh, my mom called on Thursday! I wonder what she had to say. Who’s writing is this?’ Looking back, I am sure my mom was taking her Valium every time during the stretches she didn’t hear from me. This was before email, smartphones and even, the internet. Phone calls, the occasional fax and old-fashioned pen to paper were the means of communication.

My ‘housemates’ came from Belgium, England, France, Serbia, Canada, Germany, Italy and America among other places. We would marvel in the evenings dinners being prepared an aromatic lesson on culinary differences. The Belgian boys would spend no less than 1-2 hours a night preparing their dinners of spiced mussels and broth or country stews that simmering invitingly.fullsizeoutput_8288 My North American friends and I did alright, making a stir fry or a variety of breakfast for dinner. I learned to love my coffee, several time a day. The absolutely civility of having a coffee break in the middle of class made me feel like a grown up as our lecturers would mingle with us next to the automat Koffie machines offering us a cigarette as we continued the talk of the lecture. This was not an American experience.

I remember that fall of learning about olie bollen (fried dough balls) from a street vendor and still warm and stroopwafels fresh from the press while we talked about Germany. Two American friends and I had gone to Berlin the weekend before. We marveled in this very cold, industrial, exciting city. We went through checkpoint Charlie to the East and found we didn’t have the right German Marks to buy food or cigarettes and wound up sitting on an empty street offering Western cigarettes for Eastern marks so we could buy dinner.

I spent one afternoon walking from Checkpoint Charlie to the Reichstag and in fascination of the existence of the Berlin Wall, I wrote down all the English quotes I found on the wall in my journal. I added my own. U2 lyrics from I Will Follow from the album Boy

I was on the inside
When they pulled the four walls down
I was looking through the window
I was lost – I am found

Walk away, walk away
I walk away, walk away – I will follow
If you walk away, walk away
I walk away, walk away – I will follow

We saw a demonstration of reportedly 500,000 people in West Berlin asking for better travel rights. The next day, travel rights granted, our train ride back to the Netherlands we were faced with the fact that every seat had been sold four times so, we sat in shifts. fullsizeoutput_828dPeople were not upset or phased by this. Instead, we talked with people who had never been in Western Germany and had their entire families packed in to go visit a long unseen aunt or other relative somewhere. I spoke with a young, idealist Eastern German man who told me he thought it was the age of Aquarius. As the train bustled along and we shared cigarettes I felt a jolt of excitement and hope surge through me.

Days later, in the Netherlands, we heard the news that the wall had fallen. “What?!?!” We bought all the newspapers we could find to read about the dramatic changes and trying to understand through our very poor Dutch, French and German what was happening. We gave money to our Canadian flatmate to go back the following weekend to take pictures and bring us a piece of the wall. Four days and a world changed. I was there in the margins. fullsizeoutput_829b

And then I am back from my daydream…to our current reality. I am aware of my phone buzzing with the latest evaluation of the most recent polls and political dissection of this election. Thinking if I refresh the screen I just might know a bit more information. I can google parts of Berlin, webcams showing realtime video. I can send a message to any number of people in various places around the earth in a minute or even a second. At times I yearn for the simpler, less complicated times. We were left with our own thoughts.

I am struggling with the political mood our country is currently in. I felt so much hope then and now, merely tension. So, I am enjoying the cold-influenced daydream to a time when we rooted for change and the rhetoric was more polite, if impassioned. When we believed things would get better. Here’s hoping this November we can take a page from history and root for peaceful political change.


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