“Yep, thanks, we’re together.”

Yep.png“Um, will this be together?”

This happens to us all the time. Every week. Sometimes more than once a day. Even living just outside of both LA and Seattle hasn’t prevented the head tilt, quick evaluation by baristas, bartenders, servers and doctors. At the coffee shop, grocery store, bar, doctor’s office; people are always asking if my husband and I are together.

I mean, really, it’s my groceries and his? Wouldn’t there be a little bar down between the limes and the bread? Would I be chatting with him so comfortably?  Sometimes we play them a little.

“What him? No way. Creeper, get away from my avocados.”

“Her? I’m not paying for her. She’s been following me around for like 30 years!”

It’s our own multicultural teaching moment. I don’t like to humiliate people, but make them flush with embarrassment a little by holding their bias up for all to see? Oh yeah.

Once, we were out to dinner with all the families from our swim team. We had driven all day from Seattle to Idaho for the big regional swim meet. The kids had their own table and the parents were at one big, ranch style table. The server was matching up couples to prepare our bills; I knew we were in trouble. Tommy’s mom was Asian. Even though she was seated all the way down from us and across the table, her bill was paired with my husband’s. There was no way in our server’s mind that the Asian man and woman were not together. No way.

We have been very lucky as a family. Our health has been good, we have always had enough to eat and a safe place to live. We come from humble beginnings with little assist on the financial launch in life, but my husband is the hardest working man I know, so we’ve done OK.

We have not, yet anyway, had our house vandalized or been told to leave a neighborhood. We moved to the West Coast because in Minnesota we were always the diversity crew on the block, and people would literally turn around to stare at us in the grocery store. Now that our kids are gone, we mostly keep to ourselves. We know the other dogs in the neighborhood and their people, and we wave to the couple who lives next to us. People around us know we’re together.

It’s a funny thing. I don’t believe that a barista is making an intentionally racist statement by totalling my husband’s coffee without looking past him to the white woman standing there. I don’t. But it is a little of our systemic racism poking at us all the time. Sometimes as he orders I’ll touch his shoulder or hand as code for “we’re together” to save time and avoid the hassle. It’s always present for us.

What I wish was that we didn’t have these deep scripts that play out about who goes together and where race fits in our lives. But we do. Me, too. I work hard to root them out, but it is in the air I breathe and the water I drink. It’s deep.

Luckily, I do have this fine partner in life who claims me over and over again, even when the bartender tries to make me pay for my own drink.

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A Few True Things: Depression

A few true things.pngI know. Another voice reacting to the ringing bell of depression and death by suicide. Who needs it?

I don’t know. Maybe someone. Maybe you.

Maybe me?

I live with depression. I know you might, or maybe you know someone who does. It’s a real thing. I am not always depressed, but I always know it’s there. I am no mental health expert, but so far anyway, I am an expert at living with this thing for a long, long time. So I’m going to say my few true things.

There are gifts in being a depressed person. It’s hard to see but I believe this is true. Our people, the depressed ones, write the best books and music and create soaring art. We feel the world so deeply that when we can convey this depth, it moves mountains and hearts and minds. I have a depth of understanding and compassion that comes from living on the edge of meaning. It’s a part of me I treasure.

Depression is a liar. It’s a dirty rotten f*ucking liar. It will tell you that your children/spouse/parents/friends/coworkers will be so much better without you. Get a thing that reminds you that this is NOT true. I have a spoon bracelet with a Steinbeck quote hammered into it by a dear person. My friend has a locket with a line of a hymn tucked in it. A physical thing that I have with me helps me remember. Or get a dog. I can never believe, even at my darkest, that my dog will be happy I am gone.

Therapy can help. I did a stint of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that helped. But I’ve also had therapists that were……less than great. If your therapist isn’t a good fit, try again.

Write. Every morning for 10 minutes. Just write. Get a pen that flows and paper that feels smooth (or a random IKEA pencil and a sticky note) and just sit someplace soft and write. During one particularly low point, a poetry therapist told me to just DO this every morning  and I did. I listened. Julia Cameron’s morning pages are a good format, too. There is no product coming from this, it’s just a way to skim off the nonsense that dances around at the top of my mind.

Try everything you hear about. There was one time I could *see* from outside that I was depressed and making terrible choices. So I grabbed every piece of advice that floated by. Take vitamin D3? OK. Exercise for 30 minutes a day? Sure, if walking slowly on the treadmill while watching home improvement shows counts. Eat green leafy food? Yuck, but alright. My depressed tastebuds trend toward tots, not greens. Leave the evaluations about whether it will do you any good or not out of it. Just try.

This one is weird, but it works for me: do one thing. Like…clean the sink. There may be dirty dishes piled on the counter and a floor that desperately needs to be swept, but if I can use cleanser and a green scrubbie and really clean the sink, I feel better. Or fold one basket of laundry. Not all of them, just one. It’s like one little clear spot opens in my brain and sometimes that clarity grows from there.

Give the people in your life a little head tilt/sideways glancing look. Who else is like this? Who in your life would nod and smile a sad half-smile and understand that sometimes you are not quite OK? Tell them. Assemble your team. I think it helps to know we’re not alone.

Do the things. Take your meds. Shush the haters. Wait. Sleep. Give it a day. Please.

You’re not alone. I’m already here.

CALL THE NAMI HELPLINE
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Spoons in the Oven

There are things that we always-always do because they are traditions. One year we found some holly on a hike and brought it home to add to the Christmas decorations and decided that was a good thing to do the next year and then why not the year after that, too.

A tradition is born.

Or maybe you’re more organized than I am and you actually plan traditions and think through the availability of said holly should you move from the Pacific Northwest to say, Southern California. Still, even when planned ahead of time, that’s a tradition.

And then there are the things that we always-always do the same way every every time, because….well, just because.

My grandmother became an unlikely entrepreneur in 1950 when she got tired of having to cajole my grandfather for spending money. She landed a job in an old fashioned nursery school or what today we might call a daycare center. After two years she had pulled the money together to take over the operation of a school called Windsor Nursery School in the basement of the formerly posh Windsor Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. For the next 20 years she was Mrs K. to about 25 children.

The hotel had left in place their art deco light fixtures, their china and their kitchen, which was probably well equipped for say, 1920. Each day the cook made macaroni and cheese or spaghetti hotdish for lunch on the old gas stove and each day they washed the lunch dishes in the old kitchen sink. My grandmother was a stickler about germs, so after washing and drying the spoons, the only utensil you really need for soft preschool friendly 1950s food, they would spread out the clean spoons on a cookie sheet and bake them in a hot oven. A good plan for killing any germs missed by hot soapy water.

Mrs K. retired at about age 70 and my mother took over. My mother was, and still is in her mid 80s, a person who draws her circle wide. So, where my grandmother had welcomed small groups of children who looked very much alike, my mother threw the doors open wide to children of all backgrounds and abilities.

My mother joined the local daycare council, became licensed and even started ordering supplies from a commercial supplier. They had to upgrade all of the food prep equipment to current standards including a three compartment aluminum sink with a special heated area for sterilizing dishes. The inspector came every few months to be sure everything was up to code. It was a very modern 1970s establishment.

The elderly cook from my grandmother’s era retired and a new cook was hired. As they showed her the daily tasks for cooking and making snack (almost always buttered bread cut into four squares) it came time to lay out the spoons on the cookie sheet and slide them into the hot oven.

“But why?” She asked. “You already sterilize the spoons in the third sink.”

Because. Because, that’s how we have always done it. That’s the way it has always been done. That’s the way we do it.

Always-always.

Windsor Nursery School never put the spoons in the oven again. And now, when something in our family comes along that we have always-always done the same way, we stop. We remember. We smile.

So many things we hang onto turn out to be spoons in the oven.

Face time in the time of Facetime

To me family is everything. I hear that Gen Xers, as a group, tend to feel this way. Somehow the 60s and 70s were not focused on family and so between our tinfoil covered TV dinners and the reruns of “Love, American Style” apparently society forgot about the kids.

I don’t know if that is totally true for me. As a young child I went to work everyday with my mom. We drove from the house-farm suburbs of Bloomington, Minnesota to just south of downtown Minneapolis every morning. I remember eating triangles of cinnamon toast as I slid across the backseat while she zoomed around the city lakes. She ran a large daycare center in what had once been a posh hotel, taking over the former restaurant and beauty salon. We kids found pink plastic curler picks in the cracks and crevices of one room for years.

I know I didn’t like sharing my mom with 60 other kids. But I did get to invite a friend to wash-up back in the kitchen sink before lunch, so there were perks.

Long before I had my own family, I knew that I wanted to put family in the center of my life. I was lucky. Because give or take a year or two, I did.

I had to work in one way or another the whole time my sons were growing up, but we were able to put in huge amounts of time together, sometimes driving to a dozen activities every afternoon, but I felt like I was able to center family and pour my mother-soul into the raising of my family.

But then, they left. They had the audacity to grow up and leave. OK, sure, there was some time between an undergrad degree and grad school when I got a few bonus months with one. And there was a fabulous gap year before a four year college for another. We’re not done, of course, maybe they will come back and share a house like most of the world does with their family. I will not complain if that happens, nope.

Still, right now, all three are thousands of miles away from me in places where they live and I don’t. My heart sometimes feels like the silly putty we used to press on the comics in the newspaper, to lift an image, way back in the 70s. I remember pulling the silly putty to stretch the Family Circus.. Eventually, it would snap.

A few days ago I was feeling so far from my sons: it has been four months since I’ve seen the one farthest away. But it was OK, because it was family Skype night. We don’t even use Skype but that’s still what we call it. We set a time and send a video conference invitation, and then I get to see the bits of my heart all collected on the computer screen.

No, it’s not the same as being together. It’s no substitution for cooking food that they will eat and big squeezing hugs. But this week I felt especially lonely for them. So as people popped in contained in little squares on my screen I felt like I could breathe again. Together.

I get to see their houses or apartments a little. A new map on the wall? A cat strolls by. One got a haircut, one has hair long enough that he now needs a hair band. There are inside jokes and birth order tickling of the childhood grudges. We laugh and laugh. As much as we try to be done without taking too much time from the young people, we often go two hours.

This puts me back together. In a million ways. I’m sure we will find out that millennials and Gen Z or whatever they’ll be called are damaged in their own way, too. We probably over programmed them and fed them way too much fast food. But I am thankful that I was so lucky and had a family and took time to notice and savor the busy years.

I’m also thankful that they grew up and will still set aside time, every week, to talk to me.

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Sister Denise Ellen

Long ago in a different time, I served on a board. Part of my charge was to plan a professional education day for a bunch of religious educators but for some reason the budget had been completely cut in the cycle before I came on the board. So, plan a big educational day for 100 people at a convention hotel, but with no funds.

OK.

After some conversation we decided on the theme of “Interfaith Work” and I set about recruiting a panel of experts.

One of the ideas for a speaker was a woman who I could hardly imagine just picking up a phone and calling. She was a powerful woman in this denomination and was a part of the the Interfaith Alliance working on their youth programming (Leadership Education Advancing Democracy and DiversityI knew if I could get her to speak pro bono, our shoestring program would be OK.

She agreed almost before I finished asking and told me she was coming to Seattle, where I lived, and in her words “would have wheels” so could meet with me to talk further about the event.

I assembled a panel and when the day arrived I took the three Interfaith experts out to lunch. No time for chit chat, these three women were off talking about overcoming hegemony to promote peace and justice among people of different faiths over the salad.

As we prepared for the program, the three experts at the front of the room, me in the “Oprah” role wandering the audience with a microphone, I realized that I might have to do the hardest thing of my career and actually interrupt Denny Davidoff.

But the truth was, Denny asked as as many questions of the other two speakers (Hannah McConnaughay from the Interfaith Youth Core and Kathleen Carpenter from Mecklenburg Ministries) as she was asked. She was a force, for sure, but it required no tricky moderating. Denny was more interested in what the others had to share than in what she had to offer.

This was almost a decade ago, but it stuck with me. Denny looked people in the eye, listened. She held back nothing, and moved forward with full faith that the toughest troubles in the world could be overcome if we just kept working on them.

Today I watched Denny’s memorial service on a livestream from Westport, CT.

And then I turned to my homework in Interfaith Studies at The Interfaith Chaplaincy where I am working toward ordination as a community minister and chaplain. If my faith tradition called on me to take the name of beloved saint as a symbol of entering my religious life, I know what I would choose.

Seeds are planted. Ideas stick.

May I remember the moments and the people who change me and move me on to the life I am meant to live. I bless Denny’s spirit as she leaves this world and send her love forward and onward with the very work I do.

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The Architecture of an Apology

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I screwed up. Blew it. Goofed. I made a mistake.

This time it wasn’t a life altering, horrible thing. It was a couple of missed things on a dealie and caused someone else to have to work some hours to fix it. Not great, right? But not a heavy thing that cost someone money or impugned their reputation or caused some kind of lasting damage.

This really got me thinking. I felt bad; not a soul sucking guilt-and-shame bad. But an appropriate amount of “ah, shoot, that’s me, my bad” kind of bad. I apologized and got back a kind and not inappropriate “don’t beat yourself up” reply. This is something I am very good at. I can’t do calculus or a cartwheel, but I am an absolute expert at rolling something around in my mind forever, replaying my mistake and beating myself up.

But this was not one of those times. I truly wanted to own what I messed up and acknowledge it and let this person know I saw that it caused them trouble. Tickety-boo, done.

So then I started thinking about things that have happened that don’t feel resolved; a whole bunch of things from all kinds of sides. What about that time I caused someone to have the worst day of their life? Or the time I felt thrown under the bus and just can’t seem to let it go? What about things that I screwed up in the midst of deep depression and now that I’m on the other side I can see that the harm was way bigger than the pitiful apology I muttered from the dark pit? Should I go back? Should I check in with that awful day person, again? Should I just let that other thing go?

Now I’m totally obsessed with apology. Why do we do it? What is the best way to apologize? How do we accept apologies? Is there a way to reconcile after a nasty wrong? How does relationship play in what works or doesn’t work? What about job vs. personal life offenses?

After long and arduous research, or you know, asking my friends on Facebook here’s what I know:

  • Women are being told to stop apologizing and while many of us do say “sorry” for bumping into inanimate objects, things we are not responsible for and breathing (raises hand) which has GOT to stop, there is still a time to own up to what I’ve screwed up and take steps to not do it again.
  • Work relationships are different than personal life. Moving on can be part of doing your job.
  • People sometimes hang on to offense like a coat of armor. I can’t fix it from here. They need to get out the can opener and peel off the armor so my apology can get in. Painful but true– I can’t always fix it.
  • Saying “here’s what I did, I wish I hadn’t done it, and here’s what I wish I had done” seems to be a simple formula that I think works just about everywhere.
  • “If” and “but” never belong in an apology.
  • Asking for forgiveness can be manipulative. People forgive on their own time (or don’t, see can opener above).

If I step back and look at what is flowing through the whole issue of how we handle screwing up, what seems to matter the most is the relationship. How am I connected to you before the offense, after the offense, during the offense and next to the offense. How we are connected to one another makes a huge impact on how I get back to “all good” or at least “better for now”.

Screwing up, making mistakes, blowing it; it’s all a part of walking around this earth in a human body with a human soul and a human heart. May I learn to do a little less apologizing to a chair for bumping into it, a little more loving people who have done something that deserved an apology to me, and a little more sincere communication that brings me back to “pretty good” after messing up.

May we all keep holding hands and hanging on and moving forward in the best way we can, at least for today.

 

When my mom was a child she was____.

When my oldest son was in 2nd grade he brought home a fill in the blank worksheet he had done in class. One of the questions said “When my mom was a child she was _________.”

He had filled in the blank with “lonely.”

I had probably told him stories about wishing for him to grow up with a whole pile of siblings, maybe as those siblings were joining the family to explain why I was usurping his prime spot as only child or something! But I had also probably told him stories about growing up, yes, a little lonely.

Which is funny, because I did grow up with a whole pile of kids around me at my mom’s daycare center. Kids all day long everywhere, yes, but not at home. Not falling asleep. Not in the early mornings. Not at Christmas. My brothers are a generation older, around yes, but more like uncles than brothers.

So yeah, a little lonely.

I am in the middle of three weeks of what could be lonely. We had a big rush driving up the west coast to deliver my son to his school, the northernmost university in the contiguous US and we live a lazy morning’s drive from the Mexican border. But as soon as my husband and I got home from the drop, he was packing for three weeks in the UK.

Zip the suitcase, climb in the supershuttle and here I am, home alone for weeks.

I’ve been working toward empty-nester status for a few years with fits and starts of schools and jobs for the young men in my life. Last school year was a good 9 month run of all the young people secured in jobs and universities across the country. I can’t say it was awful. Nachos for dinner? Why not! No dinner because we’re too lazy and had a big lunch? Why not? No piles of shoes by the front door or mystery pots and pans in the sink causing a forensic study of “just what on earth did they cook last night” or juice put away with a half a swig left–OK.

So, here I am. Responsible only for my own nutrition and care.

Yes, my husband is a grown-ass adult, and can take care of himself, but I work 30 hours a week, generally, and he works more than those people you read about in Eastern Asia who are at risk of DYING from overwork. No, not kidding. He really does. So OK, I do more dishes, laundry, cooking and general head-space family stuff on a regular basis.

But now, ha! Just me! And yes, it’s the busiest time of year for my work, but it’s my second year, so I know what needs to happen and when. And yes, I was so sick I probably should have gone to the doctor last week, but, you know. All better now.

I can read biographies until late with the lights on or listen to podcasts out loud when I can’t sleep. I eat prepared food way more than I would if someone else was counting on me; did you know that you can totally survive on Trader Joe’s deli and frozen bags of pretty damn healthy food? Totally can!IMG_20170929_184933.jpg

But the funniest thing is that I am enjoying the time with just me. I’m alone. I talk to the dog and the dishes and the damn news. But it’s OK. I don’t feel lonely. It’s a little bit of a surprise. I miss my spouse, he’s my favorite person in the world. But I’m OK. I am thinking my thoughts and writing them down. I am busier than I would have thought and I am finding that there’s nothing wrong with lighting candles just for dinner on my own.

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Calm spirit, heart full. And not lonely at all. Hm! Who knew?