Only Human

The opinions stated in my blog are only opinions.  I am not always right, kind or fair, no matter how much I desire to be.  At times, the frustration I feel may impede my better judgment and my better self.  I may be small and petty.  I may be hurting and in that hurt lash out at some one or something unfairly.  Typically, I work hard not to do those things.  Occasionally, I fail.

While I write about lots of theories, ideas and opinions based on my subjective experience, the real purpose of this blog remains.  I am sharing my reflections on my human experience.  I will not always be “right.”

Lately, I’ve had several people obviously upset with me.  I suspect it may have started here.

As much as I dislike upsetting people and passive aggressive responses,  it is going to happen.  I have a right to my opinion.  I have a right to be occasionally wrong.  My life, my experience are mine alone.  We will not always agree.

In a normal day, I take in the opinions and subjective feelings of others.  I often disagree but due to my position, my natural inclinations, I rarely challenge those ideas.  Often, I can not.  I do not hold a position of authority in my day job.  In fact, I am often treated with mild suspicion and thinly veiled contempt.  I have a specific job to do but lack the power and the tools to do a good job of accomplishing my main objective.  I witness the destruction of inflexible thinking.  I see how investment in a viewpoint often hides the forest from the trees.  I hear. . .”They should________.”  And often I agree but should doesn’t address the problem.  What is done is done.  What can we all do now in this moment that is in the best interest of as many people as possible.  How can we put aside our individual ideas and biases and get this job done?

I may be more judgmental than average.  I know I can be petty and selfish.  I was given a mind, albeit limited, as a gift.  I’m expected to use it by all that is Holy and Just.  I am drawn to write and at present have only this blog as an outlet for the ideas and the words that churn within me.  I may be the worst thing to happen to the written world, yet have the right of expression.  Upsetting people is the last thing I want to do but sometimes it is going to happen.

I stumble through life, as a limited human,  I will fall.  If I look up and away from myself, I will see others falling, standing, marching and flat on the ground.  I am not alone.  We all stumble toward a promised land or the great abyss.  Our perception frames our experience.  Opposing viewpoints can open doors to a greater understanding.   We all stumble.  We all fall.  I am sorry if something I have said or done has hurt you.  Hurting people is not my intention.  Reflection on my personal experience,  trying to frame my life in more positive terms, trying to be a little bit better person than I was the day before, these are my objectives.  I share these only because I can, because words are often my only currency.

In my struggle to get by (and it is a very real struggle) there are days when the words seem to be the only thing that anchor me to something greater. Sharing them is often profoundly stupid.    So many of the choices I made have brought me to middle age with no safety net:  never enough money, no career, no retirement.  So many things outside my control have contributed to my situation as well.  Embarrassment, blame, shame are all impediments to persevering.  At times, I indulge in them.  Often, I dip my toes into self-pity and feel like a victim.  Old habits die hard.  I just want to crawl into a corner and lick my wounds.

Something inside me, won’t let me.  Something inside me takes risks and often loses only to try again.  Something inside me drives me to document this struggle and the small victories here, despite my embarrassment and my reluctance to be vulnerable.  Something inside me knows that my experiences, while uniquely mine, are profoundly human.  Profoundly human is something that taps into others’ awareness of their own limited humanity.   At times, my words and anothers’ feelings intersect.  That moment of connection is why I write, no matter how rare, no matter how uncomfortable I may be.

We are saved and forever in need of salvation.   I am not alone.  You are not alone.

 

The Poverty of Compassion

Some times, the things that divide us are of our own imagining.

People’s capacity for denial always surprises me.  My own capacity for denial can leave me speechless.  On a recent trip to the Good will Outlet, I experienced a new kind of poverty, a poverty of compassion.

For those who don’t know: the Outlet is where all the Goodwill inventory rejects go to die.  Everything is dumped in large blue bins and things are typically sold by the pound.  The bins often emit odors including the occasional whiff of human waste.  This place is not for the faint of heart but it is the land of the best deal.  I glean those things that can be saved and either resell them or use them to clothe my family.  I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I frequent this place and even more embarrassed by what I’m about to tell you.

As I’m digging through the bins, I find myself glaring at a fellow digger who just entered my personal space.  A bigoted thought flashes through my mind based on ethnicity.  Some how I think I’m better than this person.  Suddenly, I realize how unfair, how unjust and just how crazy that is.  We’re both bottom feeders, risking putting our hands in poop  in order to survive.  I’m no better or no worse.

I feel a profound sense of shame at my arrogance.  I, who have been judged and found lacking time and time again, has the audacity to judge another in exactly the same way.

Later, in the week, I share my revelation with another who quickly assures me, “Carol, you are better.”

I know what she is trying to say.  I have a college education, I’ve got a few advantages but I am not better in any way, shape, or form.  She is as guilty as I was and often am of judging some one by a different criteria if they also happen to be poor or appear to be poor.

Now, back to my smelly bin.  This gentleman of color, accidentally pulls a garment from my hand.  My face reflects my frustration.  He apologizes and hands the garment back to me with the subdued posture of a dog that has just been scolded.  All this has occurred without a word from either of us but we know exactly what is happening.  I am dominant because I am white and for no other reason.  With horror, when I realize how awful this interaction is, how wrong I am to feel the way I do about this perfect stranger, I speak.  “No, it’s okay.”

He searches my face for a sign of gentleness.  Do I mean what I say?  His faces asks me questions that I don’t want to answer.

If he only knew the shame I felt.  Right now, I fight back tears.  I behaved in the same cold and indifferent way that people have treated me since the slide into poverty has become a trap.    The well-meaning often have given advice but it’s not based on the reality of my experience or the experience of being poor.  I desperately cling to the idea that I’m better than the next poor person.  Maybe if they made better choices, worked harder, tried harder, they wouldn’t be poor.

This is exactly the kind of thinking that has failed to provide for the least among us.  We deride single mothers of color for being drains on the welfare system without ever really knowing a single mother’s challenges.  Most of the poor work much harder than the people who believe they are above them in value or worth or potential.    I might have a college education but I’ve worked minimum wage jobs alongside some remarkable people who where kind and generous.  They often possessed a quiet nobility of character than I often find lacking in myself.

Every poor person, I know and I actually know more than you’d think, wants to work at a job that allows them to support their families without having to rely on government handouts.  I depend on food stamps to feed my family.  Every single time I use that card I am embarrassed.

When I’ve had to ask others for help and am turned away, I am embarrassed and ashamed.  I’ve tried to make sure that my children don’t end up homeless and I might fail.  We will have to move soon.  We do not qualify for any open market apartments.  Even if we did, our credit is terrible. We would love to be able to pay all our bills but despite the hours I do work, the digging through bins and reselling, the struggling to work an independent business because no one responds to the resumes and applications we continue to send off,  we can’t.

I’m often faulted for not working harder, for not making the “right” decisions, for not trying hard enough.  America is the land of  opportunity.  the rag-to-riches story is just an effort away.    Tell that to the over 46 million Americans who live below the poverty level.  A level that doesn’t do justice to the real cost of living.  (That figure is collaborated by two books I’ve recently read: The Rich and the Rest of Us by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West and So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America by Peter Edelman.)

After ten years of collection calls, a bankruptcy, food stamps, public health care, the stress of it all is chipping away at my health.  I have a few months to get my blood sugar down or I’ll need to add another medication to the list of things I already take to try and keep myself going.    Even with insurance co-pay, my months prescriptions cost more than $100.  That is a small fortune when you live so close to the bone.

The line that separates you from me is often a very thin one.  You might only be a paycheck away from walking on my path.  You might be a medical emergency away from poverty.  You might be a lay-off away from joining me.  Just like me, you might judge another based on something arbitrary or a useless criterion but it’s what it takes to keep the fear at bay, the fear that it could happen to you.

Every one of those 46 million Americans has a face.  There is a life behind the number.  There are victims who have given up and there are heroes no one will ever recognize. There are always people who abuse the system whether it’s welfare or corporate bankers who have never been held legally accountable for their role in the mortgage debacle.  They are not the majority.

The poor are worthy of respect.  Respect should never be based on income.  The lives behind the numbers don’t want to be judged or given advice that has little application to the world they must live in.    What they need, what I need is human compassion.  They need the opportunity to earn a living wage and to be able to provide for themselves.  They need a hand up.  They need support.  They. . . we. . . I . . .don’t need your judgment, your callous indifference, your insistence that if only we’d follow your advice our problems wouldn’t exist.  You prove ignorant of a reality you have never known.  I challenge you to trade me places for a day.

It’s easy to feel like a victim.  As we enter the final phase prior to losing our home, the feeling of defeat and the panic over what comes next can feel overwhelming.  Homelessness is a very real possibility.  The disappointment, I feel at many of the people in our lives is profound.  The gratitude I feel toward those few that have proven loyal and loving is equally profound.  It’s shown me the power of love and the nobility of courage and integrity.  There is a God of muck and mire.

I am humbled by this experience. It keeps me on my toes.  It calls upon reserves of resilience and courage that I didn’t think I possessed.  It’s allowed me to experience a side of human nature that I find abhorrent within myself as well as with in others.  It’s given me an opportunity to grow, to be better than I was.

I know I will be criticized for my candor.  So be it.  It is imperative that poverty is given a human face.  Instead of assigning blame or creating divisions that separate us into piles of “us” and “them”, we,  as human must begin to see poverty as an opportunity for compassion and a problem for which each one of us bears a responsibility to work toward solution.  It’s time some one had the guts to address the appalling indifference demonstrated by good people. It’s past time for the poor to have a voice, to be respected, to be embraced.

To paraphrase, Jesus: The poor, we’ll always have with us and we will be held accountable for how we treat the least of these.    Poverty and the response to it: an equal opportunity employer.

An Accounting

So much of my life has been based in want, lack of abundance, need.

This last week in an overwhelming moment of need and anxiety, I knelt along side my bed and prayed the simplest of prayers,

“God help me.  God help us.”

It felt a little dramatic.  My knees ached.  I got up slowly.  My body hasn’t been a temple.  Its been more of a dump.   Immediate feedback from the Almighty was a deafening silence.  I crawled into bed and fell into an exhausted sleep.

A few days forward and I awake before all others.  There are a hundred different tasks that await me but the call to sit and open myself up to listen to the Divine are too great.  I’ll feel guilty if I don’t comply.  This feeling opens into an abyss of obligation and responsibility.  Its weight presses on the top of my head.  My head throbs in reply.  My body isn’t a temple.  I am guilty.  Mea culpa.  Mea maxima culpa.

The memory of my recent knee-position plea to God for help surfaces with an unusual strength.  I felt a little silly then and I feel more silly now.  My noisy mind resists these moments of quiet.  It raises up an annoying static of negative self talk and recriminations.  Some times, my mind is a real drag.

Suddenly, one thought becomes crystal clear.  All this mind noise has been a huge distraction.  It creates a poverty within.  It fills me with unfulfilled desire, inadequacy and pain.  They are illusions.  The shift in my life that I’ve been praying and longing for isn’t something external.  It is a change in being.  The circumstances and events that have felt like burdens, like punishments, are vehicles of growth and change.  My life isn’t flawed.  I am not tragically flawed.   My perceptions have created limits, walls of misery.  My perception has been limited.  My life is filled with opportunity.

Desperately, I want to avoid the reality of this last sentence.  I squirm under the responsibility until I suddenly realize that this too is the product of faulty perception.  The ledger of my life won’t be filled with monetary entries outlining my lack and how I overspent.  No, my ledger will detail the economy of being.  What did I become when life provided me the opportunity for growth and development.  How did I deal with the challenges I encountered?  Did I expand or contract?

The barrier between me and who I want to be is largely illusion.  I keep showing up for this party in a tattered costume with a mask covering who I am.  No wonder I’m not having any fun.

On a sunny Sunday morning, in a sleepy peaceful silence, I receive a pure gift, a splinter of enlightenment.   I am enough.  Life awaits.

Thrive

 

“You cannot get sick enough to help sick people get better. You cannot get poor enough to help poor people thrive. It is only in your thriving that you have anything to offer anyone. If you’re wanting to be of an advantage to others, be as tapped in, turned in, turned on as you can possibly be.”

 

– Esther Abraham-Hicks

 

 

Ask me about not thriving and I can offer you a blue print.   Thriving is something that demands some attention and exploration.  Now that I’m certain what not thriving means, I’m ready to thrive.  I shall not thrive alone.  I have not suffered alone.  There are many like me and many who are not.  Yet, we are still bound together.

Living in a world full of happenstance, crisis and chaotic luck isn’t easy.  I look for causes and reasons and sometimes they don’t exist.  It’s easy to blame others.  It’s easy to blame myself.

Surprisingly,  I’ve discovered that some people also blame the down-on-their-luck types for their own troubles.  This is a slippery slope.  Blame doesn’t solve anything.  Compassion does.

Yesterday, I listened to someone blame the uninsured for their own problems.  For those of us living outside the boundaries of  “normal”,  options that others take for granted don’t exist for a huge variety of reasons   Most of those reasons have nothing to do with problems of our own making.

When I start worrying about what others are entitled to, I remind myself of the women coughing up blood in the “poor clinic.”   She was consistently refused treatment at the hospital and at the clinic and had spent 3 months going back and forth looking for help.  In between blood-filled coughs, she cried quietly.  I wanted to be repulsed but I could not.  It didn’t matter if she was a two-bit prostitute who was a heavy drug user.  In that moment she was a human being who needed care.  In my heart, it felt criminal to deny her this.

I don’t remember what I said to her.  I just knew that I had to make a human connection.  I had to remind her that some one cared and while I couldn’t fix her problems, I could acknowledge them and give her a few seconds of dignity and human respect.  That was several years ago.  I doubt she is still alive.

For me, the only path to thriving is found in a path that acknowledges and accepts the needs of others and that honors my need to be of service.  No one thrives in a vacuum.  We share our lives, our time on earth, with billions of other people, none of which will walk this way again.  The needs of others affects me.  They pull against the intricate web of life and whether I want to or not, I feel those tugs.

It isn’t my place to judge another’s worth and whether they are deserving of food or healthcare or. . .  Am I so good so pious that I deserve something that others do not?  Isn’t their need reason enough to reach out?  When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, did he feed some and not others?  No, he simply fed the hungry.

Some times I fear that people  get so bogged down in  their political opinions that they leave their humanity at the door.  We want to be right and we fail to be moral.   We justify our refusal to help by citing the abuses of the few.  We define the effectiveness of a system or a bureaucracy by what it fails to do.  We forget that nothing and no one is perfect and demand perfection in a world where it simply doesn’t exist.

I’ve wasted too many years trying to hide behind my imperfections, terrified that some one would see me for what I really am:  flawed, imperfect, some times selfish, judgmental, harshly critical.  When I turn that fear inside out and aim it at others, we all lose.  No one thrives, least of all, me.

To thrive, I need to keep my eyes wide open and my heart more open still.  I will never forget the rich soil of failure that cracked my life wide open and showed me a better way.    It’s time to thrive.  I won’t thrive alone.

Choices

“Humility is recognition of truth. Your worldly accomplishments are a gift bestowed upon you by the Uni-verse, nothing is possible without the support of the invisible realm of the Infinite Mystery. When you know that you actually do nothing and are simply a channel for the Good, Abundance, Joy and Peace that already existed before your birth to be rearranged to your preference you will be in harmony with Life. The minute you buy into being the doer of anything you have taken yourself out of the flow and stepped back into Ego thinking.

 

All things have been created by the Joyful will of the Infinite Mystery, Life is an experience of making choices about how you want to arrange things in your life. You can choose to arrange things in a Fearful, Egoic way, or you can choose to arrange things in a Loving and Joyful way. When you choose Love and Joy you align with the greatest and highest Good and begin to express your unique creative perspective while at the same time feeling a oneness with everyone else. This will leave you with a feeling of wholeness, joy, peace and gratitude.” 

– Jackson Kiddard

Lack of money limits choices.  It’s so easy to focus on what I can’t do or afford that I often forget that I still have a choice as to how I chose to act.

Lately, I’ve been a grump.  I felt sorry for myself, frustrated, limited, lacking.

When reality would come knocking and life was showing me that compassion with myself and others would be the better choice, I tried my best to ignore it.  Wearing misery like an ugly old sweater pulled up against a hostile world got to be a real drag.  So when I found an ugly sweater that I loved, I “decided to rock the ugly!”

Now, I lost track of “rocking the ugly” between then and now about half a dozen times but “rockin’ the ugly” is a choice and it sure beats letting life weigh too heavily.  I’m old enough now to know “that this too shall pass.”  No one can take their money or possessions with them when they die and as much as I’d like to leave a physical legacy for my children, they aren’t going to be taking it with them when they go either.  In the end, all the money and stuff in the world won’t matter.  What matters is how I chose to live my life and how I made the best with what I was given.

I’m going with the flow.  Here’s to “rockin’ the ugly!

 

 

racooncoat

Joy

Having downsizing forced on us isn’t all bad.  I’ve started going through things in preparation for a big garage sale this spring.  I need to liquidate as many assets as possible.  Getting rid of clutter is liberating.  Part of me is enjoying it, albeit from a distance.  The enjoyment fights with occasional flashes of victimhood that are grossly unpleasant.  There are a lot of memories and dreams wrapped in with the stuff of our lives.  It can be hard to let go.

I would prefer the down sizing to be a conscious choice.  I’ve spent the last few years fascinated by the Tiny House movement, Minimalists and the people that love them, and those people brave enough to live an alternative lifestyle disconnected from popular consumer culture and based on simple values.

While that life calls to me, I  have sat in my broken recliner watching mindless TV more than I ever want to admit.  Escapism calls me in many forms.  It’s easy to lose oneself in someone else’s drama i.e. the love of TV.  I also know the power of the cupcake or potato chip to hold the fear temporarily at bay.  Chocolate -covered cinnamon bears are my new guilty pleasure.  I am not proud.

I am honest and I know what areas of my life are demanding attention.  I also know I need to get serious and deal with the challenges ahead without breaking no matter how tempting that option may feel at times.

Recently,  a wise mentor has told me that I need to find my joy.  Getting through a day was hard.  Fun was so elusive it all but disappeared.  I felt grumpy, angry.   Tears were never far away.  While I’m still in transition, I realized that despite input to the contrary, I did deserve happiness, joy.  Joy is good.  It doesn’t have a price tag.  It’s free for the taking.

It is possible to be poor and happy.  Not that being poor doesn’t increase problems exponentially but those problems don’t have the right to crowd out everything else.

Yesterday, as I drove to work, I looked at the sunrise in the east as it painted the sky a gorgeous pink behind Mt. Hood.  This display was so breathtaking I can not describe it in words.  It was free and the opening to my day, a simple and pure gift that for a few moments gave me a great peace and hope and even joy.  Wordless, priceless, joy.  No one can take that from me.

Lost and Found

“There is something to be found in what we have lost.” — Mastin Kipp

Admission:  Lately, I’ve felt really lost.  I haven’t wanted to write about the realities of my life because I felt like it was a reflection on me: a mirror of failure.  More importantly, I didn’t want to be candid and receive advice or worse yet, judgment.

I don’t want to be fixed.  I want to be loved.

Lost and wrapped in fear, I haven’t written.    If I can’t write about the realities of my life how can I write about anything?

I began to realize that maybe writing about what I lack, what’s wrong and the specific challenges I face, might be the most meaningful writing I’ll ever do.  There might be other people like me who don’t want to feel isolated and alone.  My being honest might be a gift to some one, a gift so valuable that it’s worth risking criticism.

So, here goes.

Once again, we are in foreclosure.  At some point, we will lose our home.  At this time, we do not have an alternative.  I don’t take home enough to qualify for an apartment.  Our credit is abysmal and it’s been over 3 years since I put our name on the local low-income housing authorities list.  We have yet to be notified of any openings.  We have and do follow up.

Given the current condition of our home, living in the van might be a healthier alternative.  A leak under the kitchen sink is ruining the floor in two rooms.  We’ve witnessed some pretty weird fungus growing out of our carpet.  It looks positively other worldly but smells like old rotten potatoes.  I haven’t opened the cabinet doors hiding the “zone of destruction” under said sink because I don’t want to get a visual on what we are breathing in on a daily basis.  I can’t close a door on the stuff growing in the carpet.  (Insert full body shudder here.)

Having dry weather this winter has been a blessing.  It keeps some of the mold down.  When it does rain, their are two leaks in the living room that require buckets to collect the rain water.  We use old tee-shirts in the bottom of the bucket to soften the staccato of the rain.

Meanwhile, we pretend to be middle-class, which is pretty hard to do when you are really living way below the Federal Poverty level.  Almost daily, I hear some one make a flippant remark about poor people and if they’d only get a job, or stop expecting hand outs or. . . .It gets really old.  My opinion is a poor one.  My perspective  is even poorer.  I rarely object although I have perfected a look that should at least burn someone with my invisible psychic mind laser.  Not one of my victims has ever reported this, however, and I’m too ashamed to ask if  they felt the burn.   But, I can hope.

I know I’m not really a loser but I some times feel like one.  I have a job.  I harvest what I can from our years of accumulation and  from forays into thrift stores and sell it on eBay or Etsy for a small profit.  I’m a Mary Kay Consultant.  I have three jobs right now.  Yet, I have to keep looking for a job that pays more because three jobs aren’t enough.   I’m a veritable wizard with the stretching of a dollar but you do have to have enough dollars to stretch or things starts snapping like the elastic in my aged underwear.

The fact that there is no safety net in my life, nothing to catch us when we finally fall, actually terrifies me.  Almost every night I dream about losing our home and having no where to go.  When this all started, there were times when I couldn’t hold back the tears at the thought of losing our home, a home I’d grown to love.  I’ve had several years to get used to the idea.  I know there will be tears ahead but I have had a long time to process this, to live with panic, to live with impending loss, to struggle, to lose.

Last weekend, I finally hatched a plan.  It came to me suddenly upon awakening after another night of being a nomad in my dreams:  I need to find an old motor home, one that is drivable and livable and find a RV campground nearby so that we’ll have a place to sleep, a hot plate to cook Top Ramen on,  and a roof over our heads when the time comes.    Just how I’m going to do all this, has yet to be determined.  Lately, the Universe/God/Higher Power/the Force hasn’t seemed to be cooperating but this is the best plan I have at the moment and common sense is telling me I’ve got to aim for something.

Between that alien mold life form stuff, judgments from and by the clueless, and  the exhaustion of working hard and gaining so little,  life is hard.  After the pain of disappointment sloughed off, I have been more than a little angry.  Poor and angry is not an attractive combination.  Poor, angry and depressed is down right ugly.

Imagine how vexing it is to begin to accept that maybe all this resistance is futile and that instead of feeling like a victim in a ridiculous melodrama maybe all this is an opportunity.  At first glance, seeing all “this as an opportunity” feels as crazy or crazier than that psychic mind laser.

Up until now, I’ve felt like I’ve been tied to the bumper on the car of called “Life”.  (This is one old and ugly car.  Some one has glued a bunch of scary gargoyles to this hideous ride and spray painted it to look like Predator just vomited jungle all over it.)  We’re not on the smooth highway.  I’ve got the gravel in my thighs to prove it.  This has got to stop.  .  I have to get in the driver’s seat, metaphorically and literally.  Gravel thighs aren’t good for any one especially an elderly, overweight woman who has been careering after the Predator mobile.  Please forgive my digression.  A vivid imagination is one of the few rich things about me.  That and character!

Between now and 3 minutes from now, I’ll probably cycle through a lot of emotions ranging from despair, panic, to zen-like serenity.  Most of these emotions will arise from the fertile ground of my thoughts and not an actual reality in that moment.  I guarantee you that in the next 3 minutes, we won’t be evicted and all the worry, panic and despair will only rob me of more serenity.  I’ve known a lot of worriers in my life and I spend a fair amount of time being one but the only thing it has ever gained me is high blood pressure and a stomach ache that’s lasted 45 years.

It’s time to take a stand.  To be perfectly clear, I’m going to repeat what I want from life and from the people I choose to share my life with:

I don’t want to be fixed.  I want to be loved.

“There is something to be found in what is lost.”   It’s time to rise to the occasion.  This is my life:  poor, raw, messy, moldy, and yet,  interesting, challenging, full of blessings which are some times so well hidden, they are almost impossible to find.  If any one can find them, I can.  Once lost, I am beginning to find my way.

 

Choose the Light

Choices.  There are too many of them.

Overwhelmed, I avoid making any.  I try and fool myself into thinking that I don’t have many choices but that isn’t true.  The smart part of me knows it.

Lately, I avoid writing to avoid understanding.  Confusion feels familiar, almost necessary.  The idea of lifting the veil and seeing what is behind the curtain is too much.

Yesterday, in Fred Meyer’s an elderly woman on the toilet paper aisle needs to talk.  I see it in her eyes, in her posture.  She is lonely.  Naturally outgoing, she seems lost in a sea of strangers and reaches out to me to make a connection.  I listen and smile politely aware of her great need, happy to fulfill some function, to be that friendly face in the crowd.

Suddenly, everyone in the store decides they must come down this same aisle.  The elderly woman isn’t finished talking.  She is unaware of the crowd pressing against our space, a space that isn’t ours, one that we must share.  I try to steer her to safety but she blocks my path eager to talk, needing me to listen.  Impatience pushes in behind me.  A woman gently nudges me with her cart.  I am annoyed and understanding all in the same moment.  Like her, I would feel impatient if someone was blocking my path.  I would not bump my cart into them.  This level of rudeness bothers me.

Worse yet, my elderly woman is telling me of an old trauma.  The woman used to work in a grocery store, actually owned one with her husband until the big corporations forced them out of business.  She continued working as a clerk until she was 75.  She stands before me with more energy and vigor than I.  She must be hugging 80.  Over 20 years ago, an unpleasant encounter with a person of a different ethnic group, impacted her so strongly that she still needs to talk about it.  I’m torn.  I hope no one will hear.  I understand how she feels.  I also know that the nationality or race or religion doesn’t matter, rude people come in every shape, size and flavor i.e. like the woman using her cart as a battering ram.  I want to be any where but there trapped by the toilet paper, kleenex,adult diapers and limited humans.

For a split second, I consider gently telling my elderly acquaintance, I’m not comfortable with what could be perceived as bigotry.  It might be the right thing to do.  It may not be.  It won’t change her view.   She’s invested years in harboring the injury, in blaming a nationality for the transgressions of the few.  Injustice was done years ago and it continues to be done by the victim who has unfairly judged others from that day forward.

The woman behind effectively pushes me aside with her cart.  Her sigh is almost a snort.

“PLEASE, get out of my way,” she huffs.

I apologize, automatically.  I don’t like the fact that I am blocking others.  My intention wasn’t to block or delay.  I, also, don’t like being rammed by the cart and for a split second I consider telling her so but why cause a scene?  I wanted to listen to a woman who needed someone to validate her, to accept her and all her biases.  It was what I was called to do.  The woman behind me had no idea what was in my heart and that I was blocked by women of limited awareness on all sides.  The more impatient one did not comprehend or perceive anything in me other than a road block.  I was unruly furniture, a problem to be forced out of the way.

My discomfort rose when I finally parted from this tangle.  The incident haunted me. At times, I am both of these women.  Bias often limits my perception.  I can be impatient with strangers.  What can seem justifiable and right might often be only a reflection of my limitations, my limited perspective.  My head spins.  I long for peace in a world that struggles against it.  I long for peace and my own soul often fights against it.  Opposition, conflict is easy.  Fairness, compassion, love are not.

We live in a horrible paradise.  Beautiful roses have thorns.  Wind and rain can destroy or save.  Work is hard.  We envy.  Our lack, our limitations can make us mean, thoughtless, brutal and harsh.  Facing our limitations can open a vault of despair.  Acts of kindness can get us in trouble.  Progress can run us over.   Worldly success can pass us by.  We ache, we cry for all that we are not and blame others outside ourselves for the darkness that lives inside each of us.

We forget who we really are.  We forget that in a paradise lost, there is also a paradise regained.  We fail to understand the wisdom of opposites.  We try to harvest them from our minds and hearts so that we can indulge in the illusion that we know better.  We reap what we sew.  We lose contact with the Divine Spark, with Love, with God.  We want to understand something we can not and make ourselves miserable in the process.   We convince ourselves that we are victims of the darkness.  We fail to choose the light.

Love: Wrapped in Feelings

A lot of us talk about love without ever really understanding it.  One of the major sticking points of a spiritual life has been the mandate to “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”  Right now I’m got a neighbor that really makes that difficult.

A lot of people make that difficult.  On Friday there was a little old lady who didn’t like giving me the right-of-way at a four-way stop.  I could see her shaking her finger at me in my rear view mirror.  I think to myself, “Geez lady.  Should you be driving?”  Irritation wells up in me like as easy spring.  I shake my head to let it go and look up to see her scowling face and shaking finger.  Obviously she wasn’t letting it go and she wasn’t even in the right.

Ok, Lord, just how do I love people like this, the people I don’t like, the people who reject me and say bad things about me?  People can really make some stupid choices, me included.  How do you do it, this Love thing?  How did you send a part of yourself to die for this sorry bunch?”  No answer flashes in my head.  I am left to allow my irritation to run a quick course and switch my thoughts to something more pleasant.  This is a skill I have countless opportunities to practice.  The introvert in me often returns home feeling like the world has given me a beating.

This morning, I awoke and decided that it was the perfect time to pray.  I wanted some answers.

One of the people I follow on the internet, Teri Goetz,  suggested a ritual to dive into one’s inner wisdom.  The prayerful question to ask:

“What do I need to know right now?”

Asking is the easy part.  Listening to the answer, allowing it to come is the hard part.  I spend a half hour trying to resist my own desire to answer the question for myself.  Slightly frustrated I get up, start a pot of coffee and turn on the computer.  Suddenly, in my head I hear,  “You are a child of the most high God.” Since this isn’t the normal way I talk.  I pay attention.  I think about arguing for a second and then settle in to a warm fuzzy feeling.

The other person I follow daily is Mastin Kipp over at The Daily Love.  In my inbox is Kipp’s blog post for today.  In it, he writes:

The Uni-verse is a diverse place and when we celebrate this diversity instead of condemning it, we become more spiritual – that is to say, more Loving. And we begin to hate others less when we hate ourselves less for feeling what we feel. The other way to say it is that we Love others MORE when we begin to Love ourselves and our feelings more.

Feeling your feelings and not judging yourself or others – this is a place of spiritual mastery. Can you do it? What feelings are you avoiding feeling? And why?

Feelings good, bad, and indifferent are a portal to the spiritual life.  They are what make us uniquely human.  They are what they are. Being annoyed with my grumpy elderly driver was human and okay.  I didn’t turn my car into a battering ram and I certainly didn’t give her the finger.  Maybe that didn’t feel loving to me but it was.  I often have this unrealistic expectation that doing the right thing the loving thing is always accompanied with this saintly feeling of goodness.  I’ve been kidding myself.

Some times the loving thing to do is to walk away and feel the hurt and rejection.  Allowing people to experience the impact of their own choices, giving them a chance to take the responsibility for their lives  and to travel a path without you is the loving thing to do.  And some times it’s not.

Wanting answers doesn’t mean they will magically appear in my time frame.  They always come but I often have to wait, and wait and wait. In the mean time, I muddle through.  I make mistakes and feel angry or sad and a thousand flavors in between.   When I allow the feelings to run their course, to fully experience them and persevere in the challenges daily life throws at me, my spiritual being grows and expands to show me the path I need to walk to become a more complete human being.

 

 

The Calling

For months, I’ve been trying to escape the obvious.  I dance all around the issue.  I procrastinate. I avoid.  I know in the fiber of my being that I need to write about spiritual things.  I need to have the courage of my convictions and publicly commit to a belief in God, to write about my reluctance to allow God to have center stage.  I am ashamed to admit that belief in God often feels embarrassing to me, like I’m some ignorant back woods peasant.  I’ve been afraid to be ridiculed for my profound belief, so I’ve tried to ignore it and down play it.  It’s just not working for me.

To those people I love, who question religion, who challenge God’s existence, I have no intention of insisting we believe the same thing.  After all, I am rational enough to know that I can’t prove the existence of God and that it is possible I am wrong. (For the curious, consider Thomas Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God if you enjoy theological mind candy.)

My life may end in an exhalation of breath and the energy that was me, will return to the earth and become part of the soil in centuries hence.  I’m really okay with that.  In the meantime, my belief is grounded in something as solid and ephemeral as my personal experience with God.  If it’s fiction, then I am delighted with the illusion because this Divine Illusion is the only thing holding my life together and giving it meaning.  I love the God-Story. . . believing I am infinitely loved by a Creator. . . believing I am saved through no merit of my own.

Trying to ignore God’s place in my life has really gotten me in trouble.

Who am I kidding except myself?

Did I really think that I could ever remove God from center stage given my history?  Can a leopard really change its spots?  Can a simple girl from a German Catholic town enter a convent and then leave without giving God a second thought in all the years since? (Insert an emphatic, NO!  I CAN’T. here, Carol.)

My understanding of God has certainly morphed over the years.  I’ve had lots of experiences.  I’ve tried to elude “The Hound of Heaven” but the biblical references, theological asides and my personal belief keeps creeping through my life and my words like veins in a body.  And like veins in a body, this belief is my life blood.  It’s time to get real.

Yes, I know that I’m not the ideal spokesperson.  Yes, I know that I’m a fallible, often crabby, cynic.  I’m certainly not always kind or understanding. There are people, some close to me, that I don’t get along with and don’t even want to.  I’m hopelessly human and maybe that’s what makes me uniquely qualified to enter the realm of the spiritual.  God knows I have the inclination, the desire.  God knows I love words and have a bit of the gift of the blarney (even though I’m as German as a potato pancake.) God also knows that I’ve been very busy trying to avoid following the calling of my own heart largely out of fear.  No one wants to look like an idiot and feeling like one is even worse.  Looking like an idiot because I have a conviction that God is calling me forth is so scary that I haven’t wanted to go there.

Unfortunately, everything has been blocked due to my reluctance to follow my heart, the heart that God holds in his/her hand.  So, what the heck!  It’s time to go out on that limb, that limb of conviction and know that it might get sawed right off.  Nothing is more important to me and my life than the spiritual, than the belief I carry in my heart that God is love and that my primary calling is to explore what that means and to be willing to share that journey with others.  It doesn’t mean I’ll always live up to my end of the bargain.  I will fail at Love more times than I’ll succeed just like I may fail at becoming a more spiritual person and an occasional spiritual writer (but my instinct is telling me this won’t be so.)

I’ve failed enough over the years at a lot of different things to know that failure, while grossly unpleasant, won’t kill me.  Failure has been the most effective teacher for this potato pancake.  Bring it on, God.  You’ve got my full attention.  I’m on that limb and I’m holding the saw.  It’s up to you, Lord.  You win.  I cave.  Show me what to do, what to say, which way to go.  I’ve got some failing to do and Your Name is going to be all over it.

 

 

I am the person behind the words printed here. I write because my heart will not allow me the option of NOT writing. It has taken me half a life time to discover this basic truth, but now that I have, writing is as natural as breathing. This is where my breath takes the form of words.

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The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM)
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