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I’ve been pretty grumpy the past couple days. Migraines, the sorry state of our government, and the needless suffering of so many humans, especially those who have already been systematically oppressed for centuries.

An occupational hazard of working with organizations that are trying to heal the world is that I spend a lot of time reading and writing about all the brokenness. I’ve been editing a lot of documents lately about the lasting effects of institutional racism, such as dramatic health and educational disparities. I learn over and over again about systems and policies based in selfishness, greed, and so many people’s inability to walk in someone else’s shoes, or even believe that someone else wears a different kind of shoes. Why are we so arrogant?

Surprisingly, what got me out of my funk tonight was a ministerial search committee meeting via zoom. Our committee is in the home stretch of our epic two-year mission, and we are all stressed. But we received some wise guidance from our wonderful interim minister and shared some funny stories with each other and I felt a sense of relief being together. Meanwhile, Randy and Zoe made a delicious dinner of maple glazed salmon and maple glazed baby carrots and pearled couscous and spinach salad with strawberries. Zoe brought a plate up to the office for me to eat during my meeting and it was so tasty.

I am thankful for my search committee team members for so many things, but especially because they push me and inspire me to be my best self—to evolve and grow and look at the world in different ways—and to always think about what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

By the time this is over, my hair is going to look like Kramer from Seinfeld and my eyebrows will be full-on caterpillars. At least I can clip my own nails so I won’t develop talons. I think sometimes about my absurdly first-world problems—I can’t get my monthly massages or manicures and pedicures. I think about the women who provide these services who likely have zero income right now. I wonder how they’re surviving. I wonder what they are thinking about what they’ll do when all this is over. Will they be able to go back to the jobs they had before? Will those jobs exist in the same way? Will these women have to start over. My massage therapist is also in nursing school. I wonder if she was asked to skip ahead to hands-on training. I wonder if she still wants to be a nurse.

I am reading more accounts from doctors and nurses on the front lines. These stories are horrifying. Yet I sense that a lot of people are not reading or hearing these stories based on their behavior in public and their public policy decisions. Every day I receive and read emails from the New York Times and National Public Radio providing a rundown of key national and international news items as well as links to in-depth reporting. I’ve gotten these emails for months or maybe years but usually skimmed them. Now I read every word. I acknowledge that these are only two of many reputable news sources available to Americans. But I get the feeling that a lot of people get their news from disreputable sources and that somehow these people are confident that the natural laws of science and math don’t apply to them.

I hope that a real outcome of the pandemic is a genuine discussion of how and why we learn and whether schools are emphasizing the right things. Zoe has been overloaded with online assignments from her teachers. The emails I’ve received from her principal and the school district superintendent indicate that none of this will be graded. Essentially, because she was in good academic standing when the third quarter ended, a week after schools closed, she will be promoted to eighth grade. Of course, you just don’t do your work for the grade, you do it to learn. Or at least you’re supposed to. But it’s ridiculously unrealistic to expect every kid to be able to do the same quality and quantity of work at home, surrounded by their entire families, in the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis, that they do at school. It’s not clear to me why teachers are assigning deadlines and telling students the work will be graded if that’s not the case. (I emailed Zoe’s principal tonight to ask for clarification).

It would be nice if we could focus more on what kids want and need to learn. With Zeke it’s a lot easier to take this approach right now because he has the basic skills required to enter second grade. I can teach him what I think is useful and interesting and let him play with legos for hours at a time. Next week we’ll work on actually telling time. And hopefully how to ride a bike. I realize I have enough knowledge about the public school system and my kids’ abilities to make these decisions, but many families in our community and our country don’t. And I suspect they’re receiving thousands of different messages from thousands of different teachers, principals, and superintendents. This has got to lead to some kind of reckoning in our educational system, right?

Oddly, one of the highlights of my day was a crying baby. I had a call with my point of contact for my new client. He alerted me as soon as the call started that his 16-month-old son had not gone down for his scheduled nap and was rather cranky as a result and that our call might be cut short. He had his son strapped on his chest in a carrier and was trying to give him a bottle and do the familiar parental sway and bounce dance to assuage him. He apologized a couple times and I repeatedly told him not to worry about it, that I have two kids who were once babies and I am intimately acquainted with that exact challenge. He briefed me on a few points and said he would email me details later today or tomorrow and we would talk Monday.

While I empathized for this dad and his baby, I also felt relieved. First that he was a man in this situation, which gave me hope for the state of gender equity in parenting in our culture. And second because starting out a professional relationship with this kind of vulnerability and realness can only be a good thing. Anytime we see each other’s struggles and can put compassion and kindness ahead of deadlines and deliverables is a good thing.

This came out of an exercise from my UUCA covenant group. My co-facilitator D suggested, shortly after the election, that she felt motivated to affirm where she stood, in order to be better able to stand up in the face of the insanity we felt was crashing down all around us. At our December meeting we took the opportunity to write statements of belief. I found it surprisingly empowering to do this. 

road

I believe in always going the extra mile. I may get there late, but I’ll always stay until the end, after all the work is done.

I believe in asking good questions, because people are almost always grateful for the chance to tell their stories.

I believe in being generous because why not? Even if I don’t have much I will always share it with you, or with whoever needs it.

I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. Assume good intentions. Despite recent evidence, I have to believe that most people are doing the best they can with what they know and what they have.

I believe in saying yes. I’m going to learn from doing something new. I’m going to push myself. I’m going to make life a little easier for someone else.

I believe in community. I am a better person when I surround myself with good people and I give myself to the whole.

I believe in the necessity of loving yourself and taking care of yourself. You’re the only one who truly knows what you need.

I believe in asking for and accepting help. Everyone can do something and I definitely can’t do it alone.

I believe people know more than they think they do.

I believe in the power of music and words to inspire, to heal, and to make meaning in a chaotic world.

I believe that words always matter and I choose them with care and attention.

I believe that sometimes the wisest and kindest thing to say is nothing.

I believe that it’s never too late to try again and you’re never too old to learn.

I believe kindness is most important of all.

marineopium05I should have changed the station when I heard Terry Gross say that her guest on Fresh Air was going to be the New York Times reporter covering Ukraine who was one of the first people on the scene of the wreckage of the Malaysian Airlines passenger plane that was shot down by some evil and selfish people over there. But somehow I didn’t, and so I listened while she described what it looked like when she was walking through the rubble and how some people’s bodies were completely intact, still buckled into their seats, because the plane had exploded in the air instead of just crashing into the ground. When she said, “especially the children,” I had to change the station. And it was too late, because now that image is in my brain and won’t go away.

Yesterday, immediately after hearing the fragment of that story on NPR, I conducted a phone interview with a medically retired Marine. As part of my contract work as a writer for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, it is a privilege for me to interview many former Marines and Sailors and their families about their involvement with the Society, as well as interviewing the staff members and volunteers who work with clients. I have no military background so these conversations are usually fascinating and revelatory to me.

Many of the retired Marines and Sailors I speak with were severely wounded while deployed. At a minimum, they have post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Many also have a variety of severe physical issues as well. Many have struggled with addiction since returning to civilian life and trying to deal with the mental and physical anguish they returned to in the States. Typically I ask about their service–when they joined, where they served, what caused the injury that sent them home. Typically they give me the highlights. “I was blown up during my second deployment in Afghanistan.” Or “I was on patrol in Fallujah when we hit an IED.”

Yesterday the Marine I spoke with took me almost minute by minute through the day when he was hit multiple times by Taliban attacks while on a rescue mission. He just kept talking and I kept listening and writing down everything he said. It seems like the least I can do to listen to his story. And my job is to share his story–chiefly the part where he gets connected with a Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society visiting combat casualty assistance nurse–so other servicemembers like him, or their spouses or moms or siblings can find out there’s another way to get help. So these guys feel less alone.

I am thankful that this is part of my work and it is an honor to do this very small thing to help. But it is hard to hear. It is hard to hear horrible things on the news. It is hard to hear tragedies that strike people I know or the friends or family members of people I know. It is hard to understand why our military is sent out to do unbelievably dangerous work that changes their lives not usually for the better, and for questionable reasons when you hear the news today and know that militants in Iraq are forcing innocent families to die by starvation and no one is able to stop it. Hearing these things just crushes my heart. But I cannot ignore them, and part of me feels responsible for being a witness to the suffering. Still, it crushes my heart.

 

Cleaning-out-the-RefrigeratorPeople can do anything. So why haven’t these things been invented? One would be immensely practical. The other more personally appealing to preserve my mental health.

Electronic Refrigerator Inventory System

There should be an interactive digital display on your fridge door that you can use to see what’s in your fridge and how long it’s been there and when it expires. You could scan all the items as you put them into the fridge, and the device would already be programmed with information about, say, how long strawberries stay fresh. You could also manually enter expiration dates, like on your milk. The device would remember everything you put in, so when you first get it you might have a lot of data entry to do, but after that it would easily recognize what you’re buying. Then when you are wondering what you can have for dinner, all you have to do is look at your display and see that there’s leftover Thai from two nights ago and enough vegetables to make a salad. When you’re getting ready to go to the grocery store, you could print out–or upload to your phone–a list of what you need, based on what you usually need and is missing from or low in the fridge. For bonus points, the device could interact with a cooking app and suggest recipes based on the ingredients you have on hand. Or tell you that you have five ingredients you need for tacos, except the meat, so you should pick some up. Cleaning the fridge would be easy because you’d know exactly how long things had been in there even before the mold starts to grow! There is so much potential here.

NPR (or other news outlet) Warning Lights

Sometimes when you’re in the car with your kids and you turn on NPR and the first words you hear are “mass shootings” or “bodies of children” or “murder” and you have to switch the station very, very fast. Or even if your kids aren’t in the car but it’s 7:30 in the morning and you can’t stomach a report about terrorist attacks, children being sold into slavery, or anyone being shot, and you have to put on the soundtrack to If/Then, which can be kind of wrenching as well but at least you know what’s coming and it’s fictional. Anyway, there should be a little warning light indicator on your radio so you can turn it on with no volume and if there’s a horrifying story including any of the above words or others I could list but won’t because they will make me depressed, a red light would illuminate. If the story may be mildly disturbing but not heart-wrenching, such as unemployment numbers, Congressional ineptitude, or negligent landlords, the light is yellow. And, if you’re really lucky, the light will be green when they’re interviewing singers, athletes, or writers; sharing the triumphant story of someone’s success; or reporting on a breakthrough in medical technology. Not to say that you can never listen to bad news, but sometimes it’s just too much. This would save millions of listeners from potential anguish as they drive.

If you can invent these things, let me know. I’d be happy to brainstorm with you and get in on the ground floor.

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