Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Reflections: On Being the Person We Want to Be (Part 2 of 2)

So a few weeks ago I started reflecting on those rare and beautiful moments we are exactly who we want to be. You can read that ramble here (if that sounds appealing on any level).

For two months I have been thinking about this question as I have had a number of experiences that seem to be so literally "making me." (For the record, I am putting quotation marks around my own quote. Awkward.) It's not exactly that I'm changing, but rather that I'm becoming more comfortable and sure of who I am. By seeing myself more clearly it feels like those around me are seeing me for the first time. I guess these are the positive impacts of what they call "self-confidence." No need to wax poetics, basically I'm just having experiences that are showing me what I value and what is worth pushing beyond my comfort-zone for.

One of these moments started out as a blog entry in late July called: "Hello: The Little Voice Within," but that post turned into me staring at a blank screen for quite some time feeling sheepish about devoting so much space to what felt like patting myself on the back, and then abandoning the entry altogether.

I'm over that now.

The "incident" (as I say with a playful smirk) has sunk in more, shifted, pulled me in new directions and I possibly have even more to reflect on here, two months from that little voice speaking up.

Essentially here's what went down: something at work was bothering me. Something big. Something about our mission, our leadership, our direction as an organization. Interestingly enough it was about my organization not speaking out against what I (and many) see as an injustice, and wondering what the meant about "who we are." (From here forth note that all quotations used here are questions I was or continue to ask myself, so think of it as my little voice within blurting out a statement.)

So, despite my discomfort, I spoke up in an all-staff (meaning: 200+) meeting and asked a question about why we, as an organization, weren't being leaders in the community and speaking out against hate.

I learned something valuable about myself: though I was the spotlight operator in middle school theater, I am not so keen on being in front of the spotlight myself...unless (and here's the kicker) I deem the importance of the thing that will thrust me into the spotlight as greater than my own comfort.

This was an instance where the importance of the issue felt more important than me. It felt bigger than me. So I swallowed my fear and asked the question. The moment itself was incredible. As I was talking, I felt the auditorium around me grow more quiet. I now understand the saying "you could hear a pin drop." Though my heart was pounding and I felt anything but sure of myself, friends would later tell me that my statement was calm, thoughtful, succinct, and very articulate. (To be fair, I had practiced this in the bathroom mirror a dozen times that morning.) And when I was done speaking, an amazing thing happened: a number of people applauded.

The answer given to my question was less than satisfactory, and the room felt it. And it was also the last question before time ran out and we were "dismissed" back to our desks. So the energy in the room was not positive, and every person there felt it. When the meeting adjourned, I was mobbed by colleagues - some I knew, some I didn't. They thanked me, exclaimed their own feelings, expressed outrage or hurt at the answers from leaders, patted me on the back, and overall cheered what I had done.

All day people were calling me to talk about the moment, emailing me their gratitude, and stopping me in the hallway to chat. I felt the support of my colleagues for doing the right thing even if it wasn't the easy thing.

Later that week, someone I've always been a bit intimidated by in the organization, told me I was a "leader," and that he knew it the minute he saw me "speak truth to power."

Those words, and many others, have been rattling in my brain since that moment I spoke up. And the moment in that meeting led to other conversations, meetings among colleagues, requests of senior leaders, action, and community gatherings. It has been a moment that stirred up some shit, but perhaps it's better to say: lit a fire for many people. And I almost can't believe that I was the one to strike the first match.

Am I surprised it happened? I think part of what I have been reflecting on is the fact that I put myself out there in a way that initially felt really surprising, but ultimately made me feel more like myself that I ever have.

Truth be told, I am still processing all of this, especially since it's still going on in many ways. Thus, it's hard to draw hard conclusions.

What I do know is that I like being called a leader. I like leading and being one of the "little people." My aspiration is not to be sitting at the top of the mountain looking down at my kingdom, but rather to be amongst the people and a part of the action and movement below. I like being the voice for something important, and I like using my voice.

In the split second after I finished my question and caught my breath, before the applause from colleagues started and I felt the affirmation of a community, a thought went through my head: this is me. This is the me I want to be.

It was like sudden sight after a lifetime of blindness: oh, so this is the mysterious "me." Hello, self. 

It wasn't easy. It might have burned bridges while simultaneously creating others. And the after-shocks of the action have been challenging as I've had to defend myself and my original statement. Work has been a little more exhausting than usual.

Another colleague told me she has watched as other original supporters/allies have backed down or crumbled under the bullying pressure of leadership. But that I have stood my ground in a way she herself couldn't. I have remained consistent in my message and my stance, despite being bullied and criticized myself. She said she was proud of me.

And you know what? I am proud of me too.

In the midst of all this, my eighth grade English teacher recently re-shared this piece she wrote a few years back. It's about the very influential and ground-breaking novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Mrs. Baker writes: "What To Kill a Mockingbird teaches us is that when a single individual cares enough to protest injustice, to fight against oppression, that the world does, in fact, undergo a change.   For when Atticus battles to save Tom Robinson, even though he loses the case, even though people do not start marching in the streets in protest, readers recognize that there have been small, yet significant changes in that town."

I read that and realized why this reflection was finding me at this particular moment in time. While I would encourage all of you to laugh uproariously if I dared compare myself to Atticus, I will say I absolutely agree that this action has made me aware of what a single person can do when they protest an injustice. I've seen the impact of my speaking up, and it gives me hope for what "speaking truth to power" can do in a community.

But, apparently, there was another reason Mrs. Baker's article reached me right here, right now: I'm a part of it, literally. When Mrs. Baker wrote this a few years ago, she reached out to me to ask how I had been impacted by the book. So caught up in my new-found voice, I'd almost forgotten the insights of past-me. Mrs. Baker writes:

"I heard from Sara, who read the book with me an eighth grader and is now in her 20s.  She wrote,
When Scout speaks, she speaks directly to her reader and invites us into her world.  Like her own journey to understand the world through walking in another’s shoes, Harper Lee steps us into Scout’s, takes us on her own journey of self-discovery and reminds us what it is to be human.
The last I heard, Sara was working as an organic farmer, living out her own ideals."

In the last few months I have been asking myself, reminding myself, what it means to be the person we strive to be; our ideal self. As I read my own words and the blessing from my beloved teacher, identifying me as someone who lives their ideals, I realized even if our life changes in ways that at times makes it feel unrecognizable, even if we fear what or who we've left behind, we will always find a way back to the path that represents the world and life we value. We always have the chance to be the person we want to be.

Since I spoke up at work, I have dusted off the little journal that holds my dreams and ideals, the nonprofit-business plan I started a number of years ago. And I have taken out my pen and started to work on it once again, buoyed by how much of my dream has remained the same, while also marveling at how much my knowledge and experience has grown and deepended as I've spoken up and, in doing so, found the world I want. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Robe Competition

I have a problem.

I found another robe I like.

also not an ugly robe

My symbolic gesture has turned into an actual devotion to robes.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

honoring a life

Tonight I lit a yahrzeit candle in memory of my Grandma Bernice, who died ten years ago tomorrow. It's Jewish tradition to light the candle at sundown the evening before the yahrzeit (anniversary of the death). I'm not the most devout Jew ever (to say the least), but I always have seen the symbolism of this tradition as being a reminder that even if a person is gone in body, their spirit lives on - there is a light still burning for the person. The light to me has represented the immortal spirit of our loved ones, but what do I know? And regardless of what it means, I've been comforted every anniversary date for the last ten years when I see the candle burning for my Grandma.

On this date, I always take some time to reflect on my Grandma Bernice and the amazing person she was. The first inarticulate brain activity was along the lines of: how has it been ten years?! When Grandma Bernice passed away I was 18 years old, three weeks into my freshman year of college, and in bed fighting a bad case of mono - which I had gotten, turns out, kissing a rather cute boy all summer long. So it really is "the kissing disease." I did not go to her memorial service - a decision I will forever regret - and because of that in many ways I've spent the last decade carrying the loss with me. Yet, I've found ways to let go for the most part and find peace. I've also almost forgiven myself for not being a part of her memorial, but it is one life decision I wish so badly I could redo. Since I can't, I will focus on what I can do...

Tonight also happens to be the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah is about making amends for the past year and committing to improving your life in the coming year. Knowing I am remembering a decade without Grandma B, while also thinking of the year ahead, feels just about right.

What I've most often struggled with in the decade without her feels incredibly selfish: I'm sad I didn't get to know her when I was an adult, and that she didn't get to know me as I entered a transformative time of my life.

On the other hand, I think losing her as I entered my independent life changed me in ways that have made me who I am. So it's hard to think about who I would be if I didn't suffer this loss right as I was embarking on my life outside of the literal and figurative safety of my childhood home. It's one of those crazy moments of: did this make me who I am, or would I still have made the decisions I made if this significant life event hadn't happened then?

Regardless of the answer to that question -since there is no real way of knowing - I am seeing how she has been a part of my last ten years in so many big ways. Since she's been gone I've taken a leave of absence from school to live alone in California and work on a nature sanctuary; returned to college wiser and braver and willing to study the things I cared about instead of the things I felt pressured to care about; traveled to Japan, Paris, Hawaii, Vancouver, England, and loads of states; fallen in love for the first time; hitch-hiked on the Big Island of Hawaii wearing a rainbow-colored sundress; survived other losses and heartbreak; participated in back-breaking farming until I too believed in my strength; bought a house on my own at 25-years-of-age; quit a job when it was no longer life-affirming; written a story that was mentioned on public radio; spoken up for what I believe when it wasn't the easy thing to do; been kind and loving and curious as often as possible.

In so many of these adventures I see traces of Grandma Bernice. I see her determination and strength. I see her zest for life and her curiosity. I see her loyalty to living a life of adventure. I see her honesty with herself and those around her. Mostly though, I see her love for the world and the people in it. 

I see myself through her, and her through me.

So how do we honor a life? I think we honor it by living our life: living it well, living it with intention, and care. We live it, in the words of one of my favorite UU hymns, by saying "Yes" to life.

(here's that song)
Just as Long as I Have Breath

Just as long as I have breath, I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
though with pain I made my way, still with hope I meet each day.
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.

Just as long as vision lasts, I must answer, “Yes,” to truth;
in my dream and in my dark, always: that elusive spark.
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to truth.

Just as long as my heart beats, I must answer, “Yes,” to love;
disappointment pierced me through, still I kept on loving you.
If they ask what I did best, tell them I said, “Yes,” to love.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

why, hello there

Morning glories are wonderful, aren't they? Their discovery to me is always, always like reuniting with a good friend after a long hiatus and when you are in each others beloved presence again all you can think to say is "Why, hello there."

Why, hello there, good friend.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Poem I Like

(and possibly have posted here before. deal with it.)

"The Seven of Pentacles"
by Marge Piercy

Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.
Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot always tell by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.
Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.
Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting, after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Reflections: On Being the Person We Want to Be (Part 1 of 2)

This has been an action-packed few months, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Which of course makes me recall Brene Brown's fabulous TED talk. But that is a different tangent altogether.

I have been thinking about the moments where we are exactly where we need to be, and thus find ourselves in company with a version of ourself that we really like. In other words, I have been thinking about being the person we want to be.

I've had two rather profound experiences of late where I have experienced the me I most love. While these experiences have come and gone, I felt moved to reflect on them a bit more - see what else I could learn, what more is to be found in these places of self-love.

The more recent experience was an amazing few days spent in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). This was my first trip to this highly-regarded Northern Minnesota treasure, and having never been made me feel like I wasn't really Minnesotan. Sure enough, afterwards I felt like I was finally a part of a sacred club.

that's Rebecca in the corner photographing a log that looks like it's growing out of the sky. trust me, this is true.

The first thing I thought when I entered the area - and the last thing I thought as I paddled out - was: "I get it now."

This beautiful wilderness area is closed to motorized boats. No planes fly overhead, no roadways cut through. Rebecca commented multiple times on how strange it was to not have a freeway with cars zooming by - and in fact one night she insisted she heard it, and I insisted it was some sort of insect (cicadas I think). This sort of silence makes way for the most profound heightening of the senses. Food tastes better off the campfire. The colors appear more vibrant to the naked eye. The sound of loons and wind and water are crisp.

And the feeling of it... it's hard to describe. Truly, the minute we hit the open water, I dropped into a quiet. I felt the stress just melt off me. I felt light. The openness of the landscape - the vast sky & water - they get in you. If you are willing to go there with me, I will tell you that this place, this beautiful, peaceful place, actually made my heart feel more open, appreciative, receptive.

This trip was after a few months of grappling with who I am - at work, at play, in relationship with myself and others. And this trip was the first time I had gone "into the wild" in a very long time. So I had forgotten how leaving your life behind can actually free you. I forgot what "wild time" (aka: not being ruled by the clock) can do to the psyche.

The pure surprise of it all made the impact all the greater. I didn't feel the need to rush. I didn't have to perform. I could observe what was all around me, and feel a great respect for it. I could feel tiny in the scope of things, and happy for it.

So I realized that to be the person I want to be, I must make room for quiet. I need to slow down. I need to look away from the clock, and just listen to the rhythm of something greater. I must allow myself some "do nothing" days. I must additionally allow myself time away - time to appreciate the parts of the world that are not part of my daily world. The urban girl in me recognizes the rural, wild girl in me. Both need room to breath. 

Very important to this trip was the company of Rebecca. I was deeply appreciative of the time I got to spend with my friend. It is a rare and special thing to be able to have an experience that feels so deeply personal and nourishing, and to be able to share it with another. There are very few people who can negotiate sharing an experience while also not disrupting the moments where solitude is needed. Rebecca was truly the most perfect person to have this adventure with, and I think we both found the balance - without even trying. We gave each other space when needed, and had plenty of closeness when that is what was speaking to us. I cherish our late night tent conversations, the day we paddled together in a very strong headwind, the giggles over some of our more special trip companions, and especially the many times we sat quietly on large rocks and looked out at the world together.

Our trip leader told us about two women from a previous trip who were celebrating 40 years of friendship. Rebecca and I realized this trip marked ten years of our friendship, and I hope we were both wondering what adventure we'd be embarking on thirty years from now.

I feel grateful to have had an adventure where I discovered a new place, remembered parts of myself that I cherish, and grew closer to a very dear friend all at the same time.

Part 2 Forthcoming...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Surviving a Family Vacation

Two survival tactics for a family vacation:

1) Get your own hotel room. This is worth the $400 for the weekend.

2) Bring along as many David Sedaris novels as fit in your bag, and sneak away to read a story or two when the tension is high. Take a moment to bask in how much more dysfunctional your family could be. 

Bonus survival tactic:

3) Remember that every vacation has beautiful moments that you are entitled to enjoy all by yourself. Remember also that every vacation has an ending. Know that when you have a home you love "coming home to," you are truly lucky. You can be lucky even if you also have a crazy family.