Friday, April 21, 2017

happies on the horizon

I have a Big Birthday coming up. Three weeks from tomorrow to be exact, so I've been doing a little prep in anticipation. This is the first birthday in a long time that I have had to rely on myself for pulling off a celebration. When I turned 30 I threw a big party in my back yard, inviting friends to come for a potluck with an international cuisine theme. It was great fun, in spite of being on crutches at the time.

I haven't figured out party plans for the day itself, but in thinking about how to fashion a celebration it turns out that there will be fun things happening all month long. Why limit the festivity to a single day? An interesting discovery is unfolding as a result--I'm planning things that I should be planning and doing anyway as a part of living. Well, dang! What a great by-product of having to fend for myself!

Here's what's on tap so far:
  • Attending a book-launch event to celebrate the publication of Tom Ryan's second work, Will's Red Coat. Tom is the author of the inspiring and life-giving work Following Atticus. Both feature dogs as the hero, and the stories themselves are beautifully written testaments to what we can discover about ourselves, and life, when we pay attention. 
  • A new dog is on the horizon! She's in Maine at the moment, and I will travel northward to pick her up, combining that trip with an overnight with an old college friend, a visit to a pottery studio I discovered via Facebook, a first-time "in real life" meeting with a Facebook friend, and a stop (I hope) at a botanical garden (photo). The latter is contingent upon working in a visit with a cousin in Boothbay Harbor.
  • Volunteering to support the work of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation and Animal Sanctuary in Newtown, CT. Catherine was one of the victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, and her family has established the sanctuary as a living memorial to her. There is a week of opportunity to help restore an old barn on the property that will be used to house rescued and recovering animals.I'll be rolling up my sleeves to pitch in one day during that effort.
  • Theater! With a former colleague from my IT days, I'm heading to the Big Apple to see the limited-run revival of Six Degrees of Separation, starring Allison Janney (and others, but she's the reason I wanted to see it). This started out as a reasonable splurge through an organization that provides discounted tickets to qualifying members. Thanks to the outstanding production of the show, however, award nominations are now attached and there are no more discounts. We decided to take the plunge and go broke. Tickets are ordered. Yes!
  • Creating a fairy house. This will happen on the actual day at a local library. Shouldn't we all build fairy houses on our birthdays? Why did I wait so long?
Somewhere along the way I expect a proper party will fall into place--complete with cake (chocolate, of course). In the meantime I am excited about all the fun stuff on the horizon, and look forward to these myriad ways of experiencing delight. I need to make that a habit, birthdays notwithstanding.


Saturday, April 08, 2017

jed's journal: epilogue

It didn't last.Yesterday I reached the difficult and sad decision to relinquish Jed back to the Foundation from which I adopted him. I am heartbroken, and grieving the possible life that might have been ours together under different circumstances.

It was a combination of factors. The neighborhood in which I live contains so many sounds and  "moving parts" that continually spooked him. After a garbage truck ground its various gears into action last week Jed was so freaked out that I practically had to carry him back to the house. This happened so close to home that what may have seemed like a safe place (around the house) ceased to be that. It took him three days to leave the safety of the front porch to walk after that. The wind battering loose siding made him jumpy, and garbage cans that lined the sidewalk were impediments. It became harder and harder to walk him without resistance, and my efforts to tug him along did not encourage trust. At home he began to avoid me, and any earlier bonding moments were obliterated.

I might have been able to work through the above challenge if I wasn't so out of my depth addressing his issues. His needs, in terms of understanding what he is going through and responding to his behavior adequately, were great. Although I had access to some help with this, the support wasn't timely or sufficient, and with every passing day it felt like I lost ground and faced an additional hurdle. I was drowning.

Finally, the context of my life at the moment is also problematic. It's not all bloggable, but what I can say is that there are few places where I feel supported and loved. I am emotionally depleted, and without adequate support and relationships to fuel and feed me, I didn't have much to give to Jed. The hope in adopting him was that we would nurture each other, but he was nowhere near being able to offer love or affection. The sadness of that imbalance, though not unexpected, proved difficult. 

When I decided to adopt him I thought I was up for the challenge. I thought that love, patience, and compassion would undergird the process of helping him heal and recover from his trauma. I was naive, and let my desire to be his hero blind me to the reality I faced. I have no confidence in my decision to bring him home, although I do believe I gave him what I could. It just wasn't enough for him, and proved wounding, in the process, for both of us.

I can't know what will come next for him and what the future will hold. I hope for the best for him. On those few occasions when he seemed open and trusting I experienced a gentle spirit and a sweet soul. I hope someone can lead him to a place where he feels free to release the genuineness of who he is. I hope we both emerge from our wounds victorious.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

jed's journal: prologue

(published a day after writing)
So, I adopted a dog. I set out to adopt a senior dog, thinking that it would provide a home to a dog in need, and require a shorter duration commitment for us as a three-dog family again. Understandably, Ken would like to simplify our collective life, but I'm here and he's there for who-knows-how-long. So I decided to adopt a dog. My heart needs a dog.

The short version of the story is that I selected a senior at a local shelter via their web site. Put in my application, and made an appointment to go meet the ole' gal. We weren't a match. I visited with a total of four dogs that afternoon, and #4 turned out to be Jed, a Border Collie who had been abandoned, probably shot (he bears evidence of buckshot wounds), and left to fend for himself somewhere in North Carolina. I don't see myself as a special needs hero. Nope. But I have a soft spot for Border Collies, and Jed, well, instead of hiding under the table in the "meet and greet" room as he typically had with others before me, he backed himself up to sit on my legs where I had plopped on the floor. The shelter workers exchanged glances. "Looks like he's chosen you!" I brought Jed home.

He's skittish. Scared. Painfully shy. Happy to spend his day in his crate, safe from potentially threatening interaction. But once he emerges he follows me around and parks himself at my feet. Sometimes he takes sanctuary in a corner. He doesn't invite affection, but he accepts it without flinching. When we've gone for walks he alternates between convivial participation and active resistance. He won't take food from my hand, and his bowl has to placed in front of him--wherever he is--for him to eat. He's pooped and peed in his crate. In southern parlance, he's a mess.

Last night as I was offering my prayers after "lights out," I wondered if this was a good idea. I don't feel equipped for this kind of relationship, and I'm definitely not trained for it. In truth, with the long road of post-traumatic recovery he has ahead of him, Jed wasn't ready for adoption. He should have had more time for transition, healing, and training with a foster guardian. Under cover of darkness the option of returning him seemed viable. This is difficult work, and a new road for me. I was looking for comfort and love, and instead I bought in to a challenge. Am I making a poor choice, or rescuing both of us through this effort? In the dawning light of a snowy morning, it all seemed less daunting.

I've been reading about how to work with dogs in his circumstances, and the underlying criteria is patience. Patience is something I can do very well, but it helps to have realistic expectations as a framework in which to practice this virtue. Further, it is helpful to feel that progress is being made.

This morning I decided that a journal for Jed would be helpful. It can help me log his days, and make note of that cherished progress. It can help me feel reinforced in the decision to stick with him. It can be a way for his story to unfold on the record. So here we are. My goal isn't necessarily to publish this log, but it does help to write it through a means that is shared. Last night in the dark I felt very alone. Here, I feel companionship.

This is our second full day together. We are challenged by a blizzard, which makes getting outside exceedingly difficult (no cleared paths), and confounding for a dog that doesn't yet have established habits for using the great outdoors. In a way I was grateful that he'd relieved himself in the crate before dawn. Laundry is more manageable than hypervigilance over the course of the day as Jed adapts to freedom and a non-kennel structure. I am leaning into the wisdom of Tom Ryan, of Following Atticus fame, who practices the art of letting his dogs be who they are rather than asking them to conform to human notions of who a dog should be. With Jed I am endeavoring to do the same, letting him learn who he is, and sharing that with me as he is able, and willing. It will take a while, but of two things I am certain. I will do my best. And I will love him with everything I've got.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

under scrutiny

After making a series of applications for assorted things recently, I have concluded that one of the things that afflicts all of us these days is the resulting discomfort of being under scrutiny. My experiences are minor: two job interviews probed my experience and sought to ferret out degrees of competence to measure against other candidates; an application for a store credit card passed judgment on my financial fitness; and the desire to adopt a dog meant questions for friends, landlords, and veterinarians about whether or not I would provide a good home for a canine in need. Less formally, members of my church evaluate regularly whether or not I am measuring up to their expectations, and colleagues and potential new friends size me up to see if there's space in their world and gladness in their heart for the likes of what I bring to the table. Add to that the glaring light of our own tendency to inspect and evaluate our personal strengths and shortcomings, and, well, we just can't escape being held up to one kind of standard or another.

Everywhere we look there is scrutiny: book reviews, entertainment awards, political actions and protests, the list goes on. Scrutiny is normal, and in many contexts not only important, but necessary. That said, frankly, I'm worn out by it all. What intrigues me about all of this is that none of it is new. Instead, it is now heightened. It appears to be a combination of safeguards against the possibility of abuse (which can run the gamut from a few bad choices to ill-intent)--adopting a dog used to be a matter of picking one out and taking it home, for instance--and a degree of self-protection against forces that leave us feeling anxious and, perhaps, vulnerable. Political rhetoric has gone from abrasive to toxic in some cases (too many), and the veneer of protection against the awareness of privilege experienced among Whites has been deeply gouged, exposing a raw and angry core of insecurity that manifests as fear. These are generalizations, of course, and there are always exceptions and examples of lives lived and acting out of strength and well-discerned advocacy for justice. The level of "noise" is what is different, and wearing. When we're fatigued we are susceptible to yielding to our shadows and deficits, and the best of who we are and what we have to offer becomes obscured. This is true for all people, those with hearts of gold and those who entertain themselves with thoughts of pettiness, or strive to find a foothold of power in the overcrowded corner of the world in which they live, and move, and have their being.

I have no profound observation about this, never mind techniques for coping and repelling the assaults against our noble efforts to be as authentic and genuine as possible in a time that, by its ugly nature, seems to obscure those efforts. I really just want to name what I see as a distorted phenomenon that doesn't serve us well at the moment. I want to be aware of the trap of thinking that this is normal and right. I want to caution myself against giving the experience of being under scrutiny too much power, when I need my energy for positive action and affirmation.

As a result of other, positive influences in my life these days I have turned a corner in my own practice of how I react to things that ruffle my feathers. I am learning to stop myself as I am tempted to take the path that unleashes my criticism ("What an idiot!" to the driver who dances from the fast lane across three veins of traffic to an exit ramp), and instead take a breath to help me redirect my energy toward being a blessing. The phrase, "Be a blessing" has become a new mantra, and it is working. 

So maybe I am developing a way to cope against the exhaustion of scrutiny. Better than that, however, is a newly forged discipline that is working successfully to build, support, and affirm in a climate where tearing down is all the rage (choice of words intentional). It's one way to love the world from where I live, and do my part to let go of scrutiny.


Monday, February 06, 2017

being change

There's a story going "viral" on social media about the commendable actions of a white police officer who pulled over a black teenager to caution him about texting while driving. The boy was frightened to be pulled over, and the officer only wanted to encourage him to drive safely. Said officer shared his story on Facebook, with this concluding paragraph:
I truly don't even care who's fault it is that young man was so scared to have a police officer at his window. Blame the media, blame bad cops, blame protestors, or Colin Kaepernick if you want. It doesn't matter to me who's to blame. I just wish somebody would fix it.
Did that paragraph make you blanch, as it did me?  Here's why I take issue with it, in the order by which the paragraph unfolds.
  1. I'm truly sorry the officer doesn't care enough about the real issue people of color experience that has come to be known as "driving while black," to take the time to understand its genesis. I'm glad the officer was moved by compassion to want to act on behalf of the teen's safety. That is commendable, and it's a place to start. It's going to take more--a lot more--before that teen and others like him will ever feel safe behind the wheel, or on the streets. This was an act of compassion related to behavior. Still in need is empathy related to the experience of people of color, and understanding why white people with good hearts need to understand our complicity in systemic oppression, racism, and injustice. The film 13th is an excellent first step down that road.
  2. Blame the media? Um, no. The media is bringing to light what has been kept hidden for generation after generation. It's uncomfortable, and it should be. It's shameful, which I hope is a catalyzing force for each of us to take a close look at how we understand privilege, come to terms with it, and begin the work to shift our attitudes and actions so that we become part of the solution. And yes, I'm guilty, too.
  3. Blame protestors? Perhaps he meant by this that the protestors have drawn attention to the injustices of profiling and violence against people of color, and this new awareness has caused members of law enforcement to be mindful of its truth. Blaming protestors for shining a light on systemic wrongs doesn't hurt the victims. It does, however, make perpetrators of injustice uncomfortable, and usually defensive. I surely hope he didn't mean that protestors are responsible for promoting a false narrative. Nothing could be more false than that.
  4. Blame Colin Kaepernick? Seriously? Again, CK's action of protest is to draw attention to the blindness of our society to its consistent perpetuation of injustices against people of color, and underscores the unwillingness of those who benefit from this rigged system to take responsibility for it and be accountable to correcting it. See the note above about protestors.
  5. It doesn't matter who's to blame? I believe it does, not because I'm fond of blaming (I'm not), but because it is important to understand how we got here. That's the easy part, and I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek. Once we become informed we then have to sit with how that information makes us feel, and, God willing (and I believe God does, given that justice is a pretty big deal for the almighty), be changed by what we learn. Then it gets harder, because belief not translated to behavioral change or action is nothing more than an idea taking up space in our being. Even a good idea, independent of some demonstrable reflection, doesn't have much value. 
  6. He wants somebody to fix it. How I read that? Somebody else do it, it's not my problem. Sigh.
I invite you to join me among the ranks of white allies trying to do better. Every day I see evidence of how much work there is to do in this arena, and it's daunting. There are so many struggles that beckon our time and energy, and we can't engage all of them. This is the one that owns my heart.

Let me say at the outset that I don't have the guide book for how to engage this work, I can simply share what I'm doing: reading, listening, watching, stumbling, and trying to learn. It's a transformation that is going to take the rest of my life, and I'm committed to it. Walk with me.

I referred to the film 13th. In two hours you will get your head filled and your heart challenged with mind-exploding and heart-expanding information. Let it work on you.

Read. There are lots of books available to help the transition from privileged white person to ally. And just a note as I look back on that sentence: if white, we will always be privileged. This journey is about living a life committed to reversing racism and intersectionality. This list on the RevGalBlogPal website is a great start.

Listen. We each have to find our own way to do that, but there are two distinct voices to whom I pay attention on facebook, and I commend following them. They are both ordained leaders. One is Traci Blackmon, a minister of the United Church of Christ in St. Louis, and woman of color, whose insights, compassion, honesty, and wisdom have helped me understand the many complicated layers of racism. The other is Mike Kinman, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. Mike is a friend and colleague who does an extraordinary job of articulating how privilege manifests itself. By listening to him I am learning how to recognize privilege at work. This post is an example of that, and I hope it is helpful to others who want to walk this walk.

What's that saying, be the change we want to see in the world? I'm working on it.


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