Bridge Woman

Everyone deserves a place where they feel safe.

As you prepare to eat a nice warm meal on this Thanksgiving day (provided you’re are able to overlook the disturbing colonial overtones of this holiday), and whether you’re spending the day with family or friends or all alone, I hope that you remember to count your blessings, dear reader. I know I’m making a lot of assumptions about your circumstances, but the fact that you have access to the internet tells me that, like me, you’re a lot better off than many people are.

I’d like to tell you about someone who doesn’t have it as good as we do. As I write this, she’s sorting through garbage in a ditch, not 20 yards from where I sit. Perspective.

Here at work, I spend a great deal of time watching the comings and goings of the people who cross my drawbridge. After doing this for a while, I began to spot patterns. I’ve learned people’s routines. I’ve created backstories about them in my head, which, admittedly, are quite likely inaccurate, but it helps me feel a certain kinship with these people, even though they probably don’t even know I exist.

In the past month or so, I’ve been seeing quite a bit of someone that I’ll call “Bridge Woman”. I considered calling her “Drainage Ditch Woman”, but that seems undignified.  And she needs all the dignity she can get.

I suspect that this woman is mentally ill and/or homeless. She spends hours on the bridge approaches, sitting on the curb that separates the sidewalk from the bike lane. She is completely engrossed in the detritus that flows down the drainage ditch. It’s as if she is panning for gold. She doesn’t even look up when someone goes past.

She sorts through the gunk, sifting out little bits of God-knows-what, and puts those things in what she deems to be their proper place. Some things are placed on the sidewalk, some on the curb, and apparently some things don’t pass muster and are returned to the ditch. I’ve tried to figure out her method of categorization, but I’ve yet to succeed.

She doesn’t do anyone any harm, and it is, after all, a public sidewalk, and she’s far enough away from the part of the bridge that moves to be safe, so I let her be. And I’m painfully aware that her odds of continuing to “be” are a lot higher when she sits on this bridge and quietly organizes away. Here, she’s relatively safe. No one hassles her. No one influences her or takes advantage of her vulnerability. If anyone tries to hurt her, there are witnesses. I strongly suspect that these things can’t be said about the rest of her days or nights.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, women comprise only 29 percent of the homeless individuals (as opposed to families) in this country. This means they’re greatly outnumbered in most places. Women who are unsheltered have a much higher risk of premature death, mainly due to mental health and chronic health issues. And, “The rates of victimization and assault, including robbery, physical abuse, and sexual assault are much higher for women than men.”

An article entitled, “Rates of violence against the homeless are worse than you think” spells it out in upsetting detail. It also contains a link to a comprehensive report entitled, “Vulnerable to Hate: A Survey of Bias-Motivated Violence against People Experiencing Homelessness which details stats from 2016-2017.”

Here are some of the statistics from the article and that report that jumped out at me:

  • Life expectancy for someone who is homeless is 20-30 years less than the general population.
  • About 13,000 American homeless people die on the streets each year.
  • 1 in 3 homeless people have been deliberately hit, kicked, or experienced some other form of violence, including having things thrown at them. Some are urinated on, intimidated or threatened, or verbally abused or harassed.
  • While 1-3% of the general youth population report sexual assault, 21-42% of homeless youth have reported sexual assault. 1 in 3 teens are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of living on the street.
  • 1 in 3 homeless youth engage in survival sex.
  • The experience of violence in the lives of homeless women: A research report, showed that 78.3% of homeless women in the study had been subjected to rape, physical assault, and/or stalking. Those who experience such assault while homeless also lack access to legal, medical and mental health services, which can worsen the post traumatic effects of the experience.
  • The report also briefly focused on Seattle, my city, by saying, “many cities do not often provide free public restrooms that are easily accessible. For example, Seattle, which has the third-largest homeless population in the U.S, only had one functional 24-hour restroom, downtown, as of 2015.”

Homelessness is a rough life for anyone, but it’s even more so for women. So when I see Bridge Woman organizing garbage in the ditch, oddly enough I’m happy she’s there. Yes, I would like much more for her, but given the current state of the world, I think that that ditch is probably a safer place than many of her current societal alternatives. It makes me sad, but I genuinely believe that it’s true.

As winter approaches, and the cold, raw, Seattle weather settles in for the duration, I worry about Bridge Woman. I’m relieved to see that she now has warm clothing and good shoes, and she looks clean enough that she would blend in with the general population if only she were not so focused on the task at hand. I assume that she has been in contact with someone who cares, at least, either personally or professionally.

I hope her situation improves even more.

It probably won’t.

When the ditch is flooded with icy water, she may not enjoy her project quite as much. She’ll most likely choose to pass her time elsewhere. I hope that she continues to find safe places, ideally places that are warm and dry, where she won’t be hassled, even if it’s only for a few hours a day.

Gazing out the window at her, I count my blessings and think that she deserves better. I wonder if people understand how much we have let this woman down, or if they think she gets more than she’s entitled to. I have no idea what she wants or what she can get. I hope she is loved.

At a bare minimum, I’d like to think that all but the most cold-hearted among us can agree that everyone deserves a place where they feel safe. I’m glad my bridge has provided her with that kind of respite, if only for a short time.

I hope, dear reader, that like me, you use this holiday to give thanks for all that is good in your life, rather than thinking back, with pride, on the wholesale theft of this continent and all the bloodshed that was required to rip it from the hands of the people who were already here. If so, then Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude should not require a holiday. But if you’re giving added focus to it on this day, please consider ordering my book, Notes on Gratitude. And happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. I’m so glad you’re here!

Thank You for All of It

Viewing the world through a lens of gratitude.

I know I said I’d only be posting blogs on even numbered days from now on, but I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and felt the need to write it out. Consider this a bonus post.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because you can make of it what you want. It can be a gathering of loved ones from far and near, or it can be a quiet day at home by yourself or with your favorite person. It can be a fine spread of turkey and all the fixings, or it can be Chinese food and a good book.

Some people still buy into the story of the benevolent Pilgrims and the welcoming Indians, and they choose to commemorate that. This fable continues to harm indigenous people the world over, even as it makes us feel vindicated for all we did to get where we are. I’m willing to concede that this country became ours by theft and brutality and the fact that our guns shot further than their arrows, and our diseases did even more harm than our guns.

Because of those hard truths, Thanksgiving, for me, is not about a fictional past, it’s about being present. Sitting in that place of gratitude, and realizing how very lucky I am to be here and now. As I breathe in and out, I am experiencing pure joy for the gift that is my life. On this day in particular, I feel that gratitude with every fiber of my being.

I want to be mindful of this gratitude all year long. I genuinely do believe that attitude is everything, and I am forever working on mine. As I learn to set healthier boundaries in my life, those boundaries have created a space for me to focus on my gratitude, and that allows me to write about it.

Please know these things: there are so many opportunities to reframe the way you look at the world. There are so many occasions that can lead you to that joyful place within you. It has always been there. You just have to nurture it and let it come out to play.

If you are looking for ways to view the world through a lens of gratitude, I hope you’ll read my book, because that’s what it’s about. But even if you don’t, dear reader, I want you to know that the mere fact that you are reading my words right here, right now, is a precious gift to me. I am grateful for the very fact of your existence. Thank you for being the miracle that you are.

The Curse of Too Much Cake

What a curse, to lack gratitude.

I love cake, but if I ate it every single day, I’m sure I’d get sick of it, or at the very least, I wouldn’t appreciate it. So I have a slice of cake maybe once or twice a year, and it’s Nirvana.

That’s how my mother used to feel about oranges. She grew up in New England, toward the beginning of the last century, when produce wasn’t available out of season, and it certainly wasn’t shipped from other parts of the country or world. So on the rare occasion when she got to sample an actual orange, she viewed it as a luxury to be savored. I, too, love oranges, but I don’t think I will ever be able to have the appreciation for them that my mother had. I envy that.

Being able to see something’s value, its worth, to know what it’s like to be grateful for the mere existence of a thing, is in itself a precious gift.

I have always felt rather sorry for children of privilege. They will never know how exciting travel is. They will never appreciate a comfortable bed or a truly well-made meal. The pure joy of knowing what it’s like to work hard and sacrifice to finally reach a goal will forever elude them. They expect everything to be handed to them, so that’s the only anticipation they will ever know.

Children of privilege often don’t take advantage of unique experiences, because they believe that everything they could ever want or need will always be there. They would never run outside to see the Northern Lights. They probably can’t even be bothered to look up from their cell phones long enough to experience an eclipse.

I will always have a sense of excitement and wonder and pure joy when I get to do or see something new. I’ll never forget how tiny my piece of the cake was when I was growing up, so I will always appreciate every crumb that comes my way. What a curse, to lack gratitude. If that were my fate, merely existing would seem all but pointless.

Life is delicious. It should be feasted upon.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Birthday Renewal

Three cheers for another year!

The older some of us get, the more our birthdays remind us of our mortality. And time seems to pass so much more quickly as we age, so the hits just keep on coming. Today I’m another year older but at least I’m not deeper in debt.

But, unlike other years, when that mortality sledgehammer has hit me right as (lucky me) I’m exhausted from being at the tail end of the holidays, this year I’m actually feeling really grateful. As I speed toward what is quite likely the last quarter of my life, I’m viewing every birthday as a precious gift. Approaching one more of these anniversaries is something to be savored.

There are many reasons for this mindset, not the least of which is that I feel, more and more, that I have something to live for and lots to look forward to. Moving to the right place and marrying the right person really helps in that regard. Also, my hard work and personal growth is paying off. (So if you’re young and frustrated, please do not give up. You can do this.)

Because I feel that way, I’m exercising regularly for the first time in my life. And I’m actually enjoying it. That is unexpected. But since I have so much to look forward to, I want to experience it in the most fighting fit form that I possibly can. I still have mountains that I want to climb. (Well, hills, probably. I mean, let’s be realistic.)

Another thing that has made me stop and reassess is that I recently realized that I’ve already lived longer than my oldest sister had a chance to do. Even at the time, I knew that 54 was way too young to die, but now that I’ve blown past that, I really, really know it. I’m relatively young. I have a lot that I still want to do. It’s horrific to think that it all could end so soon. I’d feel cheated.

But who knows? Maybe I will always feel that way, when the time comes. I lack that perspective still. (If I continue to blog into my 80’s, I’ll be sure to let you know.)

I’ve also learned the priceless lesson that life is very fragile and can be taken away with no notice, so every single day should be viewed as a gift. What will you do with your gift today? Being surrounded by a raging pandemic has only reinforced that mindset for me. I am so grateful for every day.

So I think that from now on, rather than viewing birthdays as one more year closer to the end, I’ll think of them as an extension of my expiration date. They are a renewal of the contract of life, as it were. Yay! Three cheers for another year! Woo hoo!

I can’t wait to find out what’s inside!

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Gratitude, Not Optimism

To hell with optimism.

I happen to love someone who is the most positive person I have ever met. It’s a delight to be around most of the time, but it’s also a hard yardstick to be measured by. Anyone standing next to this guy will automatically look like Eeyore by comparison.

Fortunately, I’m secure in the knowledge that I’m not, in fact, Eeyore, because I used to live with an Eeyore. An Eeyore can suck the life out of any room he enters. An Eeyore is convinced that the world is out to get him.

My Eeyore refused to smile in photographs because he thinks it’s unnatural. Because of that, everyone assumes he is constantly miserable. I think he wears this like some kind a suit of armor. Then he accessorizes this suit of armor with every negative experience he has ever had in his life. He glues those things to his exterior like some twisted decorator crab. All this stuff weighs him down. This makes people avoid him, which, in turn, makes him more miserable.

An Eeyore likes to insult himself out loud, and is under the mistaken impression that others will find this funny or charming. In fact, it makes people extremely uncomfortable. It also makes them feel sorry for him. It’s very hard to like someone whom you feel sorry for, at least for long stretches of time. It’s exhausting.

When I tried to address this negativity in my Eeyore, he would get very defensive, and accuse me of trying to force him to put a plastic smile on his face. I could never understand that. I was trying to say that your attitude, the lens through which you view the world, impacts your emotions. Attitude is everything.

But now I realize he extrapolated a false conclusion from that. He believed that I was trying to force him toward optimism, which is nearly impossible to achieve if you don’t come by it naturally (speaking from personal experience).

Actually, that was not my intention at all. Optimism is about expectations for the future. I don’t think you can predict the future, and therefore optimism kind of feels like magical thinking to me. I hope for the best, yes, but no one knows what will happen down the road. As we’ve learned from all the false election fraud claims, wishing doesn’t make it so.

Instead of optimism, what I was trying to get across, rather ham-handedly, it seems, is the notion of gratitude. Gratitude focuses on the present. It’s about appreciating the good you currently have in life, rather than focusing on the negative aspects. This is more realistic, but it also seems a bit magical in the best sense of the word, because when you give more energy to the good that is around you now, somehow more of your future tends to become positive as a result.

I wish I had tried harder to get this point across to my Eeyore. But in retrospect I realize that he was too heavily invested in his own unhappiness to hear me. I’m sure he’s still unhappy to this day, and that makes me sad to contemplate.

To hell with optimism, frankly. But gratitude is an extremely valuable commodity. It might take some practice, but it’s a state of mind that is available to all of us. I may not always be Little Mary Sunshine, but I am grateful for so many things that it has been known to bring tears of joy to my eyes. That’s a gift I keep being given.

Gratitude, like negativity, tends to perpetuate itself. And gratitude allows you to smile in photographs. Which is another thing to be grateful for. See how that works?

This may be great camouflage, but in the end, you’re having
to carry a bunch of crap everywhere you go.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Things to Be Thankful for in 2020

For starters, I’m grateful for you, dear reader.

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving. This is my favorite holiday. Good food, no pressure to give gifts, and, if this were a normal year, an opportunity to see loved ones.

I realize that most of us are not getting to celebrate it in the manner in which we are accustomed, but maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. We can all focus more, if we choose to, on the many things we have to be thankful for. And we get to avoid all those awkward political conversations that would surely be happening right now if this were a non-pandemic year. Maybe we should view this as the time and space this country needs to heal its rifts.

Here are the things I’m thankful for in this crazy year:

  • My loved ones value my health enough to stay away, and are staying safe themselves, even if it’s hard.
  • Everyone I know personally that I have crossed paths with since March has had the decency and the sense to wear a mask, and because of that, so far, I am COVID-free.
  • I am quick enough on my feet to back away from the maskless strangers that I encounter, thus protecting myself and my husband.
  • I’ve had the opportunity to spend even more time with my dogs than usual.
  • I have a renewed sense of how important people are to me, and how precious life is.
  • I take nature even less for granted than I did before.
  • I am more focused on exercising than I ever have been in my entire life. (It’s a great way to work off COVID stress.)
  • I am constantly reminded of the importance of patience. It is a lesson that I have always struggled with, but I’m definitely getting more practice this year.
  • It is very easy to tell who cares about others and who only cares about themselves these days, and that information comes in handy.
  • I’m feeling very patriotic because I’m doing my part to maintain public health.
  • I’m also proud of the fact that so many of us voted for the first time, and I’m proud that no evidence of election fraud has been presented, and that just saying does not make it so.
  • I’m glad that this year is almost over.
  • I’m touched by the amount of generosity I’ve seen. Times have been tough on everybody, but they’ve been even worse for some, and I’m glad that people are stepping up and helping out at a time when the government is not.
  • I’m grateful to still have a job.
  • I’m looking forward to hate being something that is less acceptable and comfortable in this country again.
  • I value all that this year has taught me.
  • I’m grateful for all the front line workers who have seen so much horror and done so much this year, and yet still keep showing up for all of us.
  • I am grateful, most of all, for those of us who have managed to survive thus far. It’s taking a village, but we can do this.

This has been a long, exhausting year, and we’re all on the ragged edge. No doubt about it. But I hope that you, too, can still dig deep and find things to be thankful for. Post some of those in the comments, if the spirit moves you, dear reader, and know that I am thankful for you, too.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Extra Gratitude for Thanksgiving

The way you frame things matters.

One of the recurring themes in this blog is gratitude. I write about this topic so often because I genuinely believe that attitude is everything. I think that even in our darkest hours, there are things to appreciate if you look hard enough. Even bitter lessons are worthy of gratitude because they help you grow and survive.

There is so much in this world that we take for granted. Sometimes it’s worth stopping and taking a breath and appreciating the sun on your face and the wind in the trees. It’s such a gift to be alive and able to think and reason and exercise free will and create beauty and give and receive love.

I think the unhappiest people are those who focus on the negative in their lives. They may be unhappy because of their negative focus, or negative experiences may have made them unhappy, but either way, until that cycle is broken, nothing will change. It makes me sad to see people trapped in that way.

I’m not saying we should all wander around like Stepford Wives. And yes, bad things happen to us all. It’s just that the way you frame things matters. It takes practice. Some days will be a lot harder than others. But there’s good out there, if you only look.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and it’s fast approaching. I wish we didn’t need a holiday to remember to give thanks. I think gratitude should be part of our daily lives.

I feel so strongly about this topic that I published an anthology of my essays on gratitude. It’s called A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. I’m really proud of it. I think it would make a great Thanksgiving gift, or, for that matter, a gift any time of the year for a loved one who could use a little positivity. And can’t we all use some of that? Think about it.

As always, I’m grateful that you take the time to read my blog. As a little bonus, below is one of the short and to the point essays that you can find in the book. This one was originally posted on this blog on November 29, 2015.

Gratitude

Ever since I moved to Seattle, I’ve sort of felt as if my heart has come to reside outside of my rib cage. Vulnerable. Exposed. Sensitive. It’s kind of a crazy feeling. I need to develop a thicker skin.

I’ve just been through so much in the past couple years. I’ve given up so much, sacrificed so much. I’ve taken some insane risks, some of which have paid off, and some of which have blown up in my face.

But on a positive note, this has caused me to appreciate all the good in life so much more deeply. When I think of my friends and loved ones, near and far and old and new, I often well up with tears of joy. A good sunrise can take my breath away. I can be walking down the street and suddenly it hits me how lucky I am to be where I am, and I have to stop dead in my tracks for a second and gather myself.

In essence, I’ve become a sentimental old fool. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

sun-gratitude

Musings on Gratitude

I’ve written a great deal about gratitude.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. It’s my favorite holiday. No gift buying. Just good food and good people. It’s a time when we all focus on what we are thankful for. What’s not to love about that?

I have long maintained that an attitude of gratitude is what we need to get along, And I think that attitude should be maintained all year round, not just on Thanksgiving day. There’s much in this life that we can be thankful for.

I’ve written a great deal about gratitude. So much, in fact, that I’ve published an anthology entitled, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. It’s available on Amazon, and I guarantee you that I’ll be grateful if you purchase it! It would make a great gift for the ones you are most grateful for. (Especially if you do want to give someone a gift for cooking all that great food for you on the big day.)

Having said that, check out one of my favorite posts from the book, entitled Congratulations, You’re Alive! and know that I’m grateful for you, dear reader, every single day.

book_03

Gratitude Alarm

I don’t have a smart phone. In fact, my phone is just about as stupid as they come in this modern world. But hey, it only costs me about 5 bucks a month, so as far as I’m concerned, that makes me pretty darned smart.

Living in this state of self-imposed technological deprivation, I know nothing about apps. There may already be an app for this, but if not, there really should be. I would call this app the “gratitude alarm”. It would instruct your phone to set off a gentle alarm at random, completely unanticipated times throughout your day. The alarm would remind you to stop what you’re doing and look about you, and really appreciate your place in the now.

Too often, we forget to do this. Sometimes you need to just enjoy the sensation of the sun on your face. Don’t take your current experience for granted. Be grateful for the people you are having lunch with, and for the food on your plate. Embrace the experience of that crowded subway, as it’s taking you where you want to go. Appreciate the fact that you have a job when so many others do not. Admire that flowering “weed” that you might have otherwise overlooked.

I suspect that if people were to use this app for just a few weeks, they’d see a shift in their attitude for the better. After a while, the app would no longer be needed. An attitude of gratitude can become a delightful habit if you let it.

For now, pretend this blog post is your alarm. Stop right now. Look around. Be grateful.

alarm

Portable gratitude. Inspiring pictures. Claim your copy of my first collection of favorite posts! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

 

Perspective

This country is going to hell in a handbasket. I’m not getting any younger. I’ll never be able to afford to retire or own a home again. And I’ve pretty much given up on romance.

If you’re looking, it’s usually not hard to find things to be discouraged about. In fact, it’s pretty easy. It’s also a really bad habit to fall into.

What good does it do you, driving 90 mph down a dead end road? Where does it get you? Nowhere.

That’s why I was really grateful to see the following meme pop up on my Facebook feed the other day.

 16865053_1702932409747241_5023141065871939735_n

Whoa. Perspective. By this yardstick, I’m doing really well. I have what I need. Everything is going to be all right.

It’s a sad state of affairs that so many people on this planet do not have all ten of these things. It’s even more distressing to contemplate the fact that it’s those of us who are this lucky who get so worked up when those of us who are less fortunate try to join our exclusive little club. Why are we so threatened by other people’s prosperity?

For example, I’ve heard people say that fast food workers should not be allowed to make 15 dollars an hour because they themselves make 15 dollars an hour, and had to get a college degree to get there. How does the fact that the girl at the drive through window is now making a living wage harm you in any way? Isn’t making her wear a hair net punishment enough? How about saying, “Welcome aboard. And yes, I will have fries with that. Thanks.”

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Portable gratitude. Inspiring pictures. Claim your copy of my first collection of favorite posts! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5