Peace and Quiet

As I write this, a construction crew is tearing up the pavement on my bridge. It’s long overdue, and I’m really looking forward to not having potholes in my parking space anymore, but still, they are making an ungodly racket. I’ve actually had to resort to wearing earplugs, which is making it quite a challenge to hear boats when they request a bridge opening.

Peace is closely linked to quiet for a very good reason. I’m finding it really hard to concentrate due to this hullabaloo, and even harder to write. I’ve noticed I’m shaking my leg again, just like I did throughout my teen years. That’s evidence of an unsettled spirit.

If you don’t have quiet, you can’t think clearly. If you can’t think clearly, you make poor decisions. Poor decisions rarely lead to peaceful outcomes. At least that’s been my experience. If you ever want to see me contemplate violence, just let a neighborhood car alarm go off at 3 a.m., and let it continue to blare until the battery runs out. That’s pitchfork and torch time, as far as I’m concerned.

I always used to think that big cities were more crime-ridden than small towns because of the concentrated population. Now I’m beginning to wonder if it has more to do with the fact that in the country you can actually hear yourself think. Thinking people are less apt to break laws.

You’ll never see anyone meditating on a construction site. It’s not an ideal place to practice Tai Chi, either. Maybe if I calmly repeat, “Bye-bye, potholes,” as if it’s a mantra, while taking deep cleansing breaths, I’ll exit this experience with my sanity intact.

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Tears for Turkey

The thing about having been to 22 countries is that it has caused me to have a more global perspective. I seem to take international news much more personally than a lot of people I know. In a time when there is so much violence in the world, this can be a bit overwhelming.

While I recommend travel highly, sometimes I truly wish I could “only” be morally outraged when things occur in my homeland. It would be so much easier if places like Turkey were abstract concepts to me, so that their tragedies would not feel like they were my own. But I genuinely don’t find the death of someone on the other side of the world to be any less horrendous than the death of someone right down the street. Every person on the planet has value, in my opinion.

When I heard about the coup attempt in Turkey, I was instantly transported back to 2009 when I had wandered some of the same streets where much of the violence has occurred. I remember standing on that very bridge across the Bosphorus in Istanbul, the one that links Europe with Asia. I was awed by the history, the beauty, the pivotal location. I felt so lucky to be standing there. Little old me! It hurts my heart to see the pictures of tanks on that very spot.

I also recall walking through Taksim Square, listening to the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer while peacefully taking pictures. I can’t imagine what I would have done if jets started buzzing overhead and shots had rung out. I’m sure I would have been terrified and confused and outraged.

I can’t speak to the politics of the coup attempt in Turkey. I don’t know who should be in power or how. It does seem as though the people have spoken rather definitively, but the situation is no doubt much more complex than I can understand from such a remove. All I know is that I long for the kind of peace in that amazing land that I had the good fortune to experience, and I shed tears for the many lives that have been lost by the lack thereof.

Update 7/29/16–I said above that the people seem to have spoken, but after what I’ve been reading in the aftermath of this tragedy, I’m no longer sure. I am very disturbed by the human rights violations that are now going on. Innocent people are being taken into custody, and institutions, including schools, are being shut down. Peaceful protesters are now afraid to speak out. While I still cannot speak to the politics of this situation, I am concerned, and am beginning to think there is even more reason to cry now for this wonderful country and its people.

 

Bosphorus

Scary Small World

I just learned that Omar Mateen, the Orlando gunman, briefly attended Indian River State College, and was kicked out because he threatened to bring a gun there. I received my last degree from IRSC, and I’m now profoundly grateful that I wasn’t there the same year. Even so, this news has me extremely rattled. He still lived in that town when I did. For all I know we may have crossed paths.

Still, I loved that town. I loved that campus. It’s beautiful. I enjoyed my studies. I always felt safe there, except when I encountered the prison crew that they inexplicably allowed to maintain the grounds. (I don’t think virtually unsupervised convicted criminals and nubile young coeds make a good combo, but hey, who am I?)

The fact is that whenever you are amongst a large crowd of human beings, no matter how tranquil the setting may seem, you never know what the risks are. It’s really disturbing to realize that you can’t control the actions of others. It’s even more disturbing that serious mental illness in this country seems to fall into some strange bureaucratic crack, so many people aren’t getting the help they so desperately need when they lose their way.

Does that mean I’m going to stop going places and doing things? No. I refuse to be ruled by fear. In fact, I’ll be participating in a lot of the Seattle Pride events to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community. I’m glad that most of those events will be out of doors. I don’t relish the idea of being trapped in a building at the moment. I also suspect there will be an increased police presence, and it’s a shame that that has to be the case.

I’d be kidding myself if I said that things aren’t going to cross my mind. Are any of the people around me secretly ruled by rage? Do they think death (their own or that of someone else) is something they have a right to determine? Do they have an over-inflated sense of their own importance, or think that someone is out to get them?

I hate to contemplate the hellish existence of the (fortunately) small number of people who reside on the violent lunatic fringe. It makes me sad to think about their suffering, and even sadder to think of the suffering they could rain down upon the heads of those strangers who happen to be within range of their irrational perspectives.

Wishing peace and safety to you and all the people that you love.

Love

On Being Busy

Ever since StoryCorps contacted me and told me they wanted to include my 2009 interview in their anthology Callings, and oh, by the way, NPR wants to feature you in Morning Edition, and Parade Magazine wants to do a piece on you as well, and O Magazine would like to speak with you, and wouldn’t you like to start publishing anthologies of your own? And would you be my first podcast interview for Shaping Sapiens? And can I link to your blog? And maybe you should create a Facebook Group for your blog. Ever since all these things have happened, I’ve been busy.

And when I say “busy”, I mean it feels like someone has taped a rocket to my behind and I have absolutely no control over the steering. I’m not used to this. Not at all.

For over 14 years I’ve been locked away on my little drawbridge, enjoying relative peace and quiet, with very few ducks to put into very short rows. And I’ve liked it that way. Now, there are deadlines and decisions and attention and… I can’t believe this is all happening.

Is it exciting? God, yes! But it feels as if time is moving so fast that I might not be able to keep up. It makes me nervous.

My writing has been all about stopping and looking closely at things. It’s been about watching and commenting from the background. A friend calls me a professional meditator, a grand observer. I worry that I’m losing some of that in all this kerfuffle.

But I intend to ride the crest of this wave for as long as it lasts and savor every minute of it! Of course it isn’t going to last forever. Yes, I’ll miss it when it’s gone. But I think I’ll also be kind of relieved when everything slows back down and settles into a nice little routine once more.

I’ve been told it takes a special kind of person to sit still for 40 hours a week and not go crazy. I guess I’m that person. I thrive on it. But it is rather thrilling to go out and salsa in this world every now and then!

riding a rocket
Okay, so maybe a trifle too phallic, but you get the idea.

A Thousand Origami Cranes

Many years ago I helped a friend fold a thousand origami cranes for someone who had a brain tumor. I’ve always found the Japanese legend of the thousand origami cranes to be delightful. Some say that they will bring you good luck, or a long life, or restored health. Most believe that you must fold them yourself, and complete them within one year, but I often see people making them for others. Fathers will give them as a wedding gift to their children, or they can be given to a baby for long life and good luck. They are also given to certain temples as a prayer for peace.

What I enjoy most about this tradition is that it’s sort of the physical manifestation of a prayer. I’m not one who prays. The only time I even think about doing so is when I feel helpless. Either I’m in a bad situation or someone I love is. Then I think about praying, but am fairly confident that it won’t do any good. So when feeling helpless like that, it would be comforting to be doing something. It would be good to at least live for a while in the illusion that I have some control. Folding cranes will do nicely.

Also, I do believe that it never hurts to make your positive desires visible to those around you. Saying that you wish someone well is a wonderful thing to do, but origami cranes last longer, take more effort and therefore demonstrate your sincerity, and hey, they’re pretty.

Ironically, after I had already written this entry, I came across this statue for the first time in Seattle’s Peace Park, not far from where I work. I have no idea how I overlooked it all this time.

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[Image credit: historylink.org]

If you’d like to learn how to make an origami crane, check out this nifty tutorial:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ux1ECrNDZl4

And if you Google Origami Crane Kits, you’ll find all the supplies you need. Best wishes to you.

origami

The Dinner Party

A friend and I have this little game we like to play. If you could invite 10 people, living or dead, to your house for a dinner party, who would you choose? This is an interesting thought experiment. It makes you think about the questions you’d like to ask. It makes you examine closely the issues and people that you find interesting, and most of all, it makes you see just how many amazing people there are/have been in the world.

So, for tonight, my guest list includes Peter O’Toole, Malala Yousafzai, Bill Clinton, Mary Magdalene, Nelson Mandela, Jessica Jackley, Ben Franklin, Maya Angelou, Mahatma Gandhi, and Eva Cassidy.

I must confess that Peter O’Toole has always appeared on my guest list. Not only has he met a lot of amazing people and done a lot of amazing things, but he was a brilliant raconteur, so he could tell you all about it in delightful ways. I have no doubt that I could listen to him for hours. I wouldn’t really have any specific questions for him. I’d just enjoy hearing anything he wanted to say.

Malala Yousafzai is a new guest, but I have no doubt she’ll be invited to my dinner parties for years to come. Just 16 years old, this girl has already been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Inexplicably, she did not win. She is an advocate for the education of women, not just in her native Pakistan, but worldwide. At age 14, she was shot in the head for her trouble, but that hasn’t even slowed her down. I would love to ask her what it is like to be so clear in your convictions at such a young age, and also what it is like to be thrust headlong onto the international stage when you started off just a humble young lady who simply wanted to go to school.

I’d love to have a chat with Bill Clinton, because I miss his presidency greatly. I would like to ask him about the one thing in it that disappointed me, though. No, not the whole Monica debacle. As far as I’m concerned, his inability to keep it in his pocket is strictly between him and his wife, since Monica wasn’t a minor. No. What I’d like to talk to him about is Rwanda. Why, why, WHY, Bill, did you look the other way and let all those people get slaughtered? I’ll never understand that.

Mary Magdalene was an outspoken female community leader at a time when that wasn’t as uncommon as you might think, but she is one of the few whose name has filtered down to us. Sadly over the years her reputation has been warped to seem as though she was a prostitute, but historians have found that not to be the case. It is probably a function of not wanting women to have powerful roles in Christianity. I would love to hear her thoughts on the subject. I’d love to know the truth about who she was, what she believed, and what she witnessed.

I can think of a million things I’d like to ask Nelson Mandela, but the primary one is how on earth he could emerge from 28 years of imprisonment and not only avoid bitterness and anger but also become someone who is known for reconciling his people.

I wrote about Jessica Jackley a few days ago. She is one of the founders of Kiva.org, a microloan organization that now benefits small businesses throughout the world to the tune of over 150 million dollars a year. I’d love to hear more about how she came up with her vision and brought it to life to such a degree that it has changed the world. She’s amazing.

Ben Franklin is my hero. I find him amazing. Not only is he an inventor, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist, but he’s a fascinating politician and historical figure. He’s also quite the ladies man, and his one fatal flaw, I think, is that he treated his family abominably. I’d love to examine that contradiction further.

Maya Angelou is, among many other things, the author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings which is a wonderful book. She is an amazing and inspirational writer. In her life, she’s been everything from a prostitute to a foreign correspondent to an actor, and she recited a poem at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. I’d have to put her at the opposite end of the table from Peter O’Toole, because they’d be able to match each other, story for story, I’m sure.

Mahatma Gandhi, I think, is one of the most determined individuals who has ever lived. I would love to talk to him about how he managed not to give up on his goals despite all the obstacles that were thrust in his path, as it’s something I struggle with daily. I can not think of a way to tactfully discuss his fatal flaw with him: the fact that he refused Western medicine for his wife, resulting in her death, and yet he accepted that same medicine for himself, resulting in his recovery, but it’s something I’d dearly love to know more about.

And last but not least, I would invite the incredible singer Eva Cassidy. I wrote about her recently as well. She died at age 33, her wonderful talent cut short. This is truly a tragedy. I’d love to know what her hopes and dreams and plans would have been had she been able to live to be 100. I can’t even imagine the beauty that she could have given the world. I definitely wouldn’t be able to sit her next to Ben Franklin, though, because his saucy comments to this gorgeous woman would probably disrupt the flow of the entire event.

I think this party would stretch on to the wee hours of the night, and it would be a most fascinating experience indeed.

Who would you invite to your dinner party?

dinner party

“We Accept the Love We Think We Deserve”

That is one of the main messages in the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and it really hits home for me.

My whole life, I’ve had a problem with boundaries, or, actually, a lack of boundaries. In essence, I’ve allowed people to step all over me because I was obsessed with being a nice person. Even if someone was unspeakably rude to me, I was never rude back, and I certainly didn’t call them on their behavior. I’ve allowed myself to be ripped off, stepped on, and emotionally abused. As a child in school, when I was bullied or beaten up, I never fought back. I’ve always found it amazingly difficult to say, “No,” “Go away,” “Leave me alone,” or “F*** off.” In short, I’ve taken massive amounts of crap in my lifetime because if people see an opportunity to take advantage, they will do so, and I practically had “WELCOME” tattooed on my forehead.

This lack of boundaries goes hand in glove with accepting the love we think we deserve, because when your borders are kind of fuzzy, you begin to think you deserve the intrusions you suffer as a result.

Ah, but the universe is a wonderful teacher, is it not? It often seems as though the very type of person who needs to be put in your path so that you might learn and grow will be dropped there like an obstructive boulder, and you will be forced to go over, under, around or through that person to get to the other side.

I have to say that being in a relationship with someone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be brutal and devastating, but it can also be an opportunity for growth like no other. When someone in your life knows how to push your buttons and doesn’t hesitate to do so, you learn exactly what your buttons are, and that gives you the opportunity to explore the reason behind those buttons. That can be quite useful.

When you are essentially living with a big old bully, you either learn to stick up for yourself or you cave in under the pressure. I decided to stick up for myself. And now, I must say, I don’t take crap from anyone. I am a woman of steel.

At first I was a little militant about it, a little rigid. I can see how it would have been easy to become a bully myself. But with time I learned to tone it down, and now I don’t push, but neither do I allow intrusions on my boundaries. I’m not afraid to establish my very reasonable rules, and if someone doesn’t like those rules, well, there are plenty of other people out there to play the game with.

The other day one of my coworkers said that she needed me to go through all our grocery bags that we use for trash bags and throw out the ones that had holes. Five years ago I might have done it. I’d have resented it, but I’d probably have done it. On this day, though, I just looked her square in the eye and said, “Uh…no. If you have a problem with bags with holes in them, simply throw them out when you come across one.” And that was that. It was a little thing, but for me it was a triumph, and a hard-won triumph at that.

But all this boundary drawing has had a delightful effect. Many of the people I love are actually behaving much more courteously, and it actually seems like it’s a relief not only to me, but to them as well. People actually like to know where the limits are. It makes it that much easier to travel through life without bumping into stuff. And having boundaries of your own teaches you to respect those of others as well.

So the trick is to determine the kind of love you want, and better yet, the love you don’t want, and then apply the restrictions accordingly, and you’ll be amazed how well your personal frontiers will be respected.

Peace in the kingdom. Maybe it’s not that hard after all.

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On Being Neutral, Like Switzerland

To be honest, I don’t think you really can be neutral. Unless you’re a psychopath or extremely lazy, you are bound to form an opinion on whatever the subject at hand may be. However, as I get older I’ve begun to realize that you really do have to pick your battles.

Some things are just not worth fighting for. Speaking up could put your livelihood or a valued relationship at risk. Some people are not going to benefit from the wisdom of your logical retort regardless of your succinct rendition of the facts. Some things you just know you’ll never be able to alter no matter how much you would like to. And other things, to be brutally frank, are just not your business.

In times like those, it’s best to at least appear to be neutral, even if you don’t really feel it in your heart. And neutrality does serve a valuable purpose. Look at Switzerland. Even in the most tempestuous times, it is comforting to know that there’s someplace where opposing parties can safely meet and try to communicate. Without neutral zones, there would be no buffer between two opposing forces, and everything caught in between them would be ground to powder. So three cheers for neutrality!

One of the most valuable lessons my mother taught me was a highly effective way to take on the appearance of neutrality. You see, people want to assume you agree with them, so if you can give them just enough verbal evidence, they’ll think what they want to think. So my mother taught me the power of “Mmmm.”

When someone says something that makes me sick, such as “All women should stay at home and raise the children, and leave men’s work to those who are more qualified,” I feel outraged and disgusted, yes, but I also know how pointless the argument would be, so I respond, “Mmmm.” The fool who has put forth this argument thinks I’ve agreed, and yet I can feel, deep down, that I’ve not sold my soul just to get along. I haven’t lied. I’ve just said, “Mmmm.”

Two other great responses are “You may have a point,” and “You may be right.” The listener hears agreement in both those statements even though you are thinking, deep down, “But the point you have is a stupid one,” or “You may also be wrong, and I’m pretty darned sure that you are.”

Sometimes it’s worth wading into the waters of ambiguity in order to keep the peace.

Peace Bunny

Fred Rogers Was My Father

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On the last day of 2012, I have a confession to make. I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood to an embarrassingly old age. It was my dirty little secret. I told no one. It was something for just the two of us. Every day I’d tune in to the only father figure I had. He would speak calmly to me when others would shout. He would encourage me when others were too tired to try. He would make me feel like I was okay when others made me feel like an outcast. Most importantly, he would make me feel secure at a time when my life was not the least bit safe. When he said that everyone had something different about them, something you could learn from, or that you could grow ideas in the garden of your mind, I believed him. To this day, I can say without reservation that Fred Rogers always had my best interests at heart. There are not too many people in this world who you can say that about.

If the man had run for president, he would have won. It says a lot about his wisdom that he never did so. But if he had held the highest office in the land, things would have been quite different. He’d have strode calmly and politely into congress and shamed them into stepping away from that fiscal cliff. He’d have given Washington a moral compass that is sorely lacking in this day and age. Maybe he would not have gotten the right and left to agree, but he certainly would have had them communicating respectfully and acting like the adults that they are supposed to be. He would have put a stop to the politics by fear that seems to be the rule of the day. And when tragedy strikes, as it sometimes will, he would be able to comfort the entire nation with his sincerity. One thing is for certain: If Fred Rogers were president, sweaters would come back in style.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rogers. When you passed away, millions of us lost the only father we ever knew.

My Recipe for Peace on Earth

Have you ever noticed that the most prejudiced, judgmental, belligerent people are often the very ones who have had little or no exposure to the groups that they are complaining about?

Many years ago I decided to travel to Puerto Rico with my boyfriend at the time. Upon hearing of our plans, his mother completely freaked out. She was convinced that he’d wind up in some Puerto Rican prison and she’d never see him alive again. Please understand that we weren’t even going to be leaving our own country, but…”those people” speak a different language! Gasp! She was fine when we went to Canada. There would hardly be a culture change; no language barrier; therefore, in her mind, safe for her baby boy. (You should have seen her face, years later, when we went to Turkey.) The fact is, it’s much easier to fear that which you do not know.

If I were queen of the world, the first thing that I would do is require that every student, at around the age of 17, spend at least 4 months in a foreign country, preferably one that is extremely different than the one in which they normally live. I had the good fortune to be able to do this, and it really opened my eyes. I lived in Guanajuato, Mexico. It was one of the high points of my life. Not only did I learn a great deal about myself and make some wonderful friends, but I also learned lessons about the wider world that I will carry with me forever. For example, I am MUCH more resistant to the “us” and “them” arguments. We are all in this together. I no longer immediately assume that “our” way is the best way. Instead, I think that our way is one of the many ways of doing things, and that perhaps we might be able to learn a thing or two from each other.

Since that time I have traveled to 18 countries, and have discovered that the vast majority of the people in the world are decent and kind, regardless of their race, religion or creed. It is important to know that people are not their governments. Do you agree with every single thing your government does? Then why do you assume that other people do? Do you honestly think that most people WANT to live in a state of war?

When I think of the racist, anti-immigration comments that come out of the mouths of so many people these days, I think of the friends I’ve made in Mexico and I just shake my head in sadness. When I hear blanket statements about Islamic people and how they are all full of nothing but hatred toward the west, I think of the old woman who saw me crying on a street corner in Turkey. The last bus had gone, it was getting dark, and I was about 20 miles from my hotel in a small town. She couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Turkish, but she knew I was crying and that distressed her. She hugged me. She sat me down. She brought me tea. She dried my tears. She found someone who spoke English, and after understanding my situation, she got someone to drive me to my hotel, and they would not accept any money. I will never forget that wonderful woman. I think if more people had experiences like this, there would be less war, less prejudice, and a great deal more understanding in the world.

According to an interesting article in the Huffington Post  ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-d-chalmers/the-great-american-passpo_b_1920287.html ) less than 5 percent of Americans traveled overseas in 2009. I think this is a crying shame. I also think it says a great deal about the fear of the outside world that seems to be spiraling out of control in this nation.

Instead of listening to the opinions of others, instead of fearing the unknown, go and see for yourself. Find a way. Do without cable TV for a year. Skip the morning Starbucks run. Make travel a priority. Only then can you truly draw any sort of a rational conclusion about the people in the wider world.

Wishing everyone, everywhere, a peaceful holiday season.

In the spirit of international communication, if you liked this post, please share it with as many people as you can, especially those in other countries. My blog has been viewed by people in 17 countries as of this writing. Every time a new country is added to my viewer list, I get excited. Everyone is welcome! Lets send this blog around the world!