Archive | April, 2009

All We Need is Love

27 Apr

“Sixty Minutes” ran a story this evening on an orphanage in Africa that takes in baby elephants whose mothers have been killed by poachers. As a therapist who works with humans whose lives have been damaged by fractured families, I was deeply touched by the scene of a baby elephant going beserk because he saw his mother get shot. Elephants have remarkable memories so they don’t forget their traumas. 

I’ve worked with kids who have also seen their parents or siblings shot. And yes, the psyche goes beserk. The woman who runs the orphanage says the baby elephants have to be nurtured back to emotional health with touch and talk. No different than us. But the prognosis isn’t always good. And if left for too long without intervention, the baby elephant can die. 

In addition to having human-like emotions, elephants also operate well together in communities. They look after each other like we do. Or should.

My grandmother went on a safari in Africa when she was in her late seventies. She LOVED the elephants and has photos of them in her home. My grandmother was also raised on a farm. She says that when she was little, the baby animals would sometimes be taken from their mothers, for whatever reason. She recalls watching a young horse grieve for its mother and her father telling her, “Nonsense. Animals don’t feel.” 

Nonsense. We all feel. And we all need love.

People need it. Animals need it. The earth needs it. 

May we all love a little more.

Blessed

26 Apr

One of my favorite movies is “Chocolat” with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. Besides being a delightful film, I’ve always identified with the protagonist, Juliette Binoche’s character, who like a tumble weed, travels from town to town. Making chocolate for a living, she sets up shop until the winds blow signaling to her to move again. She is a magician of sorts, healing those around her through the mysteries and nuances of chocolate and her uncanny ability to listen and understand the special needs of her customers.

Binoche’s character however, is ultimately an outsider, unable to plant roots or make lasting connections with anyone other than her daughter. But then one day, she wakes up more attached than she realizes. The winds blow and not wanting to move yet again, her daughter pitches a fit. Panicked, Binoche’s character insists until she suddenly surrenders, realizing the old has given way to the new. She has found love, a community, peace. She doesn’t have to keep running and she doesn’t have to keep being the wise outsider who never has to be vulnerable or attached herself. 

Tonight I went to a party for a friend of mine I haven’t seen in a number of months. While there, I ran into a woman I’ve studied acting with. The night before I sat with a friend of mine at church who I met from that same acting class and at the party, I ran into a couple who happen to be good friends with my neighbor. Six degrees of separation. 

In between brie and wine, the conversation dropped to a deep space when four of us talking in a huddle realized we were all connected by suicide. My mother had committed suicide, someone’s ex-partner had, someone had attempted and the fourth had known someone who had died. Not your standard party chatter but it was far from a morbid conversation. One woman suddenly shared a tear, one of us grabbed her hand. All of us acknowledged what a blessing it is to be alive. To be happy. To have gratitude for our lives.

I don’t think I can keep moving. I think I’m done with constant relocating. Like Juliette Binoche’s character, I’ve uprooted many times – whenever I’ve felt the winds stir. Whenever, I’ve felt restlessness in my blood. Indonesia. San Francisco. New York. Setting up a chocolate shop in each place – making connections – learning – growing – but not committing. 

You know you are at a good party when hours fly by and you think you’ve only been there a half hour. This has happened twice to me this month. You know you’re becoming rooted when you have a place like “Cheers” where everybody knows your name. When your airplane touches down in your home city and you’re actually glad to be back, no matter how great the trip was. Yes, I’m beginning to feel settled. Blessed. Finally, at almost forty, I think I want to stay. Commit. Be a part. An intimate part, not just the gypsy with the intriguing chocolates.

Lessons in Humility

25 Apr

I believe the things we need to learn in life sometimes flash at us like a neon light. Suddenly, everywhere we turn, experiences seem to point to the same lesson needing to be mastered. In the classroom of life, I’ve been asked to take Humility 101. 

Now humility is not my strong suit. Not that I’m arrogant or obnoxious but I often exert my will in a wild attempt to control instead of simply surrendering to situations. On some level, I have to put in my two cents as a means of managing anxiety or angst. 

Like a passive/aggressive person who swings from extreme poles because s/he lacks assertiveness skills or how to find the middle ground, I think my lapses in humility usually stem from a deeper insecurity or deficit. Usually, if my will or pride is running the show, I somehow fear a need won’t be acknowledged or met. And thus, I subconsciously manipulate things in the hopes that this won’t happen.

In my lessons in humility however, I’m discovering that learning to keep one’s mouth shut or to turn the other cheek doesn’t always mean you’re a doormat. Or stupid. Or opening yourself to being taken advantage of. Sometimes, like the opposum (sp) playing dead, it’s simply the smarter or more mature thing to do. Knowing when and how to act  and when not to is a true talent. 

I think of Jesus before he was to be crucified questioning his Father. If I had been in his shoes, I would have been so up in arms. So indignant. So pleading. Argumentative. “What the f—-?” I’m sure I’d have asked. Instead, Jesus questioned but ultimately acquiesced. He trusted.

TRUST. (That will be my next upper division course).  

Now that is humility. From a guy who had it going on. He could have been proud. Willful. Vain. Instead, he is a case study in humility. 

I have so much yet to learn.

Single!

18 Apr

I grew up an only child so when my parents and I would go skiing, inevitably one of us had to ride the chairlift up alone. And for those of you that ski or snowboard, you know the protocol when you’re the odd man out is to yell “Single!” while waving your hand. This way you can pair up with someone to ride with and keep the flow of traffic moving up the mountain at optimum efficiency. 

I remember having a love/hate relationship with this when I was little. On the one hand, I hated not being able to ride up with my mom or step-dad as it was easier and more comfortable to go up with one of them vs. a stranger. Nonetheless, I was a chatty-Kathy when I was little so typically, once I got over the initial shyness and shame of having to yell out “Single!”, I enjoyed my interactions with strangers, particularly those with cute males who were a good ten or twenty years my senior. I was told I was quite the flirt while not trying to be; the curse of being a precocious child. 

I think about that now, as I reflect on what it is like to still be going through life single at age 39 and 11 months. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with it. On the one hand, I miss the familiarity of having a regular, known entity to go up the mountain with; on the other hand there is an exhilaration with always being free to the unknown – not knowing who may or may not join you on the path but not being stuck in a rut, or with someone you may no longer like.

Today at church, our pastor said, “Careful not to think God owes you anything.” Guilty as charged. I have been thinking God owes me a husband and family – or geez – a boyfriend at least – for about eight years now. And I don’t understand why He hasn’t delivered this with a bright red bow like a car delivered on Christmas (oh – that just happens in the commercials?). But seriously, when you’re raised from the time you were three on fairy tales and Barbies, you come to expect that when you grow up, God will grant you a partner and children. When that doesn’t happen, it’s a very bizarre reckoning.

I am not the only single woman I know who has never been married. There are an increasing number of us out there – attractive, intelligent women who for whatever reason, the stars haven’t lined up right for when it comes to the mating phenomenon. We either got caught up in our education, careers, dysfunctional family patterns or simply unlucky. Like during the latency stage, we were kind of oblivious to the opposite sex or we were all too aware, sleeping with people way too quickly and with way too many people as opposed to building friendship and intimacy. And some of us got caught in jobs that are saturated with females or people it’s unethical to date. 

I do know this: I’d rather be alone than with someone I don’t love or with someone who doesn’t treat me the way I deserve. And I’m extremely grateful that I’ve never had to go through a divorce, domestic violence, messed up joint finances or vicious custody battles. 

But the question here is – where does one go to yell out “single!” It’s not as easy as in the chairlift line. (Or maybe it is when you want it bad enough but whatever happened to good old fashioned falling in love vs. having to go out and seek it like hunting for a job?) It’s a fine line between trusting in God to bring love according to His timetable and being completely lazy about trying to get out and date (via the internet, bars, “it’s just lunch – they want you to pay 4k by the way, or singles functions – often very surreal). 

Lately I’ve been meeting some really cool people. People who feel like my kind of tribe. And it has been wonderful. A beacon of hope that hip people actually exist. But all these cool people have already found their immediate clan. It’s an odd place to be – to be a part and yet not a part. Grateful for community, yet sad when community makes you yearn for more. For an actual family vs. a symbolic one. 

I am almost forty and still get carded at the grocery store. This is nice but it adds to the confusion. People assume I’m young and that I have plenty of time.

People make a lot of assumptions. But then I do too. I don’t know that the grass is any greener on the other side. I have a pretty nice life with a lot of freedom and good. Yet I do believe God is wanting more for me and of me. Yes, I do believe there is more. Now I must learn how to be grateful for what I have while also reaching beyond this point.

Get a Little Closer…

15 Apr

I have two cats who I have had now for about three years. They came to me when they were six so that makes them now about nine years old. The day they moved in, they were so freaked out by the change of scenery and ownership, they hid in my closet. But fairly soon afterwards, they warmed to me and have been as affectionate as your most loyal dog. Yet in the last six months, I’ve noticed that something is happening in which they are becoming increasingly glommed onto me. They seem to need to be on my lap or near me as much as possible. They have also taken to fighting over who gets to lie near my face at night like two children fighting over who gets the front seat. And then just this morning as I was trying to journal write while prone in bed, both came jumping up like toddlers and proceeded to lie on my chest and belly making it impossible to write.

I wonder if this is what it is like to get closer to God. The more we come to trust and appreciate our Care Giver, the more we want to sit in His lap all the time.

For Everything There is a Season

15 Apr

I get a little irked when people from out of state claim there are no seasons in San Diego. Granted, we don’t have the dramatic demarcations of climate change such as leaves falling from the trees, sub-zero temps and ten inches of snow. We don’t have to put storm windows on during the Fall, shovel snow in the winter or grow hot house flowers under specialized heating lamps like my grandma always did. And we don’t have to go down to the cellar to get home canned fruits and vegetables because good produce is hard to find. 

I admit my relatives in Minnesota and Wisconsin are pretty sick of crappy weather right now, as are my New York/Connecticut friends. And my relatives were sick with jealousy when every year my mom would send Christmas cards with a picture of her sitting at the pool in her bikini. But I defy this logic that there are no seasons in San Diego. Ours are just more subtle.

I measure seasons in San Diego by the quality of light, the smells in the air and the types of flowers that are in bloom. September and October get drenched in this gorgeous Mediterranean type light while the evenings get crisp and darkness descends earlier with each day. Winter transforms from the arid dry winds of Santa Annas to cold and dampness at night. Summer we can note by the increase in traffic on the I-5, the crowds at the beaches and the flowering Jacaranda trees, but it is Spring that truly grabs my attention. I always thought that after living with New York drab winters nothing was more glorious than an East Coast spring, but San Diego takes the prize. 

Last night I was getting on the freeway and almost caused a collision because the sides of the on-ramp were drenched in yellow ground flowers and graced by clumps of magenta bouganvilla (sp); the colors were so vibrant I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Purple wisteria grows outside my office window and the humming birds and butterflies have come back to the garden at the hospital where I work. We see carpets of purple ice plant on highways and clinging to rocks at the Cove, azaleas and camillas in bloom and this tropical type plant with orange flowers that I’ve loved ever since I was a little girl. 

I can smell spring; I can hear Spring. It’s everywhere and it’s beautiful. Even in San Diego, we get excited by this season.

Something About Mary

11 Apr

As someone new to the Bible, I’m kind of on a Mary kick. Not the Mary who was the mother of Jesus but Mary of Magdalene, who with her sister Martha discovered that Jesus had risen from the dead. Maybe I’m on a Mary kick because she feels like a female role model or simply because her actions and spirit move me. 

There are two interesting things about Mary to me. One, when her sister Martha was fretting about putting together a meal for Jesus and his followers, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus oblivious to anything else but his words. I love this not only because she had sense enough to stop and smell the roses and to know that “when the student is ready, the teacher appears,” but also because she BROKE THE RULES. She was a WOMAN and there she was where she wasn’t supposed to be. With the men. But more importantly, with God. 

The other thing about Mary I find magnificent is that on the night before the death of Jesus, she broke open a jar of EXTREMELY expensive perfume, poured it on His feet and then wiped His feet with her hair. I read somewhere that the perfume’s value was about 30k and that letting down one’s hair in public was another big no no for women. What is extraordinary about this is that it reflects Mary’s extreme and extravagant love for Jesus. The money was her life’s savings and her ticket to marriage (if that was even in the cards). And she abandoned it all like a child selling her favorite toy to buy mom or dad a birthday present.

How many of us love that way anymore – with abandon? And knowing that others may laugh or be upset with us for it, which is exactly what happened. The men in the company of Jesus thought this woman a bit over the top. In particular, the man who betrayed Jesus, found Mary’s actions ridiculous.

Ironically, Mary wasn’t the only one down at someone’s feet. In an equally elaborate and extravagant gesture, on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. This too was a big no no. Another veering from the norm. 

I feel sorry for them, these men who didn’t understand Mary, for there is something about Mary, I really like. She got it. I’d like to be more like her.

The Moon and the Stars

11 Apr

It seems like it always rains on Good Friday. One of these days I’m going to start documenting it to see if my theory proves correct. 

The rain began this morning, as predicted. It came off and on throughout the day and just now, driving home from a church service, the rain came again – this time hard. I could be completely full of b.s., but I think God arranges stormy weather to communicate the very somber occasion of Jesus’ death through the mysterious force of Nature.

I love rain. Most of the time I find it romantic or cozy. Rarely depressing. But on Good Friday, the weather elicits a more melancholy feeling within me. Even when I didn’t really have a relationship with Christ or call myself a Christian (other than by proxy of my Catholic upbringing), I remember one particularly dark and rainy Good Friday when I lived in New York City. I tended to pop into churches when living there because they were a nice respite from the traffic and chaos of the street. Well, on this one Good Friday, I found myself sitting in a near empty church feeling deeply, deeply sad. I had subconsciously tapped into the seriousness of the day. 

I’ve been dodging this Good Friday thing for many years now. One time, I experienced a flash of images and feelings as if I had literarily been at the Crucifixion. And I thought, “No wonder I’m not so into this Christianity thing. I can’t deal with the pain of mobs killing anyone, let alone Jesus.” But oddly, it created an opening to be more receptive to Christianity after a number of years of rejecting it on some level. 

I remember when I was little hearing the Priest in church say, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the World. Have mercy on us.” I didn’t have a clue what these words meant. And I’m only just beginning to. 

The pastor this evening said, “Words will fail you,” in regards to being able to verbalize about Christ’s Crucifixion. I agree. All week, I’ve been silent. But the rain howls and speaks for me.

Jesus apparently hung out with thieves and whores. I find these two representatives of society of particular interest for who of us hasn’t taken or been taken from? Who of us hasn’t been used or used others? Victim or perpetrator, the Crucifixion can take it away. But there is no way to explain this intellectually. Like art or love or sexuality, it’s mysterious. Intangible. Remarkable. 

There is a song we sing at church that I love where the lyrics go, “The moon and the stars, declare who you are.”

Rain. Sun. Moon. Stars. I leave it to nature to speak of the mysteries of God.

Outraged

3 Apr

This morning I read a headline that current Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai has proposed a law that legalizes rape within marriage and that prohibits women from leaving their homes without permission from their husbands. As if the Taliban wasn’t bad enough, denying education to women and girls, the president of the new regime now wants to legalize rape. I’m not so sure we’ve come such a long way, baby.

Whether it’s nine year old girls being sold into brothels or rape as a war crime, women in many parts of the world aren’t doing okay. Playwright and activist Eve Ensler has coined the systemic raping of women and girls in places like the Congo “femicide”, making it akin to genicide. Yet like with many issues of tragic proportion, we as a culture tend to turn a blind eye, either out of ignorance, lack of compassion or simple overwhelm by the magnitude of it all. 

But whenever I read a headline such as the one this morning, featuring extreme injustice to women in countries outside of my own, I still evaluate the status of females here in America because patriarchy is patriarchy – whether subtle or blatant. And I think we have a long way to go here. While women may have “shattered the glass ceiling” in some areas, how evolved are we really in a culture that exploits women sexually in the media ad nauseum? And when many of the young women I have encountered in my work over the years have been molested as children and/or raped at some point in their lives? This has become such a common occurance, we just start to assume it as the norm.

Every night when I turn on the television news I seem to hear of yet another child abduction, rape or murder and nine times out of ten, it’s a little girl that has disappeared as opposed to a boy (that is not to negate the plight of innocent boys who suffer from abuse and exploitation). And then don’t get me started on the crime shows. How many of them seem to depict the FEMALE crime victim in almost tintillating fashion? 

In my opinion, the women’s movement is going backwards when I see young girls aspiring to the likes of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. Young girls who just want to be celebrities – loved and adored and sexualized because they don’t have any internal sense of worth. Or, when I work with girls who think they are so sexually liberated without realizing half the time they are being pimped out by their supposed boyfriends. How much power do they really have, sexual or otherwise? Oh, we have “miles to go before we sleep.” 

The other day a male friend of mine made a very mild, innocuous yet slightly sexist comment. It was a joke and I totally took it at that. Yet I was surprised at a kind of knee jerk anger I felt brewing within me when I heard it and how it put me right back on the playground where boys thought they were better than girls. Better at sports. Better in general. I remember the thrill I had when I could beat them at running or out-swim them not because I’m a competitive person but because I couldn’t stand the engrained assumption that somehow they were better by nature of being blessed with an xy chromosome. The comment also put me right back to when some of the smartest girls I knew in high school started acting like bubble brains and I watched as that sky-rocketed their popularity with the boys.

The other night I was watching the news and saw a clip from some of the recent political summits occuring. There sat Hillary in a bright blue suit amongst a sea of men dressed in black suits. Where were the other women? Whenever the Oscars roll around, it’s always male directors nominated. (I think only one woman in the history of the Oscars has been nominated and no woman has won). And I don’t see many female teaching pastors that minister to the ENTIRE congregation (vs. just women and kids). This makes me sad. Not that all women need to have public lives; I’m also very pro the stay-at-home mom. But no ladies and gentleman, we haven’t come such a long way. And we should be more outraged because the personal is political.