Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Life Simply Is... Starting New Years

There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don't you?
― Rumi

It’s been a long time since I last made a New Year’s Resolution. I find that the tradition pressures us to set too many goals, which we are unlikely to achieve. Consequently we feel like failures, or we get used to setting goals for ourselves and then ignoring them. Either way, it’s not a healthy pattern.

I do however believe in setting intentions: deciding what things you would like to focus more on, bring more of into your life; the key is to not quantify (e.g. I will work out every day, or I will write 50 pages every week).

This year I came upon a great resource that helped me develop my Intentions for 2015: Winter Solstice – a Bridge to New Beginnings:

What I like about their process is that you start by identifying your unique struggles over the past year; situations and patterns that caused you grief. From there you look for lessons you can take from them. (Those who know me know that I am militantly anti-Law of Attraction. That said, no matter how horrendous a situation, we always have a choice in where we go from there, and what we take from it.) In some cases, the lesson is to not waste any more time around toxic people; in others, it’s to stop wishing and hoping people will change. Radical Acceptance is always beneficial: taking a hard look at reality, and from there choosing what to do.

Ultimately the Intentions you develop come from your very own customized list of issues, frustrations, “hang-ups.” This resource provides some lovely suggestions for ritual; however I have only incorporated the exercises leading to developing a list of Intentions for 2015.

My 2015 Intentions: 

At an early age I got the message that I was a bad person. When I reached adulthood I figured out that in fact I’m a good person; however the belief that I’m a bad person is hard wired. Ever since, I’ve engaged in an internal battle; and every so often I get locked into a struggle with someone who is more than happy to treat me like I’m a bad person.

I need to approach every aspect of my life, every day, from the understanding that I am a good person. That means not accepting someone else’s definition of me; and if they persist, it means not keeping company with them. It means choosing things that nourish my body, soul and heart: good nutrition, time in nature, and nurturing deep personal relationships.

1.     I should start everything from the recognition that I am a good person.
2.     Nourish my body and soul: get outside more, spend time in nature, stretch and exercise, eat nutritious food, do self-massage, bathe or hot tub.
3.     Heal my heart: write through areas of struggle, go to therapy, and practice exercises in body awareness (I highly recommend Deirdre Fay’s work which she calls Safely Embodied:
4.     Cultivate and nurture friendships.

Speaking my truth and setting boundaries are still difficult for me. At middle age I realize that I will never work through all my imperfections, and some things will always be a struggle. Still, striving to honor myself should always be a top priority. And being gentle with myself when it is hard, or when I am not strong enough, is equally important.

5.     Speak my truth and set boundaries.
6.     Accept that this may be difficult.
7.     Worry less about consequences, the future, or being unpopular.
8.     Forgive myself for times I don’t speak my truth or set boundaries.

To everyone I wish more compassion in the coming year – unwavering compassion for yourself, and more compassion for those you meet.

Gratitude | Louie Schwartzberg | TEDxSF

You think this is just another day in your life
It’s not just another day
It’s the one day that is given to you
It’s given to you
It’s a gift
It’s the only gift that you have right now
And the only appropriate response is gratefulness

Monday, December 29, 2014

Life Simply Is... Taking Up Space

TRIGGER WARNING: this post describes my experience of being stalked.

I was newly single. The Internet had recently found its way into people’s homes, and on evenings when my son was at his dad’s I often spent time in chat rooms. My favorites were those fashioned after Star Trek, until people got irritated with my playful attitude; most of them took the roll playing very seriously.

I made a few friends, one of whom I started emailing regularly; in fact I spent a small fortune during those early days of expensive online minutes. None of us yet knew the pitfalls of building relationships through the Internet, and I thought I’d met my soul mate. I’d shared things with Tom that I’d never shared with anyone; he really understood me and accepted all of me.

When his job was going to fly him to Los Angeles from his home in the South, I made arrangements to fly down and meet him. After checking into our adjoining rooms in the enormous hotel, Tom and I took the elevator down to one of the restaurants and ordered a light meal. I worked hard at engaging him in conversation, but ended up mostly carrying it myself. When he did answer it was in a word or two, not in full sentences. He didn’t look me in the eye. It was horrible and awkward. Im often shy; I know shy. He wasn’t just shy and awkward; he was antisocial, clinically antisocial. I couldn’t reconcile this person sitting across from me with the person I’d felt such a connection with.

But being so new to online dating, and having invested so much emotionally, I wasn’t ready to give up. Later we had dinner together. In earlier emails he had shared that he never drank alcohol. But to my alarm Tom slammed down drink after drink. Even so, he was unable to participate in the conversation. His awkwardness was just as pronounced.

I finally had to admit that he was not the person I had believed him to be, that our connection through email did not translate into in-person chemistry, and that this was not going to work. We took a cab back to the hotel. Increasing body aches and fuzzy head during dinner blossomed into a full-blown cold by the time we reached the hotel. At our adjacent doors I told him that I was getting sick and was heading to an early bed. He pouted as I closed the door on him.

Sometime later I heard a tapping on the door. Seriously? I ignored it, irritated.

Ten minutes later the tapping came again.

Then again, a few minutes later. This time I heard the sound of crying, muffled through the door.

This cycle repeated for a couple hours, long after I had turned the lights off. Then one time after the tapping I heard a new sound and looked over; I saw something partially block the sliver of light under the door. I waited for a couple minutes, then went to retrieve his note. On it Tom proclaimed his love for me, and wrote that he just wanted to spend time with me; he begged me to visit with him this evening.

Thankfully the knocking stopped, but I was irritated and in the full throes of a bad cold I was unable to sleep. Fearful of leaving my room lest he see me, I tossed and turned without the benefits of cold medicine.

The next day he had a conference to attend. So I packed up my belongings and waited until Tom was supposed to be gone. I put a note under his door thanking him for his time and kindly but firmly explaining that it just wasn’t going to work for me; then I took my bags down to the front desk. I explained that I did not want to be near the person next to me and asked if they could put me in another part of the hotel. It was an enormous hotel, and they were happy to accommodate me. I confirmed that they would not give him my new room number. I figured I may as well enjoy the rare luxury of a mini-vacation.

After settling into my new room, which I was confident he would not find, and having a delicious breakfast, I headed to the outdoor swimming pool. I alternated between reading a book in the lovely southern California sunshine and soaking in the hot tub. The latter I hoped would cure my cold. Now this was how to spend a vacation, and I felt like I was redeeming this horrible fiasco.

Back in my room I enjoyed the indulgence of cable TV, and a bit later ordered room service for dinner. I knew when Tom’s conference was over because my phone rang. I felt sure it was him, but then what if it was the front desk? I waited until a blinking light indicated there was a message, and pushed the button to listen to it. Tom was crying, upset, confused; he just wanted to see me, to talk. I deleted the message. As I put down the receiver my hand shook.

Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Again?

The phone started ringing every few minutes. After the ringing stopped one time I called the front desk and explained that I had changed rooms to get away from this person whom I barely knew, and now he wouldn’t stop calling me; I asked if there was anything they could do to prevent his calls from coming through. They said no, and suggested that I turn off the ringer. I did, but out of the corner of my eye for the rest of the evening I saw the blinking lights every time a new call came in.

I was engrossed in a movie when there was a knock on the door. I froze. Surely there was no way Tom could have figured out which room I was in? Surely a hotel in LA would know better than to ever give that information out? Still, who would be knocking on my door? No one knew I was here. I got up very slowly, very quietly, and started tiptoeing towards the door. Before I reached the door the knock came again, and immediately I heard a key turning in the lock as the door started opening.

I doorman in hotel uniform was standing there, key in hand. I frantically looked past him, fearful that Tom would be there. Thankfully no.

“What’s going on?” I demanded.

“We got a report that you might not be ok in here. Someone reported that maybe you might be in trouble, that you might hurt yourself. Is it all right if I come in?” He was already stepping further into the room, looking around.

Good lord, really? “Are you serious? I’m fine.

He was unconvinced, took another step.

Whatever, knock yourself out.” I stepped to the side and gestured him in.

He came in, looking like he expected to see something criminal or dangerous. He looked through the entire room, including the bathroom, slowly and thoroughly.

I held my hands up. “I can’t imagine what you heard. I’m just in here watching TV.”

“Well, this guy, Tom?” he looked at me. I nodded. “Tom says you two know each other. He was really worried about you.”

“Look, we barely know each other and he’s been pestering me. I asked to change rooms to get away from him.” My voice started shaking, getting louder.

The doorman spoke gently, as if speaking to a frightened child. “Well, he was very calm, very rational. Nice young fellow, really. Seemed genuinely concerned about you.”

The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Sneaky, crafty bastard.

“We tried calling your room, but there was no answer.”

I said with anger, “I turned off the sound because he won’t stop calling me!”

“Look, I dont know what your relationship is with this guy. He was worried about you and asked if I could come check on you and make sure you were OK.”

“Here I am. I’m OK. Thanks for your concern.”

He seemed hesitant to leave. I raised my eyebrows at him, and he slowly backed out of the room.

I sat down on my bed and started to shake uncontrollably. I was shocked and distressed that this stranger, this socially unwell person, was able to present such a convincing piece of fiction that the hotel would break into my room. I felt completely violated, utterly unsafe.

I got back up, locked the deadbolt, and pulled chairs in front of the door. If someone was going to break in again, at least I would have some warning.

The next morning I checked my phone: over 70 messages. I packed and checked out, keeping a constant lookout for Tom. Thankfully I didn’t see him, and I began to breathe more easily.

I got to the airport and went through security, then got into a long line to check in at my gate. It was very crowded. I kept looking around, and suddenly I saw him about 40 feet away, in the middle of the corridor, just standing and staring at me. I quickly looked in front of me. Shit, shit, shit. Would he approach me here, with all these people around? Surely not.

“Kjerstin, I just want to talk. Can we please talk?”

“Go away!” I said, looking him in the eye.

“But I don’t understand what happened. I just want to talk.”

“I NEED you to leave me alone,” I said loudly, hoping to draw attention and some help.

“Please. Please! I just want to talk to you!”

“Go AWAY!” I said even louder. I kept looking around, looking for help, for security. People were shifting uncomfortably and looking away, but nowhere was anyone offering help.


“STAY AWAY FROM ME!” I shouted, and in desperation picked up my bag and rushed into the nearby women’s restroom and into a stall. I sat down and started to cry. I knew when his flight was supposed to leave. I would be cutting it close, but maybe I could stay in here until he was gone.

Then I heard a woman’s voice call out, “Kjerstin? Is there a Kjerstin in here?”

Sweet Jesus.

When she kept calling my name, I wiped my eyes with shaking hands and came out of the stall. I thanked the stranger for delivering the message, and told her I had no interest in talking with him. She shrugged and carried on with her business. I tried to stand out of the way in the crowded restroom and get myself under control. I looked at my watch. What to do, what to do? Surely he would be at his own gate by now, or already boarding.

I took my bag and bypassed the line, going straight up to the boarding counter. As a stewardess was about to scold me I told her quickly, “Look, there’s a guy who’s been stalking me and I don’t feel safe. Can I please just stay here until it’s time to board?” Her mouth hardened into a line of disapproval but she nodded, then turned back to her work. I scanned again and there he was, standing in the middle of the corridor and staring at me with a look of contempt on his face. I looked away quickly and didn’t look back.

I had an assigned aisle seat, but when I got to my seat I found it occupied by someone whose ticket also had our seat number stamped on it. I showed a stewardess, who looked it over and hurried away. I bit my lip hard to keep from bursting into tears. A few minutes later she found a vacant seat and put me in it. I was grateful to sit down, unsure if I could trust my legs to not buckle under me.

A few minutes later another stewardess came by and told me she was going to have to put me in a different seat. I sighed, got my bag, and moved to another aisle seat. The middle seat was empty, and the window seat was occupied by a man. Moments later she came back leading another passenger, then she was off again. I moved out to let him into the middle.

“No. See, I just traded my aisle seat for another aisle seat,” he said with authority. I was frazzled, exhausted, besieged. Without a word I took the middle seat.

There between the two men, both probably 6 foot and 250 pounds, whose legs were spread comfortably wide, I felt my narrow middle seat encroached upon. I had just spent the weekend being stalked by an antisocial psycho, I had a bad cold, and I was going to be damned if they were going to barge into any more of my space.

I settled my elbows, one comfortably on each armrest, and closed my eyes. I had no doubt that if I moved them even for a moment, I would lose ownership of that armrest for the rest of the flight. I also knew that both men had space to either side that they could move into, where I did not, and in this very small but monumentally important way, I was saying “mine.” My boundaries had been completely violated the past couple days, I had been made to feel completely unsafe, but right here, these two armrests, these I claimed as my own.

The guy next to the window once, gently, tried to put his arm there; and then he moved it away. The guy on the aisle, who had insisted that he traded an aisle seat for an aisle seat, repeatedly kept putting his elbow on the armrest and then pushing firmly against my elbow. No matter: I had the prime real estate and I wasn’t giving it up.

The down side was that my air vent was on full; and I dare not move my arms to turn it off. After the cold air blew directly on me for the entire flight, I ended up with one of the worst colds of my life.

There were a few more incidents with Tom. I still visited the chat rooms after that, and one day someone made a lewd comment about my personal profile. When I looked at it, I found that Tom had hacked into my account and left a sexual reference about the two of us.

Then, months later, I got a phone call at 2 a.m. It was Tom crying, and angry. I told him never to call me again and hung up.

And then, the event that ended my chat room activities, was an incident with a woman I’d recently met there. We were just getting to know each other; by this time I was far more cautious with people. And then she revealed that she was actually a friend of Tom’s, that he was confused, and wanted to understand why I had run away from him like that; could he please just talk to me?

Of course I’ll never know if it was Tom’s friend or Tom himself. But I responded by saying that stalking across state lines was a felony. Thankfully that was the last I heard of Tom.

Without a doubt I can think back on this time and point out many choices I made that were reckless, when I did not put my safety first. Certainly I am far more safety conscious now, and urge friends and relatives to be so as well. But there is a larger context in which situations like these play out over and over. Ours is a society where men are encouraged to take up more than their fair share of space; where women are conditioned to be accommodating; and where men are taught to feel entitled to women’s time, space, attention, and bodies.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Life Simply Is... Action

Dear Reader: as my education around social justice has evolved, I find that things I wrote a couple years ago are things I would not write today. In this post I  wish for people to stop expressing anger and distrust of police officers. Today I believe that when oppressed people express their anger, that anger is legitimate and needs to be expressed. If it is being expressed in words, art, or peaceful protest, those of us who hope to dismantle systems of oppression should fully support this – if we hope to avoid violence. To do anything less is both to stifle righteous expression, and to invite more dramatic efforts to be “heard.” – Kjerstin 7/10/2016

I’ve made my wish for 2015. I wish for a return of compassion and empathy. I wish for people to say, “I’m listening,” and to really mean it. I wish for an end to invalidating others just because it makes us too uncomfortable. I wish for an end to, “I told you so.”

When someone proclaims, “black lives matter,” I don’t want to hear as a response, “well what about other lives?” If we don’t understand we can say, “tell me why this movement is important.”

In 2015 I want an end to the antagonism, the headlines pushed on social media that “prove” all cops are racist killers; all protestors are lazy delinquents; Obama is responsible for this country’s racism; and police deserve our distrust because they knew the corrupt system they were getting into.

I don’t want to hear that non-Christians are trying to end Christmas, or that gays are going to destroy the sanctity of marriage. I don’t want to hear that all Muslims are terrorists, that feminists hate men (or want to be men), that poor people are just lazy, or that immigrants are taking and not giving back to this country.

How did we get to this place of blind, reckless hatred?

Why has it become so socially acceptable, so fashionable, to spew hateful judgments on large groups of people? Is everyone else really the enemy? Do we actually believe that there isnt enough for all of us, and that if others get what they want, that there wont be enough for us to get what we want? What if they simply get the basics  enough food, shelter, an education, freedom from violence and oppression – will this still take away from what we want?

Or does this judgmental superiority feed our egos somehow? If the rest of the world is filled with lazy, undeserving people of questionable morals, that certainly makes us look pretty good. Yeah, we’re looking pretty sharp now. We deserve the nice house and two cars, the decadent vacations. It’s ok that we leave a small tip for the waitress, don’t make eye contact with the guy who washes our car, and sneer at the guy holding a cardboard sign on the street corner. We know that if they worked hard, like us, they could have what we have. In fact we know that if they worked hard they would have what we do. So they must be lazy. We are pretty darned special, to be one of the ones who hasn’t succumbed to laziness, one of the ones who has made it so far.

And the gays, feminists, and non-Christians. Well, they are choosing to live an unholy life. They are choosing to indulge in a hedonistic lifestyle, disdainful of the guiding hand of God. We are the ones on a righteous path, while others have chosen to stray.

I can only guess, because I cannot understand the heart and mind of someone who so blithely judges the masses; dismisses struggle and hardship; denies that the playing field is far from level, has never been level.

In 2015 I wish for us to cease the hate speech and the judgments. I do believe that almost every human on this planet feels love, feels pain, struggles, cares for his/her family and friends, and has grieved the loss of loved ones. When we find ourselves being judgmental about a large group of people, what if instead we try to talk with a few members from that group; or if that is impractical, try to read writings from some of them? What if we try to gain some understanding of who they are, what they believe, how they experience life, what things are important to them? The very first thing we would realize is that we are all humans trying to figure out how to live.

I too am trying to figure things out, and I don’t personally plan to meet or read the writings of terrorists. I'm not interested in learning about the beliefs of those whose mission is to kill civilians. But this type of group is defined by coming together for a very specific, very violent purpose. We need to not confuse terrorists with entire religions or nationalities, for example.

So then we read, and we listen. We try to educate ourselves, and we try to understand. And without even trying, we discover common ground. Without trying we find stories of perseverance not laziness; stories of self-hatred leading eventually to self-acceptance, not stories of hedonistic abandon; stories of people running for their lives, only to be virtually enslaved, never escaping the fear of being deported.

We need to challenge our judgmental thoughts.

And then as I sit with this idea, and wonder how much this can change the world, or even this country, I am disturbed by a realization: while our discourse may be more pleasant, and while courteous exchanges and compassion may stop the current escalation of violence and hatred that seems to be taking over, it will not fix the plight of oppressed and marginalized groups. Choosing to resolve today’s unrest by being more courteous is a choice reserved for those of us who are privileged, who are not oppressed.

If we are all polite and respectful, if we ask questions and listen, if we find commonality, that all is very good. But that in itself will not resolve institutional racism; it will not prevent gay-questioning youth from taking their own lives; and it will not end violence against Muslims, women, or transgendered people (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list).

Courtesy is an essential starting place. No, I take that back. Action must and will happen, regardless of courtesy. If things continue on their current course, I fear for a very violent chapter in the months and years ahead. However if we can put our anger and judgment in check, and remember that every one of us in every one of these struggles is just trying to live a productive and happy life, perhaps the change that needs to happen will not take a violent path. It will not be easy; it will not be pleasant.

People talk with such reverence about our Founding Fathers. But at the time this government was created, blacks were considered property; women could not vote; and Native Americans had all but been exterminated. Yes, they fashioned an important foundation – one that, with a modern overhaul, might lead to equality and democracy. But true equality will mean prying the unfair advantages and power from the privileged few who will do everything they can to maintain it. In 2015 I hope we can get to work.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Life Simply Is... Complicated

I have a unique perspective. I don’t mean to suggest I have The unique perspective. Just A unique perspective.

I am a tree-hugging, feminist, activist, former law enforcement officer.

Until now I haven’t spoken up on behalf of law enforcement for two reasons: I believed it was of paramount importance to show solidarity with #blacklivesmatter, and because cops aren’t a marginalized group.

To the first issue, there is institutional racism, and police brutality does exist, as does police profiling and racism. These issues are as old and entrenched as the history of Africans first being stolen from their homes and forced into slavery. Today in this country black young men’s lives are in danger. That is truth.

It is not truth that most police officers are corrupt, power hungry, and racist. It is not truth that all law enforcement is corrupt and therefore anyone who joins does so with ill intent. To make such a sweeping generalization is as bad as any other hateful and vitriolic generalization. Not all police departments are the same; and police officers are individual humans.

I have seen an attitude backlash that nauseates me. One friend posted something heart-warming about Shop with a Cop, where police officers take needy kids to get holiday gifts. But the caption sarcastically insisted that this event hadn’t received any press: “I guess because no one was shot.” The story stood on its own, but the caption was mocking and provoking. Yesterday two police officers were assassinated; I saw posts announcing this but demanding to know why this was getting more press than murders of non-cops. If you hear of someone, anyone, being taken down in cold blood and your response is not horror, you may want to take a step back and reevaluate – because your response is lacking basic humanity and compassion.

This issue has us so divided, we aren’t seeing clearly anymore.

I you think that most police officers join the force so that they can carry out their desires to exterminate racial minorities, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Most police officers are idealists and believe in their duty to protect and serve. Every single American reading this has had an experience, or knows someone who has, of a police officer who has gone above and beyond to help someone in need. These are regular people not unlike you who have answered the call to serve the public.

Are you arguing in your head, thinking of examples of abuse of power? Yes, abuse of power exists: gross, horrific abuse of power. It is sinister and pervasive and we need to fix it now, before any more innocent people die. And that is not the entire story.

Putting on the uniform and the badge, wearing a firearm, is an awesome responsibility. Not awesome like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Awesome like the most sobering responsibility you can possibly imagine. Every day when I went to work with my firearm in my holster, I was wearing the weight of the world on my hip. I knew that today might be the day I’d be called on to make a Life and Death decision in less than a second. I knew that today I might have to take action, and that even if it was the right action, it would forever strip me of my innocence. I had taken an oath to protect the lives of others, knowing that if that required me to take someone else’s life, it would probably destroy my own.

It is easy for the general public to vilify the police. They are the ones with the power. But it is a high-stakes, difficult job. Jerks provoke you. Strangers hate you. Nightmares leave you in a cold sweat. Unless you are a big city cop, if your jurisdiction is a small town or a park, people mock your law enforcement title. But during my years as a park ranger and just after, several park rangers and small-town cops in Washington and Oregon were shot dead in cold blood; one just a dozen miles from me. It felt like open season on law enforcement officers in the Pacific Northwest.

I went through law enforcement academy primarily with young, white, church-going Christian men. It isnt likely we would have become close under any other circumstances. But for 3 ½ months we spent long hours together in academy classes, firearms and defensive tactics trainings. We ate meals together, ran laps and did hundreds of pushups and sit-ups, stayed at the same hotel. During defensive tactics we made forays to the department stores to stock up on extra-large bottles of Tylenol and Advil. When the guys asked why I was one of the only two cadets who didn’t have to share a hotel room, and I explained that the female cadet assigned to be my roommate was uncomfortable rooming with a lesbian, I could almost see them adjusting their moral clocks. Within seconds I felt their warm and accepting gazes return to me. During our law enforcement scenarios they had my back, and during times when I faltered, their unwavering confidence in me kept me going. These are good, honorable people, dedicating to protecting and serving. I have seen their hearts, their true selves, and I would trust them with my life.

We need to set aside our discomfort and our reactions, withhold judgment, and see things for what they are. When police officers are doing good things, we need to see that for what it is. When we see evidence of police corruption, we need to accept that (I admit this was hard for me; I didnt want to accept that it could be true). When we see that our justice system is racist, we need to really face that head on. When a black man trying to surrender is killed by a cop, that is a senseless tragedy. When a police officer is assassinated, that too is a tragedy. Too many wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children are grieving loved ones. How can we close our hearts to any of their suffering? How can that ever be right? And how can we start to change, start to heal, if someone’s murder does not compel us to pause and grieve for our collective lost humanity?

When I was in my late 20’s I worked for Planned Parenthood. It was my job to schedule volunteers to be outside clinics when we had or anticipated protestors. We had regular protestor activity, multiple times a week at several clinics, so I was busy. This experience provided a number of teaching points that help temper my judgment to this day.

One clinic in particular was rather volatile, and protestors would gather around clients’ car doors reaching arms into open windows with graphic pictures of dismembered aborted fetuses, screaming about murder and sin and Hell. As a rule the police didn’t intervene. It was easy to believe that they let the protestors get away with misbehavior. We would talk about the obvious bias this police department had, that they were clearly selectively ignoring the law because of their own views on abortion.

During this time I was invited to join a gay and lesbian protest at a conservative politician’s fundraising event. A dozen of us milled around the gated driveway with LGBT signs and as guests drove up, some of my fellow protestors stopped the cars by reaching in through open windows, yelling and waving leaflets in their faces. The police officers acted exactly the way they had at the women’s clinic – they did not intervene. It was an important moment for me, realizing how easy it is to paint a different picture depending on which side you are on.

When some of my compatriots’ obnoxious behavior started escalating, and I was reminded of the more disrespectful clinic protestors, I took my leave. Once again I saw the parallels of behavior, being exhibited from both sides of the political spectrum. It was illuminating.

I’ve been to political rallies, I’ve trained in civil disobedience, and I’ve trained in law enforcement response to civil disobedience.

I have been there with my people, fighting for my cause, when giddy protestors scream over the megaphone that they just saw a police officer arrest someone, hand cuff someone, or pepper spray someone, without provocation; that they saw police officers acting aggressively when protestors were trying to comply. I have been there and I have observed the protestors gross exaggeration and misrepresentation; and this before I ever had the perspective of the law enforcement officer.

It is easy to vilify cops. It is easy to exaggerate their aggression. But to say that most people who become cops do so because they want the authority to carry out their bigoted, vitriolic missions? You don’t know what you’re talking about.

We individuals are complicated and complex. So how can any group of people be otherwise?

#Blacklivesmatter is still my rally cry. Because we have an issue in this country so profound that, unless you’ve lived it, you cannot really grasp. Because black men have died, are dying, tragically; because justice has not been served. Because the time has long since passed that this needs to change. But when any of us, no matter our rally cry, do not pause and mourn the passing of a human being, of someone who died too soon, then perhaps it is time we take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Life Simply Is... Meant To Be

It was meant to be. I’ve used “meant to be” to justify blurring ethical lines; heck, to justify ignoring ethical lines. If someone is meant to be mine, if we are destined to be together, then surely the fact that they belong to someone else is a complication to be resolved… Because anything that stands in the way of destiny isn’t meant to be.

I am ashamed of things I have done in the past.

But I am also older and wiser.

Especially when my heart gets snagged, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned over time: there is no “meant to be;” ethical lines truly are firm; if someone is unavailable (whether emotionally or because they are in another relationship), they are unavailable – period; “it’s complicated” is an excuse for ignoring ethical lines. I have learned that just because I have chemistry with someone, there is no promise of more than a brief connection with them. And I have learned that emotional affairs are damaging too.

I don’t mean to be preachy. The only one I’m preaching to is me. Because, you see, my heart has been snagged. And I am so very grateful that unlike in my teens, 20’s and 30’s, I am not tormented by indecision. Unavailable is unavailable, after all.

I don’t have to ponder how stable their relationship is. I don’t have to wonder if they are truly a good match. I don’t need to be the supportive friend.

In fact by now I’ve learned all the tricks I play on myself, all the lies I tell myself. I know that just being friends isn’t innocent at all, when I won’t stop myself from being just a little extra charming; when I make sure to always validate and support them, especially for those things that might cause them flack at home. I know what I’m doing, and it isn’t innocent. And it doesn’t have to be physical at all to create micro fractures in their relationship; my innocent behavior can do real damage.

One friend reminded me that this is about valuing Me enough to insist on a full relationship before giving myself over to love. And that can only happen with someone who is completely available.

What is it about the strength of the heart’s pull, that we want to see what isn’t there? That we repeatedly cast aside reality in favor of fantasy? Of course I want to give my heart to someone who can give it back wholly and unfettered. But my heart has chosen someone who has already given their heart away.

All my decades on this planet and I am transported back to my teens, seeking out songs of love and longing that tugged at my heart even before I’d first experienced romantic love. We poke fun of the romantic nostalgia; frankly it feels self-indulgent to write about it. But these yearnings of the heart are real, and when they demand of us something we cannot give, the pain is very real, and quite inescapable.

I know what to do, of course. My only ethical choice is to end the “innocent” exchanges, stop all contact completely and immediately. To do anything else would definitely hurt me. And it would possibly hurt two other people as well; more significantly, their committed relationship to each other.

I am grateful for the knowledge that life has given me: that I don’t have the anguish of indecision; that I can’t pretend that I just can’t help myself; knowing better than to try to walk the line between appropriate behavior and inappropriate.

I am grateful.

Still, the longing doesn’t stop. And the heart keeps making different arguments. I want to love a person who is available. Of course! But I want this person. Who isn’t available. Only I want them to be available. Over and over again, the heart denies the reality. Tries to find some loophole, some way this will work, some way that the heart will be able to love and be loved by this person. Some way to see that really, they are available after all. Isn’t this the definition of psychosis? A complete rejection of reality?

Isn’t this the definition of an addiction?

And isn’t this the definition of love?

I have two women friends, both of whom like me have lived enough of life to know how life and love work. Both of whom right now have broken hearts. Both of whom had their hearts snagged, and who were mistreated by the ones they gave their hearts to. The months go by, and still their hearts ache.

These are smart women. Women who understand that they don’t want or deserve to be with someone who mistreats them. Women who are quite capable of being single. Women who have rich, independent lives and do not need a relationship to feel complete. Women who understand ethical lines. But women whose hearts, like mine, refuse to accept the truth and move on.

The heart wants what the heart wants. With all that age has taught me, I have learned that there is no choice in this. I can choose what actions I take, but I cannot choose what my heart wants. And taking the right action won’t stop the heart’s wanting.

Compared to this, this deep longing for something I can’t have, it is far easier to be content with being single. I’m very good at being single, and most of the time I’m happy with it. When I do go through periods of loneliness, I’ve learned to ride them out. They pass far more quickly than a broken heart.

But I also know that Life, the human life, is meant to be lived and felt and experienced fully. Hearts were meant to love and to be broken. We were meant to feel deep connection and aching longings and gnawing loss. All of that is part of the human experience. I understand the reality. I’m just not ready to embrace it yet.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Life Simply Is... Holiday Giving

I am done participating in the consumeristic madness that dominates this time of year.

I suppose I’ve been spared some of the internal struggle because of the combination of a non-existent discretionary income and an unwillingness to be in debt. So I’ve had practice not having the means to buy gifts for my son, nieces and nephews, friends. It is in fact easy when you don’t have a choice. Far more difficult when you can, but choose not to.

Our economic system isn’t sustainable. It relies on people spending ever more on an endless supply of disposable toys, using up finite resources, and in the process destroying our fragile natural resources.

But more than that, it amplifies a rift in the human condition. We are straying further and further from feeling compassion for our fellow humans, all of whom face decisions, struggles and heartaches that – were they good friends – would prompt us to give them a hug and a kind word. By filling our holidays with busyness, obligation and spending, we are doing the opposite of what is most needed. What the world needs from us, what our family and friends need from us, is face-to-face connection.

I recall chatting with a coworker a couple years ago. She was quite stressed as the holidays approached, recovering very slowly from the flu, talking about late nights and not enough sleep. She had to clean her entire house, top to bottom, and decorate every inch of it, and prepare a feast, for a few close family members’ visit on Christmas.

I asked her what would happen if she gave herself a break this year, perhaps didn’t clean everything, or maybe only decorated one room, or supplemented the feast with some take-out. She looked startled, and then insisted that her very judgmental sister would have harsh words to say about that. I gently suggested that her health was most important. Her mouth tightened in resolve, as she told me she had no choice.

A few days later when she complained again about how she couldnt shake her illness, in curiosity I asked if perhaps it made her feel good to take care of her family in this way, to work hard and prepare such a nice event for them. She insisted that there was nothing enjoyable about any of this.

I don’t mean to tell stories on someone else. Her situation is a dramatic example of something many of us do to a lesser degree. It’s one thing to work hard, get up early to start baking, clean until we’re exhausted, if we feel good about this gift we are giving others. But if it only feels like obligation? If it makes us angry, resentful or ill? If our only incentive is to avoid being judged and criticized?

And back to consumerism. How many people do we buy gifts for out of a sense of obligation? Because they will expect it of us? Because we can afford to? Because we don’t want anyone to know we really can’t afford to? How many years do we buy useless crap for Uncle Steve, because we really have no idea what the guy likes, but we don’t want to risk hurting his feelings by leaving him out?

And how many gifts do we feel our children really need? How do we decide that? What are we comparing this against? Certainly not against past generations. When I was growing up, traditionally my siblings and I would get one special gift each, and possibly one or two little gifts. When my parents were growing up, there was definitely only one gift; in my dad’s case, any new gift required that he give up an old gift.

What is the value of these masses of gifts, when the pile of them takes hours to unwrap? When they clutter our children’s rooms, stack up in piles throughout our homes? When we have so many, we don’t remember them all? And then can’t find them when we do remember them?

How many hours do we spend shopping the department stores and specialty stores (treating other humans like enemies), perusing online, comparing prices and reviews; hours that instead could be spent making real human connections? How many hours do we spend at jobs earning the money to pay for these gifts; time that instead could be spent with those we love? Yes, for most of us we don’t get to choose how many hours we work; we can’t put in a shorter work week just because we are buying fewer presents. But over the course of our work life, we can anticipate more time connecting with people if we spend less money on things no one needs.

How much do our children, our friends, really benefit from the gifts we buy for them? Absolutely, sometimes we find the perfect gift at the perfect time, something that brings joy and lasting value. But what about the rest of the time, when those gifts are simply stand-ins for our affection?

Wouldn’t our time and attention be a far more direct, and much better appreciated, expression of our affection?

Think back to your childhood, to special family memories around the holidays. In my family we celebrated Swedish Santa Lucia Day and a secular Christmas. I can’t recall what gifts I received. I remember how beautiful the decorations were, Swedish ornaments and a well-tinseled Christmas tree. Most years we lived in snowy climates, and I loved the coziness of being inside while it was snowing outside; or bundling up and playing in the crisp fluffy stuff. I remember not being able to sleep Christmas eve, and the utter excitement when it was finally deemed time to get up and see what had shown up under the Christmas tree. It would still be dark and chilly. My parents would light candles. Our stockings would have been moved from the mantle to under the tree, stuffed with nuts and oranges, interspersed between brightly wrapped packages. The Swedish Tomten would be strategically placed on top of it all.

The whole family gathered. All of us. A time before cell phones or personal computers. No TV on. No business trips taking dad away. A morning that was a unique combination of tranquil, undistracted togetherness and the excitement of Christmas presents to be discovered.

Then we would have breakfast together: eggs, some traditional Swedish rolls, hot chocolate. Some of us kids would have helped mom make the Swedish rolls the day before. The table would be adorned with several adorable gingerbread cottages, one decorated by each of us on Santa Lucia Day, that we would break apart on New Year’s Eve.

Family traditions, whether “family” is defined by blood or choice: time spent creating memories, doing things together, or doing for others. These memories fill my heart. And still, I cannot remember a single gift.