Category Archives: reflection

First Time For Everything

There’s a first time for everything, but someone in their late fifties has most of his “first times” behind him so the new ones are extra important. Today was a first time for me. The news of our election brought with it emotions that I have never experienced. I’ve felt the elation of winning and the disappointment of losing. This is different…

castle-stairsI have lost nothing personally. I’m a white, middle classed, middle aged man. When our new president takes office in January I will be able to walk down the street of any town in the USA and no one would ever question my right to be there. The folks that I meet on the street will assume I voted for Trump because of the way I look and the way my state voted. I will still have a good job and health insurance. No worries about war because I am too old to be called into military service. Everything is going my way.

I do not like feeling bad especially when I could easily choose otherwise. I’d rather be full of hope and joy. Yesterday, I imagined I would be consoling my right wing friends and family today and helping them understand that it’s a new day full of love and room for all. Instead I find myself quietly reaching out to a few friends who are very much on the losing side of this election. Listening to them. Affirming their longings. Affirming their person-hood just as they are. Hoping I can help lift their despair just a tad.

Why do I feel like this? I who couldn’t lose. No matter which side won, it wouldn’t much affect me. Not to say that I am immune. I have strong political views, and I’ll be affected by change just like everyone else. But neither political party has an agenda that would take away my human rights directly.

First steps

Not so long ago, my wife and I began to pour our energies into loving and caring for the LGBT community. At our local PFLAG* we are getting to know some of the bravest and most marginalized people we have ever known. 1ststepThese are real human people who do not fit neatly in the boxes provided by society for us to keep them straight (pun intended). I get to hear the stories of these beautiful people; stories of love, of hate, of violence, of death, murder, suicide. Their stories move me; children turned out of their homes because they were attracted to the same sex, parents of transgender children worried for their safety at school. By the way, this NC “bathroom bill” intended to protect “normal” people from a fictitious predator is a very real matter of life or death to these folks.

When the riots happened a few weeks ago here in Charlotte, I stepped out of my comfort zone a few times and risked conversations with friends and acquaintances who have darker skin than mine. I heard the fear they felt. I heard their desire to fit in, along with constant frustration that the color of their skin posed an impenetrable barrier to any hope of real justice or equanimity.

I say these things to explain what changed in me that makes me hurt. I have only just begun the hard work of self examination; finding out just how selfish and unloving I can be. My eyes are just beginning to see and my ears are just beginning to hear how the very society that welcomes me so freely is suspicious at best and hateful at worst of folk who do not look like me.

starofdavidThere’s a great story from the book, “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom about the holocaust in Holland and how her Christian family helped to save Jews. Her father, Casper, a simple watch maker, sewed a yellow Star of David on his coat. In his mind, if everyone wore them the Nazis would not be able to identify the Jews and they would be safe. What a naive gesture but motivated by such inspiring love.

I am a middle aged white man. I don’t have to do this. I can stop anytime I want and just blend into an easy, comfortable life. But I freely choose otherwise. I want to be more like Casper ten Boom and naively believe that I too can love the unloved. That I too can connect in solidarity where they are marginalized. That I can choose to sacrifice my comfort, my safety and my security when it interferes with their human rights when necessary. Who will join me?

*PFLAG = Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays

Living Presence

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Each of us lives in the lives of others. Sometimes we are fortunate to witness a glimpse of our influence in the life of another person. It could be a word, a quote, a gesture, a choice of restaurants… and we smile to ourselves, “I know where that came from.” But the real treasure, the the beauty of recognizing the influence of another in ourselves, is available anytime anywhere, at the bargain basement cost of a mere moment of reflection.

I know that we live in the lives of those we touch. I have felt in me the living presence of many I have loved and who have loved me. I experience my daughter’s presence with me daily. And I know that this is not limited to those we know in the flesh, for many guests of my life shared neither time nor space with me.

~Elizabeth Watson (quoted in Healing After Loss-Sept 8th)

Reading this quote of Elizabeth Watson this morning, my thoughts went immediately to Kat and her influence in my life. She influenced me greatly both in her life and her death (that word is still so raw and painful). But how do I pin it down and definitively say, “This is how Kat influenced my life”?  In answer to that question, in my imagination a picture appeared of Kat opening a door to a vast beautiful landscape. A garden with full, shady trees, wild grasses and beautifully colorful wildflowers. I step into this landscape which is now part of my world, always there for me to enjoy. Now that I live in this new world, I could try to name every aspect of this landscape to give her credit or I can simply say, “Kat opened the door for me to see life in a new and amazingly beautiful way. My life will never be the same.”

Marrow Sucking

I am sitting in the lobby at Duke Hospital writing this on my droid. Upstairs the best medical staff on the planet are pumping poison into my daughter to kill this awful cancer. I was planning to work remotely today, but forgot to bring my laptop power cord. So it has become a vacation day. Not really my choice for a vacation, but it is good to just stop all the activity for a while.

It was almost a year ago that I wrote this blog post describing the terror of our situation, http://jimazing.com/blog/2011/04/falling/. I am so thankful that I do not feel that way still. Today it feels surreal. As if this cannot possibly be happening to me and my family. It’s sort of like a dream. Surely I’ll wake up soon.

When I was a youngster, I wondered if I was living in a dream. I thought maybe I had fallen asleep when I was 7 years old and even though I was 10, I expected that I might wake up and really be only 7. Sometimes I still wonder if that 7 year old is going to wake up soon, rub his little eyes and say, “Man oh man! What a dream!”

Yet, here we are… Here I am. Sitting in a hospital lobby.

I don’t ask why. I know that many people do. It is just not a question on my mind. This Bible passage means a lot to me. Jesus said, ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” My personal translation of that verse is, “shit happens”. We do not get to choose everything that comes our way. Who among us would choose cancer!? And yet it happens… A lot! I don’t know why.   Although I would never have chosen this path… (ironically autocorrect changed path to pathology)… this is the path we have walked for the past year.

Because of this journey we have received such love and support that I feel completely overwhelmed. It was there all the time, but it took this horrible situation for it to be revealed. That is a blessing we experienced as a direct result of Kat’s illness.

I find myself asking if it was worth it. And immediately I recognize that question is closely akin to, “Why?” It is a question that does not need any of my attention. Of course I would never choose this course… I am not thankful for the cancer! I am thankful for family and friends in spite of the cancer. Does that make any sense at all?

Because of this journey, I am aware of the healthcare system in so much more intimate way. I don’t know if I shared this tidbit before, but just 3 or 4 weeks prior to getting sick, Kat was promoted to full time. Because of that, she has had excellent insurance. Her benefits ended with her job on March 1, 2012 (yesterday). That is an amazingly wonderful blessing on the one hand and also, I believe it is a tragedy of our healthcare system. Why is health insurance tied to our jobs? (rhetorical question) Is my life & health more valuable when I have work than when I do not? (I truly do not mean to open the can of worms that is our healthcare system.) My point is that because of what Kat is going through, I see some of these “issues” up close and personal… and that is a blessing.

There have been many times throughout this that I wondered if I would ever have another rational conversation with Kat. When she was in such pain that nothing else mattered to her, and we wondered if we would ever find out what was causing that pain. Now it is happening. She is beginning to talk about the journey so far and her dreams for the future. I find myself treasuring those times like the treasure they truly are. That is a blessing.

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.”

–Henry David Thoreau

Like Thoreau, I believe there is life to be lived… deeply through good times and bad. Unlike Thoreau, I did not choose to go into the woods. My “woods” just happened. Somehow the the hard times have a way of waking me up. I am becoming more aware of the richness that is always there, but so easily missed.

New Guy

takemyadviceOn Sunday mornings, I meet with a group of friends at Amelies French Bakery. We talk about life together and encourage one another. Meeting at a public location can sometimes make things interesting, like this morning… a fellow came in and invited himself (politely) to be part of our group.

When he joined us, I was in the middle of telling them about how things were going with my daughter, Kat. I was aware that New Guy was unaware of what I was talking about, so I looked at him and explained briefly that we just learned she has cancer, just enough of the story so he would not be completely in the dark. I continued bringing my friends up to date. When I was done, the new guy asked if we had looked into “natural healing”. I gently said, “No, I am not interested.” He backed off and I thought that was the end.

When our little gathering ended, and I was leaving, New Guy approached and said, “I just wanted to tell you one thing…” which I abruptly interrupted and said curtly, “If you want to encourage me, I will welcome it, but I am not interested in listening to solutions right now.”

He was bewildered, “You don’t want to hear about something that could potentially help your daughter?”

I said, “No, I don’t want to hear it. I know you mean well, but I cannot listen to this.”

“Why not?”

Normally, I would have just pretended to listen to the guy, and then walked away, but after months of caring for Kat, I am tired. I have very little margin for worrying about the feelings of others. At this point in the conversation, I have asked him twice to back off and instead he’s pushing back and questioning my concern for my daughter!?!

I replied as calmly as I could, “You have got to walk in my shoes to understand that,” and turned to walk away.

New guy just wouldn’t stop. As I walked away, he was questioning why I would not consider every option available. How could I be so unloving as to…

I do know that he meant well, but I was so angry. How can this guy whom I have just met, who does not know me, does not know my situation, has never known Kat, has only just heard that she has cancer… How can he possibly have any valuable input into our situation? I wanted to tell him to come sit with Kat and me for a couple of hours while I massage her back in silence and then help us make the three day journey to Duke (which is only 2½ hours away). Sit with me and be my friend. Cry with me and listen to me vent… then decide if you really have anything to add.

I feel much better now. New guy helped me realize how much I value the friends who have walked through this with us. Who have laughed and cried with us and who will be with us to the end (and beyond). You know who you are. I love you.

If you want to follow Kat’s progress, please check out our site on Caringbridge.org

Stirred Part 2

Watching my granddaughter, Molly, grow is so incredibly rewarding.  She is constantly learning new things.  Every day she wakes up so full of life.  It’s as if she’s wondering, “What cool things am I going to learn today?” I used to believe that kids learn new things until they become adults.  Then you are are “just a grownup” for the rest of your life.  This was around the same time that I thought grownups could do whatever they wanted. I don’t know about all adults, but it sure hasn’t turned out to be true for me.  Each stirring is another opportunity to learn.

When I feel stirred, it feels like a small voice saying, “Pay attention.  Something cool is going on.”  It is an opportunity to see something new that I never saw before, or something old in a new way… hearing a new sound… smelling a new smell (what did I have for lunch?).  For me, being stirred is learning.  My artist/neighbor/friend says, “To truly live and grow is to always be open to being stirred/ stimulated/ moved, isn’t it?” What does stirring mean for you?

Reading for stirring

america-mapWhen I was younger, I read mostly for information.  I was (and am) a learner. The rule makers I was trying to please said, “Learn the rules and obey them and you will be okay.”  So I studied and listened in order to learn the rules of life.  The better I learned the rules, the better I could recite them and the more I felt like I fit in.  Unfortunately, with my head down, learning and applying the rules, I didn’t see that I was following a map through life that was written by others who were as clueless as I was.  They saw what they saw and no more. Lately I have found myself understanding that most rules are someone else’s ideas about how life works.  They remind me of the ancient maps of the world drawn by people who had a very limited perspective.  Yes, they were invaluable in their day, but really… are you kidding me.  This is North America?

Lately I find that I am reading less for learning and more for stirring.  I want to learn, but to get more perspective, not the right answer.  Don’t get me wrong, I do read to learn, but the ideas the author is trying to convey are less important to me than what her words stir in me. Not because I have all the answers, but because some things I am ready to learn and others… not so much.  The stirrings are a clue to what I’m ready for.  Some of my recent reads have stirred me to irritation.  Even that has value.  I was able to ask myself what I believed and what was this author stirring in me.  That was way more valuable than reading an author I agreed with completely (if that were possible).

Lately, I find that I enjoy two kinds of books.  The first type is books that explain some facet of the way life works in a way that I have never thought of before.  Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Seth Godin’s Linchpin are two that I particularly enjoyed.  I’m reading one now, called Nudge that talks about the kinds of things that influence the thousands of decisions we make every day.  Fascinating stuff.  Not the whole story, but a new perspective.  The other kind of books I find myself gravitating to are biographies.  I got stuck on presidential bios for a while and then got out of that rut by reading a biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops.

I am a little surprised that I like biographies so much for two reasons.  First because, I like surprises. I don’t want to know what is coming next.  With a biography, you already know the ending.  For me, knowing that the story is true and experiencing the depth of the whole person is fascinating and stirring.  I pick a biography because of what the person did.  But when I as I slow down long enough to read the details of his life, he becomes a real person with real difficulties to overcome.  The other reason my interest in biographies surprises me is that I’m not a big fan of history.  I find facts and dates to be overwhelming and boring.  But reading the biography of a historical figure helps me experience history through their eyes.  They become much more than their accomplishments.  That stirs me, and I like being stirred.

Stirred

stirred-sm“I’m stirred,” I said to Jeanie recently.  Not that that is unusual.  I frequently say I am stirred.  Why? Because I am frequently stirred.

Am I alone?  Are you stirred?  Do you ever feel a little emotional flip in your belly?  It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, just a tiny little flip will do.  If so, you too have been stirred.

Stirred [adjective] Being excited or provoked to the expression of an emotion

Imagine a jar of water.  The water is clear, but there is sediment on the bottom.  The jar is me (or you), the clear water is a lack of emotion.  The sediment is the stuff we remember from our past… some of it good some of it bad.  It is made up of memories and beliefs attached to the memories that were emotionally embedded.  Haven’t you ever been reminiscing about something with a friend and say, “Remember when we…?” and the friend doesn’t know what you are talking about. She has no memory of it whatsoever.  Chances are, it was emotionally embedded for you, but not for her.

Our jars get stirred when anything bumps up against our expectations and beliefs.  Sometimes we feel that little emotional flip.  Sometimes we are paralyzed with anxiety.  Our tendency is to ignore the little flips and avoid the big ones until the emotion dies down and it seemingly takes care of itself.  Getting stirred can be incredibly uncomfortable and even embarrassing.  If we just hold the jar still long enough, the feeling will go away.  I think that’s what they mean when they say, “time heals all wounds.”  It doesn’t, but the feeling gets smaller over time.  It becomes more sediment in the jar to be stirred up later.

The feelings are what embeds the memory and with the memories are embedded beliefs.  Some are true, but many are lies.  The value in the stirring is that we can feel and in the process examine those beliefs.  I won’t tell you that is easy.  In fact it is incredibly difficult to examine carefully and to be honest about those beliefs.  As far as I know, the only alternatives are to a) ignore the stirring and hope it will go away soon or b) point fingers at other people or circumstances.  Neither is worth the pain in the long run.

stirred-sm2The thing is, stirring the jar is the only way I know of to un-embed those feelings and beliefs.  As uncomfortable as it is, it is valuable.  Kind of like removing a splinter.  The first time you get a splinter, getting it out with the tweezers hurts like crazy.  The second time, just the sight of the tweezers is enough to hurt even worse than it did before.  There’s a fear embedded with the memory.  The problem is that to leave the splinter is to invite infection.  So we feel the fear and let the tweezers do their work anyway.  Soon it is all forgotten.

I am afraid of being stirred.  Just the same, I want to be stirred.  When I feel the flip, I want to keep asking myself what it is about.  What do I believe?  Is it true?

What about you?

A New Year, A New Collage

The new year has snuck up on me and it is time for the annual news of the Anderson family. You may not know, but this is the very reason I started this web site. It began in 2000 as a way to use the web to begin to communicate Christmas greetings to our family and friends. It has since morphed into a tradition. A couple of years ago, I mentioned that I wasn’t going to do it anymore.  I was informed in no uncertain terms that I had to do it.

As much as I chafe over doing something because I “have to”, I must admit that I do like it… especially creating the collage.  The process of going through photos and remembering all that we have done over the last 12 months is cathartic.  It is easy for someone like me to forget and begin to think that my life does not matter.  Remembering and reflecting becomes more important to me all the time… or maybe it is just my awareness of its importance.

I hope you will take a few moments to read the 2009 Anderson Family News and take a look at the 2009 Collage.  You can always view collages and news pages from previous years by clicking the Family News menu on the jimazing.com web site

We see, They see–Part 2

Whoops!

I am not sure how it happened, but I published my last post with comments turned off.  I have changed that and they are back on now.

A Quick Case Study

This mistake on my part might make an interesting case study of my last post.  My guess is that some of you saw the “Comments are Closed” notice and determined (based on my behavior of closing comments) that I was not interested in what you had to say.  If you did, you were incorrect.  Despite my behavior of turning off comments, my intentions were to hear from my readers and my desire is to make that as easy as possible.  One of the joys of blogging is receiving feedback.  I like hearing how my words affect you.

The prior post was about the “We see/They see” quote repeated here:

We judge ourselves by our intentions.
Others judge us by our behaviors.
We cannot see our own behaviors.
Others cannot see our intentions.

My intention was to share my thoughts and hear yours.  You saw my “closed comments” behavior.  I was blind to my own behavior until someone pointed it out to me.  Likewise, you could not have seen my intentions until I explained myself.

Communication is Key

I was also stirred by an email from a dear friend who’s expressed desire to begin to look for intentions more in the coming year.  I appreciate that thought and it leads me to ask how one looks for intentions.  I think it is important to note that the first and most important element in communicating behavior and intentions is communication itself.  The problem is not that we don’t try to see our own behavior, we really cannot see it the way others do.  It is not that we don’t try to understand the intentions of others.  We actually cannot know them.  The only way we can possibly know what our own behavior looks like to those around us is to hear it from them, and we can only know their intentions when they communicate them to us.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about being nice.  I’m talking about communicating on a whole new level, something that does not come naturally and will take risk and effort.  It mostly is not modeled for us and it feels weird when we do it (but it is worth it).

Here are two unhealthy ways I could handle a situation with you: Let’s say that you do something that irritates me.  I could determine that you meant to hurt me and react based on that assumption.  I lash out at you verbally and we argue.  In that case, I didn’t understand your intention and you didn’t understand my volatile reaction.  Now let’s roll back the tape and replay it again.  You do something that irritates me.  I give you the benefit of the doubt by assuming that you didn’t mean to hurt me.  I conclude that your actions were unintentionally harmful.  I graciously choose not to respond to what you actually did.  While the first way may lead to unnecessary conflict, the second way can lead to being taken advantage of by the person who had ill intentions, but is never held accountable for his or her actions.

No matter whether one makes a positive or a negative assumption about the intentions of the other, the operative word is “assumption”.  Assumptions are not truth.  I hope I am not taking this verse too far out of context, but it reminds me of the words of Jesus in John 8:32, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The only way we can learn the true intentions of others is to communicate.

We see, They see

lady-justice.gifA few weeks ago, I heard the following thought and it rang true to me. I wrote it down in order to ponder it.  The more I think about it, the more important it seems to me.

We judge ourselves by our intentions.
Others judge us by our behaviors.
We cannot see our own behaviors.
Others cannot see our intentions.

To complicate matters even more, the “we” and the “others” changes constantly. At the same time that I am being judged by someone by my behavior, I am judging them by their behavior.

This miscommunication is the source of much fighting, loss of friendships and even wars.  Sometimes I wonder how we humans manage to get along as well as we do.  Mostly I wonder how we can do better.

The Day of the Office Chair

cimg4427.gifIt was just another day in my geeky programmer life.  I got up and rode my bicycle to work.  At that time, my work location was such that I could ride the 4 miles to work without riding on any streets.  When I arrived, my boss asked me if I wanted a nice office chair for free.  I must have had a look of bewilderment on my face because he began to explain.  “You see, I got this nice chair a while back, but my wife doesn’t like it.  You can have it if you want it.  It’s in the trunk of my car.”  I said, “sure.”  So we went to his car and drove out to my house to drop off the chair.  I am sitting in the chair as I type this.

Along the way, we chatted about this and that… nothing important.  When arrived back at the office, the guards in the lobby were all looking at a small TV screen and talking about something that had captured their attention.  They said a plane had flown into a buildng in NY.  I dismissed it thinking that was a strange accident and how silly it was that folks got so engrossed in something just because it was unusual.  It didn’t have anything to do with me, for sure.  As we entered the workplace, I noticed that folks were huddled in little groups.  Someone had a little black and white TV and several were gathered around it.  By this time they were saying that a second plane had flown into a building.  My first thought was that this was no accident. My interest was piqued.

I tried to find something on the internet news sites, but they were all jammed up and unresponsive.  So I thought I would try one of the newsgroups since most people didn’t know what they were, I expected them to be accessible.  They were accessible and a flurry of activity.  I began reading the news and opinions about what happened, whether it was really an attack and by whom.  I was taking everything with a huge grain of salt because of the nature of an unmoderated newsgroup and then I saw a post from someone saying that the pentagon had been hit.  I thought to myself that the alarmist crazys had taken over the newsgroup and decided that it wasn’t reliable enough to be worth reading.  I returned to my work.

Somehow, I got news that they Pentagon part was true and that it was definitely some sort of attack, but I continued to emmerse myself in my work.  Jeanie was was sleeping in. She had been up the wee hours of the morning delivering newspapers and had returned to bed.  She woke to the local talk radio station going on about the events assuming that all of its readers understood the context.  She was completely in the dark about the events.  She called me to find out what in the world was going on. An hour or two later, I got an email telling me to go home due to the events of the morning.  I had an appointment to give blood that day and my first thought was that I should keep that appointment because they were going to need blood, so I went to the collection location, but it was deserted.  So I went home.

I remember feeling shell shocked.  It wasn’t long before I had seen enough of the news on TV.  The repeated images and the incessant talk about the same thing over and over was getting to me.  I needed a diversion.  A few weeks earlier, I had started a project to create two large natural areas in the front yard.  So I methodically walked to the garage, picked up my tools and started mindlessly raking and digging.

Seven years have passed.  The natural area is part of the yard now and looks pretty nice, I think.  It was several months before I gave blood again.  There was such an outpouring of donations from folks who wanted to be a part that  I thought (correctly) the Red Cross wouldn’t be able to handle it all.  After donations started to drop off again, I began donating again regularly (and I still do). The office chair still holds my butt up off the floor.  The world is upside down from the repercussions of the events of that day, September 11, 2001.  My heart still aches for those who lost loved ones.  I still love hearing the stories of what folks remember about that day.

Thanks to my “Dull Geek ” friend.   His story prompted me to write my story.