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STAYING AWAKE TO THE REMARKABLE IN THE ROUTINE

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Hi. I’m Maery, a writer in the Twin Cities. Although I no longer have the body for extreme adventures, I love to bicycle, go horse trail riding and take hikes with my dogs.  

One thing you should know before you join me on my quest -- I don’t have a map. And I’ve been known to wander off course and stop to listen to birds and look for agates. I also have a few issues with fear and anxiety. In other words, I’m not a good role model or adventure guide. But in this time of uncertainty and polarization, I'm not sure anyone has a reliable map. We'll just figure it out as we go.

dog by branch of Mississippi River

dog by branch of Mississippi River

First of all, thanks to everyone for their comments on my last blog post.

As difficult as it’s been lately to see disturbing beliefs and opinions come out on high-emotion topics, it has also brought out some voices speaking with reason, care and concern.

I’ve seen people who are generally quiet, who like to observe and study something before they voice their opinion, becoming restless.

I see such people still taking it all in, still listening, still reading everything they can get their hands on, but they aren’t waiting until they have the whole thing figured out before they say what they are thinking or take some sort of action.

There have always been people in our midst working quietly behind the scenes delivering for Meals on Wheels, tutoring kids who are having trouble at school, sitting with their friend during chemo, cooking and serving up food for those in need  and so on. They are the heroes that no one hears about.

I have this picture in my mind of a movement that happens without fanfare or gimmicky calls for attention. Where people simply do what needs to be done by being conscious in their consumption of energy, products, and media; by being informed and participating in the political process; and by doing what they can to give those who need it a “leg up.”

I used to work at a stable leading trail rides where we used English saddles. I literally had to give people a leg up by cupping my hands and having them use me as a mounting block so I could give them a lift up into the saddle. This meant getting my hands dirty and some people were hesitant to allow me to help them.

But I’ve never had another job that I enjoyed so much. I was able to help people up onto the horse and give them a quick balancing and steering lesson. Because an English saddle has no horn to hang onto for balance, my advice before hitting the trail was always to grab the horse’s mane when they felt unsteady. Thank goodness all the horses had thick, shaggy manes!

During the ride, I felt so happy to be able to share the experience of riding that I loved so much. And from the laughter that always came on such rides, I believe the riders were able to share in that same sense of accomplishment and enjoyment that comes from being outdoors and connecting with an animal.

That kind of “leg up” action and the connection it brings to our shared humanity, rather than how we differ, is what I wish more people understood and looked for.

It does feel good to work together.

trail riding on horseback

crows gathered in a tree

crows gathered in a tree

I admit it, I’m a ranter. Ask anyone who knows me well. Conversations consist of a great deal of hand waving, facial contortions and vocal gymnastics. I often write that way too. But I tone it down before the words end up in my blog where, honestly, very few people will read it.

If I do take my rantings public someday, it will be in a place where it fits the intended audience or people are choosing to buy it because they like what I’m writing.

What I’m trying to say is that I wish there was a bit more self control in social media and online in general. It’s become too easy to say whatever is on our minds, not to our best friend over coffee, but to everyone reading our updates. Being able to discuss things publically without being a journalist or celebrity is great but it’s not great that anyone can say anything online without doing what journalists used to do — fact check — and yet people read these tidbits as though they ARE actual facts. If it’s online (and especially if it’s gone viral), it must be true…

We take in news that really isn’t news but slander, and repeat it so others can carry it even further. We take quotes out of context. We aren’t debating facts or trying to find a solution. We’re slinging stones at each other.

I’m thinking about all this because of recent mass shootings in the United States and elsewhere, and the public response these events have elicited. It appears that a majority of people believe that these are darker more frightening times than we’ve ever experienced before and we have to respond by taking strong measures to protect ourselves. What those strong measures should be is where the disagreement comes in:

  • We need to tighten up security, which includes tightening up our borders to stop immigration.
  • We need to identify and keep tabs on all Muslims in this country.
  • We need to increase military spending.
  • We need to send in troops to destroy terrorists.
  • We need to all carry guns.
  • We need to restrict people from carrying guns.

Okay, here’s my opinion. The world has pretty much always been like this. We’ve fought wars with countries or in countries with our real or perceived enemies and we have our own list of hate groups on US soil. I can’t think of a time the world has ever been free of terrorists. But my definition of terrorists is much broader than the norm and includes groups like the Ku Klux Klan and zealots who plant bombs in buildings or open fire on women at an abortion clinic. I am equally as concerned about them, especially because no one is looking for them. Our focus is elsewhere.

a murder of crows

But my point is not how crazy our world is, because our world is us and I hope we’re not all crazy. My point is why are we taking in this news and then using it to throw stones. Do we want to control violence or do we want to further a political agenda by pointing our finger and saying, “This is your fault because _____.”?

I know it’s not easy to resist retaliation when we’re afraid, angry, frustrated, and someone has just thrown a stone at what may be our deepest values and beliefs. And yet I think we need to stop hatred and retaliation with our own thoughts and actions first. How can we stop violence with guns when we are so violent with our words?

There was the headline last week in the New York Daily News: “God Isn’t Fixing This.” The article criticized the Republicans and conservatives of responding to the murders in California by praying and calling for prayer while the Democrats and liberals were calling for action. Boom! Another stone flies through the air.

Then Conservative blogger Erick Erickson fired bullets through the New York Times editorial and posted a photo on Instagram. And another stone flies through the air.

And then the public joined in with their stones.

But there were a few people who responded as I would — that both prayer and action are needed. Maybe you don’t call what you do “prayer” but in such times most people send out some form of thought or internal whispering to those who lost their lives and the people who loved them.

Normally, I stay away from voicing religious beliefs because I want to be inclusive of all beliefs, as I am a mix and match kind of spiritual woman. But in this case I want to say, that most of what I believe and how I try to live is inspired by Jesus and his responses to injustice, oppression, exclusion, and violence.

I imagine him asking us to put down our stones. But rather than just turning and walking away, I see the crowd responding with a change in attitudes and future actions.

I believe we can be better than this.

c

 

People at bicycling event

People at bicycling event

“All of our lives we compete… and call it “success.”… But it is not so much the striving that is the problem as it is the sacrifice of all the other dimensions of life in order to achieve it. We sacrifice our own opinions, our own desires, our own interests, our own personal goals to meet the needs of people around us, and in the end, we sacrifice the burgeoning of the self for the brass rings of the social system… “ ~ Joan Chittister, “The Gift of Years”

I am reading The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister, a book about “becoming” after retirement. Much of what I’ve read so far is about the freedom that comes from being outside the corporate world, where image matters so much. But I’m still in that world, and I know how much that makes me feel like I have to censor myself, although I’m not sure I do all that great of a job at it. Imagine how I would be if the censor was completely shut off…

One small example of this is how I’ve kept the link to my blog out of my LinkedIn profile because my blog self doesn’t fit the image of a woman anyone would want to hire for what I do. Nowadays, anyone doing hiring does web searches on a prospect and they would find my Twitter and Facebook and Website accounts, but I don’t want to make it too easy. Let’s call that denial…

There’s nothing wrong with this kind of work life/personal life separation. It’s often necessary to compartmentalize our lives for own safety and well being. But still, this has always felt false to me. The older I get, the more it bugs me.

It’s not like I’m being looked at for promotions or as someone to grow into an executive position, but I do need to keep my job. And yet I balk at hiding so many of the things that are important to me. Do I really want to protect a job or the chance for a future job that wouldn’t accept human mistakes, flaws, opinions, and general shit-happens kind of stuff?

“The purpose of a job is to make a living, not to make a life. Making a life is something we’re meant to do beyond the role. This is the part of life in which we work at succeeding at all the other dimensions of what it means to be alive.” ~ Joan Chittister, “The Gift of Years”

The meaning of success changes throughout a life. Often we follow society’s definition. If we’re lucky (or smart) we define it ourselves. I don’t want to wait until retirement to begin living in a deeper, more meaningful way. I want that now.

As some of us gather together today to give thanks, I hope we will open our hearts to those whose lives are different than our own, who have had shit happen — people we may be uncertain of, look down on or even be afraid of. What you are thankful for today will depend on your situation:

  • Whether you are in the thick of it but thankful for a friend or partner or child in your life or the food on the table.
  • Or whether you are living comfortably and are thankful because you have come through a difficult time and are feeling well deserved peace.
  • And if you can’t find anything to be thankful for, it’s likely you are depressed and I hope you find help because that’s a hell of a place to be.

I’m thinking about all of you today, whatever your situation, and hoping you also won’t have to wait until retirement to find the “other dimensions of what it means to be alive.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

dog sitting on step

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