Weekend Diversions 7.22.2016

Last week (was it really last week? it feels like it happened long ago but also maybe yesterday) I found out that a dear friend had died. Chris. He did not have a terminal illness, and his death was far from expected. He is the first close friend I have lost. His absence is penetrating. We did not talk every day, or even every week but he was always there when needed. He helped my boyfriend through the early stages of his sobriety from alcohol. He helped me learn to handle the negative voices in my own head. He was generous. He was caring. He had turned his life around after a long and harrowing addiction to heroin. He was sober, and dedicated to helping others regain control of their lives. Because we did not talk every day, it is hard to remember he has passed. At the same time, the thought of his absence is everywhere in my mind. When I drive past his street to go to work. When I hear about the neverending political circus of America (he had many choice words about both political parties). When I have a quiet moment to myself. When I hear about more grief and violence in the world, more tragedy that (if tragedy were a contest) outweighs my own by multiples. I cried when I read the email confirming his death while still in bed. My boyfriend cried. And then I stopped crying, as he continued. I couldn’t sit still. I practiced yoga, it wasn’t enough. I went on a hard run, it wasn’t enough. Grief was there, but I could not look at it. I needed distraction. And I was embarrassed that my emotions were not as free as my boyfriend’s. I felt cold. Worried I was apathetic. Unable to process anything. Grief is weird, as is death. Hard concepts to comprehend. Really, beyond my understanding.

There was little space to process, that first day and for many days following. Our house was filled with out-of-town family. My boyfriend’s sister and her two daughters (5 and 7); that night 11 more of his family members came over for a dinner party, and my mom flew in from Los Angeles. The day was filled with the chaos of food prepping, multiple trips to the grocery store, and last-minute cleaning. And grief, crammed into the edges of my mind.

The most healing I felt that day came when I baked a cake with the help of the two little girls. I had to be fully present to ensure I didn’t forget an ingredient or a step, and to make sure that both felt included in the process. They helped force me out of myself, if only for an hour, and it was grounding. At one point the younger girl hoped aloud that people would like the cake; her older sister corrected her, saying it was more important to focus on the present moment because it does no good to focus on the future. My daily dose of wisdom.

I held this notion of mindfulness (one that Chis approved of and espoused in most conversations) close during the following days when family obligations and work kept me from space for long contemplation. Focus on the moment. Be here, now. The only things we can control are our own actions. I felt the weight in my chest, the pull toward ungulfing sadness, noted it and moved on. I did have some moments in which I broke down, once in private and once in public but they did not feel sufficient. My tears were real but they somehow felt selfish. He was a close friend, but not someone I had known for a long time. We weren’t even Facebook friends; was I even allowed to grieve?

Yes, of course. The answer is always yes. There are no rules for grief. There is no manual to follow, no guidelines for whom you should or should not hold sadness. I miss Chris. I miss him horribly. I want everyone to know that he gave an enormous amount of time and energy to the people about whom he cared. He was honest. He was insightful. His perspective on addiction and change powered countless people through their recoveries. He was always eager to share pictures of cats. He will be missed by so many people.

A week after his death, I had a dream in which he appeared. I walked toward him, and we hugged for a long time. When I woke up, I felt a better sense of peace than I had in days. I don’t know if this dream had any more meaning than as closure for me. But it helped. My chest is less tight and I am worrying less about whether or not I am doing grief right. His memorial service is next weekend, and I know that will provide another layer of healing and closure. Until then (and, really, afterwards as well) I hope to continue his legacy of mindfulness, self-care, and listening to others.

And now, a few readings for the weekend:

Mercy Now: Parker Palmer on senseless death and violence, and how to cope. He speaks to the need for creating moments of silence in our lives to escape the barrage of media. I, too, have felt bombarded with sadness and this was a helpful reminder to take time to step back and just be.

Joan Didion on Grief: Grief does not come in expected ways; it is strange and unpredictable. The passages on Brainpickings from Joan Didion are reminders that mourning is personal and does not usually come when it is expected, but rather waits until the busyness of life subsides.

Anne Lamott on Grief, Grace, and Gratitude: Also from Brainpickings, excerpts from Anne Lammot’s book Small Victories on how strange and fragile bodies are and how hard living can be. I am endlessly inspired by Lammot, and always feel better after reading things she has written (although secretly wishing I could have written them myself).

With that, have a wonderful weekend.

 

Weekend Diversions 7.8.2016

Every time I have an articulate thought about how to make sense of all the shootings and violence and public hatred in America right now, it disappears into confusion. I have written my response over and over again in my head, but nothing feels right. I almost had a panic attack when I opened my computer to write this post, because I feel compelled to say something, but everything feels inadequate. I am filled with grief, and also with shame to know that I will probably never feel the same fear that minorities feel when they walk out their doors into public spaces. I rode my bike home from work last night, an hour-long commute along mostly empty streets, with varying degrees of lighting. I worried a bit about being raped or assaulted. I usually do when I am alone at night in deserted areas. I wondered, then, if this is the same fear that black and brown people carry with them, always. And then I wondered if it was presumptuous of me to even make that comparison. I am white. I live in a homogeneous suburb. I work in a job that is segregated (white people in the front of the restaurant; everyone else in the back; bussers are the one exception to the color barrier). Am I complicit in this mess? Do I have a right to call out for a new structure, considering the parameters of my life?

I am living in confusion right now. The news doesn’t help; I just feel more sadness, more shame. I do not understand hating someone so intensely you feel compelled to shoot them. I do not understand why police use guns as the first line of defense. Police, as supposed arbiters of peace and justice on a community scale should also be masters at mindfulness. Their job is not to kill innocent people, and in this country everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Routine traffic stops are not high stress situations. They should not be treated as such; nor should civilians live in fear that they will be shot to death for a missing taillight; for selling CDs or loose cigarettes; for walking down the street; for looking too suspicious; for having a reaction time slower than a police officer would like.

Centuries of oppression, systemic racism, unconscious and conscious bias all contribute to these horrendous killings, as does a lack of officer training.

I do not know how to reconcile my white identity with the events in the news. I do not know the correct response, or the correct next steps. I will continue to shine light in my own very small corner of the world as I figure out how to live with integrity.

Below are a few responses to the current tragedies, much more articulate than my own.

  1. Death in Black and White: All of the reasons being white feels very complicated, as outlined by a black man who knows our culture of oppression is at the root of this current crisis. It was an uncomfortable read at times, as I do not like being lumped in with the perpetrators of violence. Still, discomfort is necessary to create change, and I hope this will provide some inspiration for me as I move forward.
  2. This is what white people can do to support #BlackLivesMatter: A list of ways to work from within whiteness to create change and lend support to a truly progressive movement.
  3. Deafening Silence: White silence and Alton Sterling: A indictment to white people to end the silence about race and to call for justice. Whenever a white person chooses to remain silent about racial violence, the author contends, permission for continued violence is granted. I agree. Anglo privilege has created this mess, it is our duty to call for cultural restructuring.
  4. 30+ Resources to help white Americans learn about race and racism: Finally, a thorough list of resources to better understand the history and culture of racism in America. I haven’t begun to read through these yet, but they are high on my list of articles read over the coming weeks. As passionate as I feel about equality, I know I have a lot left to learn and to implement in my life.

 

Finally, because I need some happy diversions in order to process the violence, here is a lovely profile of vegan strongman Patrik Baboumian for CNN’s series on environmental activists. And an interesting history of modern eyeglasses.

Have a good and safe weekend, everyone.

 

 

Weekend Diversions 7.1.2016

I submitted an essay this week (about my body image and running and many of the challenges I have faced post-injury) to a magazine. Sharing myself like that made me feel vulnerable and unstable. Even though I know the readers will be strangers, I still worry about judgement and being thought unworthy. I worry that the concerns in my essay will be construed as whiny and irrelevant to a cultural discussion of body image. I worry the readers will laugh at me for being so critical of myself. I worry I will be told I don’t deserve to criticize myself, because I am ablebodied and fit. Submitting this essay was hard. But also liberating because my story is no longer pent up inside myself. I have kept my body-hatred as much of a secret as possible for most of my life. Sharing in this way marks a huge progression in my journey toward self-acceptance. So, I am proud of myself even as I worry about how I will be perceived.

To celebrate my successful submission, here are a few things I have been reading this week. Enjoy!

  1. Strawberry rhubarb crumble bars I have a fridge full of strawberries as well as some rhubarb leftover from recent CSA pickup. I made these bars last year when strawberries and rhubarb were in season and I was impressed with how easy they were to make (and then eat!). They are this weekend’s baking project.
  2. Can you get over an addiction? Or are addicts doomed to live a life of degeneracy if they do not repent and succumb to a higher power?
  3. All U.S. medical school training is now animal-free! Until I read this announcement, I did not realize medical training has required extensive animal testing (often using dogs as the experimental model -after they are injected with various drugs and substances the dogs are killed by the doctors for dissection). After years of lobbying and legal efforts led by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, Johns Hopkins University and University of Tennessee (the last two holdouts) have removed animal testing from their curricula.  Current technology makes using live models for anatomy unnecessary and, therefore, unethical.  Advanced medical training still includes animal testing, as does veterinary training, but with concerted efforts from PCRM and animal advocacy groups, this practice will hopefully become an anachronism.
  4. Why I don’t give toothpaste advice A funny (and short) lesson about taking nutrition advice from someone who is not qualified to give such advice. As Dr. Davis points out in his rant, dentists know a lot about dentition and oral health, but do not usually immerse themselves in nutrition research. As such, in his professional opinion, dentists should stick to recommending toothpaste and not specific diets (especially when the diets they are promoting have no scientific validation).

Have a lovely long weekend! I will be working for most of it, but I do have off on Monday (4th of July), which I plan to spend working in the garden with my boyfriend.