Monday, March 21, 2016

Clouds, Watchers, and a Child’s Perspective

Rise up and find your own sunrise moment
I still believe courage is perspective…it’s where you are in life, what you’ve experienced and how long you have lived.  And I imagine the mind of an 11-year-old struggling to find his place would sound a little bit like this:

Today I woke up to a rainy day.  It was just like the day before and the day before that.  Though I could see no puddles on the ground, I know it was raining just the same.  The clouds were dark and angry…grey and foreboding.  And I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun.

And it isn’t even an interesting calm leading up to a perfect storm.  It’s just raining and dark…with no end in sight. 

My family and friends tell me the sky is blue…that the sun is shining…and that I should feel the warmth on my skin.  I should be riding my bike and embracing life…hanging out with friends.

But all I see are clouds.  Impossible to get past, hanging in the air everywhere.  I fall and give in to a downward spiral.  Even as I cling to the hope and love of my family, it’s not enough.  It is never enough for me to escape from this constantly dismal landscape.  It changed and moved so swiftly, I had no choice but to keep following along, and try to be okay.  And so today, I finally fell down and gave in to the dark clouds, increasingly aware of being separated from what I had come to believe was my normal life.  Now I am exposed, freed from the mask I’ve worn for months, trying to hold on and make everyone happy…knowing deep down it would be an epic fail from the start.

And now I can begin again…but I need your help.  Stepping out of line mid-point, I’ve lost my way.  I worry about what my friends and other people will think.  I’m not sorry I found the courage to ask for help…will you have the courage to meet my gaze, help me move forward, and get back on track?  Because what I have is not really something you can see.  It’s not even something you can experience and feel as I feel.  Because we all have clouds blocking our view…and we all see the same thing completely differently.

For me, help meant having a watcher…someone who wasn’t too close to me or cared too much…a stranger…a watcher to let me “be” and sleep and dream…to wake and get back up. 

But watching wasn’t enough…because they can’t see me on the inside, and I didn’t know how to explain how I was feeling to the outside world.  I only knew it was more than I could take and I couldn’t breathe.  I’m not sure how I feel about having “problems.”  I’m not sure how you will feel about me as a person and kid if you find out. 

After my watchers were finished checking on me, I learned that having the courage to get help can sometimes leave you completely powerless, and at the mercy of adults and medical professionals…and that even if I say the clouds are gone, no one will listen and believe me…and now I need to make a list.  I need to write down how I can keep from needing courage to ask for help again…I need a safety plan to feel safe at home again.  I have to talk to people and convince them I have an umbrella within reach if the storm clouds return.

I still have a ways to go…I know I am a constant worry to everyone who loves me.  But I’m trying my best.

This is the conversation I wish that every parent could have with their child before that child reaches the ledge of despair and gives way to full-blown crisis mode.  These are my thoughts and impressions the past several months of clouds around my son have left me with.  You come to realize what is important, and suddenly, the commitments you think are unbreakable, the meetings that are critical…well, they are the ones with counselors, social workers, anyone that is carrying an umbrella that might shield your child from his storm.

The others, the ones that pay the bills and keep a roof over your head…come into a new perspective when you consider even a single moment you might have to live without your child living in it.

Today the sun is shining…at least as far as I can tell.  A little overcast maybe, but the sun is peaking through and casting shadows on the ground.

For every child that has awakened to a day immersed in clouds…may there always be countless watchers and caring human beings to offer umbrellas along the way.  My hope is that we can all consider each other’s perspective a little more.  And specifically, make eye contact, and meet the courage of countless children with acceptance and understanding. 

I am most grateful for the morning sunrise, reminding me that what truly matters is still intact, there is still hope for a better tomorrow, and my child will continue to grow and move beyond this passage of time when all he could see were clouds because of the kindness of others…not in spite of the indifference of others.  I still believe courage is perspective and that kids really do know it all…and we must help them when they lose their way and their current perspective is not enough.  This is my sunrise moment.  What will yours be?
Courage is Perspective...:

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Beans and Rice…and Privilege

Arenal Lodge, Costa Rica January 2007

Have you ever really thought about what “privilege” means?  If you had asked me as a kid growing up, I’d have told you that it was anyone but me.  And I guess my perception of reality then made that statement true.  I’d seen privilege through the lens of other peoples’ lives.   I don’t remember ever being envious…just in possession of a strong desire to fit in and blend with the crowd.  Not because I wanted more…but because I didn’t like the feeling of not having enough.

There is the kind of privilege you are born into…and the kind you earn.  And I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive.  I believe that the person you are determines your work ethic…and that whether you were born into privilege or are a self-made success, how you handle that responsibility is entirely within your control and character as an individual.

So I have to wonder why, when I think about privilege, more simple and ordinary things come to mind?  It’s a mixture of some great opportunities and the underlying moments … simple moments that have left a lasting impression on me.

My own life is a funny hodgepodge of humility, gratefulness, and surprising privilege intermingled throughout my life, where I have experienced great struggles at least as much as I’ve enjoyed success, recognizing that those times of struggle often led to a deeper appreciation of the successes realized later.

I’ve been blessed to have been able to travel to other countries, and grow my perspective in a way that let me embrace new cultures, traditions, and people…unique like me, but in different ways.

My standout moments, though, even in considering all of the people I’ve met and places I’ve been, are more focused on the privilege we can all enjoy if we can look past the lens of societal expectations and focus on what we consider to be real and true.

My short list of great privileges:

My dad always had difficulty with his feet.  He struggled and had numerous surgeries.  Towards the end of his life, when he was diagnosed with cancer, I remember a day when I went for a visit and performed an almost ritualistic gesture…gently washing his feet and bathing them in a pan of water.  I can remember delicately patting them dry with a towel.  And I remember his emotional response, recalling a memory of me as a little girl, when I wore corrective shoes positioned within a metal bar as I slept at night in my crib.  He used to sneak in after I was all tucked in and take them off…as he recalled the memory, it was bittersweet and we shared a few tears and an immense amount of love and respect.  And I silently acknowledged the transition that had occurred in turning from parent  / child to a sort of role reversal.  I remember this over 20 years later…with love intermingled with sadness…knowing that this brief moment in time was one of the greatest privileges I have experienced in my life…gently washing my dad’s feet.  It was more than a simple act of kindness…it was an act of unconditional love.

Giving birth to my three sons…and being able to watch them become amazing unique individuals…the kind I’d be proud to know even if I wasn’t their mom.

And when I think about my travels…I’ve been to places that terrified me from the moment the ticket was booked.  But from the second I stepped off the plane, I was part of a captive audience, open and embracing new worlds and cultures.  Sure, I almost always get homesick.  But I deliberately pause to think about every moment while I am there experiencing new privilege…taking pictures, thinking about the people I have met, and looking forward to going home.

Costa Rica is one of the first places that comes to mind…I traveled a few days ahead of a business trip to experience the rain forest and a natural hot spring near a volcano.  But if you ask me what was most memorable about the trip, it would be the breakfast I enjoyed sitting at a rickety metal table surrounded by the most beautiful garden I had ever seen, with an exotic flower in a small bud vase…and the best beans and rice I’d ever tasted.  Breakfast was my favorite meal of the day.  We tried tapas foods (Spanish cuisine, served as a variety of appetizers to make a meal) and exotic restaurants…but for me, the quaint little stone cottage we rented before the business side started…and the beans and rice with eggs on the side, represented a kind of universal comfort food.  The kind that translates to feeling at home in any language.  Because it’s about the gesture extended to you as a welcome guest and new friend.

And of all the memories of trips and travels, that simple meal of beans and rice I enjoyed in Costa Rica still resonates as the fondest of memories, having found a new appreciation for a simple basic staple of food.

A few months ago, I dropped in to visit a friend.  It was last minute and I interrupted dinner.  But there was enough to share…and I found myself once again enjoying a simple meal of beans and rice.  No one else could understand why this held special meaning for me.  It’s about being gracious.  It’s about sharing what you have…quiet companionship and the level of comfort you only experience with the best of friends…the ones who have celebrated you at your best…and still stuck around when you were at your very worse.  It’s the act of generosity in giving what you have and can…and not worrying about pretense or putting on a show for guests.

I’ve had the honor of visiting beautiful and luxurious places…but if you ask me about privilege, I won’t hesitate to share the real privilege I’ve experienced in my life…sharing a make-do dinner with a friend, knowing we have all been born into the privilege of being able to get to know and care for one another.

And if you ask me the greatest privilege of all, don’t laugh too hard when I tell you that beans and rice will always be at the top of my list.