Category Archives: My life

Close EnCOWnters (Pun intended)

Here are a few of my favorite things:

  • Animals
  • Riding my bike
  • Taking time to enjoy the awesome beauty of nature
  • Having a good story to tell

Here’s what I’m known for:

  • Having random weird stuff happen to me on a regular basis

Thankfully, that random weird stuff often involves animals that I encounter as I’m riding my bike while enjoying nature. Those events, in turn, generally make for a good story.

Take, for example, what happened Wednesday night as I neared the end of an otherwise uneventful 16-mile bike ride. I was zipping along a flat, straight stretch of road that runs parallel to a large cow pasture when something unusual happened.

I’ve ridden by that pasture hundreds of time, and the cows have never demonstrated the least bit of interest in me. Even when I’ve belted out Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes such as “Oklahoma”and “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin” they have remained unimpressed while they chewed their cud.

But not on Wednesday.

On Wednesday I didn’t even have to sing to grab their attention. In fact, I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. I was just peddling along when a big white cow with black spots started chasing me.

I’ve never seen a cow move that fast, and I wanted to know why.

And so, I stopped to ask.

But the cow didn’t provide any explanation as to why she felt the need to stalk me.

When I went up to the fence to question her, she didn’t udder (pun intended) a sound. Instead, she started licking me.

She licked my hands. She licked my stomach (or at least my shirt over my stomach). She licked my leg (or at least the pants over my leg). She licked my shoes then she licked my ankle (she really licked my ankle – not just my sock).

She even tried to chase away the other cows who, like me, had become curious as to her motives.

But, after I scolded her for not playing well with others, she allowed the other cows to join us at the fence.

I literally had a whole herd of cows at my fingertips when I finally realized I needed photos to document my whole “cow whisperer” experience.

Taking pictures on my phone with a herd of cows jostling around wasn’t exactly easy, but I got a few.

Not until I got home and was looking at those pictures did I realized two things.

First, not one photo captured the essence of the moment. Sure, some gave a glimpse into it, but none captured the actual experience. That’s because truly magical moments have nothing to do with what is seen by the eye and everything to do with what is felt by the heart and soul.

And second, I’ll probably never experience something like that again. No matter how many times I ride my bike by that field and no matter how loudly I sing to those cows, they will probably never come running again. (My singing might actually make them run in the other direction.) But even if they do come running, their actions won’t be nearly as remarkable. Remarkable moments, like remarkable people, can’t be duplicated. And, like people, the more unique they are, the more they should be treasured.

But here’s the thing: whether or not the cows and I now have some kind of undefinable relationship, they are now on my growing list of favorite things.

And anyone or anything that goes on that list will forever be part of not only a good story but of my life story. And that, in itself, is magical to me.

 

 

 

Pictures at the Porta Potty

Some people would have been offended by the text message I received yesterday morning:  “Every time I see a porta potty, I think of  you, Trina.”

That text was quickly followed by one from the other person in the group: “Me too.”

But I wasn’t upset. Instead, I texted back “It’s my legacy.”

And I wasn’t kidding.

For the past few weeks, a porta potty has literally been keeping me sane during long, stressful hours at the office. And it hasn’t just been a constant source of entertainment, it’s been a reminder about humanity and finding joy wherever we can.

When the porta potty first appeared outside the Catholic Church directly across the street from my office, I was confused. I wasn’t sure if the church was providing a new public service or was having plumbing issues.

As it turns out, it was both.

The church is having its bathrooms renovated, and the porta potty is the interim plumbing solution.

And while I’m fairly certain it was never intended to be a social gathering place, I am absolutely convinced no one thought it would become a source of entertainment. Yet,that is exactly what it has provided for me and my colleagues. (Although I have no doubt that they are more entertained by my obsession with it as they are with what is actually happening across the street.).

But I’m not the only one who has become fascinated by its popularity. While I was pondering why it had become a social gathering place, one of my colleagues had started a running tally of all of the random people using it.

We also wondered about the shoe lying outside of it on a Monday morning, which prompted a story
about a wine bottle that had been in that same space during church services the day before. We watched municipal employees and homeless individuals take advantage of the same service.

One day, we noticed that the trash cans lined up near it resembled the children in the “Sound of Music” singing at the command of, well Maria Van Porta Potty.

The rest of the office was highly amused the day I cringed in embarrassment after two men looked up at my window and waved  as I snapped yet another picture with my phone.

But, most importantly, we’ve laughed at our (my?)  obsession with the blue box across the street.

And I’ve  needed those laughs.

My job involves working with people who are already disenfranchised at a time when they are being threatened and marginalized more than ever. The office budget is tight and getting tighter. I have to deal with tough situations and difficult people on a daily basis. And yet, that porta potty has provided several reminders:

  1. Even though life sometimes stinks, it is sometimes, gloriously comical.
  2. No matter how our culture divides and labels people, in the end we all have the same, basic needs.
  3. One of life’s greatest mysteries remains the puzzle of those single shoes left in random places.
  4. Other people are incredibly interesting when they think no one else is watching.
  5.  Laughter isn’t just the best medicine, it’s the best way to get through life. Finding joy in the mundane, routine, and sometimes difficult challenges of life isn’t optional. It’s an absolute necessity.

I know the porta potty will soon disappear from my life, but something tells me I’ll find some other source of entertainment. It is, after all, a matter of survival.

A 50-Year Legacy

feet-out-windowI was  hanging out my office window, which is on the second floor of a rehabbed old house, when the thought struck me: “Is this really going to be my legacy? Is this the way people will remember me?”

To provide some perspective, my office sits directly across from the Catholic church, next door to the Presbyterian church, catty corner from the public library, and less than a block away from the town square. Since I have a corner office with two windows, I almost always having a view of something interesting happening

From nuns doing the Macarena on the front steps of the Catholic church, to numerous political protests, to pedestrians being hit by cars (yes – pedestrians  and cars plural – it happens more often than you might think), to the priest wearing a skirt (he swears it was a kilt), I have a great vantage point – and some pointed commentary – on all of it.

I also have an insatiable curiosity, which means when I have questions or concerns, I simply fling open my office window, lean out, and yell to whomever I think will answer.

My colleagues and the regular passerby have come to consider this normal.

But on the particular day in question, I was yelling at a stranger whom I’d never before seen. He was walking an adorable, large, white fluffy dog, and I felt compelled to meet him (the dog – not the man).  So, I opened the window and asked.

The dog looked around confused. The man looked around confused. And, realizing that neither of them knew from where the request was coming, I told them to look up. They did, and I was invited to come on down for a meet and greet.

That’s when the thought struck me. “This might be how some people will remember me – as that crazy lady who was compelled to yell at a total stranger in order to meet his dog or who shouted questions from a second story window at the church custodian across the street.”

And then another thought struck me – “Who cares? At least that is an interesting way to be remembered.”

I’ve been thinking more and more about such things recently.

That’s because today is my 50th birthday.sunset

I am now a half a century old.

Statistics show that I have more years behind me than I have in front of me. My potential to accomplish great things will become more and more limited as the next years rush by me.

In other words, dreams of becoming the next great American novelist are now fading in the same way that hopes of suddenly blossoming into a great beauty faded at age 25.

But these superficial desires have been replaced by something far much more realistic.

Fifty years of living have taught me that life isn’t about my being embraced, or even appreciated, by the rest of the world. Instead, it’s about embracing and appreciating the world I’ve been given while, at the same time, never accepting that it can’t be improved.

It means I will probably always laugh too loud and talk too much because my enthusiasm can be overwhelming. It means my innate desire to share everything I’m thinking and feeling will always require my friends, colleagues and acquaintances to tolerate listening to yet another “Trina story,”  and it will mean I will always break into song whenever a song lyric is used in conversation.

It also means I will cry too much, defend the underdog, rally against injustice and never, ever let someone else make me feel guilty about my beliefs.

And if all of that, along with penchant to make friends with every dog I encounter, yell out of office windows, and constantly stop to take a photo every time I think the sky looks amazing, then so be it.

That is my legacy,  and I consider my life well spent.

The Day We Marched

On Saturday, some friends and I decided to make a trip into the city.this-is-what-a-protestor-looks-like

It was no ordinary outing, and it was no ordinary day.

We were going to Washington, D.C. to join the Women’s March on Washington and express our concerns about newly inaugurated President Trump.

I’m tired of people telling me that I might as well be wishing the pilot of the plane I’m on to fail. I’ve tried to explain that the pilot doesn’t even understand the control panel, that the ride is already quite bumpy, and that he’s threatening to throw some people off without a parachute. We need to find a way to steady the plane and correct the flight pattern. But that message seems to fall on deaf ears.

I’m saddened by people who belittled the march or claim that our country already ensures we have equal rights. This muslim-registrymarch wasn’t about what some of us already have. It was about what so many individuals are at risk of losing. This was not a march about traditional women’s rights or even reproductive rights (although some people chose to advocate for these issues.) It was a march about human rights for all people – people of different skin colors, people of different sexual orientations, people of different religions, and people of different countries of origin.

Most of all, I’m frustrated with people who claimed the marchers were out of line and disrespectful to the office of the President. First, the Constitution gives us the right to protest – it is vital to a healthy democracy.  Secondly, the new President ran a campaign based on disrespect and hate. I cannot respect an individual who has belittled women, put white supremacists and racists in positions of power, selected a vice president who threatens the rights of the LGBTQ community, img_4640called Mexicans rapists, mocked a disabled reporter, spoke of grabbing a woman’s genitals, and called those who disagreed with him “enemies.”

And so, my friends and I put on our pussy hats, and we marched.

There is so much I can say about the experience. I could describe the signs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes that lined the streets where we walked from RFK Stadium to the U.S. Capitol. I could describe how march participants were constantly thanking the police assigned to keep everyone safe. mlksign And I could describe how everyone was supportive, polite and loving to each other.

But there’s an old saying that pictures speak louder than words. And so, I share a few of the photos my friends and I took during the march and hope they not only show why we marched. It will show that this was not a self-serving protest proclaiming concerns about how polices will affect our bank accounts.  It was about tolerance, acceptance and support for individuals and groups who are at risk of losing their dreams.

 

The Worm Farm, Freedom of the Press, and Journalistic Integrity

worms-2I’ve never had a life when a pressing news story might not interrupt  it.

When I was about four-years old, my mom would get me up before dawn and we’d walk to a kiosk-like structure (to this day I have no idea exactly where we went) so she could scrutinize a bunch of dials and jot numbers in her notebook. When we got back home, I would stand at her feet twirling the cord on the rotary dial phone that was attached to our kitchen wall as she called radio station KRCO with the local weather report.

That was the beginning of her journalism career, which would span more than four decades.

By the time I entered kindergarten, my mom didn’t go anywhere without a pen, a reporter’s notebook and her camera.  She sought out anything and everything that could be meaningful in a small town: government meetings, human interest stories, horrific accidents and political issues. And I tagged along while she pursued that truth.

By the time I entered junior high school, I had been chastised for not shaking Senator Bob Packwood’s hand appropriately, had gained a more thorough knowledge of human behavior from a bunch of open-minded hippies at a commune, been a passenger in a small plane performing some scary dangerous aerobatics, and been the human subject in one-too many staged photos. Because if my mom wasn’t writing a story, she assumed the role of photographer for her friend Carolyn Grote.

And that’s how my best friend and I ended up posing for a photo with a man who thought worm farms would be the wave of the future. And, to add insult to injury, the newspaper didn’t even get my name correct. Apparently, when my mom had submitted the photo in her usual forthright manner, she had noted that I was the photographer’s daughter. At some point in the pre-computer era of information transfer, I became the writer’s daughter and my last name changed.

I noted my anger in the scrapbook in which I documented everything I considered important in my life – from class photos to reading awards to wedding announcements. I obviously felt quite offended that a newspaper, an institution I had come to believe was all about the truth, would get my name wrong.

Forty years later, I am not only amused by my childhood indignation, but I still strongly believe in the integrity of institutions that are truly dedicated to pursuing the truth and sharing that truth with the rest of the world.  I also know that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing who have built their business on the backs of genuine truth seekers.

There are businesses that market themselves as news organizations but have little, if  no, interest in the truth. Instead they exist solely for profit or for political purposes.

There are people who market themselves as journalists but are really only peddlers of muck.

And there are citizens who will believe in anything that justifies their own belief system while dismissing anything else as fake. Even worse, they have begun to label journalists as dishonest or self-serving.

I am now married to a journalist and as a journalist’s wife, a journalist’s daughter, and as the mother of a journalism student, I am angered and frightened by the inability to distinguish between truth and lies.  I also know that some people don’t believe I can make a non-biased case for journalistic integrity.

But for those who will listen, I can tell you the truth about real journalism.

Real journalism isn’t about making people happy – it’s about helping people better understand the world in which they live and to make the decisions accordingly.

Real journalism doesn’t fit easily into a family’s schedule. My husband keeps crazy hours, and my mother never knew when a breaking story would tear her away from her family.

Real journalism doesn’t involve turning  information that comes from only one source into fact. Real journalism requires more than one source and documentation. Anything less is just a quote from someone who may or may not be telling the truth.

Real journalism doesn’t recognize holidays. Every year, I see the social media posts about stores that require employees to work on Thanksgiving or other holidays. No one ever suggests that journalists should ignore world events to eat turkey or open Christmas gifts. My mom and husband often worked on Christmas because, well, someone had to.

Real journalism is careful to distinguish between opinion pieces and news.

Real journalism is about accountability for those who deliver the news as well as those who read or hear it.

And real journalism is about uncovering the truth and sharing that truth with others no matter the implications.

And now, that pursuit of the truth is in jeopardy.
Last summer, I had the privilege of attending an event at the National Press Club. While I was there, I saw an announcement that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump had banned the Washington Post from having access to his campaign.trump

And that is the day I got really, really scared.

There is a huge difference between cracking down on fake news and cracking down on legitimate news sources. Those legitimate sources are what make the difference between living in freedom and living in oppression. And those who control the media control access to the truth.

It’s time we  all begin to evaluate from where our information comes, arm ourselves with that truth, and defend those who share it with us.

Anything less is just not American.

The Gift in the Dead Man’s Email

rip-laptop-2About ten years ago (before social media reconnected me with people who I never thought I’d hear from again), I received an unexpected email at work.

It was from a guy I’d known more than a decade earlier and who had faded into my memory like the vague shadows of a rear view mirror. He and I had once run in similar circles, but I’m fairly certain we never had a conversation that endured more than five-sentences. He’d certainly never occupied much, if any space, in my conscious or subconscious mind.

Which is why, when I’d received a chatty and rather lengthy email from him, I was more than just a little surprised.

He’d contacted me after reading a newspaper article in which I was quoted. He hadn’t known that I lived in the same town where his daughter and ex-wife resided, and seemed genuinely excited to re-connect.

I responded, and we exchanged a few more emails.

And then he died.

I learned about his death in the same way he’d found me – by reading about it in a newspaper article in the local paper. He had been in a head-on collision after apparently falling asleep at the wheel.

At a glance, there’s nothing particularly meaningful about this guy who was a small part of life, then wasn’t, then was again, then exited it completely.

We hadn’t been close nor do I imagine we ever would have been.

And yet, his random appearance after so many years then his abrupt disappearance after only a few days have stayed with me. Perhaps that’s partly because they serve as a reminder of how random and fragile life is. But they also suggest something more essential about how we live our lives.

We never know what the implications of our simplest interactions with others may lead. Acknowledging the presence of the quiet person in a group or sharing a smile don’t seem like  grandiose gestures in a world overwhelmed by people who scream for, and often get, attention.

But then again, maybe they are actually bigger and more relevant than any action on a stage, or screen, or political platform can ever be.

Mark’s email all those years ago was a surprise because I never thought there was much worth remembering about me in those early days of my adult life. I certainly didn’t think someone I barely knew would reach out to me more than a decade later.

Yet he did. And even though our interactions were brief, he gave me something in return: a new-found understanding of my relevance in the past, in the present, and in the future.

As the Year 2016 ends and the Year 2017 arrives, the majority of my friends and acquaintances are glad to say goodbye to a year in which so many people died and the future of our democracy began to crack. Because of that, they are fearful of what 2017 may bring.

And yet, in truth, we can’t really live if we spend our energy in a soup of regrets, resentment and concerns about the behavior and actions of others.

All we can do is follow the Golden Rule and treat others in a manner that no one can criticize. And sometimes, when we do that, our actions may stay with others long after our own memories of them have faded.

A guy I once barely knew taught me that.

Rest in peace, Mark.

And rest in peace 2016.

 

The Car Accident

the-crashI have a confession.

While I am quite happy to have my son home from college for a few weeks during the holidays for the simple pleasure of having him close, I’m also appreciating a side benefit.

I have an additional chauffeur for my very busy, always doing something but not old enough to drive herself 15-year old daughter.

Such was the case on Monday evening when she needed a ride home from school at 5:30.

My husband, who had to get up and go to work shortly after midnight, was getting ready to go to bed, and I was still at my office on a conference call.

Thus, my 18-year old son was dispatched to get his sister, and I was able to get home without any worries.

Or so I thought.

I had just walked in the door and taken off my coat when Giles came running down the hall in a panic. He was wearing only his underwear and waving his phone wildly in one hand while attempting to shove Crocs on his feet with the other.

It was not a pretty sight for so many, many reasons.

“The kids were in a car wreck!” he yelled at me while bouncing unstably on his left foot while trying to shove a Croc on his right.

I am ashamed to admit that, while I did have a flash of concern for my kids, I was primarily focused on one thing: I could not let my husband leave the house looking like that.

And so, I took charge of the situation.

“Where are they?” I asked.

“By the hospital!!!!” he shouted still charging down the hall in all his almost-naked glory.

“I’ll go. You stay,” I said not even bothering to put my coat back on or wait for his response.

Before I continue this story, I must say one thing. Everyone thinks Giles is the calm one in our marriage. While I admit that I am high-strung and have a tendency to worry, I am the proverbial woman who will choke on a flea but swallow a camel. In other words, when I have to deal with a tough situation, I just deal with it. My husband, on the other has, has one extremely irrational fear: he does not trust anyone, except himself, behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

When we are on a long trip, he practically hyperventilates if I suggest he take a break and let me drive. I don’t think he’s even been in a car when my son is driving. He left the responsibility of driver’s education to me and a paid instructor.  That’s why I knew that Giles was in such a state of anxiety that he wouldn’t have thought twice about jumping into my car to drive to the scene of the accident. In his underwear. And his Crocs.

Now back to the story.

Since we live in the neighborhood right behind the hospital, I arrived on the accident scene in less than five minutes. A quick assessment told me several things:

  1. No one had been hurt
  2. The accident appeared to be the fault of the other driver
  3. A hospital security guard was handling the situation until the police arrived
  4. My husband’s car didn’t seem to be badly damaged – unlike the other car
  5. I should have worn a coat as the temperature was well below freezing, and
  6. My daughter was crouched down in the passenger seat talking into her cell phone and looking thoroughly disgusted

After hugging my son, who seemed in complete control (unlike the other driver who was almost in hysterics), I checked on my daughter. She informed me that she was crouched down because the whole situation was extremely embarrassing and she didn’t want anyone to see her. She also told me that she was on the phone with her dad, but the phone battery was almost dead. I told her not to waste any more power and to hang up. I would call her dad to let him know what was happening.

But here’s the thing about me. I like to talk. A lot. And I talk to my husband all of the time. The accident scene provided a whole new set of characters with which to converse. I tried to calm the other driver by talking about her TARDIS hat. I had a lengthy discussion about music with the guy who had been behind my son and stopped to help. I even talked with the security guard about keeping the area safe. Then the police arrived. In other words, despite my promise to call Giles back, I didn’t. Which is why he had again called my daughter, insisting she stay on the phone to keep him informed.

I took the phone from her, tried to ensure my husband that the situation wasn’t that dire, and told him his car wasn’t very damaged.

“It’s mostly superficial,” I said.

“How would you know?” he asked.

“Because I can see it,” I replied. The grill is a bit broken, and there are a few dents. Other than that, it’s fine.” The music-loving guy chimed in.

“Yeah,” he said loudly. “I already checked it over. Nothing is leaking.”

“But is it safe to drive?” my husband asked. At this point, I know I rolled my eyes. After all, the entrance to our neighborhood was only a few yards away, and our house was less than a mile.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s fine.”

When Giles continued to express concern, I handed my daughter’s nearly dead phone to the police officer, who assured Giles that our son could drive the car home – once the other car was pulled out of his way by the tow-truck.

When the officer gave me the phone back, Giles immediately said, “That was embarrassing.”

I almost told him that it was much less embarrassing than if he had actually shown up on the scene, but I restrained myself.

Later, when we had all arrived safely home, I didn’t protest much when he tried to convince the kids that I had been as freaked out as he had when we got the call. They humored him by nodding in agreement.

Because they, like me, didn’t really care who had been freaked out. Everyone was safe, we had another family story to tell, and there was no long-term damage to anyone or anything.

In some ways, that car accident was like a strange Christmas gift wrapped up in torn paper and a wrinkled bow. It might not have been what we would have ever wanted, it certainly wasn’t bright and shiny, and it cost more than we would wanted to spend emotionally or financially. But it reinforced the bond that makes our family unique, special and, most importantly, always ready and willing to support each other… no matter how embarrassing each of us can be.

Since I’m Not Catholic or a Lesbian…

On Sunday morning, I’ll be worshiping at a Catholic mass. I’ll also be briefly speaking about the Catholic who-am-iorganization for which I work.

The Catholic Church has always been a part of my life during the Christmas season. My parents met on the campus of Notre Dame University back in 1961, and their annual Christmas cards from Father Theodore “Ted” Hesburgh always held a place of honor in their home.

Despite that, my parents aren’t Catholic, and I’m not Catholic.

Just learning to call their church service “mass” was an accomplishment for me.  Less than a month after I started my current job, I made the mistake of walking into a Catholic Church on a Sunday morning and asking two women about “the service.” They looked at me blankly until one of them, with a note of disbelief, asked “do you mean the mass?”

I did. Since then, I’ve also discovered that a Catholic priest doesn’t deliver a sermon but instead gives a homily and that Catholics don’t say The Lord’s Prayer. Instead they say a shortened prayer called the Our Father. It has the exact same words as The Lord’s Prayer, but it ends sooner. Which means, if you are a Protestant (like me) in a Catholic Church, you quickly become the center of attention when you are still loudly reciting the end of the prayer you know while everyone around you is silent. That may actually be more embarrassing than loudly saying “Amen” at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance during a school program. Yeah – I did that once too.

But back to my original point: many people assume I’m Catholic because of my job (unless, of course, they get the opportunity to observe me during an actual Catholic mass.)

I had a similar experience back in the early 1990’s when I worked for the statewide AIDS Program. At that time, the popular belief was that AIDS was a gay disease. Therefore, many people assumed that I must be a lesbian, especially since my job required my going to some very interesting events at some very interesting places. Needless to say,  I became quite familiar with the gay community.

But here’s the deal: not being Catholic doesn’t prevent me from doing my job or serving people in need any more than not being a lesbian prevented me from addressing the growing AIDS epidemic in the early 1990’s. And I’m fairly confident that the people who know me and have worked with me will agree.

What my work does require is that I accept people for who they are just as I hope they will accept me for who I am. In doing so, we can all work together for the common good.

During the last few months, I’ve witnessed too many individuals make negative comments about people who don’t share the same religion, the same sexual orientation or even the same skin color.

I just don’t get it.

Considering our differences as negative will never, ever allow us to work together. It certainly won’t help us identify and use our various strengths to build a better country. Most of all, it won’t help us eliminate hate, which is an enemy to all of us.

As a small child, one of the first Bible stories I learned was a parable that Jesus told  in the Gospel of Luke. It went  like this:

 “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”    Luke 10:25 -37

I’m not a Biblical expert. Instead, I’m just a lowly social worker trying to do a small bit of good in a world that can be harsh, brutal and often downright cruel. But to make even the slightest difference, I have to work with and be a good neighbor to people who are extremely different to me.

I can only hope that this Christmas, all of you will “go and do likewise” as well.

The Hater

the-grinchThe phone call came on Friday afternoon because, well, these types of phone calls always seem to come on a Friday afternoon.

The caller was warning me that a self-important person was bad-mouthing me behind my back.

I wasn’t surprised, nor was I worried. In fact, at this point in my life, I didn’t much care.

I’ve had others slamming me for my successes ever since I broke the curve on tests back in junior high school. Heck, I once had another woman spread horrible, untrue rumors about how I treat others just because I got the job she wanted.

So, on Friday afternoon, when I was informed that I was being disparaged for playing well with others to improve a situation, I was only slightly irritated and a little bit sad for the woman who was maligning me.

I wasn’t being criticized for doing anything hurtful, mean-spirited or even self-serving. I was being cut down for succeeding at something that the other woman, for years, has failed to do.

And so, before I hung up on my caller, I told her not to worry. The hater’s words and anger had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her own unresolved issues. For years, she has demonstrated a pattern of trying to undermine strong, accomplished women.

But long after the phone call had ended, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the hate that’s permeating our current social and political environment. I continue to be astonished that so many people feel bad enough about themselves or their own situation that they are compelled to embrace raw hostility toward others.

Despite my initial desire to respond to vitriol with my own harsh words and behavior, I can’t let myself fall into that trap.

Doing so will only contributes to a cycle of negativity.

I speak from experience. At a political forum just this past week I found myself reacting to the ignorance of local politicians with my own derogatory, side comments. And then I immediately felt bad about myself.

Does that mean I should accept bluster, disdain and outright cruelty? No. I refuse to do that.grinch-heart

Something has to change, and being kind in an unkind world seems like a long-shot.

Then again, millions of people have embraced the message of two beloved authors, Charles Dickens and Dr. Seuss, who both wrote stories demonstrating that material possessions can never make a person happy and that kindness can change the hearts of completely selfish individuals.

And if witnessing the compassion of others can turn the souls of  Scrooge and the Grinch inside out, then maybe, just maybe, there’s still hope for all the other haters in our country.

Which is why, when I go back to work on Monday, I’m not going to let the hater prevent me from doing what is right, saying what is true, and most importantly, living a life that I know would meet with the approval of Mr. Dickens and Dr. Seuss.

And I challenge any hater to say something negative about those two.

Dear Daughter,

Dear Daughter,dear-daughter

Please humor me as I write this.

Even though you are as concerned as I am about the direction in which our country is headed, you are living your life with a positive attitude and a pocket full of possibilities.

At this very moment, you are out pursuing one of your many passions in a theater only a few miles away. That’s not difficult for you. Your love and enthusiasm for music, books, theater, science fiction, writing, art, and collecting odd and random pieces of information are inspiring and contagious.

But as your mom, I’m obligated to tell you that harnessing those passions is a challenge, and achieving your dreams won’t be easy.

As you’ve witnessed this past week, not everyone will agree with you or even want the best for you.

In other words, life can be tough. But so can you.

Which is why, even though I’m sure you’ve “got this” with or without your mom, I still have an obligation to share some incredibly important lessons that have taken me nearly five decades to figure out:

  1. Don’t believe all the hype about needing a relationship to make you complete. You are already complete. Relationships are great, but so are you. Gain your self-worth from doing anything and everything on your own. Carve your own space in the world instead of waiting or depending on someone else to help you create it.
  2. Never underestimate your abilities, your intelligence and your inner voice. Doubt is the enemy, and you can’t let it be part of your life.
  3. Ignore your critics. There will always be people who disagree with you, who are jealous of you or whom you might even intimidate. Don’t measure yourself by what they say about you. Measure yourself by how you treat them despite their efforts to undermine you.
  4. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, and let them inspire you strive to learn more and to be curious. Curiosity is incredibly underrated.
  5. Travel as much as you possibly can. You can’t make good decisions when you are making them from a limited world view.
  6. Study different religions. Faith shouldn’t be something you are spoon fed in order to make you feel better about your life. It should be something your embrace only after you explore other possibilities.
  7. Go with your gut.  If you don’t, you will spend countless hours defending a decision out of guilt.
  8. Don’t use memes or trite quotes to express your opinions or feelings. No one will take you seriously if you steal the thoughts of others. Use your own words to share your most important thoughts and beliefs. If you can’t come up with your own words, then maybe you should question your own beliefs.
  9. Look directly at yourself in the mirror at least once a day and see only beauty and strength. Weakness only makes its way into the cracks of our lives if we let it. You are too strong for that.
  10. Spend at least one year of your life living by yourself.  There is nothing more empowering than paying your own rent and your own electric bill while simultaneously answering to no one but yourself.
  11. Always have a back up plan and always make sure you are the hero in it.
  12. Never, ever stop learning and never, ever underestimate the power of a good education.
  13. Do as much as you can and go as many places as you can by yourself. Depending on others to go with you is a crutch that will always hold you back.
  14. Love your family but build a network of smart, strong women around you. Men are great, but they will never truly understand your struggles or perspective like other women can.
  15. Never forget that other people haven’t had the same opportunities as you. What some of us perceive to be weakness or ignorance might actually be a strength built out of struggles we will never truly understand.

So there you my amazing, wonderful, spirited, and talented 15-year-old daughter. I’ve handed you information that no one ever told me – I had to learn it all on my own.

So don’t take these words lightly.  Treasure them, embrace them, and, most importantly, use them.

Our Country’s future depends on that.

Love,

Mom