Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Faucet

A year or so ago, Ben and Ashley's kitchen faucet started doing this weird shaking-pulsating-spitting water-vibrating the pipes kind of thing. Whenever we turned the water on beyond a slow stream, the faucet would go into convulsions and an angry tantrum. We learned to spend more time at the sink rinsing dishes or filling up the water filter because if we tried to rush it, the faucet would get angry and the whole house would know it. That faucet forced us all to slow down a bit.

After several months of this, we called a plumber who came and easily fixed the problem. As I turned on the faucet for the first time after its repairs, I was shocked at how quickly the water came pouring out. On full blast, the water would spray off of the plates and soak any bystanders (or so it seemed in comparison to how it used to be).

Dishes took much less time. Filling our water bottles was nearly instant. We all spent a lot less time standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window. And I kind of miss it.

* * * * * * * * * *

We don't spend much time just standing. Just sitting. Just waiting.
In doctor's office waiting rooms, we read magazines.
Walking from point A to point B, we listen to ipods.
Driving in our cars, we talk on cell phones.
On the treadmill, we watch TV.

When's the last time you saw someone in a private or public location just sitting and thinking?
When's the last time you did?

Many of us suffer from information anxiety and don't even have the time to stop and consider why. I've gotten in the habit of reading, listening to my ipod, and talking on my cell phones because I don't want to look lame, as if I am so boring that I have nothing better to do. As if people are watching me and I want to at least "look" busy." Because as we all know, that's super important to leading a meaningful life.

* * * * * * * * * *

My eighty-six year-old grandpa can be found on his farm most days of the week rumbling around on his tractor, feeding cows, and fixing things. When my dad and uncle suggested he get a cell phone for safety reasons, he said, "Why would I want to let other people in on my precious quiet time?"



* * * * * * * * * *

My education textbooks talk about how today's children are becoming less and less creative. They can't seem to muster the critical thinking skills of previous generations. Our society doesn't allow nearly as much quiet thinking time as say, people of the 1900's, even the 1950's. Thinking is on the decline.

* * * * * * * * * *

Three years ago, my friend Stella from Cambodia recommended I try meditation. I lasted about a week.



At Thanksgiving when I saw Stella again, she reminded me how much good meditation could bring to my life. "Prayer is a one-way conversation. Meditation is a two-way conversation," she told me. "Prayer is about talking. Meditation is about listening."

After seeing Stella that day, I wrote in my journal: "This is something I want to do. This is something I will do. I will make it a priority."

So I returned to school for the last 3 weeks of final exams with good intentions, even writing, "Meditate," in my planner every single day. Want to know how many times I actually did it? Once.

Essentially, in the four weeks since I said, "I will make meditation a priority," I haven't. At all.

* * * * * * * * * *

Battling an eating disorder as involved training myself to see that the feelings I'm trying to avoid with food won't actually kill me. I can sit with uncomfortable feelings. I can be still and feel whatever I need to feel. I don't have to avoid every mildly unpleasureable situation that comes into my life. I can just feel it.

Battling any other addiction follows the same premise. Geneen Roth says, "When you believe in yourself more than you believe in __________ (insert your weapon here), you will stop using __________ as if it were your only chance at not falling apart."

But how do I believe in myself? Well, I need to know what in there is worth believing in. I have to know that there is something in me worth valuing and respecting and believing in.

That's why I need to meditate.
That's also why it's so damn hard.

"Meditation helps you discover what you love that you didn't know you loved because you were so caught up in your mind that you didn't realize there was anything else there" (Geneen Roth, Women Food and God).

* * * * * * * * * *

Reasons I've not followed through with meditation:
-I don't get a pay check or a report card for it
-Society at large doesn't seem to value meditation as a "productive" use of time
-It's not super fun
-I'm not always good at sitting still
-There's too many more important things to squeeze into the day
-It's hard

Yup, it's hard. It's downright difficult for me to sit still and quiet my mind, so therefore I don't.

I've heard that "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
And "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again."
And "It's the hard things in life that are the most worth doing."

Blah, blah, blah.

I get it.

Fine.




This will be me . . .

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sour Patch Kids

I remember growing up and thinking that anyone 3-15 years older than me was . . . the bomb.

Ever so closely I observed my older cousins; what clothes they wore, how they laughed, what they ate. They were regular objects of my admiration. They could do no wrong.

So even as ridiculously un-bomb-like I feel, I have a hunch that younger eyes watch me just as my eyes watched others. This is why when I'm home from college, I try to set up a date with my three younger cousins.

Today I drove an hour away to pick up my cousin Angie's daughters Oriel (9 years-old) and Cosette (5 years-old). Amazingly, I like these kids. Their kind, well-mannered, and don't whine too much when they don't get their way. Plus, they're just plain fun! So we loaded up and drove another hour to pick up the oldest, Destaney (13 years-old) who apparently very, very, very, very much strongly dislikes Justin Bieber and doesn't care the least bit that he was (rumor has it) thrown in jail recently for smacking a paparazzi.

With a car full of curly-tops we headed out on our adventure. About 8 minutes down the road, Oriel said, "I'm hungry." So we stopped at Subway for sandwiches. Upon arriving at the movie theater, the girls "needed" more food, so they stocked up on 2 extra large Slurpees, 1 box of Sour Patch Kids, 1 box of Raisinets, and 1 oversized bag of Skittles.



Finally in the movie theater, we settled in for . . . yes, it's true: "Yogi Bear". They loved it. They laughed and cheered and enjoyed every minute of it. Little Cosette jumped at all the "scary" parts in the PG-rated movie as she was eaten alive by the too-large theater seat that her small body couldn't hold down. She spent most of the movie with her butt sinking closer and closer to the floor and her feet up near her face. She ended up crawling into my lap when the (SPOILER ALERT) lumber company showed up to chop down all the trees in Jellystone State Park.



We recovered though and headed to the swimming pool which had 3 slides, a lazy river, water guns, fountains, the works. We had a blast. The older girls went off to explore and Cosette and I headed for the shallow pool. We played long and hard (or as long and hard as possible when you're 3.5 feet tall and sporting a neon colored life jacket that apparently gives a "humongous weeeeedgie!")



My favorite part of our adventure was at the end of the day when Cosette and I hung out in the lazy river. At one point I was her sea horsey and she rode on my back as we floated along. Then later she commanded, "Lay down."
So I floated on my back, watching for what she wanted next.
"No, put your head back."
Done.
"And relax your arms at your sides."

Now we were floating, me completely relaxed floating head first down the river, and her at my feet pushing me a long like a tug boat (complete with tug boat sounds). We must've gone around in circles at least 20 times as she gently led me through the water. She completely took charge and I gladly let her.



Today, a five year-old helped me slow down and breathe.
Today, Oriel gave me a purple and pink beaded necklace she made herself.
Today, a child took hold of my hand when we were crossing the street.
Today, I ate chips, caramel popcorn, and Sour Patch Kids for lunch.
Today, I told my cousins they are special and that I love them.
Today, I corrected Destaney when she said she was dumb.
Today, I was reminded that life can be more simple.

Today, three young girls looked up at me admiringly and it felt good.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mike

Last night I watched a movie called Adam, about a man who has aspergers syndrome and his relationship with a woman who learns more about Adam and more about herself. At one point in the film, she feels overwhelmed and says,

"Adam, can you give me a hug?"

"Yes." He stands still.

She adjusts. "Adam, I'd like you to give me a hug."

"Oh, okay." Then he walks over and embraces her.

(Check out the trailer HERE)

Aspergers syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. In other words, the social cues that many of us pick up on such as fear, joy, anger, or annoyance, someone with aspergers may totally miss. They don't have the natural ability to sense social norms and learning every possible scenario is nearly impossible.

* * * * * * * * * *

My friend Mike has aspergers. I met him this semester as we had two classes together. I liked Mike from the first moment I met him. He's friendly, smiley, funny, and sincere. A few months ago I shared the story of a recent hard time in my life with Mike. That afternoon, I walked into class a few minutes late and Mike sat in the front row. We could've been the only two people in the room because without concern for the other twelve, Mike said, "You know Heather, I've been thinking. And it makes me sad what happened to you. I'm . . . so . . . sorry." He then stood up and gave me a hug.

Sometimes I'll be doing homework in the student center and Mike will strut up to me just looking for a good chat. Some days we'll talk for awhile, but other days I really need to get things done. As most of us do, I will continue looking at my book, only glance up periodically, and answer with "Uh huh"s and "Yeah"s. All the messages that say: "I'm busy."

I learned after awhile that Mike wasn't getting that message. When I don't have time to talk I need to say, "Mike, I am in the middle of my homework. I would like to finish it now. Can we talk later?"

He always says, "Oh, I'm so sorry. Thank you for just telling me. See ya later."

* * * * * * * * * *


I think we would all be better communicators if we assumed everyone had aspergers.

Instead of relying so heavily on social cues and hidden messages, we would just ask for what we need. Most of the pain in our lives is caused by the simple fact that we want something we aren't getting, but we don't ask for it directly. When we don't get it we get frustrated and angry.

I see this a lot in my relationship with Jeremy.

When I expect him to "just get it," know how I'm feeling, read my mind, and say the right things, I'm always disappointed. Some might think that means we aren't a good fit. But those people will look their ENTIRE lives for the "perfect" fit and never find it (well, not outside of fairy tales).

Relationships take work.

When I see the perfect opportunity for a romantic moment and he misses it, I could either get mad and stomp out of the room, or I could say, "Jeremy, I really need you to hug me right now."

In a recent interview with Oprah, Ali MacGraw said it has taken her sixty years to learn to ask for what she needs. We're not always good at it. Life isn't like the movies.
We don't always reconcile our differences.
We don't always feel understood.
We don't always kiss in the rain.

Sometimes we stay angry and bitter for a long, long time.
Sometimes we fumble through tears and hurt feelings.
Sometimes we knock teeth in our aim for lips and the rain just makes it sloppier.

Asking for what you need may not sound romantic, or at least romantic by Hollywood's standards. But this is what it is. Sometimes we have to say,
"I don't need you to fix it, I just need you to listen."
Or "I need some time alone."
Or "What you said hurt my feelings."
Or to a partner, "If you find me attractive, I need to know it."


I expected that people would dislike my boldness in asking for what I needed, but instead I've found people are relieved. Like when my parents were trying (with good intentions) to help me through eating disorder recovery, they were actually making it worse. I got frustrated. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want them to make me feel like a problem. But they didn't know I was feeling this way until I told them. And when I did I offered suggestions as to what would help. They've been an excellent support ever since.

* * * * * * * * * *

In our culture, asking for what we need sounds selfish or needy or bitchy. But I'm not telling you to demand what you need or whine about what you need. Some of the wisest words my Dad has ever said--and have always stuck with me--are, "Go ahead and ask. All they can is say 'no'."

And when/if someone says "no," then you need to ask yourself:

"Is this negotiable?"
"Will I be truly happy/fulfilled/balanced/complete without this?"

If the answer is "no" and you realize they will never change their mind, then you may need to re-evaluate your relationship with that person. Which is hard, but completely necessary.

* * * * * * * * * *

Some of the most powerful words I've encountered in twenty-three years are:

"How can I help?"

Yup, that's it.

"How can I help?"

This doesn't mean I want to fix you.
This doesn't mean I always know what's best.
This doesn't mean I know what you need better than you do.

It means, "I respect you. I care about you. Let's work for a solution, together."

It may seem terrifying, but it changes lives. I'm telling ya'.

Greta the Atheist

Recently, my friend Michael posted an intriguing link to an atheist's blog. Check it out here, because the rest of this post will mean nothing to you if you don't.

Go on.

Have a peek.

Look around a bit.

If you still haven't looked. Look now.


I think my favorite part of Greta's blog was how she addressed atheist anger. Anger is not a bad thing. Anger creates change. She brings up a good point saying that anger has brought about every pivotal social change in our history: women's suffrage, civil rights, etc. She says that if a person cannot use anger, then:

"you're telling us to be polite and diplomatic, when history shows that polite diplomacy in a social change movement works far, far better when it's coupled with passionate anger. In a battle between David and Goliath, you're telling David to put down his slingshot and just... I don't know. Gnaw Goliath on the ankles or something." (snicker, snicker)

Anger creates change. If we never got angry things would always stay the same.

Greta lists many of the reasons she's angry (here are a few):

-atheist conventions require extra security because of death threats (and who are these threats most likely coming from?)

-atheists are often harassed in the military and forced to attend religious events

-women are dying of AIDS in Africa and South America because the Catholic church has convinced them that using condoms is not of God

-many believers treat prayer as a sort of cosmic shopping list for God. They pray to win sporting events, poker hands, beauty pageants, and more. This leads to the revolting conclusion that God controls every minute detail and deliberately makes people sick so they’ll pray to him to get better

-religious leaders often tell children – and adults, for that matter -- that the very questioning of religion and the existence of hell is a dreadful sin, one that will guarantee them that hell is where they'll end up

-children get taught by religion to hate and fear their bodies and their sexuality. Female children get taught by religion to hate and fear their femaleness, and that queer children get taught by religion to hate and fear their queerness

-9/11

-religious believers make arguments against atheism without having bothered to talk to any atheists or read any atheist writing


I'm not an atheist, but these things make me angry too.

Religion has many flaws, which has had me questioning the importance of claiming one at all. So I haven't since I've been back from Cambodia. It hasn't made much of a difference in my life besides the fact the fact that I feel more authentic now that I don't.

Was Jesus really concerned with everyone taking on a label or did He want us to be taking care of people? Did He want us all sitting in church once a week or was it better to spend time sitting with people who are hurting? I've not found any wonderful reasons to sign up for a religion or a denomination. I know Adventism well. I grew up in it. It has it's pros and cons. I'm not anti-religion, I just know that you be like incredibly Christ-like without attending church a day in your life.

If Christianity is an active movement toward making the world more like it should be (peace-filled, joyful, safe), than the most un-Christian place may very well be inside of a church where we are merely "talking" about what we believe. That's not where real change, healing or redemption take place. What really matters--where real spirituality takes place--is what happens outside the doors.

I tried on atheism for a week in Cambodia. It didn't fit well. Too scratchy. Too unsure. Too hopeless. But I've been battling with many of these same arguments ever since. I appreciate Greta's boldness in saying them out loud.

I don't agree with everything she writes. For examples when she says "goddamn" she's actually disproving her own point that we should all be respectful of each other's beliefs. She's shutting a lot of doors instead of creating the possibility of discussion. Her rhetoric sends the message, "This is what I believe and I don't give a damn what you think about it." Her "blow me" message near the end pretty much seals that deal. This she says to the very people she wishes would learn more about atheism.

Still, I'm glad I read her blog because Greta's objective in writing the blog is not to get rid of all religious people, but to end the discrimination against those who do not claim one.

And I'm all for it.

Atheism is another belief system, another way to look at life. Who am I to say it is right or wrong? Just because I am not atheist doesn't mean that I cannot learn more about them. What Christian wouldn't appreciate an atheist saying, "Tell me more about what you believe. I want to understand better." In fact by reading this blog I've found we have more in common than I thought.

The world is far from perfect. Both of our beliefs want to make it a better, safer, and more accepting place for everyone.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lincoln Journal Star

Several weeks ago I was contacted by the PR representative on my college's campus and asked if I would be interested in doing an interview with Lincoln's newspaper, The Lincoln Journal Star.

"Hmm, do you know of any reason that I shouldn't do it?" I asked.

"Not really. It's up to you. It could be great PR for the campus and for your book."

He passed on my phone number to a writer at the newspaper and I waited to hear back. A few days later Kevin called and we got together to talk.

Here's the interview and slideshow if you'd like to check it out.

He asked questions.
I answered them.
I know the story pretty well after all.

What most intrigued me was the conversation that followed afterward.

"Kevin," I asked as he was putting away the microphone, "Is it okay if I ask you a question?"

He nodded his head.

"When I was talking about sexual violence you mentioned that that sounded like events taking place at Rosebud Indian reservation. How are you connected with Rosebud?"

"Well, I am Native American and I grew up on Rosebud reservation until I was eight, then my family moved away."

He went on to explain how he didn't have many memories from the reservation, but had gone back and visited.

The reason Rosebud caught my attention is that a year ago my Educational Diversity class spent 4 days volunteering at the middle school on the reservation. The poverty and the educational situation were eye-opening enough, but then after our visit, I saw a documentary that was put together about the horrific sexual violence that is completely out-of-control on this reservation (check out the trailer here).

Kevin saw the same documentary that I did and wrote his own story in the newspaper about it in an effort to raise awareness. He and I both grieved over the shocking situation on the reservation and he shared some of his own experiences with me.

"I've been sober for 14 years," he told me. "No, make that 13 years 11 months and 27 days."

Wow.

He said that alcoholism is a huge issue on the res and of the dozen or so people that were in his AA group 14 years ago, he was the ONLY one who went voluntarily and he is the ONLY one who is still sober.

I asked him how he was going to celebrate. He said he and his wife would treat themselves to a nice dinner.


Here's why this interview mattered to me: Had I been doing an interview about a book I wrote about, say, dolphins; Kevin and I never would've connected the way we did. There's something powerful and--dare I say--sacred about opening your soul to another person.

I felt fine with my interview, but I felt truly connected and fulfilled after Kevin's interview. His story inspired me to keep telling mine.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lime Light

Last night I had a nightmare so gruesome I don't even feel comfortable describing it (and that says quite a bit because there are very few things I don't share).

It was one of those rape dreams.

I imagine that women may be able to relate more to rape dreams, but they are horrible, helpless, terrifying sort of dreams that grip you and hold on tight until you are sweating and screaming yourself awake.

What's more disturbing about dreams like this is that they are a pretty direct reflection of my subconscious. Essentially, if I'm dreaming about it, I've probably been thinking about it too.

My lingering feelings about sexual violence have probably resurfaced as a result of reading an incredibly touching book called, Half the Sky. I will write more on that later as I could devote several blogs to its content. The book describes the injustice and slavery of our time; the hatred, abuse, and discrimination of women. The book describes horrific gang rape rituals and sexual slavery organizations that make me want to scream and yell in an attempt to solve problems that will never be solved that way.

The awareness that I am a woman, and others are not, is rarely far from my mind.

This particular rape dream was inflicted as a sick punishment for the fact that I am so open about telling my story. This person hated me and hated my message about honesty and healing.

Ever since my book was released in August, I've felt it. I've felt the attention. I've heard the reactions. I've seen my face on the Union college website. I've read my story in the Lincoln Journal Star. I'm feeling the heat of the lime light. It's a few degrees hotter than comfortable.

We put ourselves at risk everyday.

By getting out of bed or walking out the door, we open ourselves up to people.
By painting a picture or writing a song, people may like it or dislike it.
By opening our mouths, people may disagree or boycott our message.
By writing about my struggles on this blog, publishing a book about it, performing songs, and speaking up front, I'm giving people permission to form opinions about me good, bad, or unsure.

I've had very few negative reactions to my story or my book, so I know that part of this doubt probably comes from within myself. Sometimes I look at a copy of my book sitting on the bookshelf and think, "Wow, I'm proud of myself for that." Other days I see it, that smiling face on the cover, and quickly turn it over so I don't have to look at it anymore.

She says, "Your story doesn't matter. No one cares. Shut up or I'll shut you up."

Sometimes I wish I hadn't written blogs or written the book. There's so much less risk involved by keeping your mouth shut and saying nothing at all.

My imagination gets the better of me and I start assuming what people are saying and thinking. I assume they're sick of me.
I assume they don't want to look at me.
I assume I'm misinterpreting their affection for pity.
I assume a lot of things that just aren't true, and they end up in horrific nightmares.

That's reason enough to question that voice in my head that tells me I am nothing, that I deserve to be punished for my outspokenness.

I have to continue to disagree with those ideas because they are not welcome here.

And never will be.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Loves to Picnic

Richard Young interviewed me for his blog lovestopicnic.com.

You can check it out by following the link, or you can read it here, because well, white font on a black background is just plain hard to read.


Richard Young: Heather, when we first met you were the basketball star that sang in church all the time that everybody seemed to love. I don't remember the first time I heard that you had an eating disorder but when I did my first instinct was curiosity. I did not know you very well and I all I knew about anorexia was from a paper that I had written about Karen Carpenter. How do you feel about introducing yourself to many people that don't know you through something that is very personal matter. I would imagine that this makes you feel alot more vulnerable. Am I wrong?

HB: You are absolutely right. Writing a book about my struggles—about what makes me human—puts me in an incredibly vulnerable position: What if people think less of me? What if I lose friends? What will people think of me when they find out I’m not perfect?

We need to ask ourselves: What is it about “getting personal” that scares us so much?

If someone thinks “less” of me for having an eating disorder, than they must be the world’s first and only perfect person, because here’s some news: Everybody struggles with something. Maybe it’s an addiction, maybe it’s pornography, maybe it’s alcohol, maybe it’s gambling. We’ve all got something. And the more we act like we don’t, the more people around us see right through it. None of us are perfect and that’s okay.

I’ve not lost one single friend because I’ve shared my struggles. In fact, I’ve made more friends because of it. It’s been a long journey of day-to-day decisions to accept that I’m okay as I am. I don’t have to have perfect hair and make-up, wear designer brands, or put on a happy face when I’m falling apart inside. I don’t have to fake having it all together when I most assuredly do not. It’s liberating to make friendships based on transparency instead of the masks we hide behind.

My “dirt” is on display for anyone on the internet or in a book store to read. Anytime we put ourselves out there, we give people permission to form opinions about us: good, bad, or otherwise. We can’t control how they will react, but here’s what I’ve found: More people have graciously related to my story and thanked me for writing it than people who have rejected it. In fact the score is at least 200 to 1. I’ve only dealt with one person who criticized my story and they did so anonymously, so that doesn’t even count.

Ninety-nine percent of the time when we admit that we are indeed human, the people around us take a deep breath, “Oh good, then I can be too.”

I first blogged about the eating disorder in 2007 during my student missionary year in Cambodia. I’d already been battling anorexia for 18 months and had only told a handful of people closest to me. I reached a desperate moment in Cambodia where the risk to remain silent was more painful than the risk it took to be honest. I’ve never regretted that decision. Not once.


RY: When I look back at events that have taken place in my life it is hard to get perspective on things if they have happened recently. For example it's like passing something on the freeway and seeing it appear in your rearview window. At first it is very big but you can't see it the whole thing. But as you drive farther away from it you can see exactly what it was. How has your perspective and memories of your journey changed? Does it look and feel the same as it did the weeks after you returned from Cambodia?

HB: My perspective on my year in Cambodia has altered gradually ever since I returned on July 1st, 2008 about two and a half years ago.

When I first came back to the States I felt fragile. I had nightmares about being raped. I went to trauma counseling. I was afraid to eat for fear that I would resort to throwing up. I didn’t want to go to church. I was angry with God (if there was one). I was sick with giardia, worms, parasites, and amoebas. I was scared to be alone with myself because then I’d have to face who I had turned into in Cambodia. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror.

I felt like a bad student missionary. Like somehow I had missed the point or slipped through the cracks. I had this picture of what my experience was “supposed” to be and when it wasn’t I felt like I must’ve done something wrong.

Writing Honestly, I’m Struggling was the single most important thing I’ve done to heal since returning from Cambodia. Most of the writing was already done since the book was compiled from the blogs I wrote overseas. But having to re-enter that experience and re-live those days and nights was incredibly healing. This time when the feelings became too much, I could turn off my computer and it would all be over. Instead of putting those feelings in a box and avoiding them, hoping they’d just go away, I had to dive back in and deal with them, feel them, and work through them.

Sometimes I’ll read through the pages and think, "Oh girl, take a deep breath." Where I was then seems less difficult to me now as I sit in a safe environment with friends and family nearby. But I know better. I have to honor my experience. Time is powerful medicine. Who we are now is different than who we were five minutes ago or five years ago. Things change. Opinions change. I’ve changed. I know now that this is my story and I don’t need to apologize for it. I can’t fret about what I should have done or how I should have reacted. This is my story and I’ve learned too much for it be a mistake.


RY: I know that coming back from the things that you have had to deal with in your life takes time. I know that in my life I am constantly trying to improve and learn from my struggles. If you only had a few moments to speak with someone who was dealing with some of the struggles that you had to deal with in your year of mission work what would you say to them?

HB: If I had only a few moments with someone who’s talked to me about their struggles (and we are ALL struggling with something), I would say:

“I’m so sorry that you’re hurting. You’re not alone. How can I help?”
Those four words—“how can I help?”—are incredibly powerful.

It doesn’t mean I want to fix you.
It doesn’t mean I’m secretly judging you.
It doesn’t mean I know exactly what you need.
It doesn’t mean I know what’s best and I’ll force that on you.

It means: “I’m sorry. I want to help. Tell me how.”

I have this hard-wired belief that I am the only dysfunctional person walking this campus. After all, I’m cleaning up after an eating disorder. I don’t know what I believe about God anymore. I wish my thighs looked like her thighs. I’m not sure that I’m in the right major. And I spend more time than I’d like to admit wondering if I hold any value in people’s lives or if I will make any significant difference before I die.

I think most of us believe that we are the only dysfunctional ones and our friends would be horrified to find out otherwise. But the truth is: some of us are about one minute away from falling apart, yet we walk around and carry on with life as if we’re doing—how do we answer the question, “How are you?”—oh that’s right, “Good.” But we’re not. We’ve got to stop acting like we’re “good” if we’re not “good.”

I’m not always doing “good,” sometimes I’m doing “wonderfully,” “splendidly,” “horribly,” or I’m just plain falling apart. I realized that if I was so frustrated that no one else seemed to be admitting they weren’t always doing “good,” than I needed to start the trend. That’s the hardest part, Gandhi was right: We have to be the change we want to see. And it stinks because that means I have to put myself out there first.

Vulnerability is an incredible strength. Some people fight it their whole lives as if letting people know who they really are just might kill them. But it doesn’t. And it won’t. And it will only make you stronger.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Speechless

Two years ago, I joined a women's fitness facility called Five Willows. When I walked in I felt safe. There were beautiful paintings and sculptures by women artists, a dance school, yoga and pilates classes, child care, as well as an Aveda salon and spa.

I met personal trainers and fitness experts who were strong, knowledgeable, and capable.
I met working women who balanced jobs, family, and taking care of themselves.
I met marathoners, triathletes, and cancer survivors.
I met Liz, my yoga teacher, who has traveled to India numerous times and appeared in movies, one of which with Elvis Presley.
I experienced yoga classes that challenged me to relax and brought me to tears.
I experienced a strong community of women who supported each other.
I experienced joy and laughter teaching Zumba to 60-something year-olds who shook it with the best of 'em.

Every time I walked in those doors, I felt like I was taking care of myself.

And now it's over.

After opening and teaching Zumba Tuesday morning, I got a voice mail that Five Willows was officially closed. I needed to return my keys and pick up my last paycheck. The sudden end involved a bank foreclosure that no one was expecting.

It feels like something died.

The building just sits empty and quiet. No blurry-eyed exercisers stumble in at 5:30am. No Zumba dancers shake their stuff. No women come together inside and gain strength. It's just over.

Five Willows held such a prominent place in my life and now it's gone. And it's weird.

* * * * * * * * * *

When I was six years old, my aunt and uncle's lhasa apso dog had puppies. My ambitious parents decided to let us take home one a new pet. We chose Trinket.

She was a little, light brown puppy that maybe doubled in size over the next 17 years. She was a small dog. Pets bring life into people that is hard to explain. When I was a dramatic 8 year-old, I'd bury my head in her fur and cry about the world's injustices. She never talked back and always seemed interested. Trinket had puppies and we kept her son, Oscar.

As Trinket and Oscar both aged, Trinket's health deteriorated to the point that she was mostly blind and deaf. She would walk in circles around the kitchen, bump into things, and be terrified if someone touched her.

She was suffering so my parents had her put down a few weeks ago.

When I returned home for Thanksgiving break, Oscar refused to sleep alone. He would always find a place at the foot of my bed. He would bark and look around the house for her. But now she's gone. And it's weird.

* * * * * * * * * *

On Sunday, my dad called to tell me that papa died.

My nana and papa (my mom's parents) have always lived far away from us. Us kids grew up seeing them over Christmases or summer vacations. Papa was tall like a giant from a fairy tale and always had a belly that jiggled when he laughed real hard. But he was the kind type of giant that wrapped us in hugs and smiled when we were around.

We would sit at a card table, do puzzles, and talk and talk when the snow kept us inside.

Slowly, papa grew older as we all do. Parkinson's brought a shake to his hand and difficultly remembering to his brain. Last time I saw him he seemed to recognize me and his eyes lit up like they always did.

But now he's gone. And it's weird.

* * * * * * * * * *

What makes a place/a pet/a person cease to exist?
What reaches in and takes the soul that brought them life to begin with?

What does that soul look like?
Does it have a color?
A shape?
A sound?

How does that soul encapsulate everything that that person was?
How does it make every one left feel so empty?

What takes place inside of those of us that are left?
Does my piece of that person leave too?
Does the grief come because the part of their soul that resided within me is taken away and goes with them when they die?

No one can take away the memories I have in that place, with that pet, or with that person. But when the life-force within them leaves, memories never feel like enough. And what's left is the eerie awareness of what once was, but is no longer, and never will be in the same way again.

And it's weird.

By and large, we know what to do with most situations.
But death leaves us speechless.

Maybe the lessons to be learned lay in the quiet grieving moments. The moments when we realize that whatever part of us that went with them when they died, and we think we'll never be able to live without, never really left at all.