Who Am I?

My friend Walt used to tell a story.  He’d tell people of an Anishanaabe elder who spoke of the fire at the beginning of the world, “No” he’d say ,”before the beginning.”  All the people sat together around that fire with the creator.  One by one we went off to populate the world.  The Anishanaabe were the last to leave.  They liked it there by that fire, telling stories, swapping jokes, and just having a good time with the creator.  Finally, the creator had to chase them away.  That time by the fire has left a memory, a connection that others have forgotten.

The elder in Walt’s story was approached by people from all over world; African, Asian, Latino, Caucasian all asking for their stories.  The elder always responded the same.  “I don’t your story.  I can only tell my own. But, if it’s true that we all come from around the same fire, our stories must be similar.”

I think about that often.  It’s told me who I am.

I grew up a Catholic, white, farm girl in southeastern Wisconsin.  I always wanted to see the homeland of my ancestors.  A little over a month ago that dream came true.  Some of my family and I went on a tour of Luxembourg.  That’s where my understanding of who I am got a reworking.

It turns out that it’s likely my ancestors were Jewish.  Quite a thing to find out during a week of touring WWII museums and cemeteries!

I am left now to wonder who they were.  Jews were first recorded in Luxembourg in the 13th century.  They were largely wiped out and returned several times over the upcoming centuries.  By the time my family left in the mid-1800’s there were several hundred in the country.

What happened?  What made this group so persecuted so consistently throughout the centuries? What pushed my family to deciding to leave behind their identity and claim something new when others didn’t?  What does that identity mean for me?

These are all questions that have just begun to float in my mind.  I don’t know yet what to do with them or where to seek answers.  It is probably enough for now to simply name the questions.

It is my walk back to that fire to find out who I am.  That is where we find ourselves, in the journey back to the fire, in that time to sit and visit and come to know each other, ourselves, the created, and the creator.

 

 

 

 

Is It Control?

Continuing my Turning Toward meditation this morning, I find myself asking if my attempt to look at my need to seek control might not have some aspects of seeking control within it.  Still, it was an interesting exercise and I appreciate what I saw and am left to wonder what might be opening up.

This morning I mentally walked into the meditation acknowledging that I struggle with a need to find some control in my life.  Many years ago it came to life in what maybe was properly labeled as anorexia.  Recently, life has been pretty stressful and I saw, just for a moment, some old tools resurfacing.  Twenty plus years after I thought my battle with my eating disorder was over I found myself thinking about how I could cut my food consumption in some unhealthy ways.  Thankfully, today I have a wealth of other tools in my collection that I didn’t have two decades ago.  I was able to look at myself and say “Woah, I don’t want to go down that path again.  What’s happening here? What do I really need?”  Thus, I meditate, write, balance time with good people and to myself, walk a lot, and with the spring am starting to garden again and eat the fresh veggies that I’ve grown in community with others.  With help, I’ve also been able to address some of the things that have caused the stress.  One by one they’re being taken care of and life is smoothing out again.

Still, I wonder about that control piece.  Why do I need to be in charge? Why do I avoid asking for help? I’ve found some answers in meditation of late, but it feels there is more.  Yet today, the question refused to be acknowledged.  Instead, the meditation took me to the woods.  It was the woodlot on the back of the farm where I grew up, just a tiny patch of trees, but big enough for a little girl’s dreams and firewood for the stove in winter.

I saw the box where we used to store some of wood cutting equipment, at least I think that’s what used to be in that box.  I never did much with it.  The woods was a play place for me mostly.  It was where Hawkeye lived, a chickenhawk who was my symbol of grace, strength and freedom as a child.  It was also home to unicorns, fairies, and an array of other magical beings as well as the creatures of this world.  There were tall trees that had fallen and made wonderful climbing toys.  It was a magical forest.

Hmmm…. maybe this morning’s meditation was simply reminding me of a time and place where I didn’t need control and it was ok

That’s the thought for the day.  Thanks for reading.  And, thanks to Feedspot for adding Sustainablelifeinaction to the to top 75 Sustainability Blogs! https://blog.feedspot.com/sustainability_blogs/

Taking Care

I wonder when I became a care taker rather than someone to be taken care of and what the balance of these things is?  When did I decide that others were more valuable than myself and have I changed my mind?

My meditation of late has led me to a practice of turning toward.  I’m being encouraged to take a look at something in my life that troubles me and sit with it for a bit.  I’ve been recognizing that I am a “wonder woman.”  I’ve known it for a long time, but this practice is encouraging me to look at it and see where it comes from.  I help people.  That’s what I do.  That’s what I do for a living and that’s what I do for a life.  I don’t like being helped though.  I don’t really trust it.  I like to be the one in charge of the process or simply just to do whatever it is myself.

The last two days as I’ve done this meditation laying in my bed I could feel my body tied down and the rock in the center of my stomach as my mind took me back to childhood again.  Doesn’t it always go back to childhood?  We must have all been messed up as kids.

This time it was back to grade school.  I remember being really excited about going to school.  I loved books. I wanted to learn.  I wanted make friends and to have a nice teacher who cared about me.  It didn’t totally work out that way.  I did have nice teachers who cared about me.  I learned a lot.  I had a couple friends.  But, I went to a small school so I wasn’t only picked on by the kids in my class, but by the entire school.

It was the 1970’s and 80’s.  Grown ups didn’t step in much if at all to deal with bullying.  I was just told I needed to get over being shy without being given any tools to do that.  In some sense, it became my fault that I was being harassed.  So, day to day I struggled.  I wanted to have friends.  I wanted to be a part and to have fun at this school that I’d dreamed of.  I wanted to feel safe there.  Instead my stomach was permanently clenched and I dreaded every moment never knowing when my tormentors would get me next.  I tried to hide in plain sight.  It sounds unbelievable to me now, but I don’t think I ever, in six years, asked to use the bathroom during school hours because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.  I just held it until I got home.

That wasn’t ok.  I needed a grownup to help me and the other kids develop our relationships.  There’s nothing to change now about what happened then and that’s ok.  It’s just good for me to acknowledge what I needed and didn’t get and now I can move on.  What happened then isn’t the determinant of what could happen in other situations if I allow myself to be helped or taken care of.  I don’t need to always protect myself by being the one who only takes care.  I can both take and accept.  We each can.

Thank you for reading my thoughts today.

Where are the Lines?

My beginning meditation practice continues to open my vault of memories and encourage me to look at myself asking questions of my experiences and responses.  I don’t believe that there are bad people.  I believe that there are people who are injured and need healing.  I wonder now if that doesn’t make life more complicated?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just be angry and just give up on the possibilities of forgiveness? What hurt and anger do I hold for myself when I don’t give it to others?

Many memories are resurfacing these days, some good and some sad or scary.  One that I was surprised to see again came from sometime after I graduated college.  I was back in town for some reason staying with friends.  One of them had an extra bed in his room where his son usually stayed on weekends.  That was where I was going to sleep.  I felt totally safe.  I’d been friends with this guy for several years.  I was tired from my trip and went to sleep before he got home.  When he came in that night he slid into my bed and began to grope.  I swatted his hands away.  He got up and went to his own bed.  Neither of us ever spoke of what happened.

In seconds I went from feeling completely safe to terrorized with just a touch.  He’s gone from my life now.  We just didn’t stay in contact after I left town again.

For years I didn’t have a name for what happened.  I’ll admit I didn’t know which bed in that room was his and which belonged to his son.  I did blame myself.  I said to myself that maybe I’d gotten into the wrong bed that night and maybe that caused him to think what he did was invited and ok.   He was my friend.  In my mind,  I couldn’t translate the idea that it could possibly be assault.  He wouldn’t hurt me, right?  He walked away when my body stiffened and I swatted his hands away.

I had no name for what happened.  All I knew is that the trust was broken and I couldn’t go back to that place of trusting again.  I didn’t want to blame him, after all I don’t believe in bad people and what happened scared me and emotionally hurt me.

This morning I looked up the definition of sexual assault on several different online sites.  I saw two things that struck me.  It is any unwanted sexual contact.  It is never the victim’s fault.

Maybe twenty years later now and I have a name for what happened.  It was sexual assault.  I can call it that.  I can be part of that ever growing community of women who’ve been assaulted.  No one wants to be part of that community, but a community it is and strength grows there.

It wasn’t my fault.  It was his.  I still don’t believe in people being somehow bad or evil.  But, I will say he was responsible for his actions and what he did was wrong and hurtful and I didn’t deserve it.

Now, it’s time for me to get up from that bed in that room twenty years ago and walk out into the light of a new day.  Thank you for sharing my journey.

Breathing

I began a new meditation practice a bit over a month ago.  I’ve done a bit of meditating off and on over the years, but never a consistent practice.  This is my first time incorporating some form of meditating into my every day.  I’ve been following a 8 week online course that I think will give me enough tools to keep going.  I’ve chosen to take on a bit more than the course suggests and instead of meditating once a day, I do twice starting and ending my day with at least 20 minutes of yoga or mindfulness or sometimes on weekends a nice long walk in the park for a an hour or two.

I am lucky to be able to structure that much time into my day.  I am also struck by what it’s meant just in this past month.

It began with the passing of an old friend and mentor.  I couldn’t go to the funeral because driving hours just a month after having had a seizure wasn’t safe.  Breathing, just stopping and breathing paying attention to my body allowing myself to stop and mourn while hundreds of miles away from the people I wanted to be allowed me comfort and kept me from despair.

As I continued my breathing each day,  I began to feel the tingling in my body and sense the healing glow and warm energy.  It reminded me of dream I had several years ago.  In that dream my body was filled with thousands of acupuncture needles and those needles were drawing in and releasing energy from the sun.  My body was healing through the sun’s energy and warmth.   I’ve noticed in these weeks my short memory feels stronger.  There have been no seizures.  And, old memories from long ago are resurfacing as if my body is acknowledging and dealing with them now that it is ready.

Some of those memories are hard.  The last two nights I’ve done a meditation called a body scan.  I just lay in my bed and breathe.  As I breathe, I’m listening to a guide that instructs me on paying attention to my breathing and focusing on different parts of my body.  The body scan is my favorite meditation that I’ve done thus far.  I’ve done it many times in the past month.  The difference in these last few nights has been in my breathing.  I found both nights a point of fear, a point in my breath where the bottom just seemed to drop out.  I’d remind myself that I am breathing, that I can breathe, and again the bottom would drop out of my breath.

Tonight, I remembered.  I was 16 or maybe 17 and working as a dishwasher at a place called Gracie’s, an Italian restaurant maybe 6 or 8 miles from our house.  It was a slow night, most nights there were.  I wasn’t feeling well.  I hadn’t been eating, was overworking myself with school, work, and extra-curriculars.  I probably hadn’t been sleeping well either.  And, I’m guessing I’d been taking a steady diet of ibuprofen and Tylenol already by that point to feel like I was doing something to address the emotional pain I was feeling.

I lifted a pot above my head to put it away on the shelf and suddenly I couldn’t breathe.  Gasping for air, I told Alan, the head cook, that I needed to leave.  He let me go home.  I drove home that night after dark, unable to breathe and not knowing why, speeding then slowing, speeding , then slowing.

I got home to an empty house.  Dad was at some party at his girlfriend’s house.  I was in tears and afraid.  I called him and he heard the fear and my gasping breath.  He was home in just a short while and we were in the car heading to the hospital.  I clasped his hand the whole way.  By this point my whole body was tingling and I couldn’t feel anything.  I understand that I held on pretty tightly.  We were both terrified.

The emergency room personnel didn’t take long to figure out what was happening and to give me a paper bag and some saltines.  I was hyperventilating and I needed to eat something.

I carried a bag with me for a while after that and learned how to slow my breathing by putting my head between my knees too.  Eating was tough to learn.  I wonder if it was at that visit to the ER that we started to accumulate the brochures about anorexia?

By the time I was 18,  I was 5 ft 9 and 110lbs.  I just took a look at an online BMI calculator and found that actually put me below the 1st percentile!  I don’t know that I ever had anorexia. For a long time I denied the possibility.  Now, I look at it and recognize some things. I was hurting and that emotional pain centered itself in my breathing and my stomach and I simply could not swallow food.  I was feeling out of control and needed something I could handle, something that I could control.

Still, I was a good girl and didn’t want to hurt anyone, except maybe myself.  So, I tried, and eventually, over time pizza, ramen noodles and lousy cafeteria food at college saved my life until I was able to really start the journey to caring for myself.

All that in my breathing exercises, and something else– I have always been a good girl, never wanting to hurt anyone else even at the cost of myself.   When other kids came to the point of raging where they’d throw stuff and break things, I remember being so angry at the world that I went up to my room and wanted to throw things, but I didn’t want to break anything, so I threw Kleenex.  It is not the same effect.  Eventually I took to just hitting myself or scratching my wrists.  I used to have tiny bruises on my thighs in my teenage years.  I remain thankful for the things that I didn’t know back then about drugs and suicide.  That lack of knowledge probably kept me alive.

I didn’t have a bad life in those teenage years.  I had a family that loved me, good friends at school, lots of ways that I was involved in church and community.  I was smart.  I had a future.  But yet I was hurting, hurting to the point where I could have taken my own life.

Breathing tonight I started to cry,  I remembered someone, my dad’s girlfriend from those years.  Hilda was a good person, had a nice family, cared about my dad and our family wasn’t horrible or evil or anything.  But, honestly, in those days back then I didn’t want her around, I didn’t like her.  I’d never have said that to my dad or to her.  I always either treated her respectfully or tried to just stay out of the way.  I blamed my dislike on her style.  I was hippie kid of the 1990’s, scruffy and ready to save the world.  Hilda had perfectly coifed hair, manicured nails, and makeup all the time.  Appearance was important to her in how she looked and in how she acted.

There were things I didn’t see though then and I cried for them tonight.  It wasn’t Hilda’s style or the way she behaved that was at the core of why I didn’t want her there.  It was where she stood.  That hair and makeup was standing in the place where the most beautiful bald head and jaundiced skin I’d ever known had been.  I wasn’t over my mom’s death just a few years before and did not want anyone in her place.

Breathing is sometimes a process of forgiveness, acceptance, and allowing things to be.

I can now say it was ok for me to be angry and fearful.  It was ok for Hilda to be there.  It was ok for my dad to continue his life and it is ok for me to continue mine.

With all this processing in my heart and soul I just say to all of you out there who have those kids in your life who are quiet, who are well behaved, who are reserved and not stepping out of line when you know that they’ve been through hell, just walk with them, take care of them, keep them safe.  Thanks.

Nickels and Decks of Cards

Nickels and decks of cards have always made me think of my dad.   My dad, who is now 90 years old, is a sheepshead player and used to play poker too.  Sheepshead, for those not lucky enough to have grown up around the game, is a mainstay of many Wisconsin homes of middle European descent.  A quick look at the history suggests that this complicated card game may have come from the peasants of 18th century Germany, playing a game on barrel heads where the king doesn’t rank the highest.

But, history aside, I’ve never learned to play the game.  It was six year old form of protest not to sit at the table and join the family in this generations old game.  Yet, I was there.  I watched.  I listened. I laughed along.  And, I remember the pile of nickels at Dad’s side.  I remember how he’d slide nickels across the table to the winner of the hand or gather the nickels into his own pile when he won.  They never played for bigger money, just nickels.  I have the container that used to hold Dad’s nickels on his dresser sitting on my dressing table now.

Dad lives in an assisted living facility these days.  Where he once could remember more than just about anyone I know, he now grows frustrated with the holes in his memory.  Some things are hard to hold on to in his head.  He doesn’t always remember the names of the grandkids and great-grandkids.  He gets the names of us kids confused sometimes.  Sometimes I’ll ask about something that happened during my lifetime and he’ll shake his head as if trying to jar the memory loose, then just tell me he doesn’t know about that.

Still, for a man of 90 years his memory remains incredible.  I am reminded of this by the nickel and a deck of cards.  Dad now mostly plays for chips.  It’s apparently illegal in Wisconsin to play for nickels in senior living facilities.  He still plays sheepshead.  I still don’t know what it means with all it’s schmears and trumps and whatever else, but I know he knows the cards.

Back at Christmas time I was playing King’s Corners with him.  It was new game to both of us.  He struggled at first picking up on how to play this simple game, but it wasn’t long before he was pointing out my slip ups.  He knew the cards and knows how to think as a card player.  We laughed and joked and remembered his old friends together.

We laughed at my clumsy shuffling as I lamented that I should have learned from him back when I was a child and he was ready to teach me.  I admired how well he still shuffles and deals while he said he just can’t do it like he used to.

I think about all the kitchen tables he’s sat at over the years dealing out those cards with such skill, gathering nickels or poker chips, and sliding them out across the table again, laughing, joking with friends and family, swapping stories.  Then I find myself thinking of the regular card games that used to happen when I was young.  My dad and some of his friends had a poker club.  I remember when it was our turn to host.  Mom and I would clean.  I’d help out filling bowls with peanuts other snacks, run downstairs to get the poker chips, ash trays, and the ice bucket from behind the bar in the basement.  Dad would mix drinks in those special glasses we had with the wild animals on them.  I’d get a Shirley temple.

The guys would arrive and I’d get to help put away coats.  Mr. Steffen would blow smoke rings with his pipe for me.  The kitchen would eventually become a cloud of smoke between that pipe and Jerry and Kenny’s and I don’t remember who else’s cigarettes.  I’d play while the men jovially bantered over their game until it was time for me to kiss Mom and Dad goodnight and go to bed.  From there, their game went on well into the night and Mom and I would wash dishes in the morning knowing it was a good night of fun and friendship.

I think Dad is the last of the players at that table still in the game of life.  He’s dealt many hands in his life and it won’t be long until he deals his last.  I am thankful for all the memories he’s given me.  While I may never learn to play sheepshead or poker, or maybe I will, who knows, I will always know my father’s love every time I hold a nickel or a deck of cards.

 

 

Mother’s Day Memories

Mother’s Day, one would think that eventually it wouldn’t matter anymore.  My mom left this world nearly 34 years ago.  On July 7th, 1984 the cancer that she’d faced most of my childhood took her.  I was 12 years old when we said our last good byes.

There are so many things that I remember.  For one I remember standing around her beside in the hospital room wanting to reach out and touch her hand.  I wanted to touch her, to feel the reality that she was dead.  My dog had died some weeks before and when I touched the dog’s dead body it was cold and stiff and I knew that her spirit had gone.  I wanted to touch my mom’s hand to know that her spirit had gone on, but instead I told myself her body wouldn’t be cold yet, it wouldn’t be stiff,  everyone would think me weird for touching a dead person.

I wish I had reached out and touched her. I wish I had snuggled up beside her one last time and felt the life leave.  But, it’s too late for that now.  Still, while her body is gone her spirit lives on.

I have an afghan that she started for me before passed on.  I remember her working on it.  She got too sick to finish it and my Aunt Coletta took it up and finished it for her.  It was my last Christmas gift from Mom, six months after she died.  When I am sad, lonely, just needing a hug from Mom I wrap myself up in it and can feel her arms around me, just like when I was a little girl.

This morning I was remembering childhood, thinking about Mom.  I can hear her laughing, such a joyous, uninhibited sound, so pure.  I can see her in the kitchen ironing and listening to Brewers game, washing dishes and singing along with Eddie Arnold, visiting with Uncle Fritz or Aunt Dorothy, or all the other family and friends who came in and out our door.  I can taste her bread, those chocolate bottomed cupcakes, Sunday breakfast.  I can see her making those silly baby faces and goofy noises, playing with my nieces and nephews.  There’s so much.

I’ll always miss her,  but I guess there are some things I’ve come to know.  I know that she’s still here, in my memory and in my heart.  And, I know that I want to laugh and sing and make goofy baby noises and spend time with family and friends and eat good food and do all the simple things in life that maybe someday someone will remember and know that my life was well lived.  She taught me well about what’s important.  I thank her and carry it on.

I love you Mom!