The New Year

It’s probably been more than 30 years now since my father and I made that trip to Canada. I remember sitting in passenger seat asking Dad about the old days. I wanted to know about his life, about where he’d come from and how he’d become the man he was. He told me stories of my grandfather who I’d never had the good fortune to meet. Grandpa died in 1935 following an appendicitis attack. My father was seven years old and emulated grandpa who was a well respected dairy farmer in the area.

It was in that conversation so many years ago that I asked my dad about what he wanted to do with his life. He told me about wanting to be a dairy farmer like his father had been. He told me about how life had gotten in the way of following his dream. He made choices, choices that were difficult but that he felt were right. He set his dream aside for marriage and children. He chose a full time job off the farm to keep his growing family fed and clothed. He put his family first and though he did crop farming he never got cows.

When I looked into his eyes and saw the sadness of a dream never realized I made a decision that defined my life. I decided in that moment that I would never look back on my life to see I hadn’t fully lived.

That decision has led me to living in eight different towns in three different states, leading community organizing efforts and fighting multinational corporations, traveling on three continents, hiking hundreds of miles, and now working at a university.

It’s been good so far, but recently watching my now aged father and a much younger family member who’s been dealing with major health issues, I’ve been thinking. My life has become rather routine and there is much to do, to see, to learn. It seems a year to write down some of those things that I’d like to have happen as a reminder to myself and a public commitment. So, here it goes. Presuming that I succeed with my efforts, there will undoubtedly be updates throughout the year. I hope you’ll read on and share the experience with me. I wish you the best in the new year! Here’s what I’ll be doing to grow.

  1. Writing at least 50 blog posts (here’s the 1st one!)
  2. Reading/ listening to 50 books ( I’m starting with “The Education of Will” by Patricia McConnell and “38 Nooses” by Scott W. Berg)
  3. Getting back on track with my healthy eating habits
  4. Running a 10k or 1/2 marathon (I haven’t decided yet, but I know more than 5k and probably not a full)
  5. learn to play guitar
  6. finish at least 3 or 4 knitting projects
  7. Get Buddy started with his therapy dog training
  8. Cutting my screen time significantly, especially facebook time

Those are my big goals for the year. My hope is that these will bring me more happiness along with some new skills, improved physical health, knowledge, and some cool projects. I hope you’ll find positive growth in the new year as well. Take good care!

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Hardening

Is it becoming hardened to the world?  Is that what’s happened? Is it ok?  Is it a good thing?  Does it need to be addressed?

I went to see the movie “The Hate You Give” a couple weeks ago.  A woman I knew was there with a friend of hers and their teenage kids.  The adults were talking about how one of the kids had absolutely devoured the book and questioning how they’d respond to the movie.  The kids loved the movie. They also seemed to have the power to take it in as both normal and fiction.  I found myself questioning whether I could have done that in the same nonchalant way when I was their age.  I suspect not.  I’m guessing I would have been troubled.  Though I do kind of wonder about their power.  After all, I was busy being troubled by many things as a teenager that I had no words for, but they looked at ease. 

Then I look at myself.  My work hosted a discussion last night on the prevention of sexual violence and sex trafficking.  We had a good room full of people and excellent facilitators.  They shared some powerful research about what’s happening in Minnesota.  I found myself looking about the room at all the students and other community members and wondering “how many here have been affected?” but not really feeling. 

This isn’t new.  I’ve been doing community organizing in one form or another for nearly 30 years now.  There was a time when discussions like that of last night would have sent me off in anger to organize, to take part in a rally, to do something.  Now, sometimes I just sit and reflect and don’t feel the anger or the sadness or maybe I do, it’s just deeper where I don’t see it. 

I still do work.  It looks different.  I spend a lot of time with college students asking them how they’ve been sustaining themselves.  I measure the invitations to get involved in local efforts and choose the ones that I believe will build community while addressing issues of concern. 

You know it does frighten me that I or those teenagers can look at any form of violence and see it as part of the place and time in which we live and not be at least a bit angry, heartbroken, and fearful.  We deserve better.  

Hardening is a form of protecting self, but isn’t softening that as well? How can we be both soft and pliable and strong to face the painful realities? That’s the ongoing question.   I keep working for an answer.


The Gift of Mustriepen

I was reminded today of a most wonderful and valuable gift I received as a child.  I’ll call it mustriepen.  It was, and remains, the most awful stuff known to the human digestive system. My Uncle Tom is the only person I am aware of on the planet that can make any that is reasonably enjoyable.  For those not familiar with the food, mustriepen is a form of sausage ring made of pork remnants, cabbage, onion, breadcrumbs, blood, and spices.  It came with my people from Luxembourg.

So why call it a wonderful and valuable gift?  I work at university where we have a large population of Native students.  Today in talking with one of those students I got to listen to a story that isn’t uncommon.  The student told me about not getting to spend much time with relatives on the reservation growing up because the reservation was someplace not to be because poverty and addictions.  Staying away kept them safe from such things.  There’s value and truth to that.  But, it also did something else.  That student referred to themselves as white.  It’s only now as a young adult that they are starting to look at who they are in their Indigenous heritage.   We have many students who are blond haired, blued eyed Native Americans.  When they grow up in their cultures and you ask who they are they will proudly say  “I’m from Red Lake” or Leech Lake or wherever.  Many will know how to introduce themselves in their ancestral language, maybe they even speak more.  They know something of who they are.  Now a reservation is simply a place, but it is one place where culture and history stands.  It’s not the only one.  There are many ways to grow up knowing who you are.

The thing is those blond haired, blued eyed Native kids who feel some connection to who they are speak with a sense of strength and grounding that the other kids don’t have.  There are other Native kids like this one who want to know the way home and it’s a hard way to find.

I’m not Native but I grew up with mustriepen and a sense of identity that is unusual for white people today.  My people had lived in Wisconsin since the mid to late 1800’s, but still identified as Luxembourgers.  My dad and some of his generation could still speak the language.  My grandma grew up speaking it.  In the process of becoming white identity is lost.

I am thankful for that gift of mustriepen and I, once again, find myself asking– how do I support and guide these young people who want to know who they are?

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.