The Gift of Going for a Walk

I’ve disappeared from the blog-o-sphere for past few weeks. In fact, I’ve disappeared from quite a bit of life but with good reason. You see, about three weeks ago I was laying in bed watching Netflix when suddenly I had a broken ankle. Seriously, that is the truth no matter how strange it sounds. It’s not clear how my ankle was broken, but as I was diagnosed with epilepsy about six years ago, there’s a good chance I had a seizure. I don’t have seizures often, maybe two or three a year. Usually they just leave me with a headache and a sore tongue, but this one didn’t give me a headache at all, didn’t really hurt my tongue either, but it impacted me in other ways. That is, of course, if it was a seizure. There’s still the possibility that it was my dog jumping up on the bed and landing on me. My memory suggests that may have been what happened. My dog’s size, about 35 lbs, makes it pretty impressive that he could cause that kind of damage.

It’s been an interesting journey. The injury happened Monday night. When the pain wasn’t gone and there was some swelling, I decided to go into urgent care on Tuesday. The staff were pretty amazed that I was walking on a broken ankle. I was a bit surprised to learn it was actually broken.

They gave me a cool moon boot and crutches and sent me home to rest. I slept for about a week. It is amazing how much energy it takes to heal. That first week really sleeping was almost all I did. By week two the swelling was down enough that it was time for surgery. I thought with just a block of anesthetic behind my knee that I might get to experience the operation in a conscious state. I didn’t. I slept. Then I spent the night in the hospital so they might monitor for seizure activity. There was none. I did learn that I do not like percocet. Heavy duty painkillers are horrible things. I took it once and refused it thereafter. I really didn’t have any significant pain. At that point, I actually couldn’t feel my foot at all yet so it made no sense to me how the hospital staff kept trying to push painkillers that set my motion sickness into high gear. I couldn’t move without feeling nauseous.

After a few more days at home with my foot up I returned to the doctor and got the okay to return to work with my walker. That’s been the true gift. Before this accident I walked to work, and most everywhere else, every day. In my little town of about 5,000 people, I would typically put on one to five miles a day just doing what I needed to do. Right now, walking a block with my walker is significant exercise. My ankle is healing fast and I’m hoping to get back to a more normal routine in the next month or two, but this is where I am right now.

I find myself thinking a lot of some old friends who taught me about accessibility from their wheelchairs. I am especially thinking of Mark. He was a volunteer when I worked for the Grassroots Leadership College. He had severe physical limitations. I remember him apologizing once when he was late for his shift. He told us how when it was raining the bus drivers would often pass him by. They didn’t want to get wet helping him board the bus. That was just one little example of how the world treated his disability. There were too many others. Eventually, he had enough. He rolled himself down to the lake, propelled his body out of his chair, and landed face down in the water and ended his time being discriminated against.

My experience is nothing like his, but it has been a gift to look at accessibility issues and at how I see myself in this world of varying abilities.

First, I kind of have to laugh at myself. I found myself thinking the other day, as I was trying to open a heavy door without losing my balance, “this would really suck if I really had a disability!” Okay, now I am traveling around on eight screws and a plate, using a moon boot and a walker, because of a broken ankle that was quite likely caused by a seizure. Some might say I have a disability. I don’t really identify with that. It doesn’t make much sense to me. So, there is that, the whole question of what is it to have a disability in the first place? Who gets to decide who has a disability? Why do they have that power?

Then, I have to say “god bless the elders who do this in snow or on hills!” I live in Minnesota so I am thankful that my injury didn’t happen just a few weeks later. Did you know that if you hit a crack in the sidewalk your walker might veer off the wrong direction? Or did you realize that walkers really don’t have very good brakes and can start speeding along on even the slightest incline? I have the gift of being an in shape and strong middle aged woman. I can handle these challenges pretty easily. But, it’s tough for me to imagine what it’s like to use a walker if you don’t have the upper body strength or the sense of balance.

I’ve fallen a couple of times since I broke my ankle. I’ve been able to lean into my fall and land gently. Still, I think to myself what more damage could have done to the already broken spot? Or, thinking again of our elders, I wonder about my hips. It seems that for too many the broken hip is the kiss of death. I have two small steps going into my house. Normally, I barely notice them. Now I realize that they could kill someone.

I’m learning the little things about accessibility from a different perspective and it’s good for me, good for us, to know. One of my first lessons was on my first day back to work. I had to go to the HR office to drop off some files about the incident. HR is on the second floor of Behmler Hall. I’ve worked on campus two years, but don’t go to Behmler all that much. I knew there was an elevator, but I wasn’t sure where.

The bus dropped me off not far from the front entries to the building. It was then I really noticed that both of the main entries have stairs. I had to go down the hill alongside the building to come in a back door to find the elevator. Going down the hill I was thanking my lucky stars that there wasn’t any ice yet and wondering how people make that trek in winter. I also thought about how I’ve been on campus for two years and I had to search to find my way. I wondered about people coming to campus for the first time. How can you feel welcomed if you can’t come in the door?

Thinking of doors, I never really realized before how heavy doors can be. I also never really noticed how often there are buttons on exterior doors to open them, but once you’re in a building interior doors often don’t have that access tool. The building that I work in has, what I had always thought were accessible restrooms. They’re big with room to turn a wheelchair, the sink, soap, and hand dryers at good height. I think there’s even a bar to help getting on and off the toilet. But, those doors are heavy as heck when you’re balancing on one leg and using a wheeled device for mobility.

My experience thus far has been a simple one and there hasn’t been much that I can’t find a way around. I have been given the gift of hearing stories though. I know that there are people on campus who’ve not taken on roles that would both benefit them professionally and benefit the campus community because of the challenges of access in some of our campus buildings.

Sometimes people fight for access and sometimes they decide to just take a different route in life because we can’t all be fighters all the time. Sometimes we just need to live.

I encourage my friends to notice the steps, think about the weight of the door, look at where the furniture is placed, acknowledge the shelves and where supplies are kept. Note these things. Decide for yourself what is acceptable and change what is not.

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How Do We Respond To All The Violence?

Some of my students and I were meeting today for our regular learning circle. It turned out not to be the circle I’d expected. I’d gone in with a list of questions and updates to make sure that everyone’s community projects were on task and ready to be done in just a few weeks.

Instead, we got into other conversations. One of the topics of conversation was the recent mass shootings. We discussed how violence has become the norm, the students spoke to how their response to the growing number of shootings in our country is to do their best to ignore it. They expressed how this is the only way that they feel they have to handle the immense fear, grief, and anger. They spoke of becoming hardened to feeling.

I suggested to them that this hardening seems to me much like that of depression or burnout and that maybe our society is burned out and that’s not okay. They agreed that this may be the case. Not surprisingly, they had no clear answers on what to do. But, I think the conversation was good and healthy and maybe part of what needs to be done. They talked with each other. We came together as community and acknowledged our fear face to face. That coming together and just talking is part of the healing I am sure of that. Community is essential. That’s not social media discussion or meetings to act or anything else other than just coming together as people and just letting the conversation flow.

I had another interesting conversation later in the day. A friend offered to me that part of the problem we may be facing today is inter-generational trauma. My friend spoke specifically to the trauma carried by white people from generation to generation from our role that we’ve played in so much destruction and enslavement of many kinds. Something there made sense to me, not just for the dominant group, but for all of us.

What is it that we do with our history? I’d always heard of the concept of multi-generational trauma associated with Native cultures. There is much to suggest that it is very much a reality. What if it is true of all of us? What if we carry the experiences and energies of past generations? What if we are deepening and speeding up the process with the intensity of the growth of violence in our lives?

Many Native peoples have found their way in life through a revitalization of cultural history, by learning their languages, practicing their spirituality, returning to traditional foods, and simply listening to their stories.

While I believe firmly in pressuring the government to take appropriate actions to address the growing violence and I think it’s important to partake in non-violent protest to make our voices heard, I think there is something more, something for the long term.

I think there is a knowledge in the work being done in Native communities to address inter-generational trauma that is part of addressing the growing issue of violence in our communities. We need to ask ourselves each day, “How can I treat myself and all my relations with respect and caring?”

This begins, I believe, with taking pause, breathing deep, and treating ourselves gently, feeding ourselves in healthy ways physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This gives us the energy to reach out.

We reach out to feed our relations whether those be fellow people or the earth and its other inhabitants. We take time to breathe together and get to know each other, to heal each other’s wounds.

That’s where we begin and that’s where we ultimately find the long term answers, in caring for ourselves and each other, in building our spiritual and emotional connections, in becoming a community.

It seems so simplistic and yet so challenging and so lost over so many generations. Yet, it is what we need. So, today, care for yourself, treat yourself with respect, and reach out with the same caring and respect for all those around.

Burnout Politics

I’ve been an activist and organizer for a long time. I used to say my whole adult life, but I suspect it actually started before that. The first formal action I took part in was in high school. Funding was being cut in our industrial arts and music programs. Almost the whole school walked out. A few kids whose religious beliefs didn’t allow such protest were the only ones left inside.

I’ve had the good fortune to fight the good fight in many ways and many places and to count some good wins along the way. I’ve had some good mentors and made some good friends.

I used to be really involved in political organizing. I was one of the leaders of our local Green Party. I co-chaired the state party. I helped start the national diversity committee. I worked on political campaigns. I facilitated meetings. I did it all and I loved it and believed in it.

But then, I got burned out. I was deep in depression and lost on what to do. I had to walk away.

After years of working on the front lines taking on major corporations, working on campaigns from school board to president it wasn’t the work that beat me down. It wasn’t the losses or some sort of evil conservative whatever. It was my own community, those who see themselves as liberal, or progressive, or even radical who wore me down and forced me to back away. They forced some great and strong people away and the movements struggled.

I share this now because I see the same things happening today. I hear the rantings about Republicans, the self-righteous talk of the evils of conservatism and I know some of the best folks I’ve ever learned from and walked beside would call themselves conservative or Republican. I know these folks as people who’ve worked hard caring for families, serving their communities, seeking the same love that my liberal/progressive/radical friends do, battling the same pains.

I write this in honor of all my friends and mentors who understand. The work we do isn’t about Republican or Democrat or Green or any other political identification. The work we do is about that child seven generations from now who deserves clean water, a safe place to live, healthy food to eat, a community to rely on.

To everyone else I say, drop the labels and reach out in love and healing. It doesn’t mean to deny the horrific actions. It means to recognize the pain and fear behind them. Be part of the healing, not one to tear at the wounds with self-righteousness causing infection. Your insistence that all Republicans or conservatives are evil does nothing other than wear out a lot of hard working, caring people and encourage the building of walls.

History Isn’t Such a Long Time



I like history museums and historical sites. I’ll often go visit them to get to know the place that I live or the spot that I’m visiting or maybe just to get to know myself a little better.

Today, since it was raining and I had the day off of work, I took a trip down to the Pope County Museum in Glenwood Minnesota. It’s a great little museum. I would encourage folks traveling through the region and those who live here to stop in. It had one of the best displays on Native American history that I’ve seen in a museum of its size. True, I’ve seen some really inaccurate and just plain awful displays of Native history, but this one, it was okay. Overall, the museum was quite good, and, as far as I can tell, accurate.

As I wander, generally aimlessly, through museums and historic sites my mind comes to think of time. I come to understand connections and recognize how huge and small things are at the same time. Today, in the Pope County Museum, I studied a simple display. It was a timeline from the founding of Glenwood through the present. It laid out what seemed to be a rather random collection of historical events at national and local levels. Looking at it got me thinking again how short time really is.

Glenwood was founded in 1866. My great grandparents were just children then. My grandparents would be coming along in a few decades. Three of those grandparents would pass on before I was born, but one I knew. Grandma Mondloch was born in 1900 and would live until 1984. She passed on just after I turned 13.

I looked at that timeline just as I’ve looked at many historic sites. I looked at it thinking in Grandma time, looking at how the world has changed in a lifetime that I knew and still know. It’s not a story in a history book. It is life.

Grandma was the third generation of her family in this country. She grew up with her native language. I remember my Aunt Lucille telling me once how she’d been angry that, as kids, they spoke Luxembourgish at home and that it was tough to learn English as a school kid. Four generations, it took four generations to lose a language. Now, we expect immigrants to give up their language, forget who they are not in generations, not even in years, but immediately on coming to this country. We do this while we still try to find ourselves in festivals and museums, German Fest, Luxembourg Fest, Irish Fest, whatever fest.

I kept wandering through the museum. I turned a corner and a small Nazi pennant caught my eye. It was part of a display of items soldiers had brought home from WWII. My family knew this war. I had several uncles who fought, and well, all families knew this war in one way or another.

Last year I went to Luxembourg. I saw memorial sites and visited museums. I also learned a little something about myself. I learned that my ancestry generations back was Jewish. My branch of my family had left behind that identity generations ago, but it gave me a different perspective on those concentration camps. Those concentration camps became the death places of unknown cousins, aunties, uncles. They left the history books and became real. I had an uncle, Uncle Clarence, who helped free the people in the camps at the end of WWII. I never heard him speak of it. I just learned it some years ago from a cousin. I don’t know if he knew, but he was freeing family.

I look at it now in the question of the detention camps in the US. Is it any different? I mean really, is it any different? Looking back, somewhere we are family. We are detaining our brothers, sisters, cousins. We don’t have that right. We who carry European blood, this isn’t our land. We are, once again, imprisoning those who come from this place based on silly lines we drew on a piece of paper and called a map. The map isn’t real. It’s our lines. The lines we’ve drawn. Why do we keep drawing lines? It didn’t work when we held the Japanese in detention centers or when the Germans put Jews and others into the concentration camps or when we held Native peoples in stockades or for that matter as we still hold Native peoples on reservations or Black people in ghettos.

Stop with the lines, stop with the pretending that maps are reality. History is short. It’s not too big to change. All we need to do is to listen to the stories, learn, and act. Take a trip. Check out a museum, a historic site, maybe sit with an elder. Whatever it is, come to know yourself, where you are. Reach for knowledge. We have a lot to do.



A Look At History

I spent my day yesterday at Saint Cloud State University with several hundred middle and high school students and a hearty crew of adults.

I was one of those hearty adults, a History Day judge. It’s a good way to spend a day.

Minnesota is a part of a larger organization, called National History Day, that’s been around since 1974. More than 600,000 kids each year take part in this event competing locally, regionally, and for some, at state and national events. They’ve worked for weeks or even months to prepare for the contests creating websites and displays, writing papers, and developing presentations and skits. Each year the kids get a theme. This year was about tragedy and triumph. They take the theme and individually or as groups use it to explore a topic in history of their choice.

It’s neat to see how it makes history come alive for these kids when they get to choose what they want to study and they get to lead the research and figure out for themselves how they’re going to learn. It’s a little disarming to find how events in my own lifetime are now finding their way to History Day. Walking through the exhibit hall was actually a chance to see quite a few events I could remember– the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Jacob Wetterling story, and the OJ Simpson case, along with many that were really interesting and outside the realm of most classrooms. These kids are exploring things like the Radium Girls, the Stonewall Riot, escapes from Alcatraz. Their eyes are opening.

I got to judge junior group websites this year. These are middle school aged teams of two or three kids who are designing Weebly sites on a specific topic. It was pretty cool. The “penicillin girls,” as my fellow coach and I called them, brought us bacteria and mold they’d collected to complement their website work. The “hockey boys” had gotten an interview with on of the US players from the 1980 Olympic Hockey team. This is a really cool way to touch history.

How great it is when we let our kids lead the way and simply act as the supportive guides that we are meant to be. We are born with a natural inclination to explore, discover, and learn. It’s why we reach out for toys, crawl, and eventually run. It’s our nature to learn. We do it with many of the same tools we did when we were babies. We reach. We test. We try different methods. That’s what these kids were doing by nature with the help of teachers, parents, and others who just gently nudged when needed.

I love it when kids get to do things like that whether it’s History Day, playing outside and learning about science by licking slugs (yes, at least some types of slugs will make your tongue go numb. Try it.) or getting on stage with the play they’ve been working on or the new piece of music they’re playing because they want to make music or act.

Do what you can to support a kid learning through experience. You won’t regret it. In fact, you may learn quite a bit through the experience too. I know that I do!

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.


WORT- A Story On What Takes To Handle Crisis in Community Organizations

As someone who’s worked many years both professionally and as a volunteer in nonprofits and leadership development, I need to give a shout out to WORT 89.9fm Community Radio in Madison, Wisconsin for really having the essentials together.

I’m not saying that WORT is perfect.  I served on the board for several years when I lived in Madison and I can assure you that they are far from it, but they’ve got the key components and that became really clear recently when they faced a major incident at the station.

WORT is a community led, listener sponsored radio station in progressive Madison that went on the air in 1975 and has been riding the waves of operating in a community oriented space ever since.  In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 5th some of the pain and fear that’s all too common in our reality today walked into the station.  Someone came into the station and fired shots.  A DJ was injured.  Thankfully, the injury wasn’t serious and they were released from the hospital within a few hours.

Here’s where I become amazed.

The shooting happened in the early hours of Sunday morning, a time when the station would just have volunteers in the building and probably no paid staff.

  • The volunteers on air were able to respond to the shooter in a way that minimized harm.
  • Volunteers knew how to reach the board chair.  He was contacted and spoke effectively on behalf of the station with police and media.
  • The news department had a message out the WORT community telling them what had happened within a few hours and cutting off the main flow of the rumor mill.
  • WORT volunteers and listeners immediately stepped up with messages of support, offers of help, and donations.

I was thinking about this yesterday because of another board that I serve on.  It’s a struggling organization and I agreed to serve on the board because I believe they can be better.  Right now if there was an incident like the one WORT faced, I’m not sure what would happen.

We all hope none of our organizations ever have to face such moments of terror, but there is a lot to learn from WORT even for our every day operations.

  • Do your volunteers know who the person or people are who speak on behalf of the organization and how to reach them?
  • Do they know what to do in case of emergency?
  • Do you have a communications plan?
  • Do your volunteers and supporters feel that sense of connection to your organization that they’ll step up in a time of need?

WORT has had many ups and downs over its more than 40 years of operation.  It’s taken a lot of work to get to the point that they could get stronger from disaster rather than weaker.  Now is the time to work on these issues in your organization.  Don’t wait for the emergency to happen.