Curiosity Does Not an AHole Make

I’d be the last person to downplay the prevalence of racial problems in this world, but I have to say I do think there’s such a thing as being too sensitive about race. And I think that uber-sensitivity does us all a disservice in drawing attention away from real, actual problems of race, crying wolf when the real wolves are elsewhere, doing far more damage.

Here’s a case in point: an article on Jezebel about how to ask someone about their ethnicity. Let me summarize their answer for you: Don’t. It’s otherizing and exoticizing and that’s offensive. Apparently.

Now, I’m one of those people who never has an easy time with the question “Where are you from?” because the truth is a long story. So my answer depends on the context. If it looks like a shorter answer is appropriate, my response will be either “The States,” “California,” or possibly “Santa Barbara” though I could just as easily say Mission Viejo or Westminster if I’m being city-specific. If it’s a Thai person asking, I’ll usually respond in Thai that I’m a “half-race child: Thai & American.”

Sometimes more detail is called for: “My mom is Thai and my dad is American, but he grew up in South Africa.”

Sometimes it’s appropriate for me to mention that while my dad is an American, he primarily grew up in South Africa, but his family is actually from Norway. He’s as blond and blue-eyed as they come, but he grew up speaking Zulu (clicks and all) before he learned to speak English.

When asked where I grew up, I say southern California. But occasionally I surprise everyone when I admit I was born in Mississippi.

By that time everyone is confused, and I haven’t even gotten to the part about how my brother and sister are actually my cousins (no incest involved, thankyouverymuch) and technically, biologically, I’m an only child.

_1050346-2Like I said, long story. If people try to place me based on looks, they generally think I might be Hawaiian, or Mexican, maybe Indian. Not Thai, though. And not white either. If anyone has a claim to feeling “otherized” I’d think I do because I don’t fit the mold anywhere.

But while the “Where are you from?” question is never easy to answer, I don’t think people are assholes for asking it. Honestly, when I read articles like this Jezebel one, I just have to roll my eyes because, to me, it reeks more of the author’s own insecurity and discomfort in their own skin than racist behavior on the part of the questioner. More often than not, people asking where others are from are just making conversation. You never know their history either–maybe you look like you’re from Lebanon and that person just traveled there last month and is looking for a point of connection and a chance to talk with someone who gets it about the awesome time they had there. Or maybe you sound like you’re from Germany, and my family is from Germany but you’d never know it to look at me. Whatever. If you have an interesting heritage, maybe people are asking because you look like you have an interesting story to tell. Let me put it another way: would you rather forgo an interesting heritage in order to look just like everyone else? Is looking “exotic” such a bad thing? Is there something inherently better about looking obviously placeable?

I’d personally rather have people be curious about me than write me off.

The only time I’ve ever been really annoyed by the questioner was when he kept trying to make assumptions about me, being overly familiar and getting it all wrong. And I just wanted to tell him, “STOP. I’m sorry, dude, but I don’t fit in your preconceived molds so just stop trying to stuff me into one.” But that kind of questioner isn’t curious–in fact, he’s the opposite of curious, when he’s really just looking for the most efficient way to categorize everyone he meets–which sounds a lot more like racism to me than simple curiosity about others. Turns out this particular guy, a restaurant owner who liked to get real friendly with his guests, is now operating a hub for trafficking young girls and boys out of his restaurant, so he definitely qualifies as an asshole.

The world is only getting more globalized and we’ll only begin to see more multi-ethnic people and more convoluted stories about where we’re all really from, whatever that means. There’s no one way to ask a person about their heritage that encompasses all the possible responses. Is it really better to shut up and not ask the question for fear of “otherizing” each other, or is it better to leave open the opportunity for making a connection with each other, either through the magnetism of our differences or because there’s a hidden similarity that might not otherwise have been seen?

Meanwhile, if I feel otherized by or that I don’t fit in with a particular crowd because of my answer to the “Where are you from?” question, then they’re not the kind of people I want to spend my time with–regardless of whether they so boldly ask the question or not.

The Kind of Article I’m Starting to Hate

There is a certain kind of article/blog post that I’ve been coming across more and more these days, and each time I read one, I know I should just click away, but I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame. And just as assuredly as the flame can burn the moth, this kind of article draws my ire.

It’s the “What Not To Say” kind of article.

I’m sure you’ve seen them. What Not To Say to a Disabled Person. What Not To Say to a Working Mom. What Not To Say to a Stay at Home Mom. What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Miscarried. What Not to Say to a Mom With Lots of Kids. What Not To Say to Thin People. What Not to Say to Fat People. What Not to Say to Parents of Kids with Special Needs. What Not to Say to Girls…To Teens…To Pregnant Women…To Recovering Alcoholics…To Survivors of {fill in the blank}…actually, you can fill in whatever you can think of, I’m sure there’s an article somewhere on it.

They always sound so helpful at first, because yes, of course, we want to say the right thing when someone is facing a particularly difficult challenge. We want to empathize. We want to be helpful. We, by and large, want to avoid being assholes.

Of course.

But notice this kind of article I’m referring to is not a “What TO say” article. It’s not advice that tells you what will be helpful. By all means, tell me what I can do to best serve you in your need. Yet, far too many of these articles only focus on lashing out against the words of the uninformed and possibly judgmental.

The effect is, instead of telling you how to help, it basically tells you to shut the hell up. Because when you’re actually faced with a grieving person, can you really remember the full list of 10 Things You Must Not Say you read that one time last October? No. So you are left, mute, with nothing but the awareness that it’s all too easy to say the wrong thing.

Meanwhile, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the spirit in which these types of articles are written. We all face our own challenges in life. Our struggles are as unique as each of us, and we respond in different ways. What helps one heal or step up may not be useful to another.

The thing is…I don’t feel that other people owe it to us to understand us perfectly. Yes, people often say the wrong things, but how often do they really have bad intentions? If they haven’t been in our place, on what founding do we have the right to expect them to know how we feel? More often than not, it’s pretty easy to tell when someone is just trying to make you feel better. It may be a clumsy attempt. It may even be the opposite of helpful. But isn’t it worth anything that they’re trying?

Of course, there are some people who really are just being hateful, but I don’t think they’ll be won over by a “What Not to Say” article either. They’re not the intended audience – the real audience is the well-meaning commiserators. Just like it would be ungracious to throw a Christmas gift back at someone simply because it wasn’t what you wanted, I find it ungracious to judge others for a failed attempt to be kind. Even words that sometimes sound like judgment are really just awkward, clumsy attempts to try to protect you – a motivation based in love, not hatred or contempt.

Yes, there are better and worse ways to comfort people, to converse with them, to let them know you’re there. Many times, there are no words that can help a person heal or deal. Maybe even most times a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on are worth more than any thousands of words.

But the world does not owe us perfectly eloquent grace or perfectly clear understanding. Each person who loves us is a gift. Each loving intention is its own kind of grace. Embracing them all with loving kindness can do far more to help us heal than focusing on how they fell short of our mark.

 

Raising Men in the Aftermath of Feminism

Photo by Kristi Phillips

It’s no secret now that, while women are still fighting for equal pay and the face of power remains decidedly male, the gender gap in schools didn’t close, it flipped directions. Girls and women at all levels of education, from elementary to collegiate, are outstripping boys – so much so that some colleges are even giving a little extra boost for the guys (yes, you heard that right, affirmative action for white males). Nicholas Kristof provides a nice summary of the problem here and Businessweek has another good one here, but even a cursory poke around Google will bring you a slew of articles from across the Western nations documenting this counter-intuitive trend.

Meanwhile, when we look around at male role models in popular culture, what do we see? Primarily, a glorification of one of two things: underperformance (a la Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, etc.), or androgyny (types like Michael Cera, “metrosexuality,” dare I even mention Ryan Gosling?). We have to look to Mad Men to find masculinity of the type we used to revere – except they’re all philanderers and misogynists, so that ideal is certainly tarnished.

Toss in rising divorce rates plus a “gotcha!” culture of news media (if I may borrow that phrase) focused on catching politicians and celebrities with their pants down, so to speak (for good or ill), and we have a recipe for stripping society of role models to look towards. I’m being a little blase and overgeneralizing an incredibly complex issue here, but the truth is men these days are often confused about what role they should play and are taught to be ashamed of manliness rather than to uphold its virtues.

We’ve focused so much attention on girl power and what it means to raise a confident, empowered woman, that we’ve forgotten the need to guide our boys too. But we’re doing our girls no favors, when they grow up to be strong, smart, independent women only to find there are no men they can respect to stand strong beside them. Building women up does not require tearing down our boys.

A fellow blogger touched on a growing double-standard in her post, “I never thought he would feel that being a boy was a limitation.” Her children are young, so her concern focuses on erasing gender lines with the toys her kids play with and the cartoons they watch.

But it’s about so much more than that.

It’s about so much more than whether girls can play with monster trucks or whether boys can enjoy watching My Little Pony. As my friend, Brook put it, “we want ALL children to be confident, compassionate and courageous.” Courage is not just for the men, just as compassion is just not for the women.

BUT I don’t think androgyny is the answer either. We do both our children and our society a disservice when we tell them it’s wrong for men to be manly and wrong for women to be feminine. (By the way, we haven’t just hurt our boys either – teaching girls to act like men when it comes to sex has created a host of problems, including, but not limited to: undermining their own sense of value, repressed needs, and increased difficulty in finding and maintaining relationships.) Moreover, we’re simply lying to ourselves when we pretend that there aren’t at least some biological differences between the genders.

That doesn’t mean everyone has to follow a gendered ideal, though – we all suffer when we try to force anyone into a box, no matter what that box is. I’m not harping on anyone who naturally falls towards the middle of the gender spectrum. Gender and sexuality are both complex and we should honor that complexity. What I AM saying, though, is this: We don’t celebrate humanity by wishing (or socializing) away all our differences. We celebrate humanity by encouraging authenticity, harnessing the power of each individual’s strengths, and treating ourselves and each other with respect.

There are two blogs I follow despite the fact that I am neither male nor am I mother to a son. I follow them because I find the articles provide a fascinating discussion of what masculinity means in a post-feminist world: how men can still strive to be the best they can be, present themselves with distinction, be assertive, demonstrate honor and valor – and that masculinity does not have to imply male chauvinism. The first is The Art of Manliness, which grew so quickly and displayed such gratitude from its readers that it showed just how lost men feel in this age, how desperate they are for some guidance on how to be men. The other is 1001 Rules for My Unborn Son. Both hark back to the past for examples of great men, tempered with the greater understanding and self-awareness we have gained in the past decades. It’s a shame how far we have to look back to find great examples.

So whether your boy melts his G.I. Joes in violent combat or plays quietly with a Carebear, teach him to read because great communicators make for great leaders. Whether he prefers World of Warcraft or Sims, teach him to help with chores around the house, because a sense of responsibility breeds great husbands and fathers. Whether his interests lie in the sciences or the arts, teach him to show others respect and appreciation because courage means putting others before ourselves and strength should always be on the side of justice. Whether his hobby is fly-fishing or baking, encourage it because any added skill makes for a more well-rounded human being. Teach him how to change his oil, sew a button, safely discharge a firearm, and iron his shirts…because one day he might need to know all those things.

And roughhouse with him too, because we don’t learn everything there is to learn from “playing nicely” alone.

 

Soldiering On

I am reposting something I wrote earlier this week because it was my Bigger Picture Moment…but I don’t want to just leave it at that as we head into Christmas, so if you’ve already read this, please stick around for what I have to add just at the end.

If we were really meeting for coffee today, you’d find me curled up in a hammock, wearing yoga pants and a comfy sweater, cupping my coffee to me. If we did speak, it would be quietly.

When I heard the news, I was at The SOLD Project helping set up and prepare for our Christmas party. It was an event full of delight, as friends, students, and community came to put on a really awesome show. We had about 200 guests and everything came together without a hitch, and with plenty of laughter and festive cheer. But for me, it was like I was walking through the whole thing with cotton buds in my ears. It was muted as I began to process shock. Grief. Disbelief. Sadness.

I found myself looking into the eyes of our 5- and 6-year-olds and finding it impossible to imagine how a person could do that and pull a trigger. There’s just a wall in my head where that cannot go.

Every morning, I wake up and find my Facebook stream absolutely ablaze with everyone processing this tragedy in their own way. I know that anger is just another form of grief and fear, but it saddens me to see people attacking other people, instead of discussing the content of their ideas. It just goes to show how fresh and raw the wound is, I suppose, that we are so quick and ready to see the worst in each other and to find distaste rather than commonality.

Yesterday, I posted a tribute to the victims, a black armband of shared mourning. But as I typed those names onto that black square, I was acutely aware of all the names that I wasn’t typing. The names of the 20 school children in China who were stabbed by some crazy head that very same day. The names of the children in the Congo subjected to violence and horrors almost daily. The children in Central American countries. The children in Chiang Mai. I wondered whether our nation would have responded this strongly if Sandy Hook was a school on the south side of the Bronx and all the little children were brown, instead of blond little angels named Grace?

I don’t feel this is an appropriate time to drag race issues into the mix, and I’m really not trying to poke at people where they’re already sore. Empathy is never a bad thing and it’s impossible to feel the full scope of sadness for all the sad things in this world – a person would absolutely break. But for me, that question is there. It lurks because part of what defines tragedy is the extent to which we identify with the victims, and simply being fellow humans is rarely enough.

Last week, I confessed about all my existential questions about the point and meaning of life, and the sense of absurdity I felt in it. This week, I sense that we can pose all those kinds of questions we like, but none of them do a damn bit of good in helping us confront the fact that life must be lived, every day, one day at a time. There’s tragedy. Some days that tragedy is as huge as the murder of innocents. Some days the tragedies are as minor a freshly baked tart dropped on the floor. Most days, it’s something in between: unaffordable medical bills, a crappy or even lost job, a bitter argument with someone you love, a flu you just can’t seem to shake.

And it’s okay because there’s other stuff too. There’s the handwritten cookbook full of family secrets passed down. Presents under the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. A shy 14-year-old belting tunes all by herself, in a foreign language, out in front of a crowd of 200. Husband and wife secretly copping a feel and sharing a laugh in between job and chores. A puppy climbing in your lap, seeking warmth and comfort, when you’re trying to go to the loo. Family giving you a space at the dinner table, despite what you said to them earlier that day. A stranger anonymously fulfilling an unspoken need.

This is how we live life, day in and day out. We cry at the tart so lovingly made and so carelessly splattered to the floor. Then we scoop it up, scrape off the abused parts, and eat the rest of it anyway.

Here’s what I’d like to add as we turn now towards Christmas. It’s easy…comforting, even…to respond to such tragedy with fear, anger, and hate. It’s much harder to respond with love. But if we cling to that security blanket that we can weave so delicately with yarns of sadness, despair, and fright, and pattern with disgust, vitriol, and spite…if we hold that dear and treasure it, those who seek to incite terror and to make people pay for the hurt they feel inside will be the ones who win. If we let the Dylan Klebolds and Adam Lanzas of the world cause us to suffer, they win. Their mission will be accomplished.

But it is love, not hatred, that helps us heal. Choosing forgiveness over sorrow is what makes us stronger as people. Mercy, not punishment, is what makes us humane.

You might be thinking, “Oh, she’s all the way in Thailand, far removed from all this. She’s not a parent of the children lost. What could she know?” Well, I’m human too, and I speak from the experience of my heart from working with kids just as innocent as the ones we lost last week, but who are subjected to all manner of abuses, the kind most of us cannot even fathom. I speak not from my strength, but from theirs. They have all the reason in the world to hate the world, yet continually, they respond to love.

This Christmas, as you hold your dear ones close to you, send love.

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Hyacynth’s!
BE SURE TO CATCH HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE PREVIOUS WEEK
And head there for your daily dose of creativity:
prompts for photos, for words, for inspiration,
and for a life lived mindfully!

A Coffee Chat

If we were really meeting for coffee today, you’d find me curled up in a hammock, wearing yoga pants and a comfy sweater, cupping my coffee to me. If we did speak, it would be quietly.

When I heard the news, I was at SOLD helping set up and prepare for our Christmas party. It was an event full of delight, as friends, students, and community came together to put on a really awesome show. We had about 200 guests and everything came together without a hitch, and with plenty of laughter and festive cheer. But for me, it was like I was walking through the whole thing with cotton buds in my ears. It was muted as I began to process shock. Grief. Disbelief. Sadness.

I found myself looking into the eyes of our 5- and 6-year-olds and finding it impossible to imagine how a person could do that and pull a trigger. There’s just a wall in my head where that cannot go.

Every morning, I wake up and find my Facebook stream absolutely ablaze with everyone processing this tragedy in their own way. I know that anger is just another form of grief and fear, but it saddens me to see people attacking other people, instead of discussing the content of their ideas. It just goes to show how fresh and raw the wound is, I suppose, that we are so quick and ready to see the worst in each other and to find distaste rather than commonality.

Yesterday, I posted a tribute to the victims, a black armband of shared mourning. But as I typed those names onto that black square, I was acutely aware of all the names that I wasn’t typing. The names of the 20 school children in China who were stabbed by some crazy head that very same day. The names of the children in the Congo subjected to violence and horrors almost daily. The children in Central American countries. The children in Chiang Mai. I wondered whether our nation would have responded this strongly if Sandy Hook was a school on the south side of the Bronx and all the little children were brown, instead of blond little angels named Grace?

I don’t feel this is an appropriate time to drag race issues into the mix, and I’m really not trying to poke at people where they’re already sore. Empathy is never a bad thing and it’s impossible to feel the full scope of sadness for all the sad things in this world – a person would absolutely break. But for me, that question is there. It lurks because part of what defines tragedy is the extent to which we identify with the victims, and simply being fellow humans is rarely enough.

Last week, I confessed about all my existential questions about the point and meaning of life, and the sense of absurdity I felt in it. This week, I sense that we can pose all those kinds of questions we like, but none of them do a damn bit of good in helping us confront the fact that life must be lived, every day, one day at a time. There’s tragedy. Some days that tragedy is as huge as the murder of innocents. Some days the tragedies are as minor a freshly baked tart dropped on the floor. Most days, it’s something in between: unaffordable medical bills, a crappy or even lost job, a bitter argument with someone you love, a flu you just can’t seem to shake.

And it’s okay because there’s other stuff too. There’s the handwritten cookbook full of family secrets passed down. Presents under the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. A shy 14-year-old belting tunes all by herself, in a foreign language, out in front of a crowd of 200. Husband and wife secretly copping a feel and sharing a laugh in between job and chores. A puppy climbing in your lap, seeking warmth and comfort. Family giving you a space at the dinner table, despite what you said to them earlier that day. A stranger anonymously fulfilling an unspoken need.

This is how we live life, day in and day out. We cry at the tart so lovingly made and so carelessly splattered to the floor. Then we scoop it up, scrape off the abused parts, and eat the rest of it anyway.

1Q84 from Chiang Mai

I walked in to a Kinokuniya book store in Bangkok, the very one where I first discovered Haruki Murakami when I had picked up Norwegian Wood and became entranced from page one. This time, it seemed only fitting, like a burgeoning tradition, to pick up another book of his. I chose 1Q84. It’s a 1,300-page trilogy, but I was in the mood to be immersed, deeply.

In the book, a song is referenced repeatedly: Janacek’s Sinfonietta. I hadn’t heard of it before. It was mentioned so often, I felt compelled to hunt it down and hear its sound.

I found it easily. One can always count on You Tube for music.

I almost never read the comments on You Tube because comments there, as on political articles, always seem to attract the worst of the un-erudite and the fringiest of the fringe.

But the comments here caught my eye.

1Q84 from Jackson Heights

1Q84 from Hong Kong

1Q84 from Berlin

1Q84 from Malaysia

…from Dusseldorf, from Naples, from Mexico, from Alabama, from Russia, from Lisbon, from Montreal, from Delaware, from Philadelphia, from Seoul, from California.

…from Bangkok.

…from Chiang Mai.

Days ago. Hours ago. Minutes ago. People all over the world. Someone in my same city.

All reading the same book and listening to the same song.

All of a sudden, the big, big world felt so very, very small.
Like I could reach out and touch the edges
and find the souls dotted across the landscape
were like beautiful and varied mirrors one could cup in one’s hand,
briefly.

Transient, like snowflakes and the cadential light of fireflies.

It doesn’t often feel that way, especially not in an election season when we’re engrossed in the magnification of minor differences. But we’re all still here. Together.

When we look up at the night sky, the moon we see is still the same one.

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Brook’s!
BE SURE TO CATCH HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE PREVIOUS WEEK
And head there for your daily dose of creativity:
prompts for photos, for words, for inspiration,
and for a life lived mindfully!

The Power of the Olympics, London 2012

With thanks to artist Pashabo and graphicleftovers.com

I was sitting around the TV with my family and dog watching the Olympics the other night, as the girls competed for the gold on the balance beam. As we switched from women’s gymnastics – a sport evidently designed to crush little girls’ dreams – to men’s vault and horizontal bars, I was struck by the difference in camaraderie between the athletes.

On the girls’ side, none of the athletes seemed to interact with any of the others, and most strikingly, when Deng Linlin surpassed her teammate by a tiny margin of .10 for the gold, Sui Lu, who ended up with the silver, broke out, not in smiles, but in tears. She sobbed on her coach’s shoulder, causing Deng Linlin to cry as well. Sui Lu refused to smile in photos and, once rid of the photographers, promptly ripped off her silver medal in temper. One might judge her for being a snot, but she has been training since the age of three, so one can only imagine the pressure she might have been under.

She’s not the only one who might need a little perspective check. Russian Aliya Mustafina was quoted as saying, “I’m not used to winning just one medal. You get a taste for it and you want a second medal, then a third.” And fellow Russian Victoria Komova expected golds, considering her efforts a complete failure as she only snagged two silvers.

We were kind of used to all that high drama. I still remember watching the Olympics in the ’80s, when the event was little more than a thinly veiled muscle match between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, as each tried to prove themselves superior to the other via their nation’s athletes.

Heck, I still remember Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

However, a few teenage-girl snits aside, I began to wonder if there is a change in the attitude these athletes bring to the Games. I watched as American Sam Mikulak kissed the vault and swapped handshakes and high-fives with his fellow competitors after he scored fifth. I watched as German Fabian Hambuchen slipped from top position to second after Epke Zonderland’s stunning performance on the horizontal bars, and Fabian registered his own disappointment only briefly before clapping Epke on the back and shaking his hand in admiration. The two were exchanging hugs and congratulations like dear friends by the time they received their medals.

There’s more, too. We were watching the women running, and feeling a bit of pity for the women whose countries and religions ensured they were covered head-to-toe, as they came in dead last, long after everyone else had crossed the finish line. We speculated that perhaps their countries thought it wasn’t worth investing in those athletes because they were women, and perhaps wanted to prove to their audiences back home that “See? Women can’t perform well.” Except, if anything, it does the exact opposite. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei were pressured to have women compete (thank you, IOC!), and now they are forced to reveal the comparison: how well women athletes perform when you invest in them, compared with the countries who hold them back. It’s not the women who do poorly. It’s about an entire nation’s attitude. Their performance says nothing about the women as individuals and says everything about the power of women’s rights.

Tahmina Kohistani, from Afghanistan, was one such athlete whose nation did not properly support her efforts. But the surprise was, when she arrived at the Olympics, how many others cheered her on. She writes, “I wasn’t pleased with my time – I had trained so much, worked so hard. But it was still a good experience, and definitely the most important of my life. It was so good to be able to learn from all the other girls. I talked with a lot of the other runners, and they were all encouraging me….But I knew I was not going to win a medal when I came here; I am here to begin a new era for the women of Afghanistan to show people that we can do the same things that people from other countries can do. There is no difference between us.” Instead of coming to the Olympics and encountering sour and threatening rivals, Kohistani found support, mentorship, and encouragement. Instead of being trampled on, she was lifted up and given a chance to make a change for women back home.

This is what I believe the power and the promise of the Olympics and events like it can be. When it shifts from a muscle match to a show of true honor and sportsmanship, when competitors are not enemies but mentors to learn from, and when athletes demonstrate through camaraderie and hard work, skill, and determination what people can achieve, the Olympics can help pave the road of progress.

The Olympics has always been political. But I’m happy when the politics of sports means that countries are pressured to invest in their girls and that competition is not a zero-sum game – there is more to sport than winning the gold. There is teamwork and there is inspiration. Let us do better and be better, not to beat the other guy up, but to make us all the best we can be.

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. CaptureShare. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Corinne’s!

Random Acts of Kindness {A Bigger Picture Moment}

10 Acts of Faith and Generosity I’ve Been Witness To

A few weeks ago, I posted an adventure list: 100 crazy, weird, exciting, challenging, and fun, novel, life-altering things I’ve seen, eaten and done in my lifetime. I like to think this list shows I’m a bit of a fan of the world and all it has to offer. I like to think it shows I’ve seen a fair bit of human kind as well. And me? I’m a fan of people. News articles and office politics and snarky comments on a bad day regularly expose us to the awful things we’re capable of doing and saying to one another. When people are frightened or angry, we can be particularly unkind.

But we’re capable of great selflessness too. I think about the people who donate money during tragedy, the people who adopt children or pets who need a home, the people who continually choose to purchase music & movies & books when they could be easily gotten online for free, the people who see a need and fill it without having to be asked – whether that need is a lost stranger, a society broken, or simply a trashcan needing to be emptied. I think of the people who always have a kind word for those around them, who choose to honor and support their fellow man rather than cut him down. I think of those who choose forgiveness over retribution. This post is for them.

Ten Random Acts of Kindness To Which I’ve Been Privvy 

1. A stranger on the street once complimented me on my dress.

2. Two Thai women saw me struggling to get my scooter out of a ditch and they came and lifted my motorbike out for me – with me on it.

3. My father once backed our car over a ledge and four African men came over and lifted the car back onto the street.

4. A group of near-strangers gave me a place to stay in Munich and showed me around the city.

5. Free book-swap stations in the guesthouses I’ve stayed in, and the one I saw on the street corner in Prenzlauerberg in Berlin.

6. Soon after we moved to Thailand, we got into a motorcycle accident and ended up at the police station trying to negotiate to determine who was at-fault, but we barely spoke any Thai at that point. So friends we barely knew came to our rescue, drove clear across town, skipped their dinner, and spent nearly two hours negotiating for us and got us a fair outcome.

7. A near-stranger insisted I stay in her home with her family & kids because she was worried about my safety staying alone. They fed me breakfast in the morning and the kids walked with me back to work the next day.

8. One time we got lost in a shanty town in South Africa and it was pitch-dark at night with no electricity anywhere. Some concerned citizens worried for our safety and lead us to a police station and the police escorted us to where we needed to be.

9. When I was in the midst of my Master’s exams, my step-mother-in-law cooked food and brought it over for me so I could focus on my 48-hour take-home exam (in which I had to write (3) 10-15 page essays, complete with bibliographies).

10. It seems almost like cheating to mention anything that happened at Burning Man, but one night I lost my hubby’s really expensive camera out on the playa. I was devastated; distraught even. But we went to lost & found a couple of days later, and there it was, complete with pictures on the memory card and everything.

And one for the road:

My husband was once on a road trip with friends in a ’73 VW bus and the bus broke down while going up a hill. He managed to find a NAPA Auto Parts store, but they didn’t have the part he needed. However, an auto parts store a couple hours’ drive away did. So the manager at the auto parts store gave Toby the keys to his own truck and let Toby drive it over to the other store to get the part. Toby tried to fill up the gas tank on the way back as a thank you, but had to stop at $75 because he was poor and couldn’t afford more. Turns out, that truck had TWO gas tanks.

What acts of kindness have you been a witness to?

(This post was inspired by this article: 21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity)

*     *     *

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but by the moments that take our breath away.” 
- Author Unknown 

 What moments stole your breath away this week? 

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Alita’s!
AND DON’T FORGET!! Next week Bigger Picture Blogs is turning TWO!
Join in the celebration: sign up to be a writing/photo collaborator, or even bake a cake!
Details HERE.

Pinnacle Moment {Lenae}

We’re back! Hope you all had a Thanksgiving so yummy it induced a cozy stupor! This week we have a touching story from Lenae at Just Lenae. If you don’t already know this woman, you should because besides being warm and funny, loving and thoughtful, she and her lovely family are on the move. To Azerbaijan. (Where?!) (Yeah, I had to look up how to spell it.) And they’re doing it right smack in the middle of Christmas craziness. So you should follow her on this new adventure – I’m sure it’ll be quite the roller coaster indeed. Anyway, she took time out of the craziness to share a moment that changed her. I hope you’ll take a moment to pull up a chair and join in the conversation.
 

 

From Lenae, titled: My Walk With Red

It was meant to be a weekend visit, when I drove up the California coastline to the small Oregon town where my great-grandparents lived, all those years ago.  I was on the cusp of turning 19, with long, black hair I still hadn’t learned how to style, and grand, vivid hopes for all I hoped to accomplish after I left for the Air Force in a few months.

My great-grandpa wasn’t doing well.  His health had been spotty for years, but it had recently been on the downward decline long enough that my dad urged me to go see him in the rehabilitation home he’d recently moved to.  Just in case.

I don’t remember much about the 6-hour trek north.  I sped along the redwood-lined highway I knew so well and reveled in the freedom of my solitude.  I littered the floor of my parents’ car with empty Mountain Dew bottles and rotated through my favorite CDs.  As for what awaited me once I arrived at my destination, I had no expectations or heavy thoughts about it.  I was enshrouded in a bubble untouched by serious illness or death, moving lightly in self-assured naiveté.

It was a bubble that dissolved easily enough the moment I stepped from the cool, Oregon fog into the rehabilitation home.  It smelled as most medical facilities do –stuffy, sterile—and all sound was eerily muffled and hushed.  I was not prepared for the sight of Grandpa Red, as he’d always been called because of the copper-hued locks of his youth.  He was emaciated and unshaven.  He stirred instantly at the sight of me.

I had great affection for Grandpa Red, but my memories of affection from him were mostly hazy, rimmed in his characteristic sarcasm.  He wasn’t gentle; if he wanted to hug you, he pulled you in under his arm and more likely than not gave you a noogie.  He served in the Seabees during World War II, and filled the Navy-stereotype beautifully with entertaining, salty language.  He listened to Rush Limbaugh in the shop behind the house and enjoyed fishing.   He taught me in part how to have the grand and vivid personality I was carefully stoking for myself.

Yet the man in the hospital bed was neither grand nor vivid.  He was a remnant of the person populating so many of my memories, already faded.  Somewhere in my subconscious I recognized that this, truly, was a farewell visit, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around that reality just yet.  I crossed the room and perched carefully in a chair beside him and did something I couldn’t remember doing since I was a very little girl: I held his hand.

I don’t remember if we traded any polite remarks.  Frankly, I don’t remember anything about that interaction other than how very warm his hand was, and that he startled me to my core by asking if I’d attended church yet that week.  “I’ll be at church on Wednesday,” I offered him shakily, information he wouldn’t know because we’d never discussed my budding faith.

“Will you pray for me, Lenae?” he asked.

After a very long pause –because now I was attempting to wrap my heart around the reality my mind had already recognized—I promised him that yes, I would.

Mortality is an interesting, twisted object to try and hold in your hands.  I’d always been very precocious, very mindful of the darker aspect of the humanity I was a member of, but this meeting with my great-grandfather shattered any perceptions I’d built of my awareness.  I was a typical 18-year-old in that I was quite sure I knew exactly what I was doing… about everything.  And of course, nothing will tear up the roots of false confidence like confronting death.

The rehabilitation center he was in was not ideal.  My great-grandmother was fretful and alone there, pacing the halls of the home they shared not far from the beach.  But I wanted to leave.  I wanted to return to the warm security of the car gliding down the highway, and sing my heart out and slam down junk food and think of how cute I’d look in an Air Force blues uniform.

In the end, there were a few things that compelled me to do otherwise: compassion bred beneath an umbrella of intentional parenting; a heart leaping and jumping in new faith, and ideas of what vibrant service and selfless love actually looked like.  I quit my job back in my hometown to stay there in Oregon, and help my great-grandparents.  The ensuing weeks were an education in one of the most grand, vivid transitions of life – as it were, the exit from life.  It was a privilege to dole out medication, to hear tales told one last time, to observe gratitude delivered in unchecked fullness.  It was shattering to be present for the physical breakdown of a body that was, at a time, strong and streamlined.  I held those warm hands that grew ever warmer as he –we—neared the end, and it seemed he was burning the truth of existence into my soul.  I’d never shared anything very deep with the man, but I was honored to be there with him as he grappled with the inevitable questions we weigh as we contemplate being no more.  I was humbled to be able to pray with him, blessed to see evidence of a peaceful heart just hours before his breath came and went and then did not come again.

It was not graduating from high school or taking the oath at the end of military training that propelled me into adulthood: it was this – the overwhelming, breaking, final walk I took hand-in-hand with my great-grandfather.  I felt in his grip all the love he was never able to convey in words, and when my eyes had cleared, I looked up to the see the sunrise of eternal life as I’d been unable to view it before.

 

I hope you enjoyed this moment, and that beautiful juxtaposition she created between youth and death. I hope you’ll join us once more next week, for the conclusion of our series. Thanks so much for connecting with us along the way!
 

Pinnacle Moments {Hyacynth}

Welcome to this week’s edition of Pinnacle Moments, where we share the moments that have shaped our lives. This week’s moment comes from the lovely Hyacynth, of Undercover Mother. It’s a poignant one. I hope you’ll stay to hear her tale. Here it is.
 

From Hyacynth:

His two-year-old footprints shimmer in the sunlight dancing on the wooden floor as we both sit in a tangled heap crying, his small body draped over a rather pregnant stretch of baby beneath my skin.

In a moment of twoness that I just couldn’t understand, he scampered across the freshly mopped floor for a fourth time in so many minutes.

In a moment of selfishness, irritation he just couldn’t understand, I forcefully reached out, grabbed him by the arm and all but yanked him from the still-soaking floors while yelling loudly and denouncing his repeated attempts at puddle splashing.

Eyes wide, full of surprise, he looks at me stunned. He’s never heard that mommy before, never felt an ungentle touch come from her hands.

But I keep scolding anyway, hot from emotions and the exhaustion of scrubbing floors and being eight months pregnant and keeping up with a spirited toddler.

I hear the harshness in my voice. I see the panic spread across his brow, creep into his normally joyful eyes.

And at the same time he bursts into scared tears, I snap back into the reality of the situation:

he’s a two year old exploring our world, not a teenager defiantly staying out past curfew.

In his unique verbalization of two he cries, “Mommy soooo mad. I sorry. No more splashing on the floor. Mommy scary like a monster.”

The words mommy monster burn into my brain. It’s my turn for hot tears to spill past heavy lashes, for panic to creep into my heart about what kind of precedent I’ve just set, what kind of experience I’ve allowed him to harbor as a memory.

In a moment of Divine Grace realized, I’m reminded that no one is made of perfection; but everyone is bathed in forgiveness if only they ask.

So his body gathered in my arms, I dry his tears and my own as the floor’s wetness, too, evaporates and ask him simply, voice full of remorse, “Mommy is so sorry I yelled at you. Could you forgive me?”

Though he cannot yet speak the real meaning of apology or forgiveness, he feels the working definition of both in his heart after seeing the regret across my face, feeling the warmth of my arms and voice; he wraps his small arms around my neck, while nodding his head yes.

I feel his forgiveness, and I understand forgiveness in a whole new way through his embrace:

it doesn’t stem from being right, nor is it something that can be earned or bought; rather it’s given freely out of love.

And through the child-blessing of an oldest son, I suddenly know a little better the heart of the Father who gifted him to us.

What a moment! Even without a child of my own, I recognize that same part in me that Hyacynth so bravely shared with us today. Pinnacle Moments will be taking a break for the Thanksgiving holiday next week, but will return the week after. I hope you’ve enjoyed the series so far! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
 
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