Wednesday, 9 August 2017

It's Sexist

Here's how we know the "google memo" is sexist rather than just "science" or a "discussion": If we spoke about men the same way it would be absolutely and completely unacceptable. If somebody wrote that because men are biologically predisposed to violence and aggression and as such have been responsible for the overwhelming majority of war, genocide, human trafficking, murder, rape and child abuse, and therefore that men should not be allowed to hold positions of power, that person's life and career would be instantly and completely ruined. There would be no discussion about whether it's a valid argument or not. It would be totally verboten to entertain.

Monday, 17 July 2017

On the Fleeing of Loneliness

I was a lonely child, a lonely adolescent, and a lonely twenty something.  I was lonely in relationships and out of them.  The loneliness was overwhelming and was sometimes a physical ache.  I wanted connection, companionship, and most of all mutual understanding but did not know how to find it.  I wrote about my loneliness over and over in my journals and after years of feeling its presence, I felt that to be lonely was probably my fate. It was a part of my identity.  It defined several decades of my life.

A couple of years ago it occurred to me that I don't feel lonely anymore.  I cannot remember having lain in the dark feeling the ache of loneliness in my chest at any time in the last several years.  For all that may still be difficult or disappointing about how my life has shaken out, I am profoundly glad for the fierce, strong, wise women with whom I've grown close; for my parents with whom I now have more of a friendship than a ever; for a spouse from whom I receive affection every single day without exception.

Goodbye loneliness, my old friend.  I know that we might meet again one day, but you have not been my fate.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Subtle Ways We Separate

I worked next to a guy who was new to the soup kitchen on Tuesday.  He was serving dessert.  As the patrons came through for awhile I noticed how easily and adeptly he put them at ease when talking to them.  I tried to figure out in my head what exactly he was doing differently that seemed so appropriate, and different from the still very nice and friendly way in which the rest of us interacted with the patrons.

It was partly the words he used.  "Hey dude," he'd say, instead of, "Good morning sir!" as the rest of us might say.  He joked with them.  Asked every single one of them how their day was going.  Appreciated their choice of dessert ("Keeping it simple with a cookie.  Solid, man."  Or, "Cherry pie, nice.  Lemme find you a fat piece.").  He was casual with them but still, wasn't that just another way of being nice?

In any case, "You're so good at putting people at ease," I told him during a lull in the line.  "I really admire that."

"Oh, well, I've been on the other side of the line at times in my life so I know it could just as easily be me where they are."

I realized then that what was different was that he wasn't just treating the patrons with friendliness - and every single other volunteer there was being very friendly - he was treating them as a peer.  

I felt a little ashamed as I suddenly felt aware of the subtle way in which most of us subconsciously indicated a barrier between us and them (one that, perhaps, feels protective).  I wondered, should I try to mirror what he did?  But he treated them as a peer because he felt like he was one.  Most of the volunteers have not been as impoverished as our patrons have.  So what is the most dignified and compassionate role to take when interacting together?  If we don't intuitively feel like peers, should we "fake it til we make it"?  Or is it a matter of a shift in perspective that we need?  One of humility?  Or maybe just one of remembering that we are peers through the shared humanity, mortality and capacity for suffering of all of us?

I suspect it's a bit of all of the above.  I know I will struggle for a few weeks to implement what I feel I learned from the guy I worked with yesterday.  But it's important to me to do so, in a way that feels authentic to who I am. I'm grateful for lessons in compassion.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Death The Equalizer

I went through additional hospice training to become a vigil volunteer.  Vigil volunteers sit with actively dying patients to assure that no one ends their life alone.  I accepted my first patient last week and prepared for my 4am-7am shift at his bedside.  The patient died before we could hold vigil.  He was 36.

During vigil training one of the instructors told us what actively dying looks like.  "They may start to withdraw from those around them.  Their extremities may begin to mottle or turn blue," they said. In my head I thought, "We.  We may start to withdraw.  We may begin to turn blue."