Love as a healing force, Part 1

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson

This blog is about Paul Robeson and my husband.

My husband is a huge fan of Paul Robeson, the actor/singer/lawyer/athlete/activist who died in 1976 at age 77. Hubby recently presented a talk about Mr. Robeson that got me thinking about love.

Paul Robeson exhibited love in his daily life. He sacrificed his career, his livelihood, his reputation, his mental health and, ultimately, his physical health for love. Paul so loved freedom that he acted on his values and convictions, regardless of the consequences he ultimately endured.

Paul Robeson, an internationally renowned star, reminds me of another man I knew, a local civil rights leader named Leroy Boyd. Leroy died in 2010 and was recently memorialized at the annual banquet of the organization he helped to found in Pensacola, Movement For Change.

Speaking at the event, the Pensacola police chief admitted to not always seeing eye-to-eye with Leroy, but he delivered the most favorable comments. Leroy called the chief often to discuss and attempt to resolve issues of discrimination and sometimes violence carried out by the police department toward someone in the community, usually a minority.

The chief closed his comments by saying that, whatever one thought of Leroy’s opinions, one had to admire his passion. In all the times Leroy called the police chief, he always called to help someone else, never for his own benefit.

Paul Robeson and Leroy Boyd both exemplify the power that love has to transform lives. Their commitment to others, to a better world, to a world that they knew was possible is a reflection of their belief in love as a healing force. They gave of themselves even when their gifts were not appreciated or acknowledged at the time.

In her article “Primal Reverence,” Kendyl Gibbons writes that “the primal experience of reverence … Comes in the stories of human experience that move us with their courage, with their dedication to justice or beauty, with their embrace of sacrifice for the larger good.”

Gibbons lists people such as the Rwandan hotel keeper Paul Rusesabagina who sheltered 1,268 refugees to protect them from the genocide, Harriet Tubman, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and now politician who faced oppression and 15 years house arrest but continued to push for democracy for her people of Myanmar.

To this list I would add the names Paul Robeson and Leroy Boyd.

To read the other blogs in this series:
Part 2
Part 3


Just grow up!

Parenthood is a defining phase in a person’s life. A little, vulnerable creature is depending on us completely for her life and sustenance now and for the next 18 years of her life. Talk about responsibility!

Historically, women have shouldered most of the responsibility of childrearing. As a result, mothering is directly correlated with maturation for women. Women’s own views of themselves as mothers as well as societal expectations around motherhood influence women’s behavior.

In general, mothers are more future-oriented than non-mothers of the same age. They tend to be more stable and more risk-averse. Mothers statistically perform the majority of childcare duties and are more often primary caregivers of their children.

Recent changes in gender roles and cultural shifts mean that fathers are increasingly involved in childrearing and parenting duties. Fathers today spend more time with their children than fathers of days past, and they are more aware of and responsive to their child’s needs and emotional development than their fathers were.

Father or mother, parents’ attachment to their children inhibits the parent’s desire and/or their ability to stay out all night, disappear for days at a time, spend all their money or otherwise engage in immature and self-centered behavior.

I presented a webinar this week entitled “After Incarceration: When the Parent Returns.” The goal of the webinar was to educate fellow social workers on how we can positively engage with families affected by incarceration and help parents reintegrate into their families after release from prison or jail.

Some of the questions I fielded during the webinar related to what social workers can do when other family members or the other parent (mom or dad) acts as a barrier to the formerly incarcerated parent resuming the parent-child relationship. Sometimes the immaturity of other people in the child’s life is the greatest barrier to the child having a normal relationship with both parents.

Research on child development and long-term research on the human life span shows us that children are best served by the involvement and love of both parents in their lives. Certainly, there are exceptions to this when the child’s safety is at risk. In many cases, though, it is immaturity and an unwillingness to put aside personal differences that cause problems between parents and their children.

Being a parent means nothing if not putting the needs of your child ahead of your own wants. Adults make mistakes, but children needn’t suffer for them.

To parents and others who are allowing their own immaturity to affect a child’s relationship with mom and dad, just grow up!

Change your glasses, change your life

A display case features two choices of eyeglasses. One pair of glasses shows the world as a dangerous place. The other pair shows the world as a place full of beauty and majesty that fills the viewer with gratitude. Which pair of glasses do we choose?

A recent blog described our perspective on life as a choice between the set of glasses that we wear each day. Glasses make a useful metaphor for our perspective, our point of view.

Thinking of our perspective as a set of glasses first draws our awareness to the fact that we have a perspective which colors our view of situations. Things are not always as they first seem. Just as a speck of dust on our lenses can disturb our view through our glasses, our past experiences and baggage can color our take on what happens in our lives.

Someone who feels generally positive and optimistic about things would see each new opportunity as manageable, even fun. A person who has been hurt, who is distrustful and cynical would approach a challenge as a bother, an annoyance and not much fun.

The glasses metaphor also underscores the idea of our perspective as a choice. We may not have a choice in whether or not we have a perspective. (Everyone does.) We do, though, have control over which perspective we adopt.

Just as there are many types and styles of glasses — from designer frames to cheap , disposable dollar-store pairs — there are an unlimited number of perspectives we can take. We can choose to look at life as a gift or a curse, an unpredictable thrill ride or a logically unfolding chain of events, a miserable and meaningless exercise or a wondrous journey of discovery and growth. We pick the perspective that suits us.

Finally, in thinking of our perspective as a set of glasses, we remember that our perspective is changeable. The glasses are not glued to our face. We can switch one pair for another. We have the ability to do that.

Let your attention go to your glasses. Which pair are you wearing right now? Are they the right pair for you in your space at this moment in time? is this perspective working for your life?

If you don’t like your glasses, change them. The change may make a world of difference.

Draw your lines

pencil drawing line
A friend or family member asks for a favor, for you to give of your time, money or other resources to help her in some way. You agree. The asker then adds another request, to which you also agree. At the third favor, you say, “Now that’s where I draw the line.”

By drawing your verbal “line,” you have established a boundary with that person. You made a difficult but necessary decision about what you are and are not willing to do for that person.

Setting boundaries is sometimes a hard thing to do. Family ties, work commitments and relationship expectations carry a great deal of weight that pushes on us when we are approached or asked to do something — or be something — for another person.

“That is just what family members do for each other.”

“If you were a true friend, you would.”

“What kind of partner are you if you say no to that request?”

We put pressure upon ourselves to behave in what we think is a socially acceptable way.

Sometimes, we have convinced ourselves that we make ourselves more lovable and acceptable to others by what we do for or give to those others. Sometimes, others have convinced us that we are lovable and acceptable only based on what we do for or give to them.

We start to learn boundaries when we are babies. In infancy, we recognize no separation between ourselves and our mothers. As we grow, we learn our own independence and mastery over our environment. We learn that we can soothe ourselves and dress ourselves and feed ourselves. We learn what our parents will tolerate and what they will not tolerate.

If we had good, sensitive and responsible parents, they taught us that there were limits to what they would accept. They might have said to us, “You may not behave that way. We do not allow screaming at the dinner table.”

Good, sensitive and responsible parents also would have validated our own limits. When we asked not to be touched or declined to participate in some sport or activity, our parents, respectful of our boundaries, would have upheld our wishes. They wouldn’t have taken our preferences as a personal assault or reflection on them.

Scott Peck, psychiatrist and author of the seminal The Road Less Traveled, writes of love as separateness. “A major characteristic of genuine love is that the distinction between oneself and the other is always maintained and preserved,” Peck observes.

The parents who were not so good, sensitive and responsible could not maintain that distinction. They couldn’t respect and support our boundaries. They asked, “What kind of daughter are you to say no to your own mother?” or cajoled, “Go ahead and perform for our guests. You know how much it means to me.”

Messages such as these from our parents and other significant adults forebode our caving under the demands of the manipulative friends, bullies, heavy-handed lovers and overbearing bosses of later years.

Setting boundaries involves identifying who you are and what you want from life. Setting boundaries involves deciding how far you are willing to go with another person and what risks you want to take.

Setting boundaries means drawing lines not to keep others out but to keep your own wholeness intact. Draw your lines and communicate them clearly. Draw your lines and claim your life.

Hurt people hurt people

Read that headline twice. Do you get it? Confusing as it may seem, that sentence conveys an important truth in life.

People who are hurting, who have been hurt, who are carrying unhealed wounds — these people often behave like injured animals and lash out at others around them. Having been hurt themselves, they abuse and mistreat others. It is a nasty cycle.

We learn from a young age how to treat others, and we begin early to train people how to treat us. Dysfunction, family violence and poor boundaries are breeding grounds for pain and bitterness. Without adequate role models, young people recreate what they know.

As they grow up, their low expectations of others create space for misbehavior. Hurt people give themselves and others permission to behave badly. They get something out of it, even if just the familiar feeling of being hurt physically or emotionally, of knowing that they are still alive.

The real or psychic pain may eventually become too great, however. The hurt person may become ready to treat that tender, aching wound. It hurts more at first to wash and clean the wound, to pull out the splinters that have caused the infection.

The injured person may wonder if the removal is really necessary, if she mightn’t be better off just leaving well enough alone.

Once the wound is treated, though, and bandaged and the person begins to recover, she realizes that she has a clarity of mind and more energy than she had before to focus on taking care of herself and the others around her that she loves. She can stop focusing on her pain and start focusing on her healing.

This is how the cycle of hurt and hurting is ended. Each person pulling out splinters, resetting broken bones, and carefully washing and wrapping wounds or providing love, strength and guidance through the healing process plays a powerful role.

One less hurt person to cause more pain.

Become a friend to yourself

A leadership coach recently challenged me to identify my core beliefs. The exercise proved to be revelatory for me as my values and self-identity were shaken and then affirmed in the process.

Core beliefs are those assertions we hold deeply about ourselves and the world around us. On the surface level, we may say that we like who we are or that we are proud of ourselves, but closer examination sometimes reveals that these sentiments are not deeply rooted.

Many of us are not satisfied with the person we were created to be. We dislike our appearance, the amount of intelligence we believe we have, the words that come out our mouth. We even resist our gifts in the pursuit of trying to be someone that we are not.

The terms self-esteem and self-confidence are thrown about and may be considered synonyms. They are not entirely the same, however. We may be confident about our ability to perform a task but not have healthy self-esteem in the core of who we are. We are confident people lacking a full understanding of our self-worth.

Quiet meditation allowed me to reconnect with who I am and who I want to be. My talents and ethical foundation became clear to me while drafting my core beliefs.

Facing our innermost foundation is a frightening task. Doubts play in our mind. The process of reflection, however, enables us to be honest with ourselves and clarify our hopes and expectations.

Like a friend, we lovingly point out areas of strength and areas for improvement. In writing out our core beliefs, we can act as a friend to ourselves.

The wonder of “wow”

nature wow
I first read Anne Lamott as a 19-year-old. Leaving my first “real” job as a community reporter at a small-town daily newspaper for a big city and work at a major paper, I received her Bird by bird as a going-away present.

I thoroughly enjoyed that little book of instructions on life and writing. Lamott’s advice to just take each new project “bird by bird,” step by step, has no doubt resonated in my mind dozens of times and kept me sane in hectic times. Lamott’s work has held a special place in my heart these 15 years since. While I haven’t sought her out, her name and essays in various magazines have greeted me with warmth and familiarity from time to time.

Lamott’s piece on wonder in Good Housekeeping recently was especially poignant since I have been cultivating my own sense of wonder in the last few years.

Lamott says, “‘Wow’ means we are not dulled to wonder.” I know that I go dull at times, worn down by my frenetic life. I have to quell my internal desire for absolutism and certainty, two urges that leave me too often fearful and anxious. Lamott acknowledges this tendency when she writes, “It is so much more comfortable to think that we know what it all means, what to expect, and how it all hangs together.”

I don’t like surprises, disorder or the unknowable. I yearn for control and security. I like to believe that having the data gives me the power.

Lamott reminds me that the immense, the incredible, the indescribable is also pretty cool. The things that make us say “wow” slow us down and give us perspective on what really matters.

When I become so focused on knowing and calculating, I lose sight of my true priorities and the joy in simple moments. If all is predictable and safe, what is wondrous? If I am in charge, where is God’s place in my life?

The wonder of wow recharges me while also settling me. Thanks to Lamott for reminding me to pay attention to the beauty and the specialness all around me. Thanks to Lamott helping me to find my wow.

Realizing life while we live it

Father William Meninger

Father William Meninger

I have a confession to make: I am often preoccupied, anxious and fearful about the future. I sometimes spend more time consumed with worry about what might happen than I do paying attention to what is happening.

Planning and thinking about what lies ahead is not always a bad thing, except when it is. I cannot predict nor control the future, no matter how much I ponder and anticipate it. Furthermore, when I keep thinking about what is to come, I miss out on a lot of special moments happening now.

Father William Meninger reminded me of this today. In a guest sermon here in Pensacola, the Trappist monk from Colorado spoke of God’s glory revealed in the cosmos and in the world around us. There is so much to be in awe of. Father William tied this revelation to a single line in the play “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder.

The ghost of lead character Emily Gibbs née Webb, dead at the age of 26, revisits her mother’s kitchen on the day of her 12th birthday. Emily is struck by how little attention her mother pays to her as Mrs. Webb putters about making breakfast. Emily yearns for her mother to truly look at her and be in the moment with her.

Disheartened, Emily asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?” Her guide, the Stage Manager, answers, “No — saints and poets, maybe. They do, some.”

“We are called to be saints,” Father William informed us from the pulpit. We are called to recognize the wonderful in the most seemingly mundane moments. Emily didn’t recognize the beauty of the life she’d been given until it was too late.

Let it not be the same for us. Let us revel in all that we have, all that we see, all that is freely given — here and now — for as long as we live.

Loving kindness

Today, I invited the youth in Children’s Chapel to consider the topic of loving kindness. Loving kindness is the religious practice of recognizing and treasuring the majesty in all creatures. I offered it as a way to live the Valentine’s Day holiday on more than just February 14.

As part of chapel, we did a loving kindness meditation. I asked the children to visualize different people and then send loving kindness to those people. One of the people we did this for was someone toward whom we felt hostile or annoyed. “Like a bully?” “Like a brother or sister?” “Like someone who takes your toys?” I agreed that any of these kinds of people would fit the description.

We reflected afterward on why we might send loving kindness toward bullies or irritating siblings or toy-stealers. I was touched by the insight of these 7- and 8- and 10-year-old kids.

“We hope they won’t be a bully anymore.” “Maybe they are having a bad day, and we want them to have a better day and feel better.” “It is like, when someone does something bad, and you say, ‘I will pray for you.'”

The kids agreed that they could use loving kindness throughout their day or during specific times when they feel stressed or scared or angry. They said they felt better after practicing the meditation.

Instead of seeing “hostile people” as the enemy, these kids understood that sometimes the difference between a friend and an enemy is just a matter of perspective. Most significantly, they learned a bit about taking responsibility for their own feelings and soothing themselves in times of discomfort. These are the skills from which resilience is born.

Sometimes it just takes someone to remind you that you can

tiny leaf resilience
Resilience is one of the most powerful words in the English language.

When I introduced resilience as a group topic recently, women in the group responded with some personal stories and a lot of head nodding and “mm-hmm”s of agreement. Most of them had never heard the word “resilient” and couldn’t define it but recognized how they’d been resilient in their lives. They were excited to have a word to describe their life experiences of survival and perseverance.

I define resilience as the ability to bounce back from a setback, challenge or difficulty. A resilient person finds a way to keep going in the face of what seems impossible.

In my discussions of resilience, I acknowledge how much we have already overcome and survived to get to where we are now. Physical or emotional abuse, bullying, domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, disappointments, illness, poverty, harassment … Life can be a struggle for many. Honoring our strength to get through it shifts the focus to what we have done instead of what we have failed to do.

“I really needed this,” Monica confessed at the conclusion of the group. “This came at exactly the right time for me. Resilience is pretty much the whole theme of my life.”

Monica left empowered to learn that she already had skills to change her life. She just needed someone to believe that she could, to give her courage to believe in herself. She needed someone to name her Resilient.