I must admit that I’ve had a difficult time coming up with a blog for my website for more than a month. Just when it seems that there is a possibility to do something about climate change, COVID happens and takes all resources and planning. Just when it appears we have COVID in check and hospitalizations are down, the Ukraine War happens. That is definitely not resolved, but the challenges continue. Next we are again bombarded with mass shootings–the one in NY followed only ten days later by the elementary school shooting in Texas. There has been so many shootings, both street violence increases and mass shooting increases. Then the supreme courts removes a right for women to make a choice about their own body. They negate a precedent, upheld several times over the past fifty years. But that isn’t enough bad news. Today we learn of yet more people dying by trying to cross into America–people fleeing lives I can’t begin to imagine, pressed together and left to die in a truck, in the desert, with no air. Honestly, these are the times I simply want to stay in bed.
Yes, I know I could choose to simply not watch the news. Turn away, refuse to pay attention. I know many people make that choice. But I can’t. In turning away, I feel that I am turning my back on all those in pain. It is true that standing up now will not save a single person who has died, but it may save others in the future. If I turn my back, I am saying those people don’t matter. I matter more. My comfort matters more. In doing so, I am lessened. This is a value of mine. Not to turn my back. Instead, I ask what can I do? What do I have the resources, the stamina, and the mental capacity to do? The answer cannot be “nothing.”
What can I do besides pray? How could I talk of hope, if I had none myself?
First, I recognize I can’t run away from reality.
I can’t pretend it’s not happening, or refuse to listen. I know some people can do that. Some of my own family in fact. They are in the we-can’t-save-everyone boat. Therefore, we will only concentrate on ourselves and our immediate family. I understand that, but I can’t do that. I have this belief that at least in the knowing, I have some way to better prepare to persevere. I have the knowledge, from experience, that I could be any one of these people. I could be the one without a home. I could be the one in the grocery store who gets shot. I could be the one… There is ALWAYS something I can do to make a difference.
I’m not in Ukraine fighting a war or hiding in rubble. Yet, I do feel the pain of the Ukrainians (and the Russians who have no say in what their leadership is doing, yet bears the burden of those policies). I can’t personally stop that war. But I can offer compassion and resources to those who can do practical things in Ukraine. I can talk to those here who have family there, and be a listener and supporter. I can talk to those here who have lost others this year, or last year, to death through illness or COVID. I can talk to those here who have family across the border they are working to bring through.
When I see rights being taken away that I fought for 50 years ago, and have been upheld in other court cases, it would be easy to say: “I did my bit. It’s someone else’s turn now.” I do have moments of deep grief and wanting to give up. There is nothing I can say to change what happened. But that doesn’t mean I give up. If I give up now, it is as if everything I worked for is meaningless. It means I find another way. There is never only one way to move forward. The key is to be smarter, work harder, and look for options. Giving up is giving in and accepting the status quo. I can’t do that. I won’t do that.
I am not a person who can use anger to motivate me to march in the street. Instead, I choose to work in the background doing practical and immediate things to help others in this moment. I work in the background to educate, to be an ear and a hand-holder for those who are frightened and don’t know where to turn for help. I take directions from those who have been in the trenches for years and have built a network of people, agencies, lawyers and know how to wield them. They were prepared and will continue to make new pathways. I’m fortunate to live in a state that still upholds women’s rights to make their own decisions in every aspect of their life. There are lots of people like me, people who know there are many needs–needs for practical, immediate help and needs for long term planning across many issues.
No I can’t do it all. I can barely do what I need to do everyday for myself and my extended family. But I also can’t do nothing.
Second, I am resolved to continue to speak my values in person and through my daily actions.
Those who know my books and me, know my consistent theme is holding up every day people who make heroic choices one messy moment at a time. Life is messy, no matter where you sit in our world.
I’ve learned there are rarely easy choices in life. Even choosing something seemingly without a downside (take the weekend to go to the beach and regenerate) has consequences. It means something I would be doing at home doesn’t get done. What will I give up for that break? Finishing the bathroom remodel I’ve put off for three months because I was too busy with other things of importance? Two days of writing time which I’ve ignored for a month for the same reason? I must always weigh what is more important at that moment. Everything I do impacts someone else as well–my husband and the plans he had, others in my family who count on me to be there (siblings, my mother, nieces and nephews).
It is ALWAYS messy. Never easy.
But if no one is willing to engage in the messiness, no one will get what they need. If no one is willing to listen to the other side and compromise to accomplish something heroic, then we will never move forward. If no one is willing to live with the pain and say, “I can give up something to lessen this pain,” then the pain will not only remain but grow. A recent example is the new gun safety legislation that passed last week –something no one had been able to do for thirty years. Neither side got what they wanted. Both sides have more opposing priorities they want to pass. However, both sides agreed to compromise. They agreed that doing nothing wasn’t acceptable anymore.
I’m a firm believer in using my vote to put people in office who reflect my values. Of course, no one reflects ALL my values. So again I have to make choices. I don’t understand this all or nothing dynamic that some people express to me. There is no candidate who will do everything I want, so I’m not going to vote. Really? When your spouse doesn’t do everything you want, do you get a divorce? When your child doesn’t come home with straight As to you kick them out? When your church pastor doesn’t give you the answer you expect, do you leave? I hope not.
Life is ALWAYS compromise. Those rare times when everything goes exactly as I planned are miraculous. But when it doesn’t go as planned, I don’t quit. I find another way. I step back and think what I could do differently to accomplish the goals I have. Voting is the same way. You choose the best person you can. They aren’t perfect. They will make mistakes. Some will be corrupted. When the mistakes are too much or the corruption, you make them and others aware of it and vote for some else.
I give money when I can to places and people who are willing to step into the breech and make a difference–people who will not give up even when it appears it will be long slog. I’ve lived long enough to know that it is rare that things happen within a day or a week or even a year. I have to make my best guess as to who will do that and support them in every way I can.
If I Stand for My Values Others Will Be Willing to Trudge With Me.
Though it often feels unbearable, when one is in the midst of horrific pain or disappointment, the way forward has always been one wobbly step at a time and to keep trudging. There are always others who are willing to trudge alongside–at least for a while, as long as they can. And if they tire, there are yet others who are willing to step in. But we have to ask and we have to accept whatever they can give at that moment.
I’ve done a lot of trudging in my life. Though I no longer am able to be the person in the front pulling a train–I am still able to be someone in the middle making sure there is support for the engine while still generating enough energy on my own to help pull the caboose. Though in the past I’ve been a door knocker, a cheerleader, a public podium speaker for certain causes, for many reasons I am not able to sustain that today. I have neither the resources or the stamina to travel extensively. Today my best offering is my words. It is a small, but important, way to contribute.
That is why I continue to blog in several places. That is why I continue to write books that give examples of people overcoming hardship, bad decisions, heartbreak, and often forced to trudge forward having done absolutely nothing wrong. That is why I have started writing for Middle Grade and Young Adult audiences. I know they are the future.
I learned a lot from reading books. Nonfiction gave me facts and figures, and occasionally a living example from someone’s biography or memoir. But fiction has always been my go-to choice. Fiction has always given me options. Options to see emotion expressed that perhaps I was unable to express as a younger person, or even now. Options of a different way to think about a problem, a way that is not the standard approach. Most important, fiction has given me the ability to see other cultures and geographical places (some real and many not real…yet) that I would never get to see in person. I want to give some of that to the next generation. The generation that will be the leaders of the future, long after I’m gone.
Take Time to Also Focus on the Beauty
My blogs, newsletters, and stories focus on finding a way forward. They also remind us to take moments to rest, to stop and notice the good and beauty that does exist beside the pain and tumult. It is important to acknowledge both. It is seeing the good, the beauty, the kindness, the love that pushes me forward in times of pain and hopelessness. That balance of pain in beauty is difficult, and we each choose to handle that differently.
Some look for serious books that show characters overcoming huge obstacles. That’s what I did a lot as a child and still do today. I needed answers to the things I saw in the world and didn’t understand. Why did we have oatmeal all the time or hot dogs several days in a row? Why did all of our clothes come from people at church instead of going to the store? Why did a five year old, who barely lived, die? Why does God allow these things. Why would a religious man would choose to hurt children? I didn’t find answers to those exact questions in the books I read. But I did find examples of how people survived difficult lives and became successful. I did find examples of how people think differently and make choices to stand up for others. That is why I write those kind of books today.
Others try to escape the problems of today through entertainment, something light that takes them into another world or at least feels unrelated to our real world. I do that too. I love a great comedy–stand up or short TV program. I often cope with political news by watching comics who are able to be funny and serious at the same time. Thank you Stephen Colbert! I also have escaped into a children’s movie or animation. The most recent one was Disney’s Encanto. A good combination of overcoming obstacles and escapism. And Bruno! I will always talk about Bruno!
I’m also doing more and more connecting in person with others and that is a part of focusing on the beauty. I’m fortunate in that I didn’t find COVID isolation difficult. As an introvert, spending more time alone wasn’t difficult. I can easily go a month without seeing anyone else and not feel liked I missed much. I think sometimes my husband feels that is what I do. But really I don’t ignore him for a month, just a few days here and there.
But even I, after two years, felt the loss of connection with others. There is something to be said about seeing a person in 3D, instead of on Zoom. My masked exercise classes introduced me to people who I only knew by the color of their hair and the exercise outfits they favored. When we were first able to exercise without masks, the difference seeing a full face where eyes, nose, and mouth are connected and expressive was amazing. Though I am not a very good social butterfly, I do look forward to more times to connect in person again.
Wash, Rinse, Repeat
Life is a series of ups and downs. Because my family is large and we grew up without many economic resources, I learned early in life that it was not all easy and happy. More important I learned that I am responsible for my own happiness. I can choose how I react to every trough and celebrate every peak. I learned early skills in how to move around an obstacle if I couldn’t remove it. I learned not to expect someone else to solve problems for me.
I also learned that there are more good people than bad people. If I’m one of those good people, it is likely that I will find others nearby. It has been true throughout my life. Yes, I’ve run into some bad ones I trusted. I’ve made some bad choices about business partners in the past. I’ve been through two tough recessions and did not come out unscathed. I’ve had several health problems along the way that I wish I hadn’t had to face. But…with every trough I learned something. I learned I was stronger than I thought. I learned what to do differently in the future to not get taken by a business partner. I learned that health is precious but we can’t always control what happens to our body. But we can adapt, if we are willing.
I’ve learned again and again that there are more good people than bad. Many people throughout my life have come to support me in bad times–often they were people I didn’t even personally know, or knew only in passing. The knowledge of the overwhelming good in the world is what keeps me going, continues to give me hope even in difficult times. So, I keep living my values, trudging with others who feel the same–sometimes friends, often strangers. In the end I suspect I have more happiness than the average person. I am so very grateful to be alive.
May you find a way to see hope in the future and establish your best way forward in troubling times. If you need someone to trudge alongside you, reach out. Let people know. I bet you will find more than you think if you are willing to let them in.
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