Aging and snus

It astounds me sometimes that I come from snus-chewing, John Deere loving, gun-toting rednecks. Not that I don’t exhibit a bit that charm still, lucky you. We all grew up with strange and inappropriate colloquialisms that we do not realize are truly awful. Until one day we say out loud and then think: “OMG, THAT is so no appropriate!”snus

I spent over a week with my dad last month and let’s just say with our best southern accent,  “Sweet Jesus, who raised him?” As we age, our boundaries become a bit less stringent, and sometimes – perhaps – it would be better to be politically correct. I truly feel like someone who came from different parents. I suppose we all do.

My grandparents, dad’s folks, would have been – and likely were – appalled by his inappropriate responses, except for the racist ones. Perhaps this gave him a tiny degree of power in a family that was stringently Christian and all for “spare the rod, spoil the child”, and “President Reagan is our 6th cousin!!”  as if that was a thing. My dad has memories of being beaten regularly just on principal.

But now he is likely in his last decade and struggling through various health ailments. He has not lost his crass, embarrassing, and sometimes silly sense of humor. Thank God. I pray that will follow him to the very end. Even though it can really offend me. His life and living aren’t about making me comfortable. This truth is so hard for me.

Funny memories from those few precious and painful days:

  • I drive off 10 boxes and bags of magazines and newspapers to recycling – with permission from Pops (hallelujah!)
    • Day after:”Where are my magazines??” (from Pops after I did indeed dump them.)
  • “Where did you put my car keys?” (I show dad twice, tell him 3 times where they were. At the time he says, “great – I probably won’t need those for a while. No one has cleaned in that cabinet for 7 years!”  
    • Text from brother 2 days after I left: “where are dad’s car keys??” O.M.G. Really?
  • Recently from dad: “I need to drive again.” Me: “yeah, I bet!”  Dad: “I let my driver’s license lapse. Do you suppose I could get an international driver’s license?”
    • Me: “hard to know.” Translated: no possible way.
  • A day or so ago: “Since you cleaned out the cabinets, I need to go buy some more food!”  I say: “why don’t you eat what you have and then buy some more?” I text him a photo of the 1 cabinet of canned food I have. Silence.

As a kid I felt like I was “of another tribe”. Farm life stressed me out. I hated working there. No air conditioning and dirty old trucks with mice living in them. My poor philosophical, Jesus -loving mind and heart did cartwheels in on itself. My parents drank and smoked. Later I learned I was the only kid who realized at the time that it was probably not the healthiest. (So, yes, if that was the definition of super-sensitive, count me in.)

But I loved walking through the fields with my dog (one of the 14 we had growing up, may they rest in peace). I loved riding bikes to meet Jill at the bridge and picking wildflowers (ie. allergen weeds) for bouquets. I loved learning in a small high school where I had opportunities to not be a “brilliant child”.  But still smart, focused, and heart-driven. I loved my friends, my mom, my music teacher, my little evangelical church, and Shakey’s pizza.

We lost mom 10 years ago. And now dad is on the downward slope. His heart, vascular, lung, kidney, and sugar functions are a big mess. Any one of them could get too out of shape and we would be planning a funeral.

In the week I was with him, I attempted to help him dig out of the stuff he couldn’t seem to get rid of. Magazines from 2013. Food from 2011. He had over 20 “cheater” glasses in the kitchen alone. SMH.

And I attempted to make an emotional connect with him.

Dad is a sweet guy, but not so able to think beyond himself. He lived through a volatile father; The Depression; and developed a tiny problem with collecting (cheap) shit. He attaches to pieces of wood and plastic and clothing like they hold his life in them. Sometimes it feels like, without the “things”, he thinks he would evaporate (at least to himself.) Perhaps if he expressed this as a “missing of people or times”, it would make more sense to me. But he doesn’t have the ability to talk about his emotions that way. At least not with me.

I don’t know exactly why I am writing this, except to give myself a place to tell my story. Anne Lamotte says that is what we are here for, to tell our story. (Thanks Annie.)

Aging is tough work. It is spiritual and emotional and life work. Just as our early formation, there are themes and developmental needs, and processes that need worked out. And I suppose that is why I write.

Wishing you all extra mercy for yourself and your loved ones as you walk through the stages of life. Stay in touch.

 

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Welcome to the island of misfit toys

Life is juxtaposition. Anxiety and fear are interrupted by beauty. We may experience deep love and also painful disappointment and even hatred toward someone. While a child is being born, someone else is passing away. 2016 has been particularly intense for me, and the juxtapositions are haunting me a bit as I peer over into 2017. 2016 has been like a cask-aged bourbon, concentrated, uncut with water. It has kind of knocked me over, actually.

A long planned and anticipated trip to Eastern Congo to learn from and partner with women victims of war crimes was cancelled 2 days before departure; I was laid off of the most wonderful and life-giving job I could imagine; the country elected a demagogue who is and calls out the worst in human privilege and hatred. I have created no art. None. Two of my closest women friends moved out of town. And frankly, I have pretty much given up on any deeper connection and friendship with men, perhaps with one or two exceptions. At least for now. I miss male companionship, but it is easily complicated with inconsistent expectations and game playing. I am too old and honest for that. I started wearing a ring on my finger to create a boundary. I don’t want to think that deep friendship with men is not possible at my age, but there it is.

I feel like I have grown tight and restricted. I feel adrift. Dislocated. Ungrounded. I have referred to myself this year as “A shepherd without sheep”; feeling like “I am on the island of misfit toys.” And have resorted to some unhealthy coping techniques to ward off loneliness.

No. Me. Gusta.

And yet so much good is afoot. I was offered a temporary part time job at the right time – and subsequently asked to stay on full time for a season. I have had some lovely times with unexpected friendships and felt deeply loved by a few precious ones. My table is full and my home inhabited by a ridiculous dog. I instituted “music and bourbon on the porch” on Sunday nights this summer which was a big hit. I have enjoyed travel, times with my family, especially my girls, even though we all live in different parts of the country. I don’t have cancer. My relationship with my former husband has blossomed into a comfortable and loving friendship.

Still, I feel like I am living outside of my real life; kicking around the fringes of meaning making and relationship. I am ready to be launched into what is next. But I don’t know what that is or how to create it. Some days I have a sense of urgency that is almost apoplectic. I am not comfortable in my own skin.

So here I stand, knowing that much waiting probably remains. I am in this space and owe it to myself and those who love me to be present to life. So this New Year’s Eve, if you think of it, hold a little space for those of us out here on the Island of Misfit Toys. The company we keep in the waiting makes all the difference.

island-of-misfit-toys

 

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Delusions of goodness

The thing about marriage is that eventually, your beloved sees what a jerk you are. And they tell you about it. (Insert Snoopy disappointment noise.) Research indicates that we consider ourselves far more kind and benevolent than we are. I betcha if you asked Hitler if he was a good, loving guy, he would say, “Ya.smoke-by-a-window-in-a-pub

As a young person, I didn’t express anger very much and I certainly didn’t take it out on anyone! I was too nice for that. My parents loved me, but didn’t do me any favors by not arguing in front of me. I knew they had tensions. The drill went:  mom would be upset. Dad would try to figure out how to deal with it. This usually happened in the kitchen with both of them chain smoking. (They were excellent smokers). If you walked into the room, you cut through a veil of it with your body. Under 11 foot ceilings. You have to admire that. Then… I would go up to my room on the 2nd floor and blast some Barry Manilow to drown out the possibility of anger and rage, which, only twice to my memory happened.

I don’t know if I really let loose with anger with my spouse until after I was married. But marriage and seeing myself as I really was, in all of my selfish, whiny ick was troubling. Hey, I was voted “most inspirational musician” in high school. I was one of the good ones! There must be something wrong with him!

And if course there was. We are, all of us, wonderful disasters. But my job is to figure out me, not him.

Having a delusional sense of my goodness was not actually so good for me. It put a curtain (not unlike that smoke veil) between me and myself. And between me and others. It took a lot of years of life failures for me to become freer. Spiritual perfectionism can make you as crazy as being outraged over your favorite pen moving from it’s assigned spot. (Both of which happened in our family.)

I am on a different path right now. I don’t buy into a lot of jargon I hear that feels like an effort to keep people hanging onto systems of oppression, including and especially in churches. I feel freer to speak now. I am less delusional about my own goodness. Living deeply in one’s life forces that upon one. But I also don’t hold onto a theology or philosophy that I am “lower than a worm” –Thank you, Job, for that one.

Some days I am an intentional “imperfectionist”. I have said this before, but it still feels partially right. Don’t go expecting me to be perfect or I will intentionally prove you wrong, just so I can breath a little. What I want to be for myself and for you is honest, wise, generous, empathetic and joyous. Perhaps that is partly what I want from you too.

snoopy_and_woodstock_camping

 

 

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Is there something in the water?

Just when I think I am making stuff up in my head about there being “thin” places, I fall into one again. Frankly, much of this talk about personal energy fields can seem kinda eye-rolling. Except when it happens to me. Hah! Then it seems there might be something to it. Our minds cannot explain all of the unexplainable but we try to anyway. And I do believe that there is more than what water and cells and memory dictate.

Some of what fills a physical space is the life we live and lived in that space. We hold our memories in our bodies, so it makes sense that feelings and memories could be reengaged in us. But also … is there something in the water? What came first: the happy, creative energy and artist communities that can surround these spaces or – the oxygen and soil and the scent in the air? Is there a dance of some sort that opens up spaces for spiritual life and maybe even accesses a deeper world?black-mountain

I am in Black Mountain, NC, outside of Asheville, and it is definitely here, that “thin whatever”. For me. And for many others. I have birthed so many songs out of these hills. Seattle is like this too. And the Colorado Plateau. All places on the “woo woo channel”. But is it in the landscape or just conjured up in my mind? Why isn’t it in Louisville?

People talk about prayer like this. And I have sensed it in cathedrals and in the Selkirk mountains in Washington state. All religions and those with various spiritual proclivities identify these places. A pilgrimage to a place a beloved saint is said to have died. A hajj to Mecca. Jerusalem. Ireland. Catholic traditions have many iterations of this such usually marked by a miracle of some sort.

Mystery. We want to write it off with scientific explanations. But every discipline has holes. Just like mystery. Many holes. We can explain the existence of thin places however we want to and it will be incomplete. But I, for one, am grateful just to be there for it. think-place-man

 

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When it ended

 

“The good news is, I’m alive! The bad news is, I fell in a crevasse.” These words came to me while my husband, Doug, was driving down from Paradise base camp on Mt. Rainier to return home. “What?” I asked incredulously. It was past the time I was supposed to call the park service and I had been hemming and hawing for some time. They were probably just later than expected. “I am ok, I will tell you the details when I get home. We are about an hour and 1/2 out.”

I hung up the phone. I suppose I should have been grateful that the call didn’t come from the ice ledge he fell into with a salutation that could have been his last. But I didn’t know whether to cry or get angry. So when he walked in the door of our Bellevue home with a big grin on his face, I succumbed to a stronger emotion: I smacked him on the arm and said, “don’t ever do that again!”

Mountain climbing had long seemed to me a selfish pursuit. Doug was super active and exercised about 5 days/week. When our kids were young, he had joined the Mountaineers and took 2 series of classes that lasted a couple of years, gulping up weekends of climbing, nights of classes, while I held down the home front. I didn’t have a paying gig at the time so my world was cooking, cleaning, driving, wiping, singing to, “time-outing” and otherwise cajoling our daughters. Eventually I jumped into the music scene in Seattle and we negotiated time off to pursue our “selfish” things.

Whatever Doug does, he does with gusto. I used to tease him that he even relaxed with intensity. He would sit down with a book – and burst out with, “Oh yeah – I am so relaxing tonight!!” I found it kind of comical and I tried to keep up with his pace to make him happy, but found that moving at the speed of sound made me anxious and uptight and eventually really put me under for a few years. That and postpartum depression. Let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant season. I wanted to keep up with him, but was overwhelmed and found that my soul was nurtured with quiet when I didn’t have the kids with me, not climbing mountains or biking 20 miles. It felt like he was in perpetual chatty motion or work, driven by a sense of movement toward goals that I couldn’t grasp. I avoided conflict. He pushed to get a response from me in ways that weren’t the best for feeling close to each other.

We changed so much during those years. We had met while studying theology and I was smitten. I guess he was too. But he waited to tell me he loved me until he had decided I was “the one”. After graduation, we were married: a farmer’s daughter from rural Washington and a banker’s son from Ohio. It was a cool day in June surrounded by a crowd of friends from around the globe that we exchanged our vows. We moved to Seattle to be closer to one of our families.

Doug went back for a third degree in engineering. He is renaissance kinda guy, whose curiosity matches his bounding energy. We were poor in those days, had our first baby on food stamps, and Doug started a consulting business in addition to his full time job.As the kids were growing, I worked in peace, justice and coffee. Meanwhile our spiritual paths diverged and it became increasingly difficult to make decisions together. About anything. This lead to anxiety and isolation for both of us, and more than a little therapy.

Things happened. We kept missing each other. In 2014, after nearly 23 years of marriage, Doug and I decided that every path we had tried to connect hadn’t worked for us on the deeper levels we needed. I needed closer emotional attention and affection. He needed to feel more central in my life. I needed to trust his values, which had shifted significantly away from the ones that brought us together. He needed me to listen better and follow through more consistently. I was fearful of his expressions of anger. He needed me to express my feelings more intensely. It became clear that Doug wanted me to be an equal in our financial relationships which was truly impossible given our different fields. We were a weather system that devolved into torrential storms of rage and fear – of me pulling back into myself and he working every spare minute. We didn’t handle disagreement well. Compromise always felt skewed to me. And likely to him. Our shelter was our kids and we had some sweet times here and there. But over the years, the threads we brought to the weaving of our marriage were so messy with so many holes and out of place loops and unmatching colors that even that was not enough to create the warmth of love we both craved.

Around that time I was called to a position as a “Reconciliation Catalyst”. Yeah, go ahead, laugh. The irony didn’t escape anyone who was privy to our tensions. My primary job was to connect US constituents with the work of global partners doing anti-violence work. Think rape as weapon of war, sex trafficking, violence in the home. Easy stuff like that. I moved to Louisville, KY and traveled about 40-50% of the time learning and growing and calling people to the world in new ways. I came back home a lot. Therapy continued when I was home. It was clarified what felt like the only option. I still grieve writing this, though it is more manageable.

One day as our relationship was shifting to a new incarnation, I was walking through Cherokee Park area of Louisville listening to my footsteps and the birds, absorbing the shifting light falling through the trees and admiring the dark red brick homes that lined the park. A thought crossed my mind. It was, “I wonder if love built those walls…. and I wonder if love is still in those homes.” And then I felt like God reached in a swoosh right between those houses and touched my arm and said, “If love can build a home, then love can tear it down.”

That thought was counter to everything I had been taught about pain and loss and love. Love doesn’t tear homes down, right? That made no logical sense. But I knew in that moment that it could be made true. And I knew that was the only way my marriage could end “successfully”. I felt incapable of anything else. I still loved Doug but his unhappiness was too much for me to bear any longer. At least that is the way I felt it. Now I know it was mine as well. We just expressed it differently.

But this idea that everything could be done with love was something I internalized. I don’t think this is about me being some saint. I won’t be sewing a rainbow suit and scattering fairy dust nor ringing charming Dalai Lama bells any time soon. I am certainly capable of every failure and sin and have partaken in more than a few of them, lord knows, but in that moment I realized a truth that was deeper than the truth I had assumed my entire life.

What if it was true that I was incapable of anything but love with Doug and that our relationship had to change in order for us to be whole and free and loving to each other? What if this midlife crash required us to go deeper into the love we have for each other in order to evolve into something better? What if the path to authentic life and well-being was in truly letting go of what we had created in our weakness and childish fervor? Could it be true that something significant had to break so that we could live in love?

This became our path. With few exceptions. It was something we both wanted. I remember saying, “no one needs to write our book but us”. We have now been divorced a year and 1/2 and are closer than we have been in years. It was not easy. There were some very very bad times before all the paperwork was complete. But ultimately, we are coming out of those years into a new place. Our adult children are learning that they can trust us to be there for them as always. Together and apart. We go out for drinks or dinner when I am home and I sleep at the house now. It can be a little discombobulating sometimes, but it is still very good. And I am so grateful.

When we told the kids (the very worst day of my life), we told the truth. They were 18 and 20. We still loved each other. We created an amazing family. We just couldn’t find each other and were completely exhausted from disagreeing. Being married unhappily for all of those years took a huge toll on our well-being, and it was time to create a different “us”. We would always be family. And we are.

I cannot overstate the blow this has been to our family, especially to our girls who we have wounded more than even ourselves, and I am sure in ways neither they nor we can fathom. I wish there had been a third way, but we couldn’t find it. They are resilient and love each other and us so well. They are finding their way with courage and determination and are able to value both Doug and my quirkiness. They know us better now, as we can be more honest. There is even some humor about our brokenness from time to time that stings, but also feels appropriate and a reminder that healing is a life long process.

I was just in Seattle for the memorial service of my long time mentor and Presbyterian peacemaker, Helen Hamilton. I have been reminded of one of the most important things she taught me: “Sometimes peacemaking is as simple as saying thank you.”  So I want to continue to say thank you to Doug. We have had many private moments asking for forgiveness. But I feel like I want to do this publicly.

Doug, I would never be the woman I am without our nearly 23 year marriage. You have taught me to power through difficult seasons. You have believed in me when I could not believe in myself. You have given me so much humor just by being you: jumping up in the morning chatting away; giving me great quotes like, “if I were a woman, I’d be a lesbian” and singing to Tom Waits music in character; you have pushed me to be physically active for my health’s sake; you have accompanied me through two births and been present to our daughters in a way few men are. You were an excellent provider – far beyond our needs. You have accommodated my woo woo tendencies and forgiven my failures. You have set an example to me of what a man can be in changing definitions of masculinity and gender roles. You have encouraged your family to forgive me and love me even through our divorce. You are a good man and I have been so blessed to spend 1/2 of my life by your side.

Your (and my adopted) beloved Granny told me years ago: “The Beck men make good husbands.” And you were. We worked hard. We were each other’s first lovers and it was a blessed part of my life. We did the best we could most of the time. There was laughter and anger and growing up we did. I will always love you, my friend, the father of our children, and I look forward to loving each other in new ways as the seasons continue to change. I would do it all again, Doug. If time has taught me anything, it is that I would do it all again.

I read recently that if 60% of a relationship is good, consider yourself successful. I wish I had understood that years ago. But now, here we are making our way into new ways of being – and enjoying much of it. For you, for me, and for our family, may the best be yet to be.

*Funny side note: I sent this to Doug before I posted this and he gave it the green light. The only changes were a couple of dates. Which is so like him.

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Patience

shotgun house new orleansGently, the sunrise slides through the maples and over the tops of shotgun houses

onto my porch where I sit on red wicker, a coffee to my left

crickets sing under coreopsis,

an over-sized cicada whacks between shotgun houses.

The distant cooing between short bursts of cars en route to work

reminds me that morning comes

that the world is hurried, but nature is long suffering

that we are quick to impress, slow to watch the sun show off

that we have answers, but the earth has good news to share every morning and we miss it

But it is this: every single day, every breath

relies on the persistence and trustworthy laboring of the earth

and the song that patience sings

 

 

 

 

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Presidents, scissors, and weenie roasts

Judgmentalism feels like someone (maybe me?) took a big needle and thread and knitted my body too tightly together. Which might be good if it were creating space for oxygen and movement in my gravity-prone body or removing the fat around my heart. But alas, not so.Kitten-Yarn
 
I need to let go of my rage about Trump being popular and my judgment toward those who support him in any way. It isn’t helping me or the world; spewing all that negative energy everywhere. But I feel such outrage and anxiety about it all. If he were anything other than a white man, he would have been done months ago. He paid off women who he took advantage of; he doesn’t know the basic principles of human well-being outside of financial success (which, btw, were at our expense – his corporations filed bankruptcy 11 times); he over-sexualizes and demeans women; he has no internal vetting device – and no regard for kindness; he bullies disabled people; he is utterly clueless about anything but the U.S. He could, with some off the cuff remark, put the world in a nuclear mess. He is the very worst of U.S. culture – arrogant, childish, selfish and an embarrassment to good men who are trying to be more evolved human beings. And that is just the beginning.
Wow! As a middle child, it feels good to be clear sometimes!
 
I’m not much of an “unfriender” — I think we should talk with those we disagree with, not demonize them or call them asshats, especially when you love those asshats. This election has brought up more rage in me than even the Reagan election and the 2nd Bush election. Now I am looking back at Reagan (who totally messed with MY Latin America) as just misinformed. And Bush as a dry drunk (which may have been true), but now in kind of a grandfatherly way. Geeez. When Jeb dropped out I thought, “Wait. What?”
Hatred and judmentalism is usually based in fear and a lack of understanding. And it is true, I do not understand Trump nor those who advocate for him. I think I get it that people want change in the political process. One friend said, “it’s time to clean out the swamp.” Agreed. All the cronyism and corruption makes me crazy too. But democracy is still arguably the “cleanest” political system we have and we are making our way through. Have you worked with some of the other countires? Or traveled and listened well enough to hear the realities? Cleaning out the swamp and then throwing in an ogre and his “F*** political correctness” minions will only create a worse mess. AM I RIGHT?
How do we make our way through this jungle?  Maybe a start is to … ignore the media for a while. They overplay everything inflammatory and make it appear larger than life. I suspect there is less extremism than we see. Let’s dissect our visceral reaction to Trump or Hillary over a glass of wine with a trusted friend or partner and get to the root of the problem. And don’t believe everything you read. national enquirer
I think I partly hate Trump because he is unreliable, unpredictable and the kind of human being I have never gotten along with (which may, come to find out, be a lot about me and my history and the stories I have told myself over the years.)  Is it that I you don’t trust Hillary because she is a political player? OK – name it. Is it that she represents the kind of feminism you don’t like? She isn’t nice enough? She is too mean? She kills babies?  Name it. And see if the real issue might be partly yours.
When you finish that, now together, let’s take a deep breath, grab a pair or scissors and cut one of those threads that binds us in our own lives and let’s start allowing ourselves to breathe better. Maybe hand someone you disagree with the scissors. Let’s imagine that we all want to make a living and have a roof over our heads, be healthy, have agency, and be close to people who love us. Maybe we go to the lake and roast weenies. And then we can return with our heads and hearts in wise mode and take this on with more patience.
That’s all I’ve got  – oh and “Love your enemies doesn’t mean you have to like them.”
man floating on a lake
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