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Recently, I’ve noticed more articles on staying grounded in joy and hope, even when surrounded by fear. Perhaps such articles have always been part of the general social media discourse and I am only now becoming sufficiently calm to notice them. But I rather think (hope!) this is a trend. In me, it certainly is. After the initial rounds of fear and trepidation, the constant adrenaline wore off. I’m not naturally a person who enjoys being fearful; from my experience training dogs, I suspect it’s not an appealing state for most of us. Some, I suppose, enjoy the “high” of confrontation, even violence, but I’m not among them. Harming others and myself is not where I want to live my life.

I see also posts affirming commitment to action, often in terms of “We Will Fight On!” and I’ve been resisting the urge to jump on that bandwagon. (Also the “Organize the Resistance” brigade.) It all sounds so necessary, a matter of putting my money where my mouth is. And is just as unrealistic for me as remaining in that state of terrified fury.

As unhealthy.

I am not objecting to others following the paths to which they are led. Resisting fascism and protecting the most vulnerable are inarguably vital to our survival as individuals, communities, and a society. I am thrilled that people have the drive and knowledge to organize such resistance. I will be right there, cheering them on. But I won’t be in the forefront.

It’s taken me a long time, coming from a family of dyed-in-the-wool organizers (labor unions, radical politics, war resistance, etc.) to come to terms with not being one of them. Undoubtedly, seeing the cost to my family played a role in my reluctance. I’ve marched in my share of civil rights and anti-war demonstrations, written a gazillion letters, painted an equal number of signs. But it’s not where my heart is. I’ve seen the joy in the eyes of those for whom this is their passion, their “thing.” I want to hug them all and say, “I’m so glad you’re out there, doing this for both of us.”

The fallacy is that making the world a better place is an either/or proposition. Either I’m out there, making headlines by facilitating events of vast numbers for the people’s revolution (as an example), or I’m sitting at home, knitting while Yosemite burns.

The fact is, any social movement happens on many levels. There’s the outward, banner-headline, political level, one that often requires organization on a national or international level. There is a community level, supporting your neighbors, particularly those in need. Soup kitchens are just as necessary as demonstrations outside the White House, although they serve fewer people. Taking care of ourselves and our families is yet another.

Quiet, mindful actions that focus on compassion, justice, and unity need not be limited to small numbers. In fact, outward activism must be balanced by inner activism. We can all find where we are called to act along that spectrum, and we can move back and forth (or in and out, whichever image works best) with circumstances, experience, and energy levels. What a relief to realize I don’t have to pick one thing or level of involvement!

So what speaks to me right now is remembering joy. The year to come is almost certainly going to be full of occasions for grimness if not despair, so I don’t want to start off that way. I want to full up my “savings account of hope” as much as I can, cultivating those people, places, and things that lift my spirits. I want to never, ever let go of believing we can survive this, kindness and persistence will triumph, and no matter how dark it may seem at the moment, love will win.

I refuse my consent to fascism. I also refuse my consent to despair.
I affirm that I will cling tenaciously – relentlessly – to hope, and I invite you to do so, too.
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Last week I had a meltdown. It did not take the form of tears, irritability, or burning pots of vegetables (as I am wont to do when I am upset and distracted). Instead, a horrible doomsday scenario popped into my mind and I could not talk myself out of it. Normally I’m not given to imagining worst-case no-hope futures. I try to keep in mind that no matter how distraught I am at any given moment, whatever is bothering me will not last forever. (This goes for good times, too. All life is impermanent.) This time, however, the dreadful sequence had taken hold and would not be dislodged.

So I did what I have been advised to do about other problems. I put my nightmare out there and asked folks what they thought. I often joke that we muddle along because we’re not all crazy on the same day. I figured that even though my brains had taken a sharp turn to crazyland, there were some saner people out there. Some agreed with me, others had their own dire forebodings, and still more had confidence that wiser heads would prevail.

After I’d calmed down, I had a serious moment of “What got into me?” I admit that I was a little embarrassed at losing it, especially in such a public way. I tried to make light of the situation by joking that aliens had eaten my brains (one of my stock explanations for moments of temporary insanity).

Then I remembered to be kind to myself. No harm had been done, after all, except to the illusion that I am always calm and rational. That’s a good illusion to shatter now and again for fear of being insufferable. Through painful experience, I’ve learned the importance of getting friendly with things that upset or frighten me. What if my lapse were doing me a favor and what might it teach me?

Once I got some distance from the moment of panic, I realized that I’d been expecting myself to progress in a straight, continuous manner. No backsliding or side tracks. No relapses. Recovery sometimes works like that, but more often it’s full of slips and detours, three steps sideways to every step forward. Just as when an alcoholic or addict “hits bottom” before they are ready to make substantial changes in their attitudes and lives, going “off the deep end” was a wake-up call for me. I saw then that I had been stressed by more than the political situation. We have two sick or injured pets, one of whom will likely not recover and will have to be euthanized. Several other challenging events have occurred that, taken singly, would be manageable, but all together on top of everything else pushed me off-center.

I’m grateful to the friends who offered sage (and not-so-sage) comments and thereby helped me to gain perspective on my own condition. I’m incredibly annoyed that the universe ganged up on me in so many ways all at once. I’m also appreciative of the experiences I’ve had (good, bad, insane) over the years that have shown me I am not invincible but that if I am willing to ask for help (and then take it), I am resilient and resourceful. I value everyone and everything in my life that helps me to keep my priorities straight.
deborahjross: (Default)
Recently a friend voiced her despair about the effect of the elections and the president-elect’s nominations on the future of the planet. She said “fear” was too mild a term. Her conversation kept referencing the Permian extinction event and the destruction of the Earth. I admit I didn’t respond well. I tend to react to emotion-laden exaggerations of complex issues, and that reaction overrode the compassionate thing to do, which was to listen to her feelings. My mind flipped from a conversation about emotions to one about facts. Needless to say, she was not interested in whether current projects are for a target global warming of 3.6 degrees or 4 degrees Celsius.

In observing my own mind, I notice what I do when faced with the notion of looming ecological disaster. I run away to information. In this case, at least, I find it calming. The facts don’t change, but researching the issue and reading the considered opinions of people with legitimate scientific credentials who have studied the matter in depth changes my emotional reaction. I suspect a portion of this runs along the lines of, “Whew, I don’t have to figure this out all on my own!” I’m only one of many who are grappling with the problem.

Clearly, this was not my friend’s process. A little bit of information (the Permian extinction event plunged her into even greater hopelessness. From this I take away something so simple, its profound truth often escapes me: we don’t all cope with stressful news in the same way.

I’ve written about paying attention to what makes me feel calmer or more distraught, and then making mindful choices. Although information is helpful to me, it can also have an addictive quality. We writers joke about doing so much research on a novel project, the book never gets written. Similarly, I can mire myself in one source after another until I go numb. That numb state is a sure sign I’ve either made a poor choice or gone too far.

Blogging about my process, however, seems not to have a down side. I suspect this is because such writing puts me in better touch with my feelings and increases my sensitivity to what is good for me and what is harmful. It has the added benefit of being of service to others who are wrestling with the same issues, searching for a way through the morass of upset feelings to a way forward in what the Buddhists call “right action.”

Reaching out to others, offering my help, sharing my experience and insight and listening to their own, all these things lift me from despair.

What things help you?
deborahjross: (Default)

When a friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, the effects ripple through the community. If we and our friend are relatively young, we may feel shock but also a sense of insulation. We have not yet begun to consider our own mortality, or the likelihood of losing our peers to accident or one disease or another. It hasn’t happened to us yet and the odds are still in our favor, particularly if we don’t smoke or drive drunk, we exercise and eat many leafy green vegetables. As the years and the decades go by, most of us will see an increase in morbidity if not mortality in our friends. They – and we – may develop osteoarthritis or Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, all those common ailments of aging. Some of us will get cancer.

When my best friend Bonnie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer about 5 years ago, she was the closest friend I had who had cancer. Since then, other friends have been diagnosed and some have died; Bonnie died in October (peacefully, at home). One of the things Bonnie did way back when was find support groups for women with cancer. Maybe it’s a holdover from the consciousness-raising groups of the 1970s, but it’s practically a reflex: whatever is going on in your life, you grab a bunch of women to talk it through. Do men do this, too? If so, it’s a secret from me.

It turned out that a cluster of women who were at college with us at the same time and who still lived in the area wandered through these groups at one time or another, or were otherwise associated with this community. Some have also died, some aren’t doing too well the last I heard, and some are thriving. One of these is my friend Constance Emerson Crooker.

Connie and I weren’t close in college, but it was a small school and everybody pretty much knew one another in passing. She wasn’t an avid folk dancer or a Biology major like me, but she and Bonnie stayed in touch so I’d hear about her from time to time. Connie was one of those who stepped up to the plate in Bonnie’s final weeks, and I was not only grateful for the extra and very competent pair of hands but for the chance to get to know her better.

Read more... )
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From my dear friend, Bonnie Stockman, as she faces her third recurrence of ovarian cancer, posted with her permission:

I'm going into my third lap. One is such, ah, a virgin the first time. So hopeful and optimistic for a cure even with less than charming odds. The second time is a denouement of sorts, but a thin thread of hope hangs in there - I've talked to a couple of people that had a recurrence many years ago and are here to tell about it. The third time... haven't run into anyone that's a long term survivor after the third time. The stats for treatment effectiveness are similarly less than cheerful. At this point, one term I saw used was "salvage chemo". Buys one time - and hopefully salvages some decent quality of life.

I will miss hearing what happens in all the stories, but I am reminded that the stories are endless and the beginnings before my time. I wonder about both ends of them, but all I have is my part right here in the middle of beginning and ending. It was for others to know the beginnings and it is for others to know the endings, if indeed there ever are any endings. Like the saying on the hippie school bus: "Now is all we have".


Indeed, we have now. And if we have been generous with our hearts, we have each other. Sometimes, we have each other even if we haven't, because life itself is full of gifts. Every day.

Open your eyes. Tell someone you love them. Listen when they love you back.
mirrored from Deborah's blog
deborahjross: (hands)
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending a seminar put on by Murder Victim Families For Human Rights, and I got to meet other family members of victims and also families of those who have been convicted or executed. The most poignant, excruciating stories came from those who are both -- those who have lost loved ones to violence and to the death penalty. As horrific as my own story is, I cannot begin to imagine how painful that is. I stand in awe of the courage of those who have been able to walk through that agony to a place of compassion.

One of these people was Charity Lee. Her father was a 1980 murder victim; in 2007, her son murdered her daughter. She's set up a foundation in her daughter's name, ELLA, to prevent violence and to advocate for human rights through education, criminal justice reform, and victim advocacy. Recently, she added a blog.

She writes, I miss my kids. I miss them both. I do not care that one was murdered and that one is a murderer. All I know is they are not here and I miss them. I want them here, with me, and I want them now. I want to see them, touch them, hear them, smell them, and wrap them in my arms. I would move heaven and earth to decorate a Christmas tree with my children tonight. I would eat dirt for the rest of my days to bake cookies for Santa with them on Christmas Eve. I would crawl on my knees until I died if I could see their faces on Christmas morning one more time. But I cannot. Ella is dead. Paris is in jail. Neither of the ones I love are with me this holiday season.
...
So if you miss a loved one because they have been murdered, if you miss a loved one because they are a murderer, if you miss a loved one the government has murdered, if you miss a loved one unjustly imprisoned and you hate the damn holidays, hate them with good cause. Then use that pain to create something good. On the days it is impossible to create good feel free to crawl into bed, pull the covers over your head, and try again another day because where there is huge pain there is also huge hope. Sometimes you just have to bury your head in the covers to find it again.

Either way…hang in there. It gets better. I make that promise to us both.


Stop what you're doing. Read the whole post. Open your heart.

If you "Like" it on FB, it opens a window and you can leave a comment. Let her know she's not alone. If you've got a few extra bucks, help her out in her work. If not, light a candle in the dark for us all.
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From Juliette Wade's blog, Talk To Youniverse:

Keep up hope, and keep submitting. So long as there are readers hungry for stories, there is room for more authors.

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Deborah J. Ross

May 2017

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