The Homeless Are Our Canaries

homeless_man_during_morning_commute_iStock_000004136154XSmall

Do some people “deserve” compassion more than others? A lot of people mean well, but based on my conversations, there is definitely a filter being applied to the unfortunate. I know someone who volunteered once for Habitat for Humanity. He lasted a single day. He wouldn’t go back because he felt that the people whose house he was helping with had a car that was too nice. And so the Judgment Engine roared to life:  clearly, if they could have a car that nice, they didn’t need his help. They didn’t deserve his help.

The problem with judgment is that without accurate information, you start jumping to conclusions—which are probably incorrect. Their car could have been a hand-me-down. They may have bought the car new during a time when they were able to afford it, but they have come down in the world since then. Who’s to say?

Probably the most maligned group of people, however, are the homeless. I spoke recently with someone who believed that they should be put to work by the city to get help. There’s nothing wrong with the city providing jobs for those who can work, but he was assuming that the homeless were there because they were idle, and not because they might be mentally or physically ill, which is often the case.

My wife Ahnna worked with the homeless for many years, so we know that there are many reasons that people become homeless. Sometimes it’s as simple as gentrification:  one man became homeless for many years when his apartment building was knocked down to make way for some fancy condos. The price of housing keeps going up, and many people are being left behind. There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing a school bus stop at the night shelter. There aren’t enough family shelters, so often the kids would get into the parents car, where they would all sleep for the night. The children would hand over what food they had managed to get at school to share with their parents.

While whole families do become homeless, more people are working to house them. Single adult males are the last in line to be helped. Approximately 33% of these men are veterans.

Statistics are important, but stories are what help build compassion. Ahnna ran a nonprofit to help people who qualified for Social Security disability to get their benefits. This is harder than it sounds; the Social Security Administration does not just stand ready to hand out checks to those who apply. Their first (and second, third, fourth) response is:  “Prove it.”

One of Ahnna’s more memorable clients was brought into her office by another homeless man. She had seen “John” around the day shelter, but he never spoke to anyone. He also had the habit of living in a layer of his own shit, so he was definitely fragrant. At first, he didn’t want to work with Ahnna. She had the mark of the devil on her forehead, he said. It took a long time to gain enough of his trust to get him to sign a document allowing her to help him. She found his grateful mother, who had been looking for him for five years. John was schizophrenic. He had a 4.0 grade point average in college before his first psychotic break at age 22. No one had been able to help him since then. Eventually, he got his benefits, which meant that he could be housed in a medically supervised situation. He was able to be medicated.

When Ahnna saw John some time after that, she barely recognized the polite, clean, soft-spoken man who thanked her. Hopefully, he is still housed and still on his medication. Drugs for schizophrenia can have unpleasant side effects, and sometimes the sufferer decides to quit them (maybe because they “feel fine”), which brings back all of the symptoms of their psychosis.

About 20-25% of the homeless are severely mentally ill. Asking them to do anything resembling a regular job is impossible. They literally cannot “earn” your compassion through work.

Some people become homeless by simply struggling to get through life. “Richard” came to Ahnna in midlife. He was afraid she would not want to help him if she knew the truth about him. The truth was that he had served time in prison in his youth for killing a man in self-defense. It was a drug deal gone bad, and he admitted that he was a stupid kid. He killed the man who attacked him with a knife. When he was released, he found himself in the unenviable position of having a criminal record. If you’ve ever applied for a job, you’ve probably seen that checkbox asking if you’ve ever committed a crime. Checking that automatically rules you out of most jobs.

Still, Richard did what he could. Although homeless, he started his own gardening business. He didn’t have a car, but he had a bike with a trailer and some tools. Richard was already disabled by severe dyslexia, but when a truck ran over his foot and broke it, that was the end. He could no longer ride his bike. Then, since he was living outside, someone stole his tools, effectively killing his business. JOIN, a local homeless outreach center, was able to get him housed because his broken foot made him vulnerable. Eventually, he was able to get on benefits and spend a few years inside before dying.

Some homeless people are physically ill as well. In the United States, most of us are only one serious illness away from bankruptcy. This plays out on our streets every day. It might look something like this:  person becomes very ill. Person cannot work. Person eventually loses job. Person then loses insurance. Person has to make hard choices.

One of Ahnna’s clients had to make this choice:  cancer treatment or her mortgage. She could not afford both. No doubt concluding that living was better than dying, she chose the cancer treatment and ended up on the street. By the time Ahnna met her, she had regretted her decision. She wished she had chosen to keep her house instead, even though it would mean her death.

I’m one of those people who give money to the homeless when I have it. I remember being downtown once, and a young girl came up to me and asked me for change. In that moment, I did something terrible:  I looked at her youth and judged her. There was change in my pocket, but I shook my head. As she walked away, I realized she wasn’t wearing shoes. It was 40 degrees. I felt sick. That was my lesson. Why was she homeless? She may have come from an abusive home. Maybe her parents kicked her out (40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT). I don’t know what her story was, but I’ll never judge another homeless person asking for help again.

Aside from being thought of as lazy, many people assume that most homeless people are alcoholics or drug addicts. That is a problem. We don’t have universal healthcare, so the mentally ill self-medicate. Veterans with PTSD and other issues self-medicate as well. And frankly, I’ve always said that if I were homeless, I’d drink, too. (Technically, I’m not homeless and I drink a cocktail every evening, so who am I to judge?) Some people do become homeless because of their addiction, but one thing is certain:  there is no hope for recovery without some help getting housed. It’s impossible to get your act together when all you can think about is basic survival.

Here’s what a basic day looks like for a homeless person:  Wake up and secure your stuff. Hide it or take it with you. The first order of business is food and a bathroom. If you’ve ever had to ask for the key to a restroom, you’ve probably noticed that there aren’t many public bathrooms available to the homeless. Finding a place to take a shit can take half a day. One of Ahnna’s clients was obsessive about it:  he couldn’t do anything else until that one task was accomplished. As for food, maybe you have a little change to buy some. Maybe there’s a soup kitchen or church willing to offer some. Some businesses make food that they would otherwise throw out available. In order to eat, you have to have a map of your area in your head so that you know where you can find things:  breakfast. A possibility to pee or change a tampon. Or get a tampon. Or just wash your rags.

The rest of the day is yours to live through. If the weather is good, you’re in luck. If it’s wet and cold, maybe you can find a place to sit and shelter that doesn’t have spikes on it. Maybe the police won’t bother you today. Maybe they will. Hopefully they won’t take your stuff. The business owners think you’re bad for business. But the cops might find your camp in the park and take it away. It’s difficult.

At night, where are you going to sleep? What’s the weather like? If it’s freezing, better get to the shelter early to get a place in line. They only have so much room, and it’s first come, first serve. Do you know a good place to sleep where you won’t get beaten up or sexually assaulted?

I’ve known people who think that the homeless somehow “chose” it or “prefer to live that way.” There are definitely some who don’t know how to live any other way at this point. When you combine mental illness and years on the streets, you get a little feral. You forget how “inside” functions. Transitioning can be tricky, but it can be done.

More than anything, however, it’s important to remember that we are the homeless. They are people. They are us. There but for the grace of God go I. Judgment condemns, but compassion heals. It is our first and best resource. Let us all choose the path of compassion.

Safety is an Illusion

Think of the Children!

Everyone wants to feel safe. No one wants to contemplate terrible things happening to themselves or their loved ones. But sometimes terrible things happen, and this isn’t something that anyone can control.

The truth is that safety is a comforting idea, but it is not real. No one is ever completely safe. Bad things can happen without warning. You or a loved one may lose a job, be diagnosed with a debilitating or fatal illness, lose life or possessions in a natural disaster, be harmed in an accident, or get shot and killed—just to name a few possibilities. Depressing thoughts, so naturally we prefer to avoid thinking about it. After all, if you always dwell on the possibility of horrible (a process you can call awfulizing), then you’re not going to live a happy and joyful life. Instead, you will live a fearful, unhappy one.

In general, I think most people prefer not to dwell on horrible what-ifs, but in a world where the folks with the majority of the wealth want to distract us from that fact, there is no better way to do that than by making us afraid—of each other. And it’s remarkably easy to do because fear appeals to our lizard brain, our most basic instinct. It can overwhelm logic and reason, and it pushes out love and compassion entirely.

The latest manufactured fear in the U.S. is that somehow “allowing” transgender women to use the ladies’ restrooms is going to unleash a rush of male pedophiles to peek under the stalls at your daughter.

Think of the Children!

Never mind that transgender women have been using the ladies’ room for as long as transgender people have existed (forever, in other words). Never mind that most girls are molested by someone they know rather than a complete stranger. Never mind that boys in the men’s room have always been at risk (from other men). Never mind that smart parents accompany young children to the restroom. No, you should BE AFRAID. And suddenly, many people now are.

In our pursuit of “safety,” we are quick to throw others under the bus. Many of the folks who are in favor of bans on transgender people in their restroom claim to have “no problem” with the transgender people themselves. (“Some of my best friends are black,” no doubt. The same North Carolina legislation that bans transgender people from the restroom they identify with also strips them of their basic civil rights, like the right not to be fired for being transgender. I don’t hear anyone in the pro-restroom bill camp decrying that.) But let’s assume some of these folks really don’t have a “problem” with transgender people, per se. The problem is they also don’t have a problem with revoking transgender rights so that they can “feel safe.” They won’t be safe. But they’ll feel safe. We’ve been here before…

“Gosh, it’s a shame that the Adachi family lost their house and business and got sent to that camp, but it’s war, after all. Gotta be safe. They could be traitors.”

“The Goldsteins always seemed so nice, but I’m sure it’s better to have them moved to a new home somewhere else. Can’t be too careful. Maybe what they’re saying is right?”

“Oh, we can’t let in any Syrians. They could be terrorists.”

Yes, sadly, there are terrorists in the world. And they’re everywhere. This policy or that policy is not going to change that fact. Policies, laws, and wars all give us the illusion of safety and security, but that doesn’t mean that a bomb won’t go off tomorrow in your town. It doesn’t mean that another mentally ill person won’t take a gun and do something horrible with it. And sexual assault is a terrible, terrible thing. That’s why we have laws against it, so that we can punish those who do it. But the laws themselves do not prevent sexual assault. And the ridiculous bathroom laws are not going to make a predator draw up short and say, “Curses! Foiled again by an invisible legal shield around every women’s restroom! Now I’ll have to find a different way to prey on little girls!” But such laws will further stigmatize and isolate a vulnerable population:  you have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered if you are transgender; you have a 1 in 8 chance of being murdered if you are also a person of color.

So, yes, safety is a highly desirable if unrealistic state, but it is also clear that fear kills. When your sense of safety begins to outweigh the needs or rights of others, we all have a big problem. There will be bad apples in any given barrel, but there is no sense in throwing out the whole thing. We live in a world with no guarantees. All we can do is take each moment as it comes. We can be empowered by listening to our own intuition; if something doesn’t feel right, then by all means, leave! Take reasonable risks. Be aware. But even so, Superman ended up in a wheelchair. Lightning strikes. But it’s equally terrible when we allow fear to take away our humanity and compassion for others, no matter how uncomfortable they make us.

Why I Love Immigrants

 

By WorldAccent - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14695479

By WorldAccent – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14695479

I live in the U.S., and let me tell you, life is getting hard for immigrants here. I suspect that’s also the case in Europe, as the terrible war(s) in Syria exact their toll on an innocent population, who have no choice but to flee or die. Rhetoric from the right is angry and all too often racist. If you heard nothing else, you’d think everyone in America wanted anyone who looks or speaks differently than they do to stay out, period. This makes me sad.

I get that the anti-immigrant crowd are afraid and angry. The America that people my age grew up with is, quite frankly, gone. We have many challenges ahead, and change is the only way through. Of course, change itself is a very scary thing. And nothing is easier than finding a scapegoat for all your worries. “Those people” make handy scapegoats.

Here’s the thing, though. If my world really looked like a Neo-Nazi dream, all white and Christian, well… well, I wouldn’t be here. I admire the carpenter, but I don’t think he’s God with a big G. But aside from that, let’s say I were allowed to exist in this whitewashed world. Here’s what I would miss.

Skills

We take for granted many of the skills that come from somewhere else. My Taekwondo master is Korean. Taekwondo is Korean. No Koreans, no Taekwondo. No Japanese, no Aikido. No Chinese, no Kung Fu. Yes, there are white instructors. But they didn’t learn it from their European forebears, now did they?

Or maybe you like Yoga. That’s a Hindu practice. No Indians, no Yoga.

Speaking of skills, without the skills of the people already living on this continent, many early colonists would have died. Native Americans understood the flora, the fauna, and basically how to get along. Some of them generously shared their knowledge, giving Caucasians such wonderful new foods as corn and potatoes.

Art & Music

Imagine the world of art and music without input from other cultures. Most of the music Americans listen to these days derives from or was directly inspired by the music of black people. You know what pure white music looks like? Mostly classical (which is awesome, but still) and regional folk music. I love the bagpipes, the oom-pa-pa German folk songs, and Irish reels very much, but I’m glad they aren’t the only things I have to listen to. No black people, no jazz or rock ‘n roll.

Likewise, while the European artistic tradition is rich and fabulous, there’s an entire world of great art out there that we wouldn’t have access to, and that would be a real shame. African art, Oriental art, Islamic art, South American art, all wonderful and all equally valuable.

Food

I don’t even have to explain this, do I? Even so-called “American” foods (like pizza) were inspired by immigrants. Oh, but that’s Italian. White people. But not always. The Irish and Italians were not exactly welcome 100 years ago.

Back to food. I like French cuisine, German food, Italian food, even haggis. (Yes, really.) But it sure is nice to eat Asian cuisine (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, so much variety and goodness!), as well as Ethiopian, South American, Lebanese, and Mexican food. (Mexican food originated with those brown people down south that a certain someone wants to wall out.) No Mexicans, no burritos.

Ideas

I have worked in the high-tech industry for a long time now. It is probably the most diverse workforce in America, aside from science and academia. I have worked with, and continue to work with, immigrants from India, Singapore, China, Japan, Russia, Hungary, Central & South America, and the Middle East. Are they here taking all the white people’s jobs? No, because I work with a whole lot of homegrown Caucasians, too. So why do the tech companies hire people from all over the world? Quite simply because they are good at what they do and can inject new ideas into the creative process.

No immigrants, no new ideas. Stagnation.

Friends

If I stop and think about how many people I know are first-generation immigrants, it’s a big number! I can’t imagine not having them here. Their absence would diminish my world.

Aside from basic friendship, the presence of immigrants in our communities provides the catalyst for new and wonderful things. No immigrants in your town, no fusion cooking!

It is certainly true that all of these skills, ideas, food, and art would exist around the world even if we isolated ourselves in a sort of white Utopia. And that’s the way the world looked once upon a time, before people started to travel longer and longer distances. European heads of state financed explorers because the explorers brought back cool stuff. Tea, corn, potatoes, herbs & spices, unusual fruits. If Yoga only exists in India, then you don’t get the benefit. Immigrants bring the best of themselves with them.

Yeah, I can hear the folks who say, “And the worst!” Well, I personally don’t think immigrants have a monopoly on the worst of human behavior. As evidenced by the existence of right-wing hate groups, most of whom are…white.

Life is messy. There are never any guarantees. There is no such thing as security, really. So from my perspective, a white-walled palace “to keep them out” is a prison. A really boring, homogeneous prison. Immigrants bring us so many gifts, why would we want to turn them away? Come join the mixing pot. It’s where the party is.

Trust Me, I’m Trying Hard Enough

Prozac--Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

I recently read a blog post that I liked about weight struggles, Oprah, and self-acceptance, and she said stuff like this:

…every day that jackass science comes up with another possible reason for the so-called “epidemic” America, and almost every other country, is facing. It’s because of portion sizes. It’s because of processed foods. It’s because of genetically modified wheat. It’s because of our microbiomes. It’s because of stress and cortisol. It’s because of a virus. It’s because of insulin resistance. It’s because we no longer use scythes to harvest rye. … Maybe someday they will figure out the reason for it, but I do know the reason isn’t not trying hard enough.

So I shared this article on Facebook and added this comment:

Since I’ve been on the antianxiety meds, I’ve put on a few pounds that don’t seem to want to leave, even when I’m “super-vigilant.” So fuck it, it’s better than panic attacks. And maybe, at 46, a 21-year-old body is just not practical. Not what’s needed. Maybe, it’s age appropriate. Like these silver hairs I’m spotting.

Normally, I might get a few likes, and that’s that. But since I brought up the antianxiety medication, I got a very interesting response from a few of my friends—and I love you, I really do. With one exception, my friends expressed concern and hopes that I was going to be okay. Why? I had brought mental illness into play. Now, I have blogged about my journey with anxiety here and here, but not everyone reads what I write, and that’s okay. But I didn’t think I was dropping a bomb. I was just talking about the truth of my life like I always do.

On the one hand, I appreciate the concern. Aww, thanks guys! I love you back. On the other hand, I was more than a little surprised. Some friends pointed out that there are natural alternatives that I should try. But I had tried them. I do exercise—quite a lot! I do eat well. I do things that I love, like gardening, painting, writing, and Taekwondo. It seemed, from some of my friends’ points of view, that I was depressed and alternating eating bon bons and pharmaceuticals on the couch all day. Okay, that’s over the top, but it kind of felt that way. (And I STILL LOVE YOU for worrying about me.)

I’m Not Falling Apart

My friends know that I prefer natural alternatives, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I acknowledge that Big Pharma sometimes embodies Darth Vader, but you know, it has its Luke Skywalker side, too. Sometimes I need antibiotics. Without them, I know I’d be dead. I also need a thyroid medication. Without it, my children would not be here. (Thyroid storms can cause you to lose pregnancies.) Sometimes I have to take a fucking pill. And it doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped trying. On the contrary, it means I’m getting better.

It’s kind of unfortunate that my mental health issue—anxiety and panic attacks—found relief in a pill that causes a difficult side-effect for women:  weight gain. It’s not a lot of gain, but enough to tell a difference and to force me to buy new jeans. I don’t view it as a disastrous amount (20-25 pounds). I don’t believe I am less beautiful or less healthy because of it. I’m still doing all the stuff I was doing before. It’s just that now I’m feeling emotionally better when I do it.

I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t love to drop the extra weight, because I would. And I pay pretty close attention to what I put in my mouth without being a super-control freak about it. (Control-freakishness is a trait I’ve been working to overcome, after all.) In short, I’m doing everything humanly possible to remain healthy, and it is up to me to accept myself however I am and whatever I weigh. The point is to be happy and fulfilled. I feel happy and fulfilled. The little pink pills help. This is not a problem to overcome.

Well-Meaning Judgments

It is human to jump to conclusions. A mental health diagnosis of any kind means that people are going to form a judgment about it. Anxiety, depression, pull yourself out of it! Come on! Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia—some people don’t even believe that these things exist. Brain chemistry is not something you can think yourself into changing. And hormones? When a woman enters perimenopause, she is probably going to change. She may become more anxious, moody, depressed, or none of these things. But it happens more often than you’d think. It happened to me.

For years, I had been fighting myself. I was moody, and I didn’t realize that my anxiety was making me short-tempered. It wasn’t some horrible character flaw that I could control if I were a decent person. I was anxious. And when my anxiety reached a pinnacle, I could no longer cope.

I love my medication. It gave me back to me. Many people suffer without medication. My wife, Ahnna, used to help homeless people who qualified get their disability benefits so they could be housed. One of her most memorable cases was “Jake,” who was schizophrenic. Like most schizophrenics, Jake was highly intelligent but completely unable to cope with our reality without medication.

When Ahnna met Jake, he stank because he was covered in his own shit, on purpose. It was to keep the evil things away. He rarely talked to anyone. He told her she had the mark of the devil on her head. Eventually, with the help of his mother and a hard-won signature from him, she was able to get him on disability. Jake now lives in a group home and is medicated. When he showed up at her office some time later to thank her, she barely recognized him as the same person. A home, caring people, and medication gave him back to himself.

So, yes, I gained some weight. And yes, I gained it because of a pharmaceutical. Please don’t worry. It was exactly what I needed. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Forget Those Abusive New Year’s Resolutions

Joan Crawford in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

A new year, a new you, right? Time to lose weight, get fit, change your diet, stop yelling at your kids, love your spouse oh so perfectly, and basically be glowingly nice to everyone all the time. The only problem, of course, is that this is not only bullshit, but it’s the worst form of self-abuse.

Implied in all these resolutions is that as of December 31st of any given year, you notice that you suck. You just aren’t good enough. Buck up. Get with the program. You can do better than this! And by the third week of January, when you have failed in 90% of your aspirations, you feel even worse about yourself, because if you weren’t a TOTAL LOSER, you would’ve been able to stick it out and make it happen. This is yet another verse in the song, “I can’t be happy now, but I’ll be happy ONE DAY when I’ve fixed all my problems.”

Inevitably, some of my Facebook friends posted their resolutions. And it’s not that they’re all bad, mind. If you can make healthier choices, then make them! There’s nothing wrong with fitness, healthy food, or a genuine desire to be a good person. The problem is when you decide that you aren’t good enough today, but there’s that BETTER you out there in the future, waiting to be born. This is a myth, of course. You are the best you that you can be, right this very minute. Abusing yourself with the notion that you haven’t really tried in all the years of your life, due to some innate failing on your part, is not healthy.

A group of women at my gym started a new year’s cleanse for three weeks. The idea is to detox after a holiday season full of rich food. I have no problem with this, since I personally don’t want to see either cream or sugary treats for quite a while. Most of the time, I eat whole, unprocessed foods. As I was reading the rules of engagement, one of the big ones was no alcohol. The other was black coffee. Well, I put coconut milk in my coffee, and I’m still going to do that. But no evening cocktail? Seriously? As things progressed, many of these women were opting to eat smoothies for breakfast and salads for dinner. Now, I already eat salad for lunch every day. Not because I feel I should, but because I genuinely enjoy it. And a part of me naturally rebels at the thought of drinking my breakfast. (Unless it’s coffee, of course.) This was no longer sounding like a simple, fun cleanse. What was next, a fast? I could feel my resolve slipping away…

A meme on social media. Author unknown

A meme on social media. Author unknown

I’m officially now at the age (older than the wonderful cat above) that I will do what I please and not worry what the rest of the world thinks about it. And it may be that this kind of wisdom is one you have to earn with years. Many of the people who seem to suffer the most with new year’s resolutions are younger and in their 20s-30s. They’re still not sure if they’re good enough, so they seek validation from the world around them. Women, in particular, struggle with acceptance of their physical presence on the earth. It doesn’t help that so many businesses’ profits depend on us feeling bad about ourselves.

S0, what to do? The big key is acceptance. Accept who you are, right now. Embrace that person. No one ever said you had to be perfect. No one ever was perfect. No one. So what makes you think you will be any different? You are the product of your history, your genes, your society, and your self-regard. That last one is kind of important, because it’s the only one that you control. If you continuously think you suck, it’s going to have a negative effect on your life. You’re going to stress out about how not to suck, which is a moving target that you will never achieve because you will continue to think that you suck, even when you don’t. And if you are certain you suck, no one can tell you otherwise.

So acceptance is step one, and choosing to like yourself as you are is another.

I have known many people who believe that liking themselves, much less loving themselves, is some sort of Herculean task that they will never, ever attain. It’s too hard, they say. Well, believing that certainly makes it so. You’ve given up at the starting gate. Those other horses are definitely going to win…

Self-regard is something that you cultivate, like a garden. You clear the weeds, you plant seeds, and then you mulch, water, and fertilize. It’s a process, not a sudden, overnight change between December 31 and January 1. When I plant my seeds, I believe that my garden will grow. You must also believe in your garden and in your inherent self-worth right now. Tomorrow doesn’t exist. You only have this moment. Use it and forget about fixing what isn’t really broken at all.

Comic relief

If you’re still having a hard time accepting and liking yourself, well… JUST STOP IT. Bob Newhart will show you how. It’s hilarious because it’s true.

Fighting Each Other, Fighting Ourselves

children_holding_hands_iStock_000004544472Small

We’re all in this together.

It was with a sort of macabre amusement that I noticed the Washington Post said of the San Bernadino mass shooting that it “might be terrorism related, but we don’t know.” Two people killed 14 others at a Christmas party. Personally, I call that terrorism, and I also call it terrorism when a white Christian man shoots up a Planned Parenthood or when white guys shoot at peaceful black protesters. But I guess the message here is that only certain brown people commit acts of terror. Right.

America now experiences terror, by my definition, almost daily. Mass killings are now normal. Got a grievance? Disagree with someone? Well, if you have a gun, you can sure fix them. They are the problem. But who are they?

Maybe they are Hispanic immigrants. They don’t speak English. They do things a little differently. They are suspicious. Or, maybe they are Middle-Eastern-looking-brown-skinned people who may or may not be Muslims (PSA: people who wear the turbans are Sikhs, not Muslims). They have different customs and beliefs and are therefore suspicious. Probably can’t trust them. Or maybe they are hoodie-wearing black gangsta-looking youths who are probably on welfare (my tax money!) and about to steal something. Or maybe it’s just your ex-wife, who has it coming.

Our society now overwhelmingly prefers to blame someone, anyone but ourselves, for our problems. And the best fit for that is a scapegoat. They are our scapegoats. (Struggling to keep your family solvent and healthy? Maybe it’s their fault.) But you know what? The people who actually exert the most control in this country prefer it this way. Because if we’re busy fighting each other, we’re not going to notice that man behind the curtain. That “man” who is destroying our environment, robbing us blind, and enslaving us with debt and growing poverty.

So, here we are, fueled by our own personal echo chambers (Fox News, MSNBC, etc., take your pick). We’re no longer content to merely disagree with one another. Force has become a viable alternative. Are you feeling powerless and enraged and you don’t like abortion? Kill some people. Don’t like the government? Blow up a government building.

Last night I dreamed that Nazis were coming. They had arrived at my house, and they were going to kill us unless we left. We were now the “Other,” the misfits, the scapegoats. We grabbed backpacks with a few belongings and set out on foot. We had to leave the pets behind. It was terrible. I was so relieved just to wake up. But listen well: fascism is not something that ended with World War II. The seeds are right here, in America, and demagogues like Donald Trump are watering them furiously. “There’s nothing wrong with you! Immigrants, Muslims, China! There’s your problem!” This kind of talk is how you incite a mob to violence. “Those people are misfits and don’t deserve to live.” We are not better people than the Germans in the 1930s, some of whom fought the Nazis to the best of their ability. We are just as susceptible to violence against “the Other” as they were. And right now, it ain’t pretty.

So what can we do?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
~ Edmund Burke

It is very important not to let fear take over. Fear is the enemy, because all hate stems from fear. Fear of the Other, fear of the unknown, the need to feel “secure.” If that need for security and safety becomes too strong, people will give up a great deal to achieve it, even their own liberties. Fascists will tell you that they will take care of you and make you secure. There are no guarantees in this life. I’m more likely to die while driving than I am to be killed by a terrorist. Fear is a fascist’s currency. They will use it and manipulate it if they can.

It is also incredibly important to stay in the energy of love and compassion as much as possible. If watching or reading the news makes that difficult, then stop doing it! The purpose of the media is to make you afraid.

Most importantly, remind yourself that there is no “Other.” We are one humanity. We are One Being. The idea that we are somehow separate from each other is an illusion. So each day, do whatever is given to you to help. Pay someone a compliment. Tell someone you love them. Help a neighbor with a chore. Feed someone who doesn’t have enough to eat. Smile at a stranger.

Even though it seems like the world has gone completely mad, tell yourself, “It is healing.” Make this your mantra. “It is healing.” There are healing pains, yes. And you may feel powerless, but I assure you that you are not. Use your light. Use your compassion. When you gaze upon another face, know that you are looking at your brother or your sister. And then smile.

The Universe in Your Hand

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

It would seem very strange if I told you that you had a nose. “See? It’s right there, in the middle of your face.” And you might respond, “Duh.” You can see your nose. You can touch it. You can even blow it. But if I also said, “You have something in your hand that contains the Universe’s Power of Healing and Creation,” you might wonder what I’ve been smoking. Nevertheless, you do, and it does.

Reiki practitioners and other energy healers are unlikely to be surprised by the idea that your hands are conduits for healing, but they may not yet be fully aware of why that is. In your dominant healing hand (for me, my right hand), lies something that is just as much a part of you as your DNA (which can be seen and measured) and your aura (which most people cannot see and which science declines to measure). Tune into it. It is a higher-dimensional being that looks like a star tesseract. By definition, tesseracts are four-dimensional (and higher), so it’s difficult to draw one. But if you look at it psychically, you will be able to see its shape and color.

The tesseract in your hand is no simple object, either. It has its own consciousness. It is not separate from you, but it is not entirely you as you define yourself, either. The reason for this symbiotic relationship is that you, the spirit in the human being skin, must achieve a certain level of consciousness yourself before the tesseract will become available to you. The power of Creation and Healing is not for the person who has not yet mastered themselves, at least to a degree. (The abuse of this power is part of what led to the downfall of Atlantis, after all.) No, the tesseract works with your heart, not your head. Your heart must be open and compassionate.

“A conscious tesseract with the power of creation in my hand, you say? You must be mad.” There are many things that are unseen or difficult to measure (is light a particle or a wave?), but that does not mean they don’t exist. If you’re open, you don’t have to look very far to find the evidence. Jesus Christ was said to heal with his hand and create food from thin air. Given my understanding of the tesseract, I have no problem believing this. Or take the Yogi Milarepa, who demonstrated his mastery by leaving his handprint in stone.

Every culture has its stories of miracles and healing that simply cannot be explained. In our overly logical culture, we tend to dismiss these as simple fairy tales, separate from our very hard and measurable reality. But even fairy tales have something important to tell us about ourselves.

Don’t take my word for it, however. Develop a relationship and understanding with the tesseract in your own hand. It will help you learn all you need to know. I say that you likely have a nose in your face. It gives you the sense of smell. I also say that you have a conscious star tesseract in your hand. It is yet another sense to help you navigate the world and the universe. And the fact is that your heart and your tesseract are needed to help heal and transform this planet. Chaos and self-destruction is avoidable, but it will take many of us to awaken, to love, and to heal.

Your star tesseract is part of your personal power, just like your heart, your mind, and your aura. Awaken to it. We need you.

Perspectives on Disability

ahnna-harryWhen I first met Ahnna, she could still get around on her crutches. That was 12 years ago, and she was 43. Up until then, she had spent most of her life getting around on crutches or, at home, crawling on her knees. A birth accident endowed her with Cerebral Palsy, which left her unable to walk without the help of her crutches. She spent many years walking on the weight of her hands and shoulders.

People are not made to support their body weight on their arms, so inevitably her joints gave out in middle age. Crawling on her knees at home had helped save those joints, but the doctor said she had basically ruined her knees in the process. Her youthful, determined self did not foresee her middle-aged self, which would resign itself to a power chair now that her joints were no longer able to keep her upright. No youth ever foresees what age and time may take away. Youth and energy seem forever.

Ahnna is now 55 and has lovely silver hair, which she refuses to color. I’m glad. I wouldn’t like it if she colored her hair. But society apparently expects that silver hair means “very old indeed,” and more often than not, she is mistaken for my mother, but not just because of her hair. The power chair also screams “very old indeed” even though there are plenty of young people out there who need them. Sometimes this assumption works for us. If a contractor is helping us out, who knows what their attitude toward a same-sex couple would be. If it’s easier for them to assume that she’s “Grandma,” then fine. We have found that people are often more sympathetic (and therefore more helpful and honest) if they assume it’s just the single mom and her mother, making do.

We laugh about this, of course. If people actually looked beyond the power chair and the silver, they would see that this is not an old woman. But for outsiders who don’t need to know, well, we just go with the flow.

My mother was disturbed that I was with a woman (she never acknowledged our marriage). She was equally disturbed that I was with a disabled woman, however. It messed with her sense of order and perfection. My daughter’s marriage was not supposed to look like THAT. My mother could not directly confront the disability without seeming like a complete jerk, though she accomplished that anyway. She worried aloud that maybe I was taking on too much, and that Ahnna would become a bigger burden as time went on. She would look at Ahnna’s feet, affected by edema, and advise less salt in the diet, as though that alone would fix the problem caused by not being able to walk like everyone else. Female and disabled. My mother’s worst nightmare.

It is true that Ahnna faces more challenges as she ages that so-called “normal” people do not. We went from a scooter to a power chair with a lift in the van. We are now transitioning to a full van conversion so that her regular power chair can go anywhere. Her range of movement has diminished even in 12 years. So, yes, she is more disabled at 55 than at 45 or 35. It happens to us all, in one way or another. It can happen suddenly, like a lightning strike. One day, you’re able-bodied; the next, it’s all gone, and you’re left with a new reality. It can strike anyone at any time. If your partner is unwilling to take that on, then perhaps you need a better partner.

Ahnna’s mother, who was an amazing woman, passed away last year. She always advocated for Ahnna, and she used to say that, in a way, she was lucky. Her disability was on the outside, obvious for anyone to see. But everyone has a disability of some kind, and in most cases, you can’t see it. Some disabilities are mental, or emotional, and they can lie hidden, unseen and unacknowledged by those who have them. Everyone has their challenges. Dealing with the mental or emotional challenges of your partner is no less trying than dealing with the physical challenges of the obviously disabled. Sometimes, it’s much harder.

When we’re in public, people tend to address me instead of Ahnna. We’re not socialized to look down. If a person is in a chair, we tend to assume that, somehow, they are not capable of discussion, as though they have lost the power of speech. It’s an unconscious thing. If you see someone in a chair, feel free to look down, into their eyes, and address them directly. They will appreciate it.

I always say that we are lucky to live in a technological age that provides the tools to help us deal with disability. Not everyone has access to power chairs or van conversions. There should be more provisions for the impoverished disabled, who find it harder to make a living precisely because of their disability. Transportation and some means of independence are vital to helping the disabled to contribute what they can, no matter how small. Their bodies may not work well, but that doesn’t mean their minds do not. Hello, Stephen Hawking.

Our children are accustomed to seeing one of their Moms in a power chair. It is just the way life is. When they see another person in a chair, it’s the most normal thing in the world. But some children are curious. It’s okay for them to wonder aloud and ask questions. How else are they going to learn?

I hope, for my father’s sake, that he never becomes disabled. I don’t think my mother would be a very kind caretaker. To be honest, I don’t think he would, either. But they are in it together, and one may very well end up caring for the other in ways that they may not enjoy. This much I know:  I am solid with Ahnna, so helping her physically is no big deal to me. She cares for me, too, when I’m sick. She’s perfectly capable. We’re a team that way.

The other day, a friend of ours said to Ahnna that “there was nothing but kindness in her face.” And that’s true. I realized in that moment that part of my purpose was to be her protector. I told her long ago that I would be her legs. And I am the strong one, the warrior. She is the gentle Buddha, tending the home fire. Yin, Yang. Perfect complements.

As you go about your days, remember that everyone has a disability that may not be obvious. If it is obvious, help when you can. The physically disabled must depend on the help and kindness of others sometimes. (This is also true for the mentally and emotionally disabled!) If there’s only one disabled stall in a restroom, take note. I’ve literally seen a woman charge past Ahnna to the only disabled stall in a restroom, forcing her to wait on her crutches, which she could not do for long periods without the risk of falling. Mind those parking spaces. People in a van conversion cannot park anywhere else.

Most importantly, remember that people deserve compassion and dignity, no matter what they look like, what they can do, or how well they can cope. A person’s world can change in an instant. Imagine how you would want to be treated, and then do that.

How to Oppress People of Color

We have a holiday named for this guy! But we still have work to do. Photo by Dick DeMarsico, World Telegram staff photographer

We have a holiday named for this guy! But we still have work to do.
Photo by Dick DeMarsico, World Telegram staff photographer

A black man once told me that, as a white woman, I didn’t have the right to write about racism. I understand his point; I don’t live in his skin. On the other hand, I pointed out that as a white woman, I am part of the problem, and therefore I must write about racism. I don’t believe white silence is helpful.

There can be no doubt that people of color are more likely to be killed by the police than white people are. Given the almost daily examples in the headlines, I cannot imagine how this affects people of color. Depressing? Yes. Horrifying? Yes. Outrageous? Yes. Scary as shit? Absolutely. When I leave my house, I don’t worry about being wrongfully arrested or killed by a public servant.

So, dearest white people, I know many of you care. I know many of you want to do your best. I know that, if you exhibit racial biases, you are probably blissfully unaware of it. I freely admit that I have been a complete idiot at times in my past, too. Life is for growing and learning, so let me discuss some of the ways in which white people may unconsciously oppress those who have a higher melanin content in their skin.

When we see another killing of a black person in the news, it’s uncomfortable, so our brain wants to make us feel better about it. Here are some of the things that may go through your mind:

He/she must have done something to deserve it.

This is what horror writers understand: if you’re going to kill a character, perhaps gruesomely, then you first write them so that when they die the reader will secretly applaud. No one minds if the despicable person gets eaten by zombies. Alfred Hitchcock set up Janet Leigh’s character in Psycho as an immoral woman who casually slept with men, thereby setting her up so that, as a slut, she gets what’s coming to her. So naturally, if a policeman killed someone, well, it must have been their own fault somehow. Right? See also: Blaming the victim.

If he/she didn’t deserve it, then they must have done something stupid.

Okay, maybe they weren’t actually robbing a store or dealing drugs, but maybe they already have a record (and therefore did something in the past to deserve it), or they were just “uppity.” Maybe they gave the cop some attitude, or did something to make the officer feel threatened. While there can be no doubt that politeness goes a very long way, there is no law that says that citizens are required to be polite to the police. People become upset. They get stressed. Cursing at a police officer may be unwise, but it is not illegal. A death sentence seems a very high price to pay for inflamed passions.

He/she must have done something to arouse suspicion.

We assume that all police officers are completely rational, and that they would never harass a civilian without a very good reason. But officers (and white people in general) tend to make assumptions about people of color that do not apply if the person is white. Unlike Sandra Bland, I have never been pulled over for failing to signal a lane change. Unlike Trayvon Martin, I have never been shot dead for walking in my neighborhood wearing a hoodie. Unlike Henry Louis Gates, I have never been arrested by the police for trying to enter my own home. No, black people do not have to do anything to arouse suspicion. Their mere existence is suspicious. If you have ever crossed the street to avoid walking past a man because he is black, I am talking to you.

He/she must have been hanging with the wrong crowd.

When we see another black death on TV, there is the initial assumption that these are poor folks from the ghetto, probably doing drugs and stealing. Because those are the only kind of black people in America, right? Oh, I guess there are some middle-class black families, but those people don’t end up dead on the news, do they? Somehow, our narrative says that “poverty corrupts.” All those welfare queens come from somewhere! And if you’re poor in America, you deserve it. And if you’re black and poor in America, you’re a thug. Thugs deserve to be shot to death. If you were shot to death and you’re not a thug, then you must have been hanging out with thugs, which brings us back to: You deserved it.

I have known plenty of poor white people over the years. Most of them aren’t thugs. And I’m pretty sure that if one of them was shot dead over a traffic stop, the community would be upset. But even the few penny-ante white “criminals” (if you count drug use) that I’ve known don’t deserve that kind of fate. We should extend our compassion to everyone, regardless of their skin color.

Black people are just “like that.”

You know what I mean. “It’s just how they are.” Naturally violent. Behaving like animals. No surprise when one gets killed. (“They deserve it.”) When a black person becomes angry, a white person feels threatened. When a white person becomes angry, another white person just sees an angry white person. White people love authority, and we submit to it more easily than we think. We automatically side with authority in most cases. When a shooting occurs, our first thought is that the officer was in the right. And that may be the case. But the officer may just as easily be in the wrong. They are imperfect humans in a stressful job, carrying guns. Shit happens. Unfortunately, it happens more often to black people, because white people tend to see them as a threat.

And so on…

I have written before about how well-meaning white people can exhibit racist behavior, unaware that they are doing so. We have had around 400 years of this nonsense, thanks to a culture that thought it was appropriate to kidnap other people, put them in chains, and sell them to people who would exploit their labor. Capitalism at its finest! But hey, you gotta watch these slaves. They’re probably not too happy about this state of affairs. They might try to escape, or worse—revolt. They might even want revenge.

Yes, our legacy of White Trauma is centuries of fearing those whom we imprisoned and exploited and paranoia that they want to repay us for all we’ve done to them. It’s in our national DNA. That’s a painful thing to acknowledge, however, and isn’t it so much easier to just deny that there’s a problem? Hey, this is a post-racial society now! Go Obama! Kill the Voting Rights Act. Problem solved. Nothing to see here.

Our black brothers and sisters keep saying to us, “Please listen. We want to live side by side as equals. Your attitudes are causing us pain. Racism is still occurring. We are dying because of it.” And we switch off the news without a second thought and go to the mall. “Oh, well, I trust that justice will be done.”

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
~ Edmund Burke

5 Things I Gained By Gaining Weight

Asha and Harry at Ninja Mom Day

Asha and Harry at Ninja Mom Day

“Wow, have you put on weight? You look awesome!” Said no one EVER. Actually, someone might indeed say that if the person is recovering from a severe eating disorder, which is literally a life-and-death matter. But most women only receive praise if they reduce their size on the earth, not if they increase it.

As I wrote in my previous blog, I know I talk about this a whole lot. But since gaining 15-20 pounds and another size of clothing, I have found that I really have gained tangible benefits, and these benefits are worth talking about. So here we go.

Strength

At my skinniest, maybe 145-150 pounds (I’ve always been physically dense), I could leg-press 140 pounds. I was quite proud of that. At my more adult-sized “skinny,” I could leg-press 170 pounds. That’s what an extra 20 pounds of body weight will do for you. But not long after I put the additional 15-20 pounds back on, I raised the weights on pretty much everything, including the chest press, which is one of my weakest points. And now I leg-press 190 pounds. I think that’s awesome.

And lest anyone think my midsection is all fat:  my core is the strongest it’s ever been, too. I can hold a plank for several minutes, and that’s something I couldn’t do in college.

Power

One of the things I’ve done with my newfound strength is to challenge myself and have some fun. I’m taking Taekwondo with my six-year-old son, and I’m having a ball. To be honest, I wondered if I’d be up to the challenge. Even though I work out regularly and am quite strong, I worried about hurting myself in an applied martial art. There is no doubt that it stretches you. The kicking alone caused me to discover muscles I didn’t know I had, and my hip flexors complained for ten days straight. But then my body adjusted to this new normal.

Last week, we were practicing some kicking, and the instructor got out some fake “break-away” boards. I easily broke through four of them, and the power of it shocked me a little. But as I’m learning how to defend myself and how to physically cause pain if the need ever arises (let’s face it, that is a piece of what we’re learning), I get a great sense of my personal, physical power. This is not to be abused, of course—with great power comes great responsibility, as Spider-Man knows. But understanding my own power increases my own confidence in all areas. And I do feel good knowing that if someone attacks me, I am learning the skills to take them out. For women in particular, that’s a big deal. It’s also important for my son, who has gained a great deal of confidence (and muscles) from Taekwondo.

I must note here, that when a woman starts to gain her power, she inevitably makes other people uncomfortable. Often these other people are men. A male friend has asked more than once if it was “appropriate” for me to be taking Taekwondo with my son. What he’s really saying is that while martial arts are all well and good for my son, it’s not something he’s comfortable seeing me do. Perhaps he feels threatened. Fortunately, that’s not my problem.

Happiness

Newsflash: women age. Our bodies change. Our needs change. At our blog in The Abundant Home™, I wrote about my body’s need for more carbohydrates. I had lost a lot of weight on a very low-carb diet, and received many compliments for this effort. But this diet affected my mood in profound ways. My temper tended to be shorter. I was more anxious. Last summer, I ended up on antianxiety medication. As often happens with this medication, I started to gain some weight. I also started to reevaluate my diet. Carbs, it turns out, make your body produce happy hormones. I had been eating very few of those. Along about midafternoon every day, I craved carbs. Why not just give in and eat the damn things? So I did.

Now I eat about three servings of carb per day, which makes my body plumper than the media says it should be. But I’m so much happier. I don’t feel hungry all the time. My mood is greatly improved—just ask my wife. I’m more laid back. Less anxious. And I get to eat my own cookies. Score!

Health

Our society now conflates skinniness with good health, but it ain’t necessarily so. My body mass index is “too high,” according to the calculator. My max weight, it says, should be 164 pounds. I have been at that weight, but I’d have to go back to eating practically zero carbs and living in the land of high anxiety and reduced strength to get there again. No, thank you.

The number on the scale that describes gravity’s pull on my body does not take into account the fact that (I know this sounds clichéd) I have Viking-sized bones, and my heavily germanic DNA is not inclined to smallness.

Given my physical strength and my excellent bloodwork numbers, I’m not too worried about the medical establishment’s one-size-fits-all approach to what a healthy physique looks like.

Self-Esteem

This may sound counterintuitive given how our society defines a “valuable” woman, but my self-esteem is greater. In the past, if I had put on some extra weight, I’d spend most of my mental life beating myself up about that. Now when I see myself in the mirror, I see a very fit warrior princess. Call me Xena. Seriously, I think I look awesome, and I’m very proud of my accomplishments.

The increase in my self-esteem is attributable to many things, of course, including a shift in my own thinking. I value my strength. I value my power, and the skills I’m learning. I value my good health. I value enjoying my good food. I value enjoying my good food without constantly berating myself about it.

So, I’ve gained all of this along with a few extra pounds. No one else will say this, but I think to myself, “Woohoo! You’ve gained weight, and you look good, girl!”