in defense of toll takers and airport curbside parking monitors

i can usually make people smile. it’s not like i consciously try to do so. rather, it just happens. i appreciate people and don’t take for granted that they might be willing to interact with me. an offered smile is typically reciprocated, a kind word or gesture blushed at, thanked, or returned in kind. recently, however, i’ve met my match. i have found two groups of people that i cannot seem to affect, let alone quip cheerfully with me. my world is shaken.

recent trips to the midwest and the airport have brought me face to face with toll takers and the airport arrivals curbside parking monitors. if i were one to make sweeping generalizations (and i am not normally one to do so) i would suggest that these two groups of people are jaded. they are grumpy and sometimes border on cruel. take, for example, the time i told the curbside parking monitor that the person i was picking up was labored with crates and not physically strong, he told me, “move along. she’ll be waiting when you come back.” “she’s right there on the other side of the door,” i said, smiling, pointing to my 70 plus year old friend weighed down with parcels. “can you not hear me? move along.” he stated, the right side of his lip pulled up as if surprised by my smile and kind, softly delivered pleading. i sat there paralyzed wondering if i was being teased and smiled bigger and scrunched my eyebrows. he got out his ticket book and started writing. “move it or i write.” and so...i left my friend who was making her way through the revolving door. when i came back around to the curb i practically threw her luggage in the car. when i stopped to actually hug her, the attendant dropped his chin and looked over his sunglasses at me and motioned to his ticket book.

where the parking attendant was shaming and impatient the toll takers whose booths i recently frequented were indifferent. 100%, wholly committed to not giving a flying fig about any interaction i initiated. i tried plain smiles. i tried “you have a hard job.” i heaped thanks and gushed gratitude. i even offered one a power bar. i couldn’t get a single one of them to even utter a sound. most never even looked up. i commented to my midwest hosts how disheartened i was by the overwhelming sadness of the toll takers. i shared with them my failures at affecting any response and they simply rolled their eyes and said, “they’re all like that. give up trying. they hire people who are like that for a reason. they must. they’re all that way.” 

this struck me. could this be true? could a majority of grumpy, indifferent, non social, still faced people aspire to be toll takers? might people with major axes to grind or chips on their shoulders interview to monitor the curbs in the arrival area at airports? i don’t think so. rather, the individuals with these jobs and countless others like them (insert here jobs like bathroom cleaners at k-mart etc), have gotten themselves employed. their positions are neither high paying nor glamorous. they are placed in situations where they interact with hundreds (maybe even thousands) of people a day who are trying to get somewhere or to someone. to most people that encounter them, they are a means to an end. their employers want them to keep things moving efficiently and many of the people they interact with are likely trying to bend some rule. “having exact change applies to everyone else but me, right?” “when you say no stopping or parking in the arrivals area that certainly doesn’t mean i can’t wait for my friend who will take 5 minutes to walk from there to here does it?” it wouldn’t take long to burn out, to harden your heart and your face and your attitude. for every kind encounter there are likely hundreds where you are treated with disrespect, anger, or, even worse, complete disregard. what might it be like to spend your days taking money from people who never look at you? how would it feel to have your job description include keeping people from those they are anticipating and preventing convenience. no wonder they don’t respond. it might just be too much to do so.

last night i was conducting a meeting at a table in an urban park. there was a concert beginning when my colleague and i wrapped up so i chose to sit and partake for a while. when the dancing began a young man in his early 20’s caught my eye. he looked familiar, like someone i know who lives (i thought) in another city. the music was zydeco and this young man was escorting a woman 50 years his senior to the dance floor. my heart leapt as i watched him leading and spinning her and smiling. i thought, “what a gift those two are giving to each other...and to me.” it always moves me when i see people who don’t appear to “go together” relating and engaging. especially when it’s across generational, gender, race, religious, or socio economic gaps. these two were a mismatched pair but the young man appeared to be trying diligently to engage in a fun and light hearted way. i hoped that my son might do the same and that i might take similar risks to offer fun to someone’s day.

as the evening went on i scanned the crowd for the young man to see if the woman was with him; his grandmother, an aunt, an old family friend, but could find neither him nor her. i wanted to tell them how inspired i was by seeing them share space on the dance floor. on a whim i texted the young man he reminded me of to see if he’d happened to be at the park. hours later he replied that he was. when i told him how deeply touched i had been by seeing him initiate the dance he replied with, “she was NOT havin’ it. haha. she got really cranky and left. but i tried...”  there’s wisdom there. he tried. 

the person i reach out to might wrinkle their nose (and a whole half of their face) in response to my effort. they might think me crazy or double motived or both. they might leave me standing, alone, on the dance floor. when i reach out i might be met with silence, blank stares, judgement, and possibly even a ticket. i may get push back or nothing at all and yet i must try. there is no need for me to be assured of a response and even less need for me to assume that the recipient of my kindness is somehow at fault. i need not judge. i cannot pretend to know what it feels like to stand in the shoes of those at whom i smile. the response to my effort is not mine but the way in which i value, honor, and treat others is. i will not be stopped by my own inability to handle rejection or judgement. and i will also not be stopped along the curbside at arrivals at pdx. i’ll smile from my window as i drive happily by, letting my passenger jump into my moving car so as not to offend...


to the person who left the note on the bathroom mirror in the tea shop in se portland

thank you. the message and simplicity of your note turned my day around. i know that you had no idea that i, in particular, would encounter the little white sticky you penned and left behind but i am grateful that you trusted your gut and left it. i have a feeling you turned more than one day around because who among us doesn’t want, at times, to feel as though we are beautiful? the fact that you know this is a gift. the fact that you trusted your gut in communicating it and taking the time to tell us is a miracle. it’s a miracle because:

1)  mostly i feel frazzled when i catch a glimpse of myself in a public restroom mirror. fluorescent lights are not forgiving and i am too often caught short when i look into eyes that look like some weird mix of my former self and my older ancestors. don’t get me wrong, my ancestors are lovely folks but i never remember that i’ve come to be their age until i see myself in the middle of a long string of errands; exhausted, rushed, and dark circled. gazing at your note instead of into these eyes felt like a blessing.

2)  i want to think that what might make me beautiful has very little to do with the image i see in the mirror but, rather, with the fact that i am a living breathing human being. given that you left this message for me without even knowing how i look makes me feel like you believe this too and affirm the internal qualities of humanity within me. this was a relief.

3)  i live in a world where unconditional affirmation is rare. your bold declaration had no strings attached. i felt as though you simply had a message that you thought i needed and you took the steps to communicate it. this was bold and counter cultural in every right way.

and so, again, i thank you. you’ve inspired me to carry a sticky note pad and a pen in order to bless, relieve, and affirm others. some day i hope one of those “others” can be you because you are beautiful!


how to ruin anything

i set a lot of goals for myself. a lot. i like breaking these down into sets of tasks then listing them, with great specificity, on pieces of paper where i can check them off. this leaves me at great risk for feeling massive amounts of success and failure, accomplishment and lack thereof. some times i like to turn even leisurely activities into tasks to be completed. let me re-state that. sometimes my drivenness causes me to turn activities that should be engaged in for fun into accomplishments to be accumulated. this goes against everything i deeply believe in: being present to the moment, resisting comparisons and judgement, and believing that who i am is more important than what i do. i want to bring my behavior into line with these more deeply held ideals and yet i am too often a prisoner to my own cognitive and behavioral bad habits and unconscious hurtful tendencies. 

every summer i set a goal for myself regarding how many outdoor concerts i will attend. this began several years ago when i realized i wasn’t making time to engage in things that fed my soul. in these early years i needed opportunities to be lost in a crowd, in natural urban settings, enjoying music and getting opportunities to dance and rest concurrently. my hope was that in creating a measurable goal for myself i would hold myself accountable to doing something that was difficult for me. i have been realizing, however, that this has turned into a weighty pursuit for me, causing me to race and run and stress about how to accomplish it. my goal has become a ridiculous finish line of sorts that has me engaging something that should be beautiful in a way that is anything but.

in realizing how often i’ve ruined my own fun (and growth) with this kind of behavior, i have come to create a new list of how to ruin anything. if you, like me, have a tendency to turn every good idea, well meaning endeavor, or altruistic impulse into an imperative with power to determine your worth, read on.

doreen’s incomplete, but fully potent, list of how to ruin anything: 

1 make it a competition (even if only with yourself).

competition can be good. it can spur us toward greater effort and even inspire us to push ourselves into spaces we might not otherwise explore. it can also, however, kill. experiences are to be had, not captured and clung to like trophies to display. winning for winning’s sake is shallow when substituted for experiencing something fully. the journey toward a goal is rife with meaning and pregnant with opportunity. if we push too hard, too fast, and too single-mindedly toward winning/achieving/accumulating a certain outcome, we miss all the gifts that the journey offers. setting a number, a benchmark, or a rank that will mean you’ve “won/accomplished/achieved” sets you up to place yourself in one of two categories: success or failure. 

we are healthier when we are flexible, adaptable, resilient, and open. too focused a stare on the finish line (e.g. “i’ll succeed when i’ve lost X pounds,” “i can’t rest until i close X number of sales,” “i will be sitting pretty when i’ve amassed X amount in my savings,” “i can take a break when i have every single closet in my house cleaned,” “i will have arrived when i have 1000 facebook friends/twitter followers,” etc) keeps us from getting to learn from the entire journey. crossing the finish line is one thing. fully engaging the struggle to get there is a different thing all together. it affords the sweat and struggle and muscle pulls and defeated thoughts and so much more to teach us, to shape us, and to keep us aware that there is so much to be learned in trying. possibly even more than there is in simply “winning.”

2 make it (super) public.

there is no better way to feed a competitive streak (even if only with our selves) than to make our goals known publicly. post the goal, tell our friends, begin wearing t-shirts (affixing bumper stickers, wearing buttons, you get the drift...) that let on to the pursuit, then constantly include the goal and our progress toward it in facebook and instagram feeds. bring it up in every conversation. this will cement our focus on accomplishing an outcome rather than on learning from the journey. if we have any tendency toward missing to forest for the trees, making our efforts overly public will assure us of missing even the trees for the leaves.

it’s important to note that i am not talking about passing up opportunities for emotional support, accountability, and help. those are all fantastic and sometimes public in really wonderful ways. rather, i’m talking about the tendency we all face to engage our goals as if they have the power to define us then making sure others know just how well we’re doing. which brings me to...

3 give your pursuit(s) a lot of power to determine your worth/value/coolness or hipness.

most of us deal with deep feelings of insecurity and inferiority. we create personas based on what we can and have accomplished and hope that they will be enough to win us approval and connection. the reality is, however, that we are who we are, not what we accomplish. brene brown says it best when she says that “you can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” sometimes the most vulnerable thing is to admit to who we truly are rather than to try to accomplish our way into who we are not. it takes a lot of courage to be a journey-er and experience-er rather than a finisher in the world’s eyes (or possibly even in your own).

4 evaluate your progress (or lack there of) every single chance you get.

knowing where we are is important. basing our sense of worth on where we are, however, is dangerous. a fixed mindset says that we are valuable when we have achieved this or that goal. it says that we can arrive and that our worth is based upon succeeding or failing to do so. it also implies that we can go from winner to loser based upon our performance. a growth mindset, on the other hand, says that effort and openness build upon our inherent worth and bring us to places of greater resiliency and maturity. 

trying (and keeping trying) is more important than accomplishing. effort is more important than acquisition. rewarding behaviors that place the emphasis on these truths keeps us aware that, in the long run, the journey is the most potent prize.

5 keep at it even after you know you should jump ship.

sometimes our goals sustain us. they keep us trying and growing and getting healthier. sometimes, however, we run amuck and they become unhealthy focal points, making us feel like winners or losers even though the pursuits are purely arbitrary. when they bring us to places of rigid success/failure mindsets or when they cause us to forego the important lessons of the journey in order to win the prize it is time to lay them down. they have lost their power for good.

which brings me to this, it is july 25 and i am two thirds of the way to my summer concert goal. this goal has been something i’ve been really proud of and blessed by. it’s pushed me to do important things and has taught me much. i need, however, to put it aside. music and dancing and being lost in a crowd are just too important to me to ruin them and i have learned i can ruin just about anything. so tonight, if and when i find some music to enjoy, i will not count and i will not post and i will not let myself feel i’ve accomplished anything other than being in the moment. (insert huge sigh of humbled relief.) anyone wantneed to join me in lightening their load by laying something down before it's entirely ruined? we can learn so much together.


what is real?

i’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is real.

it’s not uncommon, after hearing one of my talks or stumbling across my blog, for people to communicate with me about how much they notice the youth among them choosing their cell phones/ipads/video games over their “real” lives. it’s easy to nod knowingly and riff on the presented theme. a few months back, however, a brilliant faculty member from a prestigious liberal arts college, challenged the members of a panel i was on about what the phrase “real life” really even means anymore. at the time, i stumbled around for an answer, eventually redirecting to the need for balance between digital life and embodied life. i really wish i could answer that question today because, from here, the answer i gave looks really lame.

a couple of weeks ago i sat in a crowded pub watching the u.s.a. vs. belgium world cup game. sitting, alone, amongst hundreds of strangers to watch a game on a large flat screen, i marveled at the palpable energy of the assembled mass. there was nothing not real about the experience we all shared in the space of the 3 hours for which we were gathered. we cheered as though our encouragement could literally affect play (why else would 300 people chant “u - s - a” over and over at an image projected onto a slide projector screen?). we hung our heads at missed opportunities and high fived every heroic save made by tim howard. sure, we weren’t sitting in the real stadium, in the real host country of brazil but we were having a real experience together.

there are so many ways that this kind of realization applies both to our relationships with technology tools and the people/places/experiences that they make available to us.

we have, as a people, developed very real responses and attachments to our devices. headlines almost two years ago reported that the brain responds to iphone message indicators in similar patterns as it does to love. we can go full days without many things, but leave our phones behind and we feel agitated and anxious, certain that we will miss out for the lack of them. and, actually, we likely will. without said phones how will we find our way, send a message, recall a phone number, know the time, or take notes or photos? we have come to rely upon these devices in very real ways and we have attached real feelings to them. we’re grateful for the specificity and accuracy of the directions they give, information they deliver, and content they provide access to. we’re giddy with how effective they make us and relieved when they can save us from loneliness or boredom. sometimes we imagine them as experiencing feelings for us. how could they not love us when they’ve learned us so well and deliver so amazingly consistently. i catch myself, at times, feeling guilty when i miss a turn that siri directs me to make. i actually feel bad for making her recalculate the route. the reality of this humbles me. 

not only do we feel real feelings toward our devices but we have real experiences in the digital spaces they deliver us into. the friends that a middle or high school aged boy makes online while playing mmorpg’s (that’s massive multi-player online role playing games for those of you new to the acronym) quickly become real friends to him. they may never meet in embodied space but they will, over the course of game play, spend immense amounts of time amassing shared experiences with strategy in environments made specifically to heighten emotion. the same can be said for anyone who meets others in an online game, chat space, or digital environment. the connections may not be happening between people in a shared physical space but the emotions and connections that are stirred and strengthened are every bit as real.

yesterday i stopped into a well known restaurant chain to order a customized sandwich. this is not an “i’ll take a number 2 with everything” place. you have a lot of preferences to communicate with the artist making your sandwich. it was lunch time and the place was packed. the person ahead of me had earbuds in both ears and was on an active call. her four year old daughter held a $20 bill but couldn’t see over the counter or talk loudly enough to be heard. i was shocked when the mother completed her entire order and payment without ever removing an earbud or interrupting her call. i wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. i kept waiting to hear, “what hospital?” or “i can’t believe you’ve called me mr. president!” or “is triple A on their way?” i wanted to believe that the call was so important that it absolutely couldn’t be interrupted to order her daughter’s lunch. instead, i overheard mentions of where they’d vacationed the week before, who was there, and what she made for dinner while pointing and gesturing about what to include or omit on the sandwich being made for her. clearly, the person with whom she was talking was much more real to her than any of us in her embodied context. she made that overwhelmingly clear.

we all have experiences like this. they leave us feeling stirred up and wanting to righteously  point out the rudeness that we have witnessed to the person who perpetuated it. we want to rant, and we do. and then, when we’re bored in line or awkward in public or just alone we turn to our own devices to entertain, comfort, and distract us from those in our embodied/real environments. they keep us even from real interaction with our selves. we are all, i suspect, guilty of choosing the digital real to the embodied real from time to time.

no longer can we say, “so and so avoids their real life by spending their time with video games,” or “we’re facebook friends but not real friends,” or, “sure i watch porn online but it’s not like i act out in my real life.” we just can’t. our digital lives are part of our real lives and it’s up to us to make sure we maintain a balance, keep ourselves capable of embodied connection, and be willing to put our devices fully away from time to time. 

and so, ask yourself, “what is my real?” observe the ratio of digital real to embodied real in your own life and weigh in with your self about where adjustments might be made. every time you feel tempted to evaluate someone else’s success or failure in navigating the balance, let it go and give them reason, healthy/embodied/compelling reasons, to connect with you in real time and with real meaning...where ever that may be.


kids in hot cars

last week the news was rife with warnings about leaving children in hot cars. it’s a real problem, causing real deaths. on one morning news show a very brave father chose to disclose his own terrible reality of having forgotten his sleeping child in the back seat of his car on a hot day when he was under a particularly heavy load of stress and distraction. his child died. i have nothing but empathy for this person’s grief.

after this truth telling, heart wrenching interview, the reporter went on to give tips to prevent such scenarios from recurring. his final suggestion was to place your cell phone next to your child’s car seat and leave it there while you drive. when you get out of the car you will remember to get your cell phone, thus noticing your child.

let me continue by saying, i am the last person in the world competent to judge others. as i’ve grown my own contemplative/mindfulness practice i have worked diligently to notice more and judge less. these thoughts are based on exactly that. i have no interest in judging parents who have or will (for whatever reason that either does or does not make sense to me) left/leave their children in hot cars. what i do have interest in is noticing that we might, as a culture, remember to find our children in the back seat if we leave our cell phones there. that we might forget to notice our children are there but not forget to retrieve our phones catches my attention.

what else might we have remembered in the past that we now rely on our cell phones for? sure, they’re handy tools and they afford us a wealth of conveniences, but are we really comfortable assigning them as much life sustaining power as we have? 

as we launch into a new week how might we live differently if we put as much energy into remembering to charge, update, and keep present our embodied relationships as we do to charging, updating, and carrying our phones? how might our experiences change if we really, fully had them instead of photographing/recording them? what time might be freed up if we only looked at our phones periodically rather than every time they indicated something new had happened. might we stay more present to those in the seats of our metaphorical (and physical) cars?

just once (or perhaps more than once) this week might we take the risk of putting our phones in the back seat of our lives and leave them there not to remind us of the embodied people and experiences that live there but, instead, to free us to them.


guns: what i would write if i were not afraid

years ago my precious cousin kindra told me she wished i would write a blog titled “what i would write if i were not afraid.” she said that she felt such a title might give me internal permission to write with less care about what people might think. kindra...this is a post for that blog.

i’ve experienced a lot of internal conflict this week and it is only tuesday.

it all started on sunday when a friend’s fiance invited me to her birthday party. i am big on celebrating people so i accepted the invitation without much thought even though the gathering included a round of lazer tag, an activity i have consistently avoided. i talked to myself while i drove to “ultra zone.” surely i had overreacted all those years ago when i declared that i would “never, ever run around in the dark shooting at children who had been amped up on birthday cake and coke” and expressed concern regarding the wisdom of frequenting such places altogether.  i went on to justify my participation by reminding myself that i would be shooting people with what boiled down to a presentation pointer in the casing of a glorified squirt gun in a room filled with black lights and the sounds of 80’s music.  “stop being so ridiculous and intense.” i told myself. “lighten up.” minutes later, vested up and emerging from the dark staging room with my 7 friends and 30 children we didn’t know, the red team posed for a picture. what stuck with me all day was not the weighty vest, the awkwardness of running around in a small space with people i didn’t know, or the “hot kid” smell. what stayed with me was the pose i struck when holding a gun in front of a camera. “tough” doesn’t quite cut it. “bad ass” might just say it best. i was uncomfortable before i saw the photo published on instagram. after seeing it, i squirmed.

a day later, late at night and too tired for rational decision making, i clicked through news stories about the shooting at seattle pacific university where several of my children’s friends attend. i have a thin skin when it comes to these events. while the homicide in my own family happened nearly 19 years ago, it left my sister in law and three nieces dead and my mother in law, who witnessed the killing, severely traumatized. one of my nieces was five months old when she was shot by her father. it’s hard to not feel weak in the knees when you know that some other family, maybe one much like your own, is being told that their loved one has died at a crime scene. not quite tired enough to actually sleep, i foolishly navigated to video coverage of an “open carry” event that had happened earlier in the day in another part of the country. people of all shapes and sizes were shown milling about public spaces of all sorts with their “long guns,” rifles, and hand guns slung over their shoulders or clipped to holders on their belts. a young man who was interviewed claimed that “defending [their] right to carry [their] weapons [was] the MOST IMPORTANT THING.”

i went to bed feeling sick. it wasn’t so much my political position on guns that created this reality. it wasn’t even my passion for non violent communication or my personal history with gun related human death. what made me squirm was how i, myself, had posed holding that stupid lazer gun the day before. 

things didn’t get better when i woke up this morning and learned that the police from my own city were headed to a school where an active shooter had not yet been detained. the images from the “carry in” mixed with those of the parents who were waiting to hear from their children in my mind. then i thought of myself, holding that stupid plastic gun, and realized that even i have, at some level, bought in to the idea that a gun makes me cool. it may sound like a stretch, but, trust me, i’ve never struck that tough a pose while holding anything else in front of a camera.   

what is it about guns that makes us feel powerful?

something needs to change. just because we can carry guns doesn’t mean we always should. when any persons’ life has been ended by violence perpetrated by a person with a gun it seems to me that one of the least empathic responses would be to organize a mass display of weaponry in casual and proud ways. guns, in and of themselves, cannot be bad. they are simply objects. when, however, we become inoculated to their potential, calloused to the reality of the impact that those that shoot them can create, or blindly accepting of all types in all places, i believe we need to think more deeply. struggle. reason. understand. and act.

i have watched mild mannered, mature adults as they have scanned their screens while gaming, pushing buttons to release digital ammunition, and marveled at the intensity of their focus and animation as they engaged their targets. i’ve observed whole-house nerf wars in my own home and wondered what it was about popping out from hidden spaces and shooting someone that elicited glee in individuals who rarely emote openly. i took in the recorded images of adults milling about big box stores and coffee shops with guns and wondered what it might feel like to be among them. while i think i would likely feel fear i know that i would also feel anger and this anger would not be simple. it would be complex and multi-faceted and loud and confusing and, very likely, ugly.

it’s exactly these kinds of complex and difficult feelings that all of us face from time to time. these feelings make us feel powerless, marginalized, mis-understood, alone, and far from bad ass. some of us more than others. i have to imagine that most individuals who choose to turn a gun on a person feel them in a unique and difficult way. some times we turn to habits to help us through such feelings, some times substances, at other times we internalize the difficulties and hurt ourselves with ruminating and depression and anxiety. some people confront the complexity with words, some with actions, some with passivity, some with denial, some with escape and some with guns.

in my opinion, guns will never work as a method of finding personal power.

we must spread this message. we must spread it in a multitude of ways in a multitude of settings. we must spread it with our choices regarding our children’s toys and games and with what we choose to become comfortable with in the way of play. we must spread it with how we model and engage conflict resolution. we must spread it actively and passively, with words and actions, with those we know and those we don’t know yet. we must spread it in our homes and classrooms and, yes, i believe, even in our courtrooms because power comes from who we are inside and not what we carry and there is no human dilemma unsolvable by personal power channeled appropriately rather than through the trigger of a gun.


the person behind the curtain

the other day, i said to a friend, “i have a ridiculous amount of empathy for anyone trying to raise a child today.” i paused a moment then added, “i also have a ridiculous amount of empathy for anyone trying to grow up today.” after a beat i just went for the full message i wanted to convey, “oh shit,” i said, “i just have a stupid amount of empathy for anyone who even tries to get out of bed these days.”

i meant it.

why? because i am a person who tries to get out of bed and i know lots of others who try to do the same. i also know the thing we all need more of is empathy. 

here’s the thing: life is really hard. really. hard.

i’ve known this for a long time and yet it never ceases to amaze me how many ways this adage proves itself true. even still, we mostly keep on living. our lungs take in oxygen, our hearts pump blood, and we breathe and blink (as my daughter so beautifully states). difficulties we could never imagine present themselves. situations so absurd they border on comical (if they weren’t so terrible) knock us off course. rumors are spread, cars are smashed, jobs are lost, chemicals become so familiar to our systems that we sacrifice relationships for them, children suffer, people die, others live (especially the ones that are so hard for us to live with), and hurts of all kinds trickle into our lives like ants seeking a crumb on the kitchen floor. they congregate, it seems, until we feel hopeless or numb, overtaken and overwhelmed, defeated.

the most frequent action i notice, in response to the events and occurrences that make life hard, is isolation. “what would people think?” “they would never understand.” “this is all my fault.” “i suck!” “they have it so together.” “i am a magnet for this crap.” are all messages we play like a scratched vinyl record over and over in our heads. eventually the messages take hold and we hide away in our literal or intrapersonal closets.

what we show on the outside is oh so different from the mantras occupying our minds and keeping us hidden away. like the man behind the curtain in oz, we construct falsified selves that keep people so distracted or mesmerized or revolted or whatever that no one thinks to stop and evaluate whether or not this “wizard” is actually real. our false smiles, our impeccable appearances, our “i’m greats,” our excuses, and a plethora of other habits create smoke and mirrors. in our certainty that our pain is a reflection of our worth or that our suffering is an indication of our lack, we hide ourselves away. sharing our hurts, revealing our wounds, being honest about how much empathy we need all become impossible feats when we’re sure they’ll garner us nothing but more judgement, pain, and rejection.

none of this helps. 

it’s time to pull back the curtain. it’s time to let ourselves know that we are only human. it’s o.k. for others to realize this as well. sure, we’ve trained ourselves and the people in our lives to think of us as great and all powerful but we aren’t and there’s such relief in that reality. there’s comfort in your humanity greeting my humanity and expecting nothing more. or less. from this shared space we can welcome each other with the open arms and gracious acceptance that empathy paves the way for. we may not know the perfect thing to say. we might bumble and disappoint and need to actively fight our tendency to judge and label. we might have to appear unprepared and less than perfect, but we’ll be real and honest and known and loved from there. and Lord knows, we all need that. and we need to give it as well.

so i begin this week with the curtain open and my humanity up front. i welcome yours as well...even if you think i do not. one thing is for sure...our hurting, real, vulnerable, beautiful, frustrating humanity is the one thing that we most certainly share.