Easement

The word easement has two distinctly different meanings.  This is a story about the convergence of the two meanings:  First Meaning – a right to cross or otherwise use someone’s land for a specified purpose; Second Meaning – the state or feeling of comfort or peace.

I live in a rural community on the edge of the rapidly expanding urban/suburban territory of Columbus, Ohio.  My county, Delaware County, is north of Franklin County, the Columbus metropolitan terrain. Delaware County is a rural community rapidly becoming something else. Farmers are parceling out and selling their crop-growing fields, creating large lots where expansive new homes are sprouting up like dandelions.  The existing homes have wells for a water supply. The new residents want “city water”, so the push is on to make that possible. The complex process of approvals to make this happen requires that the water company get permission to create water lines through the existing lots.  The newcomers really want this; the old residents, not so much.

I am a hybrid, a recent addition to the neighborhood in a more traditional and smaller home, with a new well that works wonderfully.  I also know that my property value goes up if access to water lines is ensured.  I don’t “need” or even “want” this water line, but know it makes sense to participate in the emerging future. To achieve that, I need to give the water company the right to dig through my front yard to lay the water line.  They are requesting a notarized easement agreement.

So, I scheduled a meeting to sign the agreement. The water company said that they could send an employee who could deliver the necessary form, witness my signing it, and thus concurrently provide the necessary notarization. Carol, who appeared to me to be a woman ushering in the early phases of middle-age years, arrived precisely at the time of the appointment.  We chatted, she gave me the form, and I began wading through the legalese.  I decided a conversation made more sense. I wondered exactly what this easement process would create, suspecting days of noisy havoc and a lack of access to my driveway. I was particularly concerned about the lovely old trees keeping vigil on the lawn in front of my house: would they be safe?

As Carol and I chatted, she explained that she was the project director and could ensure the safety of the trees and my recently paved driveway.  She explained how that could be achieved, and took a few photos to have the information she needed to address my concerns.  She estimated two days of significant disruption. I noticed my apprehension waning, was encouraged by her obvious pragmatic expertise and told her that I was impressed that a woman was project director.

Our conversation took an amusing turn to comparing notes about intruding, as a woman, on terrain most men had assumed was theirs to control and manage.  I noted that I was 79 years old, and had these experiences as a young academic where faculty governance roles often made me the only woman at the table. She noted that she knew she was breaking ground in her company, and we shared laughter at the antics of men struggling with the new order of things where a woman could “run” what men assumed only men could “run”.  She had a supportive boss so I told her to congratulate her boss for me, and tell him that I was much more comfortable with signing the easement agreement because a woman was in charge.  She enjoyed this.  I realized I was experiencing that second meaning of easement: I felt both comfort and peace that Carol was going to be running the show.

A connection emerged and she went to her truck to get me her business card so I could call her if I had any more concerns.  I thanked her, and we parted.  She had said she would email my copy of the signed easement agreement form, so I was not surprised to find it in my email about two hours later.  The message though, was a joy to read.  In addition to a very business-like message about the attached document she had added: “Thank you again for your kind words and paving the way for the rest of us.”

I pondered this for quite a while. It is easy to recall some of the more disturbing experiences that emerge breaking through brick walls and glass ceilings.  If is more difficult, yet more important to recognize that these experiences will in time age into wisdom to share and support and encouragement to offer.  Her single sentence made it all worthwhile. Easement!

“We—young and old together—hold the future in our hands. If our common life is to become more compassionate, creative and just, it will take an intergenerational effort.”

Parker Palmer

Published
Categorized as May 2022

Roe v. Wade

My first direct experience with abortion happened in 1966, eight years before the 1973 passage of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that protects a pregnant women’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.  This is the story of that experience as I remember it.

I was a 23 years old nun, working as a surgical nurse at a mid-size midwestern Catholic hospital. Weekends were always staffed with a skeletal crew, and so one Saturday when I got the call to go to the operating room for an emergency, I knew we would be understaffed.  I was the first to arrive and found our patient already in the operating room, awake and immobile. Before she saw me, I saw the look of deep terror on her face; as I approached her, the terror seemed to escalate. Intuitively I sensed that the fact I was a nun made our encounter even more troublesome for her.  

I prided myself in taking the time to interact with my patients before they were anesthetized, and so tried to say something comforting, ask her questions, touch her hand. She was immobile, silent, and continuing to escalate her terror as I watched her stare at me.  Soon the anesthesiologist arrived, began the process of sedation and I left the room to scrub for the surgical procedure. I was already haunted by the woman’s facial expression and silence.

The surgeon arrived and I was relieved to find he was one I trusted and admired, a young and very competent physician who often noted that nothing unsettled him; he had been a resident at Cook County Hospital in Chicago and had once observed that he had “seen it all”. That day gave the lie to that claim, but neither of us knew it then.  Still troubled by my experience with the patient, I asked him what he knew.

The patient was admitted with complaints of severe abdominal pain that had lasted several days and with symptoms indicating potential shock. She was a 40-year-old Catholic white female, divorced, with two children, a 12 year old girl and a 15 year old boy, who were in the surgical services waiting room.  It was Saturday; they waited alone. Also, because it was Saturday, the physician’s partner had not yet arrived to assist in the surgery.  We were reluctant to wait, worried about the patient’s state. We quickly moved into efficient action, and the surgeon made an incision in the patient’s distended abdomen.

I think we were both shocked: her abdominal cavity was full of large blood clots, some as large as an orange.  We began rapidly removing them, searching for the source of the bleeding. As the surgeon palpated the various body parts within her abdomen, he looked up at me stricken: “I think she’s pregnant”.  We escalated our search and our effort to remove clots and sponge up blood throughout her abdomen.  We ordered blood and forced six units into her to try to compensate for what was clearly extreme blood loss. We could not find the source of the bleeding.  The surgeon determined that the time spent in our search was increasing stress on the patient, and decided to close the incision, and try to stabilize her.

She was wheeled out of the operating room by an OR tech, though I think neither the surgeon nor I had been aware of his presence until then.  We stood in the room silently trying to process our experience when the tech returned. “She died in the hall” he announced, accompanied by the surgeon’s partner who had arrived and confirmed the outcome.

The surgeon was bereft.  “I have to go tell those two kids that their mother is dead and I don’t know either of them or her; no one here seems to know them”.  Often someone knew our patients but not in this case. I offered to go with him and he dismissed the suggestion, I felt perhaps because he too wasn’t sure what impact the presence of a nun might have on the kids. I accepted his decision.

Due to the unusual nature of this patient’s health crisis and outcome, an autopsy was required.  The surgeon came to find me one day, and told me that they had found the source of the bleeding: a small puncture of the wall of the bladder where we store urine.  The hole was small enough that the judgment was made that it was unlikely anyone could have found it. The patient had obviously been bleeding internally for a very long period of time: confounding, and a sobering level of human affliction.

A few days later the surgeon sought me out again.  The patient’s sister had found a crochet hook with blood on it wrapped in a piece of gauze and tucked behind the radiator in the patient’s bathroom.  Piecing together this information and with the help of the sister, the explanation emerged.  The patient had tried to induce her own abortion.  She had hoped to insert a crochet hook through her vagina and puncture the uterus to activate an abortion.  She had instead inserted the crochet hook through her urethra, the drainage tube for urine (which had to be painful) and punctured her bladder.  She had endured a profound amount of suffering in her attempt to end her pregnancy. 

I had not before and have not since ever seen the depth of terror that I saw on this patient’s face.  I always will remember that. I also always will remember that I was the last person who spoke to her. I had tried to reach out, tried to comfort her. I did not feel that I had succeeded. She seemed to me then, and still seems to me a woman frozen in time and the consequences of a lonely irrevocable desperate decision.

I post this blog to honor this woman, my patient, and her children. Her story is my antidote to the often, facile, simplistic, dismissive and patronizing chatter of anti-abortion political activists, including those who serve on the US Supreme Court.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”

Sue Monk Kidd 

Published
Categorized as May 2022

Dawn

I start my day at my dining room table, looking eastward through glass doors to my back yard where Spring is currently laboring to discard an unrelenting Winter clearly unwilling to leave. Here I journal and meditate, and the east view adds the dimension of dawn. Cloud covers are common here, so the dawn always pushes against the darkness of a clouded night by creating splendid displays of pinks, reds, golds…and eventually daylight. The picture above is a good example of what I am describing.

This morning, however, in the first hints of dawn, a small sliver to the north broke through the cloud cover and a bright white light announced its presence, pure sunlight ahead of schedule. It seemed almost defiant to me, a prelude of things to come, ready or not. I found myself mesmerized by this stubborn white light. The cloud cover persisted. I checked the weather, and within minutes, it began to rain, and the white light was swallowed in the clouds.

I realized that the white light, fleeting and imperious, was more powerful than the lovely dawn colors, the gray cloud cover or the rain. These were more fleeting, actually, than the white light, because that white light reminded me that the sunlight was always there, always waiting for its moment, and despite clouds, rain, darkness…the sunlight would show itself.  Just because, for a finite period of time, I couldn’t see it did not mean it did not exist.  Dawn disrupts the darkness of despair.

It seemed to offer an analogy for our times, full of the darkness of deconstructions and dysfunctions, suffering and often despair. Those paying attention notice all this chaos and fret; many pretend none of it is there or avoid facing it down. Nonetheless, it is there. Last night, clutching a remote control as a gateway to “TV reality”, one could tune into ESPN for the frenzy of the NFL Draft or CNN for a sobering report on the war in Ukraine. These coexist.

Dawn can disrupt our patterns of avoidance or despair by reminding us that darkness is followed by light, that the sun still exists, and that planet earth thrives in part through sunlight. No matter how we navigate the realities that surround us, nature has a steadiness of purpose and pattern. The rhythm of night and day persists. At some future moment, this could be altered, but for now, they coexist.  A sliver of white light reminded me of all of this.

The metaphor that shapes my hope for making a contribution to the planet through elderhood is the lighthouse, a steady light in storms, a beacon of guidance when others are tossed about by those storms, a safe harbor. That white sliver of light also reminded me of that metaphor and that commitment.

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

Anne Lamott

Published
Categorized as April 2022

Really ?!!??

I entered the convent at the age of 16.  Undeniably, this was an unusual place for rafting the developmental white waters of late adolescence and early young adulthood. Nonetheless, my years in the nunnery provided me with many powerful life lessons, some more challenging than others. One happened early, my first day.

The members of my cohort were being escorted through the dormitory where we would be sleeping.  Our escort was an elderly nun, who seemed to me agitated and even angry, the second in “command” in this new environment (“command” being appropriately descriptive).  She seemed to see her task orienting the new applicants as onerous, saddled with the spawn of the devil which she needed to deliver from the gates of hell.  My younger brothers nicknamed her “Lumpjaw”, a current Disney character; it was not kind but it was apt.

The dormitory was made up of large rooms with three curtained “cells” per room. (Yes, they were called “cells”). Each occupant also had a storage wardrobe built into the wall.  One side was for hanging the unfamiliar outer garb of our immediate future. The other side had shelving, and Lumpjaw began explaining where, on each shelf, we were to store everything else we would be wearing under our outer garb, all of it as unfamiliar as that outer garb.

As she precisely directed locations for each undergarment, I rather spontaneously asked the question I had been asking for 16 years and would go on to continue asking for the following decades: “Why?”  She looked at me shocked and disapprovingly, stared me down and answered: “It is God’s Will!”

Whoa!  My first response, silent outwardly but inwardly shouting was “Really ?!!??”. I then slid easily into my sardonic humor mode, again outwardly silent while inwardly muttering: “I had no idea that God was into precise underwear storage.”  I ruminated. What made Lumpjaw think she knew where “God” wanted me to store my socks and undies? Indeed, what made anyone think that “God” was busy giving directives about underwear storage?  Had I been older or wiser, I might have noticed that this rumination was a harbinger.

And the lesson took root. I have a deep respect and regard for persons who invest in their spiritual self-actualization, sometimes involving a deep intuitive sense of what they perceive as “God’s Will” for them in their life journey. Lumpjaw taught me about the others, those who invoke “It is God’s Will” carelessly, imposing their desires and goals on others by implying they have personal inside information on what “God Wills” for them.

This Lumpjaw tendency is widespread, as if burning bushes were popping up all over the planet telling select individuals what God wants and encouraging them to impose this information (and precise expectations) on others. The intent of control and dominance is not subtle. The damage is substantial. It is a particularly pernicious version of authoritarianism, with “God” as the identified instigator. It seems unfair that “God” should be the fall guy for their bad behavior.

Over the years I have studied those who accept this directive from others, and find often they are fearful humans, desperate to find a “right answer”, embracing the assurance that they have “the truth” directly from the powerful force they most want to “please”. Others exploit their fear.  Though I feel some compassion for these fearful humans, I also believe that they are accountable for their choices and consequences.  I know I struggle to feel compassion for those manipulating them with pronouncements of “It is God’s Will”.  I go back to that day in the dorm, back to my incredulous “Really ?!!??”

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”

Proust 

Published
Categorized as April 2022

Normal

Prior to the Covid pandemic, there were observable and more subtle fissures in the fabric of life in the US.  Many manifested as polarities: two groups of people who simply did not agree on a given issue.  Post-Covid, these manifest, and some new ones have emerged. I just completed three back-to-back trips to different parts of the US.  Observing and listening were productive investments of my time and energy. “Getting Back to Normal” was one of the emergent themes. And there I found a new polarity.

For some, the experience of the pandemic and the shutdown created a hiatus where enforced reflectiveness and unimagined human suffering created alternative insights.  These persons emerged from their Covid Caves with an interest in creating a life different from the one they lived pre-Covid. They also took note of the many unveiled disfunctions in our social structures. They changed. For some this is not just an interest but a passion, one they are pursuing with experimenting, testing, and exploring. They hope to create something new, something better.

Conversely, some emerged from their Covid Caves with a dogged determination to take up where they left off, summarized as “Getting Back to Normal”. I sometimes sense that this is the majority though I have no evidence to substantiate this. I may simply be reacting to the doggedness itself, which I experience as a red flag of insistence, responding to any changes with resistance. It doesn’t make sense to me.  I feel like I have been invited to play pretend, something I do with joy with my four-year-old grandson, but falter at the invitation from adults.

It has seemed to me that the pandemic and the shutdown were awash in life lessons, not all welcome or comforting, but there nonetheless. Many lessons challenged illusions of control, safety, certitude, and justice and communal care for all.  These challenges have not dissipated for me, but left me slogging through their implications for me as a person and for the social systems where I am a participant. I have become a more focused observer. New gestures of courage emerged; new gestures of self-absorbtion emerged. The weak joints and flawed construction in the societal structures we have fabricated revealed themselves with greater clarity.  They have not been repaired or replaced.

So, the old discarded “normal” for me has morphed into the shadowy outline of a new “normal” waiting to be imagined and attempted. I do not believe we will ever be “Getting Back to Normal”, a regression that does not interest me. Whether I like it or not, evolution persists. I may not be comfortable with what emerges, but my discomfort ultimately does not interrupt or alter the emergence. I think this is true for all of us. 

One of the most interesting dimensions of the “Getting Back to Normal” effort is a rather poorly veiled resentment by those pursuing it toward those not consenting to the goal. This took me by surprise, perhaps naively.  And even more interestingly, the “Getting Back to Normal” initiative weaves itself nicely into the pre-pandemic fissures.

Pre-pandemic, as a professional coach, I had a burgeoning interest in supporting the swelling ranks of the aged providing a rich reservoir of potential elders who could gift the planet with their wisdom developed through their life experiences.  It seemed a good idea then. Now, it feels urgent.

“Emergence disturbs the concept of linearity and undermines the whole modern project of categorizing things neatly once and for all.”

Bayo Akomolafe 

Published
Categorized as April 2022

Words

My brother Bob, three years my senior, has been (and continues to be) a source of some of my most important life lessons, emerging from simple conversations.  He does not remember these conversations, which pleases me, since my recollection becomes the prevailing story of these exchanges.  He consented to my request to share the stories of these conversations here in this blog, and I am grateful to him for that. I acknowledge at the outset that memory is imperfect and hence I am probably describing less the conversation and more the emergent life lessons.

Here is an example. As a preschooler (I was creating patterns early), I once told Bob that I thought I had made a mistake and come to the wrong planet.  He solemnly stared at me for a while and then said “You may be right about that”.  Now you can see why he may not recall this, and of course, that exchange haunts me to this day. Those may not have been his exact words, but in my memory, those are his exact words. There are more questions here than answers.

Bob loves words, has published poetry, books, songs, homilies, and more. At some point during my years in grade school, probably prodded by a teacher, I decided I needed to expand my vocabulary. So, I started systematically looking up the meaning of words I didn’t know that I encountered in books I was reading.  The bigger the word, the more enthused I became. I would then try to use the word in a conversation.

I tried out one of my new “big” words on Bob. He stared at me for a while (staring was part of the pattern), and then asked me why I was using that word.  I enthusiastically explained my vocabulary expansion program, thinking he would be impressed that I was creating my own “big” vocabulary.  I don’t remember the word or if I used it appropriately, but I remember his response.

He explained to me that a “big” vocabulary was not about “big” words but involved knowing the meaning of so many words that you could make choices.  If you knew what you are trying to communicate and you knew to whom you are sending your message, then a “big” vocabulary was so extensive that you could pick exactly the best possible words to effectively explain your message to this specific recipient.  

Now as is obvious, that is not what he said but what I understood as his message. We were kids. Still, I got this life lesson. Words were not indicators of intellectual superiority but vehicles of communication, and if you hoped to communicate well, you selected the words that others could understand well enough to get your message. This lesson shaped my life in the land of words.

Years later, writing manuscripts for publication, policies for a doctoral program, letters to a campus donor, podium presentations…the lesson persisted.  My colleagues were bemused at my editing and re-editing of one or another word, insisting on changes they thought unnecessary and obsessive. I didn’t.  I was trying to get my message across with optimal chances for success. These were choices.

As is perhaps self-evident, Bob’s lesson serves as context for the decisions I make about words as I write my blog posts. If you get my messages, then I have succeeded.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Albert Schweitzer 

Published
Categorized as March 2022

OWGs

The global pandemic-induced deconstructions (and some new constructions) continue to emerge, fascinate and inform me. One has caught my attention, and that of several colleagues and friends. In telling stories, at some point the speaker refers to an “old white man” or more frequently, an “old white guy” (OWG). Contextually, it is clear that this reference does not focus on all elderly Caucasian males, but to a specific subset. There is an implication that this subset is known and recognizable. Saying “OWG” is a short cut to highlight something far more complex. This blog post is a bit long because the complexity warrants care.

Since OWGs are my demographic peers, and a familiar reference, I have spent some time trying to describe the nature of their new subset currently frequently referenced.  With gratitude to the Oxford Dictionary, I have concluded that this subset manifests a syndrome.  While most syndromes are medical phenomena, Oxford highlights the behavioral one: “a characteristic combination of opinions, emotions or behaviors”.  I think OWGs are a group of people who share a syndrome, one not common to the larger community of elderly Caucasian males.  Indeed, this latter group has members who make OWG syndrome references, and it is clear they do not believe the syndrome is a self-description.

Leaving aside the age variable (old), though I will return to it, the other two descriptors refer to ethnicity and gender.  Being white and male has been a status ensuring privilege, advantage and entitlement for centuries, though most white males did not consciously acknowledge this and the advantages were mixed in scope and distribution.  The European colonization of much of the planet made this status assumption a global one. 

In general, it was always better to be white and male than to be otherwise. Implicit in this social structuring was the assumption of superiority, a conviction that white males should “rule” just about everything because they were best equipped to do so. That has changed, sometimes rapidly and insistently, sometimes even violently.  For some white males, this loss is intolerable, and they work assiduously to reclaim their lost entitlements, to ensure dominance in all things, to insist we recreate the old-world order. OWGs do this. That is their syndrome.

Early in my life, OWG syndrome seemed widespread, seemingly including all white males. It almost always evoked rage, resentment, condemnation, or despair from those who were systematically disadvantaged so that white males could protect their advantage. Many who were not white males determined it was to their advantage to support the OWG world view and get the gains possible without the white male status. Sometimes white males would make concessions if one “cooperated” with them or mimicked their behaviors and beliefs, embraced their syndrome.

In the emerging references to OWGs now, something has clearly shifted, perhaps another tipping point in the erosion of white patriarchy.  OWGs are not to be admired or emulated. Indeed, OWGs are not an enemy but a rather sad, seemingly even pitiful subgroup, suffering from a syndrome that embraces desires not only unresolvable but doomed.  Increasingly, Caucasian males of all ages, but particularly the young, actively disavow identification with the OWGs and their syndrome. And, yet, there is often a tone of patience, sometimes even compassion in these references, and that further evokes my curiosity.

Which brings me back to the first variable, age.  The OWG, who is by definition old, is nearing the end of his life journey.  For many observers, grappling with the often tedious, and sometimes deadly manifestations of the OWG syndrome, they simply see the obvious aging and realize that OWGs days are numbered: they will die…relatively soon.  This seems a bit harsh in tone, however it often seems those observing the OWGs seem more aware of this fact than the OWGs themselves.  Trying to reclaim privilege and entitlements as you are ending your life seems odd to many. To what end?

I see the delineation of the OWG syndrome as a positive development, releasing large numbers of white males from condemnation by “association” simply due to demographic characteristics that shape their personal identities.  I grew up with four brothers, four of the finest people I have known and cherished throughout my life. The remaining three who are living are clearly elderly Caucasian males, and equally clearly, they do not manifest OWG syndrome.  I have male friends where I can make the same statement with certitude. I have never liked that they were assumed to be the enemy of equity, fairness, and justice for all.

Conversely, I am also happy for the OWGs, that their syndrome is recognized for what it is and increasingly treated as a syndrome rather than a valid political and social initiative that evokes hatred and scorn.  They are indeed “old” and their hoped-for outcome has been deconstructed as they face their imminent death. There is perhaps societal nostalgia, but not regression. I am convinced that regression isn’t even possible.

The OWL part of this blog was a sardonic nod to my status as an Old White Lady. Indeed, my hope is to deconstruct the assumptions about these three terms, all of which carry a burden of societal mores and beliefs that often do harm. I feel I would be remiss if I don’t acknowledge that many efforts of the OWGs do harm, sometimes profound harm. 

When we evolve past a fixed societal structure to a mere syndrome embraced (or suffered) by a subset of the prior structure, there is reason to hope. So, as I quietly study the OWG who initiated a criminal war attack on the Ukrainian people, I also watch the world respond, in a myriad of ways. There is a global rejection of that war and the OWG’s agenda, and so I embrace that hope.  It is further my hope that we notice that many white guys, of all ages, stand with me in that rejection of war and the OWG’s agenda. They too embrace hope.  Beyond hope, I also feel gratitude.  Elderly Caucasian males have more to lose than I do.

And for all of us, death lurks in the wings, waiting to take center stage, the final act in the drama of every story told.

“The act of striving is in itself the only way to keep faith with life.”

Madeleine K. Albright

Published
Categorized as March 2022

Green

I have spent about half of my life in climates with four clearly identifiable “seasons”, which for me includes my least favorite, the time of snow-covered frozen tundra (with a nod to the Green Bay Packers). However, I have never in the past created the time and experience of observing the seasonal changes in nature in a patterned way.  My near daily walks through a forested area in a nearby park have corrected this life experience deficit. Some images become haunting. Forested winter looks like a war zone to me.  The intensity of summer’s fullness of green looks a bit cocky, as if there is no realization that autumn is lurking and the end is near. Beech trees wear their fragile light gold leaves all winter, seeming to engage in some stubborn act of defiance. I enjoy these images, catalysts to reflection.

One is particularly haunting, which I describe to myself as “green starts at the bottom and moves up”.  As winter begins to lose its stranglehold on the forest, little sparks of dark green moss show up along the edges of the walkway, soon to be challenged by grasses that swallow up the moss, which moves to alternative sites, quietly, persistently.  Then the low short bushes and tall weeds go green, slowly followed by the “short” trees, gradually moving upward to the old tall trees going green. I have reflected a good deal on “green starts at the bottom and moves up” because it seems a metaphor for much of human existence.

For about half of my professional life, I worked with a variety of health care organizations, usually grappling with the severe damages of unresolved chronic conflict, often a dimension of unacknowledged inequity and power imbalances.  These experiences were instructive.  I became fascinated by the disconnect between what the “leaders” thought was going on in their organization, and what the “employees” thought was going on. What became obvious was that for me the “employees” were actually the more reliable informants, the “leaders” often merely describing their wishful thinking.  As the “outsider”, I was impressed with how insistent the leaders were that their perception of reality was the “truth” and how difficult it was for them to imagine that their “vision” was just that, merely a vision and not a reality. The occupants of the C Suite, in spite of their convictions, would encounter passive-aggressive inaction and sabotage, evoking discomforting confusion.

And I learned to trust the fact that “green starts at the bottom and moves up”.   If these organizations wanted to grow and prosper, it was the “employees” at the absolute lowest levels of the organization who were the most relevant initial resources.  If leaders dismissed their input or perspective, the results were predictable…no green.  Now you could always locate splashes of “green” about the organization, which sometimes looked like beech trees sprinkled, much as in the forest, in unpredictable locations.  I learned that the “moss” would sometimes be nestled in the larger swaths of grass, supporting the possibility of a bush or two bursting forth, some with blossoms and flowers.  In time, if you stayed with the “green starts at the bottom and moves up”, you could observe the unfolding of real organizational change.

Now this was usually a difficult realization for the big old trees in the C Suite, and though there were exceptions (exceptional leaders), the illusion of control and the need to feel successful were always lurking as deterrents.  The essential understanding of the connectedness of all dimensions of the organization (forest) and their complex relationships was often totally missing among the leadership groups, or reduced to simplistic linear mental modeling. Fiscal fears, presented as financial concerns, were often like some disturbing chemical killing everything green in sight. I was often moved by the grasses and bushes compassionately helping the big old trees, their “leaders” grapple with the realization that they really didn’t get to meet their goals by fiat. I had the advantage of working with organizations where most who worked there were people of good will and generosity of spirit.

As I write this, I imagine all sorts of people throughout the nation getting up this morning and selecting something “green” to wear, since it is St. Patrick’s Day.  I think of all the corporations in this country who are dealing with the realization that a shift is happening, that the Great Resignation might be a message. I wonder how many will recognize that “green starts at the bottom and moves up”.   I wonder if our leaders in all venues of our social systems might be helped by a walk in the forest this spring, noticing that “green starts at the bottom and moves up”.  

“We must shift our allegiances from fear to curiosity, from attachment to letting go, from control to trust, and from entitlement to humility.”

Angeles Arrien 

Published
Categorized as March 2022

Questioning

As the nervous exploration of our country’s flirtation with authoritarianism bubbles up in a variety of media, the embedded value assumptions bubble up too. So, I was struck by an observation of some leaders of the “Christian right”, who noted that though their embrace of the abusive aspects of authoritarianism was indeed incompatible with “Christian values”, they “at least saved all those babies”.  The simplistic analysis of the single-issue anti-abortion “movement” apologists: we may have to sacrifice democracy to save “all those babies”.

Which led me to reflect upon what I consider the weirdest part of the anti-abortion “movement”: the assumption that all pregnant women became pregnant as a solo act, an amazing collective “immaculate conception”! All these women, alone in the room where it happened! Biologically, we know there was some sort of male sperm donor involved, however the debate focuses exclusively on women, and their “responsibility” to carry their babies to term. Implicitly we are also saying that they are the responsible party in the pregnancy, that other participants need not be held accountable.   And they are obligated to have their babies. Putting aside all the ways these women are rarely assisted in their lives as they work to care for their babies “after term”, and then care for the children and adults their babies become, I want to know about the men who fathered these babies.  What is their responsibility?

We have paternity identification tools at hand, and we certainly know that these babies (and their mothers) need support. If these men elected to take actions that introduced the possibility of paternity, then they too are responsible for the outcome. Where are the protests, political action committees, legislative initiatives…the actions to engage these men in their responsibilities?  Does the anti-abortion “movement” even realize that there were actually men involved in the situation confronting the women seeking abortions?  Why aren’t the men identified, judged, shunned, punished, held to account?  Why is there no “Men Who Impregnate with Impudence” oppositional movement?

I ponder the high school student who finds herself pregnant.  Easily, the anti-abortion “movement” insists that she carry this baby to term. They suggest adoption as if this will not further change this young woman’s life irrevocably, though we have the data to support this reality.  Imagine if we altered our focus, and the real issue was the baby’s father.  What if his life was altered, so that immediately he was required to publicly support the girl during her pregnancy, and for the life of the child?  Would he and/or his parent’s step up?  Would the anti-abortion “movement” pressure and shame him?  Would they point out that he erred, perhaps was even immoral?  Would they tell him how easy adoption would be? Would they hound him down persistently until he took responsibility for his actions?

I have been following the crazy Texas law that essentially supports neighbors reporting on anyone seeking an abortion.  I imagine the Texas Rangers hunting down all the dads of all these pregnant women to require engagement with and financial support of the women they impregnated and their children.  I imagine Governor Abbott vigorously condemning the men trying to avoid their responsibilities for these babies that Texas wants to be “carried to term”.  I want the dads as pressured and shamed as the moms…and I see nothing in the anti-abortion “movement” that even hints at awareness of their blatant blind spot that obsesses over the “mother” and often does not even acknowledge the “father”.  Now there emerges the Idaho legislative mimic of Texas, where the fathers apparently do have a role: they can sue an abortion provider for damages after a woman has an abortion if they impregnated the woman.

I have a hunch that persons embracing the world view that flirts with authoritarianism are also willing to focus only on the woman’s role and accountabilities when a man and a woman create a fertilized human egg, a zygote, that becomes implanted in a woman’s uterus as a human embryo. I wonder if they know that at least 40-60% of these embryos do not survive to result in a term pregnancy.  Would they organize funerals and make sure the dads attended? 

I find the patterns of patriarchy endlessly ignorant and fatiguing.

“Rather than looking at the unanswered questions, we now need to be looking at the unquestioned answers of our time.”

Lynne Twist

Published
Categorized as March 2022

Ukraine

To even start this post makes me anxious, and yet, it is our current shared reality. I want to be respectful of the profound adversity experienced by the Ukrainian people, and to sit here, in comfort in Johnstown, Ohio leaves me feeling unequal to the challenge. Yet, I want to speak out, join the voices of support for the Ukrainian people and place myself clearly in opposition to those inflicting this adversity, capriciously and needlessly.

Like many across the planet, each day, repeatedly, I turn a watchful eye to the news about the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin. Like many, I had felt a deep awareness of the disruptions and deconstructions of the past two years, lurking as potential long before that. I did not know what would emerge.  For me, the invasion of Ukraine was not surprising; the responses from around the planet were. These had not, I believe, been fully imagined or anticipated by anyone. There had seemed to be either an attack on, or sheer neglect of, the high price of democracy and freedom in many places on the planet.  Many passionate and noisy people were clear that they preferred an autocrat. Then suddenly, a tremor of resistance and refusal, made manifest at great cost in Ukraine, found voice and took action. 

War is not a problem-solving device, and we are once more validating this as a species.  There is suffering, destruction, and terror that is both unnecessary and cruel. There is a quiet throb of sadness and frustration that now shapes my days. For the first time in my life, however, I also feel connected to a web of compassion that spans the planet; I am not alone in my opposition to this war. While many may ignore it, some even support it, what stands out for me is this global web I find, made visible and active. This war isn’t just happening over there somewhere to someone; it is everyone’s war…and for many of us, no war is welcome and every war harms everyone. There is an “us” embedded in the word “Ukraine”.

I have pondered that the fear and fantasies about “nuclear options” may be a factor in our web of compassion. Perhaps for some. The more dominant theme, however, is simple revulsion at injustice and ruthlessness. There have always been anti-war protestors. This seems different, as nations step forward, take action, imagine innovative ways of helping. News changes by the minute, and I do not know what developments will emerge, how much more chaos and destruction will be imposed.  It seems clear to me, however, that we can never go back to where we were and we cannot erase this global event and its repercussions.

Most humans in this web of compassion are seeking ways to contribute, to help.  UNICEF, one of my favorite problem-solving resources, is meeting at the border mothers and children who are suddenly Ukrainian refugees.  So that is where I sent my first donation.  I post this information as the appropriately fuzzy photo for today to invite you to join this effort, or whatever other effort you can find that fits your values and beliefs. The “us” embedded in the Ukrainian experience warrants whatever action we might find our way to bring forward.

“Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future. To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.”

David Whyte

Published
Categorized as March 2022