The Child-Catching Monster

A tall, thin man with dark, stringy hair, hollow cheeks, and a long nose haunts my childhood nightmares. He gleefully goes about his job catching children. Once captured the children go into a cage and are spirited off to parts unknown. As a kid, I was terrified of this monster and comforted in the knowledge that such an evil creature only existed in the movies. I am not alone in my assessment of the evildoer. Entertainment Weekly placed the depiction of the child-catcher in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, on their “50 Most Vile Villains” list.

So how did this monstrous fiend rise to the surface of my current nightmares? I turned on the news. My country, the United States of America, has an entire team of child-catchers who take children away from their parents, put them in cages then sends them to hidden locations.

These children are living the terror that I could only experience at the movies. And the response from the lawmakers in power has been a deafening silence. Even worse, from my fellow Americans who look away or shrug and say it’s the law. Some (Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders) even try to justify their actions using the Bible.

I’ve always wondered how regular people in Nazi Germany stood by while atrocities took place all around them. But the more relevant question is what am I doing? How am I any different than those who stood by eighty years ago. They too probably felt helpless to do much. Maybe some felt indifference and some even felt a sense of national pride.

I’m not trying to compare the Holocaust to events taking place at the U.S. border. I am only looking to this time in history as a means of trying to understand human nature. Anyone who has studied this period has asked themselves what they would do in similar circumstances. Well now’s your chance.

Here are some concrete things, short of building a flying car that you can do right now.

First, make your voice heard. Call or write your representative. You can call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard directly at 202-224-3121 or follow the link to get their name and address.

You can also donate to organizations that are actively working to help. Here are just a few:

American Immigration Representative Project fights for due process and justice for detained immigrants as well as trains and coordinates lawyers willing to donate their time:

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights champions the rights and best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Kino Border Initiative provides humanitarian relief on both sides of the border

The National Immigrant Justice Center provides comprehensive legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers

Removing children from their parents and siblings is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s a human issue. We can point fingers and debate who’s to blame for laws and policy, but the monstrous treatment of innocent children at our borders is being done on behalf of all Americans. If you don’t like the message, it sends, speak out, donate or protest. Children should be afraid of monsters, flying monkeys, giant lizards, or clowns, not Americans.

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A Time For Nothing: How Doing Nothing May Be the Best Form of Resistance

A Time For Nothing: How Doing Nothing May Be the Best Form of Resistance

There is a thief who robs me of my happiness every time I see him. Yet every morning, I open my door via television or social media and let him in. Which one of us is the bigger fool? This individual is one of the most powerful people in the world. Why should I give him any of my power?

I can march, I can donate, I can call, I can write. But at some point, all the resistance in the world doesn’t change the fact that the party I align myself with has very little power right now. This leaves me feeling powerless in the face of what I see as a series of injustices. I won’t list them all. The exercise will only compound my worries, but I won’t forget about them either.

Do I give in to despair, ignore the news, or stay permanently agitated? None of these are viable options. That’s why I choose to do what may be the hardest thing of all: nothing.

This is difficult because it goes against every fiber of my being. I believe doing something is always better than doing nothing. But, doing nothing is what is required.

Doing nothing doesn’t mean giving up. Quite the contrary, I must do whatever I can to stay informed and make my voice heard. But yelling at the TV, pulling my hair out and waking every morning in a state of fear, does nothing to further my cause. That’s why doing nothing may be the most important thing I can do.

When I was a kid my parents warned me about what to do if I ever became lost. They said the first thing you should do is stand still. If you want to be found, stop running around in circles.

I take a deep breath. Stillness feels incredible after weeks of frenetic activity. I inhale knowing that I alone have the power to determine how I feel right now. I exhale my worry about the future. I inhale the love I have for myself and my fellow human beings. I exhale the frustration I have with the people who don’t see the world as I do.

Imagine if everyone could take some time out to do nothing. We could renew our sense of well being. We could check in with our source in search of guidance. We could see more clearly the best options for tomorrow even if those options include more of doing nothing.

If you think doing nothing will make you feel powerless, think again. Have you ever been thinking of a friend or loved one, when they inexplicably call? Have you ever walked into a room where people have been exchanging angry words and without hearing or seeing what happened, you pick up on the bad vibes? Have you ever spent time with someone who is so perpetually happy and fun to be around they boost your spirits, or felt depleted around someone who is angry or depressed?

We are Energetic Beings

We emit energy; some at high frequency (loving and altruistic thoughts), some at low frequency (base, primal, and fear based). If we hang out with a bunch of angry agitated people, we in turn begin to feel the same. If we spend time with people who are genuinely optimistic and light-hearted, it can’t help but affect you.

This is the hard part. Some of your favorite people, yourself included, may be pissed off, angry and agitated right now. It doesn’t matter if the anger is justified. If it’s not directed to specific action in a focused manner, it will burn itself out leaving everyone in its wake feeling depleted. It becomes a vicious cycle where we spread negativity to the people we’d most like to help.

I’m not proposing we all hold hands and sing Kumbaya together. But if enough people concentrated on the work of doing nothing. I believe we could harness a power capable of creating the change we so desperately seek.

I say doing nothing is work, because it is. Tuning into the super powers within requires discipline. When I’m tired, and disheartened, it’s even harder. My base instinct is to scavenge for more and more information confirming my fear that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. The availability of news makes this task seem effortless. But stepping away from that exercise and seeking peace internally is in fact the easiest and most effective method of working toward the common goal for us all to know peace.

This sounds a little “woo-woo” even to my ears. But I swear, if everyone could take a collective time out, we could at least begin to crawl out of the muck we’ve been drowning in. Peace is contagious. But it has to begin individually.

Here’s a Five-Minute Exercise to Get Started:

– Take several deep breaths, enough to center yourself.

– Imagine someone you love deeply: a spouse, a child, a parent a friend, even a pet. Allow the love you feel for that person to fill your heart with warmth. Send them the following loving phrases: May you be happy. May you feel safe. May you experience good health. May good things come to you. May your life be free of pain. May you feel love.

– Take those warm feelings and thoughts and direct them toward yourself. May I be happy, may I feel safe. May I experience good health. May good things come to me. May my life be free of pain. May I feel love.

– Picture a neutral person: a neighbor you don’t know well, someone you saw on the news, someone you see at the grocery store. Cultivate the warm feelings you wished for yourself and direct them towards this person. Just as I want to be happy, may they also be happy. Just as I want to feel safe, may they also feel safe. Just as I want good health, may they enjoy good health as well. May good things come to them. May their life be free of pain. May they feel love.

– Think of someone who causes you distress. Offer that person the same loving thoughts you sent to the person you love, yourself and a stranger. May they be happy. May they feel safe. May they experience good health. May good things come to them. May their life be free of pain. May they feel love.

– You can even direct these warm thoughts to your community, your nation and the wider world. May all beings be happy. May all beings feel safe. May they experience good health. May good things come to them. May their life be free of pain. May they feel love.

Meditation Doesn’t Have to be Difficult

This is a metta meditation that will absolutely make you feel better immediately after doing the exercise. You can spend as long as you like practicing this in a formal meditation. But it can be just as effective, certainly more so than not doing it at all, by slipping it into your life where you can. You can do it upon waking, while you lie in bed, or even, while you’re brushing your teeth. You can do it when you’re stuck in traffic. Or you can do it, just as you drift off to sleep.

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The Day After – How to Deal After the Election

The Day After – How to Deal After the Election

The rhetoric and negative energy that fills our airwaves during election season is toxic and we’ve been swimming in a sea of it. If someone intentionally set out to make a person sick at heart, the plan would include a daily dose of the type of language we hear from campaign ads and stump speeches.

Still, I believe it’s important to participate in the political process. I eagerly absorb all the information I can. But I know that, like a steady diet of nothing but carbs, it’s not healthy. I’m going to feel depleted when it’s all over. I feel passionate about the historic nature of this election, but nervous about the unusually high levels of hatred and vitriol. We’re going to need a big, community hug after it’s all over.

Now that my vote has been cast, all I can do is pray that it all works out for the best. I try not to pray for a specific candidate; God hears enough of that. Instead, I pray for the wisdom to accept the outcome whatever that may be, even though I desperately want my candidate to win and the other candidate to drop off the face of the planet.

Can we go back to our normal lives and live peacefully among neighbors regardless of what names were prominently displayed on yard signs and bumper stickers? I believe we can. Don’t get me wrong, I hope I get to spend Tuesday evening of doing an end zone dance and rejoicing that my candidate won. If that’s not the case, Wednesday is going to suck. But, painful as it might be, life will go on.

Thinking about how I will react to either scenario, I made a list to help me deal with whatever the election brings. It’s a note to myself for after the election.

If the worst happens and your candidate loses:

1.) Deep breaths my dear; inhale trust and exhale fear. All is well; everything will be okay.

2.) Now, turn the TV off. Step away from all media displaying victory celebrations as well as images of your fellow supporters filled with sadness, anger, and disbelief. Your media diet should consist solely of babies, kittens and puppies, nothing more.

3.) Think of it this way, the job you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy has just been given to your worst enemy. This poor soul will age dramatically over the next four years.

4.) Look out the window. The sun has risen, birds continue to sing, and people are going about their daily lives. The world has not come to an end after all. Now stop your whining and know this. You have the choice of whether or not to be miserable. Do you really want to choose misery?

5.) We live in a democracy that has survived worse i.e. the civil war, not to mention a few bad Presidents. Plus, if the majority of Americans, ignorant as they may seem to you, voted for this person, it’s possible you might have been wrong.

6.) Reach out to someone who supported the winning candidate. This is a tough one, I know, but you do know people, who aren’t horrible, yet voted for the winner. Put away thoughts that these folks are uninformed and consider the notion that they may know something you don’t. See if they can point out one positive outcome from their victory. Now hug it out.

7.) Send loving thoughts to the new President. If you really believe this person is an idiot, he or she, not to mention our country is going to need all the positivity you can muster.

8.) Take comfort in knowing that events are unfolding in precisely the right way and at the right time even if you may not be able to understand how or why.

If you spent the night celebrating:

1.) First of all, drink some water, and make sure no one has video of your dance moves. No one needs to see your “dab” or “stanky leg,” no matter what the champagne might have been telling you.

2.) Once you’ve had your fill of reveling, you might consider going on a media diet. Step away from news sources that confirm your own beliefs. Ask yourself how wise it is to gorge solely on thoughts and ideas that match your own. Diversity improves intelligence.

3.) Don’t forget that a good chunk of the country disagrees with this new President’s vision. Remember progress in Washington is often achieved through compromise and nothing happens overnight.

4.) Reach out to someone who supported the other candidate. Ask them what, aside from immediate impeachment, they would like to see come out of a new administration. I know this is hard and probably only achievable with someone you respect. But, certainly the two of you can come up with one common desire for our future. Now hug it out.

5.) Send loving thoughts to the new President as well as the loser and his or her supporters.

6.) Think about the time and energy you’ve spent worrying about the election. Now see if you can fill that newly freed space with a more positive outlet.

7.) Schedule a massage.

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Support Humanity!

I realize the title of this post paired with the image seems a like a stretch, but bear with me.

I needed a new sports bra and popped into Dillard’s to pick up a new one. When I entered the lingerie department, I realized I had forgotten to check the size and brand of the tired one I was wearing. This meant I would have to go into the dressing room and try one on, or at least take off the one I was wearing to check the label. A woman asked if I needed help and promptly insinuated herself into the process.

She asked my size and when I threw out my best guess, she eyeballed me and said, “I think you need a fitting.”

I really didn’t want a fitting, but she followed me into the dressing room and before I knew it she was making me take my bra off. If you’ve never experienced a real bra fitting, let me say, you probably should because it really does make a considerable difference to have a properly fitting bra. But, I should warn you that it’s not for the faint of heart.

I once went bra shopping with my daughter who was still young enough that she didn’t yet need one. When the lady came into the dressing room with us and proceeded to relieve me of my bra and show me the proper way to “place my girls” into the cups to ensure a good fit, my daughter was mortified. As we left she said, “Remind me to NEVER ask for help in the bra department.”

I thought of this story as I held my hands over my breasts to provide a modicum of privacy as she told me to slip my arms underneath the straps, then she fastened the back clasp for me. She did all this so quickly that I didn’t have time to be embarrassed about the fact that my current bra was so old, the size information on the label had long since worn off, or wonder when I had last waxed my underarms.

After trying on several bras of various styles and sizes I settled on a few favorites. As I admired my new silhouette with my old T-shirt over a new bra, the woman said, “You see, you should listen to Latifah, when she tells you that you need a fitting.”

I’d been so focused on the task at hand that I hadn’t realized the woman had a rather thick, Middle Eastern accent. I looked at her name tag, barely visible through her long, bleached blonde, wavy hair, which cascaded over her chest, to confirm she was referring to herself. I said, “Latifah, that’s a pretty name. Where are you from originally?”

She seemed a bit shy, which was ridiculous since I had just spent the last twenty minutes half-naked in front of her. She said, “Well, Persia originally, but I have lived in many countries before this one.”

I surprised myself with my forward question asking, “Oh, did you leave Iran after the revolution?” I tried to guess her age and jog my memory of when Persia became the Islamic Republic of Iran. I had interviewed a man who had escaped Iran during the revolution and wondered if she had a similarly harrowing story.

Latifah, dismissing her Iranian background said, “I was quite young when we left and then we went to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan. Then we had to leave there. Oh, so many places and so many languages to learn. It was hard you know?”

I tried to show her that I did know by giving her a quick rundown on the Iranian I knew and how frightening his escape from Iran had been. His family had been persecuted for their non-Muslim beliefs. They had to sneak into Pakistan or face prison leaving everything they owned in the place they had called home for generations.

Latifah shook her head and said, “I know. So many people all over the Middle East, they just want to live and be happy, no matter what their religion.”

“Yes.” I said earnestly, “Of course.”

“Did you see that picture of the little boy on the beach?” Latifah’s accent seemed to grow thicker as she spoke, her “th”s sounding more like “d”s.

I knew the photo she was talking about. The corpse of a little three-year-old boy had become the image of Syrian refugee plight. I wondered what her Syrian connection was.

She shook her head said, “I went back there you know?”

I was getting lost in her accent and rapid manner of speech. Before I could figure out if she was talking about Syria or Iran or Pakistan she clarified that the home she fondly remembered; the one where several family members still lived, was Afghanistan. She told me that the mountains there were similar to Colorado, “Very cold with many places for snipers to hide.”

This was such an incongruous image for me to wrap my head around standing in the safety of a department store dressing room; surrounded by dozens of discarded bras; each with a price that could probably feed someone for a month.

Latifah replaced several bras back on hangers as she chatted conversationally about the atrocities of war, “The people there, they are just trying to survive and they are so shocked after many years of bombs, and rockets, and guns. They have seen so much and their homes and the buildings and the roads are destroyed. They don’t know who to trust, the leaders are all so bad and there’s so much greed.” She emphasized the fact by rubbing her two fingers and thumb together. “Last time I visited, this little boy, no more than four or five, tried to come up and wash my car for to earn some money. He couldn’t even speak, he just looked at me and held up a rag as if to wash.” She pantomimed the boy making a washing movement, but had to stop to compose herself before continuing. “I gave him some money even though my family tell me not to. I have to you know? How could you not help this child? My cousin told me about the soldiers there. They are all such babies and they all cry for their mothers when they are scared.”

I wondered if she was referring to American soldiers occupying Afghanistan or Afghani soldiers or the Taliban. Who were we fighting there? I was embarrassed to admit even to myself that I didn’t have a firm grasp on what really went on in Afghanistan, other than to think it was all over. Right?

Latifah asked, “Why do they send such babies to fight?”

I shook my head, dumbly replying, “I don’t know.” I concluded that it didn’t matter which soldiers Latifah was referring to, children are children. I tried to shake the image I had of my own eighteen-year-old son, still in high school, technically old enough to join the armed services, but still a child in my eyes. The thought made tears well up. I glanced around looking for my original undergarments.

Then Latifah told me another story she had heard during her visit back to Afghanistan. It was one of a family trying to flee a war-ravaged area. They had to hike through mountainous terrain, fording rivers, doing their best to keep their tiny son out of the water by lifting him overhead as they waded through the water, only to realize that the exposure to elements had been too much for his little body to take. He died on the way. From where? To where? I wasn’t sure, the devastation was the same. Latifah’s tears were getting harder to hide now, as were mine. No wonder that the image of the Syrian boy had affected her so.

It was so strange to cry with a complete stranger.  It’s one thing to do it in the darkness of a movie theater during an emotional scene, but here I was exposed, literally.  I tried to imagine a graceful exit, but couldn’t come up with much of a plan since I still needed to put my old bra back on.

Latifah continued, “All we can do is help where we can you know? Even here, I try to help anyone I see. If I see a homeless man, I always roll down my window and give them money. My friends say I am stupid; that they will just use the money for drugs or something, but I have to try to help anyway. We are all here living under one God so it doesn’t matter where we come from or what religion we believe in. We could all do so much you know? I see people come in here and they bring their little dogs with them in a little purse and spoil them like a child. I think of that little boy on the beach and wonder why can’t we help those children when we have so much; so much that we can pamper little dogs as if they are human. Working here I end up with so many clothes; one time I gathered up a bunch of my clothes and put them in my car. I drove down to where I had seen this woman and asked her if she wanted some clean, like new clothes and she was so grateful.”

I had, by this time, given up all hope that I could hold back my tears. This woman’s generous spirit was a thing to behold. There was a reason this woman had crossed my path. I didn’t know exactly what that reason was yet, but I was glad she did. If nothing else than to reassure me that no matter what the heartless, political rhetoric indicated about the fate of our country, I could still be optimistic about our future with citizens like Latifah. I was grateful to have met Latifah, her support for her fellow human beings, not just in the bra department at Dillard’s, but everywhere she saw a need was an inspiration.

 

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My Favorite Axe-Murderer

My Favorite Axe-Murderer

I had the opportunity to speak with an interesting man in my pursuit to learn about faith. His spiritual practice was Buddhism and he was particularly passionate about meditation and contemplation. As he described these cornerstones of his faith, I became increasingly uncomfortable. My discomfort came at the thought of spending time in quiet thought and reflection. What was I afraid of? Was my interior such a frightening place to dwell?

I thought it might have something to do with my lifelong friendship with a fellow I call Jack. He showed up one day, crazed look in his eyes, sweat dripping off his forehead, axe firmly planted in both hands. He even wore a T-shirt that had the word KILLER boldly emblazoned across his chest. Anybody in their right mind would keep their door tightly bolted, when he came to call. But I, naïve or stupid, I’m not sure, welcomed him. We developed relationship of sorts, and now when he pays a visit, I eagerly greet him and say, “Come on in. What hopes and dreams would you like to kill today?”

You see, Jack is the axe-murderer that lives in my head.

I first met Jack sometime around my teenage years. He would pop in occasionally to offer helpful fashion tips like, “Everybody wears these jeans. If you can’t fit your big butt into them, there’s something innately wrong with you. Buy them anyway and every time you wear them, I’ll be there to remind you how bad you look in them.”

He encouraged me to always look my best by saying, “Do not go out of the house unless you have make-up on. You are way too ugly to be seen in public without doing what you can to make yourself more presentable.”

I realize Jack sounds a little mean-spirited, but he always had my best interest at heart. If I tried to do something stupid like make new friends, he’d hold me back and say, “Whoa, you can’t talk to those people. You’re not ready to sit at the cool kids table.”

Jack wasn’t around all the time, just on occasion. He especially liked to surprise me whenever I was trying something new. He’d point out the ridiculousness of my pursuits and how I was destined to fail. Sometimes I would heed his advice and give up before I even started. But there were times when I became so invigorated by the thrill of stepping outside my comfort zone, that I found it hard to hear his voice.

As I got older, I discovered that I could hear Jack most clearly when I was especially tired, hungry or lonely. This worked out particularly well, because Jack was full of dieting tips, which almost always left me ravenous and eager to hear more words of discouragement.

Somehow or another, I got so busy with my life, career, marriage, and children, that I almost forgot my old friend Jack. But lately, he’s been coming around more and more. I guess it’s because I finally have enough time to think about new ideas and try new things. Jack is understandably concerned about the folly of my new pursuits. He says, “You can’t do that. Are you crazy? That is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. It’s destined for failure.”

It’s hard to imagine my life without Jack; he’s become such a staple in my life, but I’m beginning to think our relationship isn’t a healthy one. Jack has become a little too cozy with me of late. He doesn’t even bother to knock anymore. He just comes right in, greeting me first thing in the morning before I’ve even gotten out of bed.

When I tell him I’ve had enough, and that we have to stop seeing each other, he grows desperate, dramatically insinuating that he can’t live without me. When I tell him to leave, he obeys, but he waits patiently in the shadows for a moment of weakness that we both know will come.

It’s hard to say goodbye to a lifelong companion. We can go for long stretches without seeing each other, then he’ll show up unannounced and it’s just like old times. There’s something about him that makes me believe we belong together. I mean who knows, the places I might have gone without his stabilizing force to keep both my feet planted on the ground? There’s some comfort in that it think; comfort in the familiarity of his voice. How does the phrase go? “Better to deal with the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Who came up with that ridiculous advice? Jack probably. He’s full of these little idioms. But if I listen very carefully, I can hear a new voice. It’s very soft and I’m not sure where it’s coming from. I can barely make out the words as they whisper. . . “Jack, go f**k yourself!”

These words couldn’t have come from me because thanks to Jack’s tutelage – and my mother’s, I know that ladies don’t speak that way. But there it is again; a little louder this time, “JACK, please GO F**K YOURSELF! (and louder still) F**K YOU JACK! GO! BE GONE! YOU’RE NO LONGER WELCOME!  Sayōnara!” – I’m not sure why I added this last bit. I don’t think Jack speaks Japanese – either do I. It just felt good rolling off the tongue; cleansing my palette of the more crass verbiage.

And then he left. He’s gone, at least for now. If he returns, I’m pretty sure I can recall the words that sent him away. If I forget, I might have to consider a tattoo with a subtle reminder. Can you imagine me trying to explain why I have the words, “F**k You, Jack!” permanently etched into my skin?  Jack would hate that. But, it would make for an interesting conversation starter.

I don’t feel sorry for Jack; he has so many friends. If you see him, tell him I said, “Hello.”  But better yet, let him pass by without acknowledgement. There’s no need for you to be counted among his friends, or you too might be considering some novel idea about how to remember your own lost words.

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