Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hanging Around With New Friends


As a child I had certain friends that my parents just did not like. There were two girls in particular. "You get up to no good when you are with them," my mother said. I couldn't deny it. I was just a better kid when I hung around with my other friends.

This is true even if you are an adult  which is why people in recovery from drugs and alcohol are encouraged to make new friends. Who you hang with affects you.

So there I was at the Washington, D.C. TEDMED conference. So many people there using their intelligence, their creativity, their energy and in some cases their own money to make the world a better place. "Create." "Improve." "Solve." These are words I heard over and over.

Just like when I was a kid, this mind set started to rub off on me.  I started thinking more about how to leave the world a better place. What can I create, improve or solve that would make a difference?

People at TED are doing this is a big, obvious way: airbags to prevent hip fractures, new kinds of skin grafting, toys to help disabled children become mobile. These are all great things. But not all of us can do that kind of stuff, right?

Mother Teresa (who I'm pretty sure would be invited to do a TED talk if she weren't dead) said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

I believe this is where true transformation occurs for both the receiver and the giver: doing small things with great love. When we do anything with great love we are transformed.

Any of these TEDMED speakers will tell you that their work is not only transformational for the world, but for themselves--because they do it with great love.

And you pretty much have to love it when you put that much time into it. I say this both as a hospital chaplain and as a writer and as a TEDMED speaker. It's just too damn hard unless you love it.

So what about you? What small thing are you going to do today with great love? How will you be transformed?

My TEDMED talk, September 2104

Friday, September 19, 2014

Why I Haven't Posted


How can anyone be miserable in beautiful, enchanted Switzerland? I mean, c'mon! But I have been and here's why: despite spending the last year taking college courses in French and then a three-week intensive course at the University of Geneva, I can't understand a thing anybody is saying. Lesson: just because you can read The Little Prince in French doesn't mean you can parlez français.

I was bitterly--and I do mean bitterly--disappointed.

The intensive course was six hours a day. I understood about 25% of what the instructor said. I hated it. Yes, "hate" is a strong word--but not strong enough. Every morning I would lie in bed and loudly groan for a full minute before I got up. I'm sure our neighbors (with whom we share a wall) thought we were having extremely hot sex every morning. I swear they started looking at me differently.

Because I couldn't communicate, in no time I turned into an insecure, fearful, introvert.  I had to ask myself, "Who am I?" Yes, you can spend your whole life pondering this existential question. In the mean time, someone has to buy groceries.

But here's what happens when you can't read the labels:

--You and your husband wash your hair with conditioner for an entire week resulting in a Greaser Look that is not flattering to either of you.
--You serve your guests what you think is a grilled veal sausage but it's really some form of cooked pasta that is now hard and dry. When your guest asks to read the package you cover your embarrassment with another glass of wine.
--You ruin a colored load of laundry because you think think 60º is Fahrenheit and not Centigrade.

Military time, centimeters, centigrade, grams, kilograms: exquisite and insidious forms of torture. Scene in the Farmer's Market:

Seller: Vous bxln tqupr cnxz?
Me: (assuming he's asking how many little containers I want) Deux!
Seller: Vxbdureteaux?
Me: (panicking) Oui, oui!

I watch in horror as he bags two kilos (four pounds) of olives. I hand over the money and then go have a glass of wine.

So I've been miserable for two and half months and then yesterday I decided to be happy.
What?! Decide to be happy?
 Seriously. Here's what I've learned--and as with many spiritual truths it's counterintuitive--there will be no external change until there is an internal change. 

I know, I know our culture teaches us differently: "If only I had x, y and z, then I would be happy." But I know better than that. I also know that I have to feel my feelings (frustration, anger, sadness, depression), give them a voice, ("I hate it here!") and then move on (I'm deciding to be happy).

So that's why I haven't posted. If you're in town be sure to stop by. We'll give you a glass of wine. And some olives.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Here's what I want to say about moving: it's kind of like being terminally ill. The closer you get to leaving, the choosier you are about how you spend your time and with whom.

Change of Metaphor

We leave for Switzerland June 28th and I feel as if I jumped out of an airplane and have been happily free falling for awhile but now the ground is rushing up at me and it's time to pull the rip cord, i.e. get serious about packing up the house.

I can't pack everything now because we are still living in the house. But it's not too early to clear the closet and the drawers in the guest room. We don't live in there, right?

Right.

But clearing out the drawers meaning packing my fabric to store in the basement which means cleaning out the basement to make room for the fabric. Cleaning out the basement--well,  you know what that means. 

Seventh Circle of Hell.

Fortunately our renters told us not to worry about the books in the bookshelves. "Just leave them," they said. That is a relief and they will have a year to bone up on death, dying, spirituality, energy work, parasitic diseases, screenwriting, biblical history and kombucha making.

Then there is the issue of getting Mr. Max re-chipped and vaccinated in triplicate in two foreign languages and making sure he has passed AP English, obedience training and knows his times tables. Yes, I am talking about our dog.

More later about all of this craziness. And I haven't even said a word about my third quarter of French. Please visualize me fluently speaking French. So far it is nothing but a dream .  .  .

Friday, December 20, 2013

Strength For the Journey


Yesterday a friend of mine was grousing about how bad Christmas is—the expectation that we are all supposed to be merry and happy and jolly.

But true followers of Jesus know that Christmas is not about happiness. It’s about waiting. It’s about a long, hard journey.  It’s about fear and being rejected. And ultimately it’s about finding Light.

The Christmas story that’s all about cozy families, caroling and giving gifts? That’s the Madison Avenue story, the retailer’s story. That’s the Target, Macy’s, Amazon story.

If you read the actual Christmas story you know it’s a story about struggle: finding out your fiancée is pregnant (and not by you). It’s about hearing that your son is supposed to bring healing to a broken world (WTF? I just want him to go to college, get married and have kids.). It’s about giving birth in a filthy manger. And it’s about strangers approaching your newborn.

Does any of that sound happy and jolly?

I know, I know, what about the angels? They’re a small part of the story. There’s one at the beginning to say, “Hi, you’re pregnant and God is the father.” And of course Joseph gets one in a dream to say, “Mary is not some slut and you should really marry her.” But that’s it for Joseph and Mary. They don’t get any more angels.

The shepherds get a boatload of angels to give them traveling directions. But that’s it. Those pictures of angels surrounding the manger? I don’t think so. Read the book.

I  really don’t take the Bible literally. The Christmas story is most powerful as a metaphor for a difficult journey at the end of which—impossible though it may seem—we find the Light.

We need Light for our broken lives. For our confusion, our grief, our anger, for all the crap in our lives that makes us say, “It’s just too damn hard.”

Make no mistake: finding the Light isn’t usually happy or jolly or merry. Because sometimes the Light shows us what jerks we’ve been or how we’ve made our own misery.

But as painful as that realization is—what a gift!  Because of the Light we can see a different path. Then we have to make a choice. Choice—another gift!

That means that Christmas happens all year long because we’re constantly embarking on new and difficult journeys. 

So let me end by saying, “Strength to you on your Christmas journey and may it be Light.”



Friday, December 13, 2013

Some Sentences About Crime


Today I attended the sentencing of the man, whom I'll refer to as Mr. Criminal, who broke into our house and took my two computers. To my shock he is only twenty years old. He shuffled in wearing hand cuffs, an orange jumpsuit and those hideous plastic shower slippers in which one can do nothing but shuffle.

My other shock was that he was being sentenced for two others thefts besides mine, one of which was stealing firearms and selling them. That is bad. Very bad.

Escorting him was a portly police officer who couldn't outrun a snail but could probably do a great job blocking and tackling. I was thinking about this since they took the handcuffs off Mr. Criminal. He had flame tattoos around both wrists.

The Judge, a very attractive, classy and dignified woman asked me to read my letter. I read:


" Dear Judge, 



I have not yet been able to afford to replace all my computer equipment, but hopefully will be able to do that soon.

What I will never be able to replace are two years of essays, sermons, unfinished book manuscripts and photos—particularly those of my father’s 90th birthday celebration.  Yes, I have learned the hard way about backing up computer files.

As sickening as it was to lose those things, it was even more devastating to lose my sense of safety and security in my own home.  Our doors and windows were locked. Our burglar alarm was on. When I asked the police officer what else we could have done to prevent this burglary, he shrugged his shoulders, shook his head and said, “Not a thing.”

He agreed that if we did not have a burglar alarm, they would have cleaned us out.

So even now, five months later, I sit up in bed if I hear anything in the middle of the night.  I don’t go back to sleep for a long time. I lock up the house and carry a key when I’m watering the yard. I don’t  even shower with the bathroom window open.

I can’t pretend to know the life circumstances of Mr. Criminal (and whoever else accompanied him) that lead to this crime. But I do know that it was wrong and it matters. Stealing not only robs the victim but also robs the thief of self-respect, dignity and self-worth.

My hope is that Mr. Criminal will regain these things but I suspect it will take him longer to do so than it takes me to replace my computers."

His attorney then explained that Mr. Criminal committed his crimes because his father died when he was fifteen and to cope he started taking drugs. So now he had to steal to support his drug habit. The Judge said nothing.

Mr. Criminal and I looked at one another several times. His glances at me were furtive, but I looked at him a long time because I wanted him to understand that you steal from a person, not from an inanimate object such as a house or a car. (He has a record of car burglaries too.) 

The Judge then asked if Mr. Criminal wanted to say anything. He did.

"I'm sorry to Ms. Jarvis," said.

This was a very wise thing to do considering the judge was just about to sentence him.

She gave him ninety months. The minimum. She urged him to continue his education in prison. They handcuffed him again and lead him out.

And that was that.

I took the bus home and of course stopped at Bartell Drugs to buy chocolate. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but my favorite: Hershey's Mint Truffle Kisses. On Sale! What a great day!

So why then, amid the overhead Christmas music, aisles of decorations and laden with chocolate did I start sobbing?

I had to fumble in my bag for a tissue hoping it didn't look like I was shop lifting because what if I was wrongly convicted and had to appear before that same judge. How weird would that be?

This kid is only twenty. What a waste of life--to spend the next seven and a half years in prison.

Twenty minutes later I arrived home to hear about this shooting at Arapahoe high school in Colorado. Where did that kid buy that gun?

Probably from someone like Mr. Criminal!

Seven and a half years isn't nearly enough.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

-->
Last week I was visiting my sister in California. We’re really close and we had a Blast together. We walked, we shopped, we cooked, we talked, we drank wine, we watched funny YouTube videos, she shared her iPod playlist with me. It was just The Best. Our last day together was killing us because we knew we had to part that afternoon. So we decided to spend the entire day speaking with British accents.
             
We used to do this as children because we worshipped Hayley Mills. We wanted to be Hayley Mills. And we really sounded like little English children. We were very good. So that afternoon we start talking like we work for the BBC but we soon realized that actually our accents are rather bad. We sound like British ex-pats who have been too long in the States and have lost their plummy BBC English. 

But we do the best we can all day and she drives me to airport and comes in with me and we look at the schedule and bollocks! my flight is two hours delayed. So we decide, well, why not have drinks and dinner?
             
We walk into the restaurant and my sister leans over to me and whispers, “We’ll have to stop with the accents now.”
             
And I replied, “Whatever for?”
             
So we sit down and the waitress comes and says, “Hi, how are you? What can I get you to drink?”
             
And I reply, “Why I think we’ll have two Margaritas!”
             
She asks, “Cadillac?”
             
And I say, “Splendid!”
            
 So we have this marvelous dinner—arugula salad with blue cheese, pears and pecans, a roasted Portobello mushroom with sun-dried tomatoes, melted mozzarella and fresh basil. 

After dinner, we got into a discussion about how we felt like completely different people speaking this way. I, for one, spoke less, because I was aware that my accent was not perfect and I found it so much work. But also, I said to Lynie, “I can’t be loud. It doesn’t feel right.”
             
And she said, “Yez.” She said that a lot, “Yez.”
             
And I said, “And I suddenly feel it wrong to criticize how people are dressed.”
           
 “Yez.”
            
 Then I said, “You know friends have told me that when they speak French they feel like entirely different people.” 
            
 Because inside I really did feel different. Who was this person? Who was this quiet, accepting, thoughtful woman? Clearly she was me so where is that Me when I am American?   

Could it be that speaking with an accent is perhaps a way, a strange, weird way, to explore your inner self? What if it’s a way to discovering who you really are? 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I was  looking at a breathtakingly beautiful thirty-three year old aesthetician. I was completely distracted by her enormous eyes, (I’m half Iranian,” she said) her beautiful pouty pink lips and her long thick hair. I liked looking at her but did not like hearing what she was saying.

“Because you have had oily skin,” she said,  “You will not wrinkle much—you will sag. Yes, here, I can see.” She touched my jawline.  

 “Oh, you mean my Newt Gingrich-like pouches,” I said laughing and pulling on my skin.
            
 “Yes. And you must not do that. Do not pull on your skin.”
             
What? Why wasn’t she contradicting me and telling me that I don’t look like Newt Gingrich?
             
She turned to Pam. “And you—you do not have large pores. I see pores all day long and yours are not large. Get rid of your magnifying mirror. When you called about your pores, I thought you would have skin like an orange peel!
           
 Pam looks disappointed. “What about my wrinkles?”
            
 “You have no wrinkles.”
            
 “What about my rosacea?”
           
 “Do you have papules and pustules?”
            
 “No.”
             
“Well, if you don’t have papules and pustules you don’t have rosacea. What you have are broken capillaries. Do you jog? Joggers are the worst. They get hot, their capillaries open and that bouncing around—their capillaries break.”
             
There was silence for just a moment so I cleared my throat.
            
 “Can I ask you a question that’s a little personal?” I said.
           
 “Of course.”
            
 “Have you had Botox?”
           
 “Yes. In my forehead. Because one day I made a face and someone told me I looked just like my mother.”
           
 “So you got Botox because of that.”
           
 “Yes. And now I can’t make that face.”
            
 It made me wonder: is there something they can give you so you won’t act like your mother?
           

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Listen To The Ice Cream



I just got off the phone with a friend who is shocked at her family's inability to listen to one another. They all talk at once--on top of one another. They don't respond to one another because they are so busy speaking.

It's like having dozens of sof-t-cone machines churning out ice cream. It's going all over the floor because there is no one to catch it, let alone eat it and enjoy it.

And of course they ask her nothing about what's going on in her life.

 For years this has been how I evaluate my social experiences: did you find out anything about me and my life? 

This drives my husband crazy because when we are discussing a party on the way home in the car, I almost always say, "S/he didn't ask anything about me." Then I proceed to give a bio on everyone with whom I interacted just to prove that I take my own advice.

To avoid being a victim I'll often dive into the word river only to find that after a few sentences I'm again drowning in the story which is all about the other person.

It's not like people aren't aware. I've even had someone say, "Oh, my God! The last time we talked it was all about me. Tell me what's happening with you!" So I do. For a few moments.

I used to get mad, but now I just sigh.

That is until just a few moments ago because of this phone call from my wise, witty, wonderful friend who has SEVENTY-FIVE years of amazing life experience to share!

So heads up, people! Ask others about themselves. Listen without speaking. Look that person in the eye. Inquire more deeply into what they have just told you.

Enjoy one another. Eat a sof-t-cone.

And what's your experience with this? I'm listening.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bonnie And Clydes

On Friday morning, March 15th around 9:15 a.m. thieves broke into the downstairs study of Debra Jarvis and her husband. They pried open a window with a hatchet taken from their toolshed. The buggers didn't even bring their own tools. Only two things were taken: both of Debra's laptop computers. It is thought that the shrieking burglar alarm drove them off.

On Sunday, March 17th at 4:44 p.m. her MacBookAir sent her a message about it's location. (Her MacBookPro which was also stolen, did not have this feature in it.)

She immediately called and emailed the officer associated with her case. The officer never returned her messages. On Monday she even made an in-person visit to the North Precinct during which she was reminded about "limited time and resources." Tired of the lack of response from the Seattle Police Dept. Debra decided to take matters into her own hands.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, March 19th she went with Dave Morris and Kris Meyer to south Seattle or maybe DesMoines--though signs also said "Welcome To Burien."

 Debra, driving the get-away car, pulled up the street while Kris and David went to the house pretending to be interested in buying a BMW they saw on Craig's List. They were looking for a white w/black convertible top BMW which is actually the description of the get-away car involved in this theft. Oddly, the people in this house actually were selling a red BMW that was parked in the driveway. Considering it has flat tires and had been there since the last Google satellite photo, it was no surprise to hear that they were selling it for parts. Also odd that the brother of the person answering the door drove a silver BMW. That's a lot of BMWs.

 So they chatted a bit while Debra waited in the car. It seemed that the uncle who lives across the street had some information so Kris and Dave went over there. They came back to the car and reported that the uncle was "very big."

 They determined that they had better make A Plan. Since the computer was now locked, it was impossible to tell for sure if it was still at this address. The tracking device only works when someone is on the Internet. Locked computer=no internet access. She locked it because she wanted to save her files. But it is possible her files are gone anyway since someone changed the user name. The user name is now "TMoney" which Debra finds so infuriating she could spit nails.

 Debra wanted to go to the door by herself since the person who answered the door was a 20-something white male. Her reasoning was that she looked pretty harmless, although she was wearing Spy Clothes: jeans, running shoes, black sweater which wouldn't show blood stains--hers or anybody else's.

 But she ended up calling the North Precinct and talking to Det. Stephens. She explained to him that she was sitting outside the suspect's house--well, not exactly outside, but up the street. He told her to call 911 and tell them her plan and they would send a police officer out to stand by her.

 She did so and a dispatcher said she would send someone out from the King County Sheriff's Dept. The three waited in the car--for a long time. During this time Debra kept having hot flashes, so she kept the car key turned to "accessory" so that Kris and Dave could roll down their windows since it was getting pretty steamy in there.

 Nowhere in the car instruction manual does it mention that this kind of hot flash survival strategy will run down your battery. It really should. So when Dave suggested turning the car around so that we could see the police coming, she found she was unable to start said car.

More and more this was looking like a bad Caper Comedy. Kris suggested just letting the car sit and perhaps it would miraculously heal itself since it is after all a Subaru which we think means, "Bright Shining Divine Four-Wheel Chariot Star" in Japanese.

Debra, who has a real spiritual/religious bent, prayed mightily. In Japanese. Fifteen minutes later said car started.

 While they were waiting, the "very big" uncle went to the house, opened the garage door and did something in the garage. The tracking device showed that the computer was in the corner of the garage. The three were very antsy for the cop to arrive.

The officer finally arrived and after many phone calls to Det. Stevens and a discussion of search warrants, etc. Officer Maran said Seattle PD would not issue a warrant. He decided he would just go to the door and say, "A stolen computer has been tracked to this house."

 He did this and the aforementioned 20-something disavowed any knowledge of this. The uncle across the street who is not only "very big," but also "very bearded," came to see what was going on.

 Officer Maran said he'd call Debra if there was a break in the case, but it pretty much looked like she was screwed.

The white BMW with the black top was pulled over yesterday with four black men it. The police could not seem to find this car in their system as it turned up as "sold" on Thursday, March 14th, the day before the crime.

Debra is disappointed but at least she knows she did everything she could. She is also a little bit in denial and expects a tidal wave of chocolate will be going through her when she starts grieving all she has lost. And yes, she will make friends with iCloud.

Dave and Kris were brave and resourceful--especially during the hot flash storm.

Under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of Washington, I certify that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.


--Debra Jarvis

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Jesus Goes To Yoga Class


 
The new guy next to me seems nice.
Warm, friendly—not creepy.
Wears a T-shirt and ordinary running shorts,
not the baggy ones that look like culottes,
not the tight black kind which say, “Notice my ass.”
No. There is something real regular about him.

He has no trouble with any pose:
Eagle, Plow, Boat, Fish.
Smiles in Child’s pose.
Spends extra time in Prayer Pose.
Wrinkles his nose in Warrior I and Warrior II
but does it perfectly: strong and balanced.

He holds Plank pose as long as the teacher,
the rest of us going down like dying daffodils.
I think, “Dude, this is not a competition!”
But he stays strong, no effort.

He sits Full Lotus during meditation.
Breathing Hum/Sa without moving.
Breathing Light/Love without strain.
Breathing You/Me/We without contradiction.

He fails at one pose only: Corpse.

He keeps getting up.

After class we bring our hands to our hearts,
bow to one another and say,
“Namaste.”

The Divine in me salutes the Divine in you.

He really means it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Liar, Liar, Bike Shorts on Fire

It may seem that everyone has already had their say about Lance Armstrong. But I haven't and since the title of my book is a permutation of the title of his best selling book I feel a connection with Lance.

Years ago when people were going after him for doping, I was saying, "No, no, people are jealous of his success and want to bring him down! He works like a dog and that's why he wins."

I supported him even when he--well, his assistant--turned down my request to write a foreword to my book saying, "Mr. Armstrong regrets he cannot lend energy to your project at this time and wishes you the best of luck." 

I understood. He was busy training--and fending off jealous critics!

Sigh.

I watched the Oprah interview. His eyes looked dead to me--even when he was getting emotional about his kids. I'm glad he's in therapy but you know what? That dude needs spiritual counseling. Seriously.

I want to ask, "Lance, what gives your life meaning? Where do you find joy? What are your spiritual beliefs? How do you nurture your spiritual life? What does it mean to love? What do you think happens when you die? Do you believe in a higher power--other than yourself?"

And I don't mean that last question to sound snarky. I don't care if he's aetheist, agnostic, sudoku or acrostic. I'm sincerely wondering what/who is going to get him through those times when he awakens in the middle of the night, turns over on his left side, turns over on his right, can't go back to sleep. Stuck with his thoughts--if only, if only, if only .  .  .

The dark night of the soul.

Mr. Armstrong, I sincerely wish I could help you at this time. Best of luck. If there is anything I can do, let me know.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I've been cooking since Monday and having a blast! But one thing is on my mind that I would like to share before The Big Day (Thanksgiving). The one thing is that "mastectomy" does NOT rhyme with "vasectomy." It is not "masectomy." See the difference? ma-STEK versus ma-SEK.

This drives me crazy and on this eve before the day we give thanks I say, "Yay, my maSTEComy was seven years ago."

No, this is not some insightful spiritual post but just something that I've been meaning to say. Words make a difference.

Thank you.

And I mean that.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Jesus Goes To Yoga Class




Yes, fans, it's Q & A time again. This time I'm answering a bunch of huge, existential questions and if I really had all the answers I could start my own church or perhaps people would start thinking I'm the Messiah. Which I'm not.

How can spirituality impact healing and recovery? Are there any studies about this?

            First let’s define spirituality. In my book it’s a felt connection to something Beyond, to something Higher that transcends our individual little selves. I think it also means how we view life, where we find meaning, what we believe about pain in life, what we believe happens when we die. These are spiritual questions and different religions have different answers.
            Our answers to these spiritual questions greatly impact our healing and recovery. If we believe that life should be daily candy and unicorns then we’re going to be pretty pissed when we get a flat tire—or a cancer diagnosis.
            But if we believe that everyone gets some sewage thrown their way and that it’s up to each of us to find meaning in it then we’re going to have an entirely different life experience.
            And yes, there are many studies out there and all you have to do is Google “spirituality and healing” and then settle in with enough food and water for a year because that’s how long it will take you to read through them all. Studies are criticized because the bottom line for many science peeps is that human consciousness is derived from the brain, and that its effects are confined to the brain and body of an individual. So forget about prayer because anything you do can’t affect me. But studies show prayer makes a difference. 
            They are basically saying, “It’s not possible so why study it?” A little close-minded, don’t you think?

I don’t practice any organized religion right now, but I’m feeling the need for a spiritual element in my life. How do I go about finding out what is right for me? There are so many practices out there, I’m not sure where to start.

            A good place to start is looking at the spiritual beliefs with which you were raised and asking yourself where are you with those beliefs now. You may be surprised to find that your beliefs have changed or even more surprised to find that they are the same. If you haven’t been raised with any beliefs, then what resonates with you?  Ask yourself the aforementioned questions:
            How do I view life? What do I think about pain and difficulty in life? What do I think happens when I die? Where do I find meaning in my life? What do I need to nurture my spiritual life? A supportive community? Spiritual direction? Solitude?
            Don’t under estimate the value of a supportive community—a church, a sangha, a temple community. We love to think that organized religion is a bunch of mindless drones who all believe the same thing. Ha! Wouldn’t that be so much easier? In fact, my experience is that it is a group of people who are actively exploring their spiritual beliefs and seeking to live them out with support from one another. And it’s not that organized.

More questions next time!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Whiner-in-Residence



Sunday I was recognized as University Congregational Church's first writer-in-residence. I stood up in front, they said nice things, bopped me on the head with water and there I was.

One of the first things I want to do is start a writing group for returning women veterans. My original idea was to have it be for all vets, but a vet said to me, "One in four women have been sexually harassed and I'll tell you right now they won't open up in front of men." So I changed my idea.

I'm planning on having a twice monthly group that meets for a couple hours in the evening. My original idea was to have a Saturday eight-hour writing retreat like Maxine Hong Kingston does but I realized that will mean a lot of single moms won't be able to come. So I changed my idea.

You can see by now that my original ideas have all changed--for the better--but I felt a little down about this because it seemed so straightforward in the beginning.

Then a very wise friend said, "You have to decide exactly what your role is and what your goal is. And you need to educate yourself about the military and all the issues around it."

She gave me a list of books to read which are all terrific and I love to read and learn new things and try new things but during an exhausted moment the other night I thought, "Why didn't I just offer a writing group for people with cancer? I know about that. I'm expert at that! I wouldn't have to do all this work. Why returning vets?"

And on and on, wah-wah-wah when suddenly, clear as a bell I heard a voice in my head say, "Because that is where the need is."

Sure enough there are enough cancer writing groups to start a small city. But writing groups for women veterans? Not so much.

Why returning vets? Because that is where the need is. 

So I'll get on with the planning and arranging and educating myself and connecting with people. Most people are very supportive except for a few people who walk around wringing their hands and muttering, "What about the liability?"  They are afraid a vet will go crazy and sue the church.

When you get right down to it, anybody could go crazy and sue the church. And on the above mentioned Night of Self Pity I asked myself, "Well, Holy s**t, did Jesus have to put up with this kind of crap?"

Once again, clear as a bell, a voice in my head said, "Not unless you count scourging, flogging and crucifixion. And that crown of thorns was no picnic."

When I hear words in my head like that, I pretty much know that's Jesus talking as my experience of Him is that He can be a super wise-ass.

So I thought, well, if Jesus could start a major world religion with no internet, surely I can start a veteran's writing group. Perhaps you are thinking, "Who are you to compare yourself to Jesus?"

Well, if you call yourself a Christian you'd better be comparing yourself to Jesus all the time, Buster! Although I think it's perfectly fine to occasionally compare yourself to other religious figures as well.

I've compared myself to Ghandi and concluded that I'm fat although I did make my own clergy robe and Ghandi made his own--garment thing. So we have that in common. I'm hyperactive compared to the Buddha. And not enough of a visionary compare to Mohammed.

But I'm happy to say that both Jesus and I are right up there on the wise-ass scale.