On Solitude and Connection

I sit next to a lovely window on the last day of my writing retreat pondering the snow blowing sideways as the wind carries it drifting across the yard. Someone in the other side of the house where I’m staying strums a guitar slowly. It’s lovely. There were children in that side of the house this morning, running up and down stairs, laughing at times, voices serious at times. There was music, “Hello darkness, my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again,” mellow and folksy, soothing. There were the sounds of cooking and a family, not a biological family, I don’t think, but a community of selected family sharing breakfast before they took off to do chores on the farm in the falling snow. I sat in my dining room, just on the far side of the shared kitchen door enjoying my solitude and also enjoying the sounds of their community. These disparate moments, their community, my solitude led me to reflect on the importance of connection and aloneness. Not loneliness, but the need I sometimes feel to be alone, to feel my own rhythms, to do things in my own time, not influenced by the rhythms and time of others. Their time together seemed so effortless, so comfortable. My seclusion felt the same.

I learned during my 3-month writing retreat in Florence, Italy, that my creativity is best fed with time away from not only those I love, but basically everyone. I did make two wonderful friends during that time, Emma, a sculptor, and Iris, a barista at the coffee shop I frequented, but our friendships were mostly bounded by Emma’s shop and Iris’s restaurant. When working on my time, my days developed a cadence, a pattern that they rarely have at home in my “normal” life. I rose whenever I awoke, usually around 8 am when construction started on the apartment building across the way. I drew for a while, journaled for a while, walked to a new area of the city, shopped for lunch, returned home, worked on projects until I was ready for dinner and then cooked for myself or chose a restaurant nearby. My evenings were free-form. I strolled the city looking for street art or listened to buskers. I took cooking, pasta making, or wine tasting classes. I often bought a gelato or a cappuccino (or both) before walking back home to read for a while before sleep. Sometimes I went to museums or art exhibits. Sometimes I took short trips outside the city on truffle hunting expeditions or olive oil and cheese tastings. But mostly, I spent my days strolling Florence and soaking in the inspiration it so freely provided. I discovered a taste for Negroni and aperitivo (gin and olives, two things I’d never had a taste for).                                                               

And I wrote. Thirty blog posts in three months. I outlined two books and drafted chapters for each. It was one of the most personally and professionally productive times of my life. Professional productivity is usually something else for me. I never have trouble meeting deadlines for academic presentations, journal articles, or book chapters, although my model typically involves finishing everything in the 11th hour. I’m not a procrastinator, per se, I just process for a long time, then write under pressure. My personal writing is different. Something, like the snow outside, triggers a memory, a thought, an idea, and I write.

Writing, for me, is part of this, but not the whole picture. I live life fully, with activity, passion, engagement, and energy. Often those things are driven by other people and events, often to a beat not my own. I work at the tempo demanded in the moment. I adapt. On writing retreats, I nurture my own pace. I find my own rhythm.

I guess my message is this. We all need connection and aloneness, time to engage outwardly and time to reflect inwardly, and time to create. On this snowy afternoon, I am content to sit by this window, let these words flow from my fingers, and simply be in the moment. Tomorrow I return to the rhythm of my family, of the reality of four people coordinating their lives together. I will miss this solitude. I will return gratefully to the hustle and bustle of my day-to-day life, until the pull for solitude draws me on to my next writing retreat.

On Horses, Cats, and an Old White Farmhouse

Photo by Bradshaw Speight on Unsplash

Tonight I lie in bed in an 1800s farm house listening to the low, deep hoot of a great horned owl, the insistent back and forth calls of coyotes in the distance, and the sound of sporadic cars driving past on the country road outside. The owl and the coyotes lull me while the road sounds take me back to memories from my childhood, to a time when I was probably 4 years old, to an old white farmhouse on a country road near Mechanicsburg, Ohio. My grandparents lived on this farm, gardened, raised horses, and always had wild cats living in the barn.

I remember the farmhouse, the front door that no one ever used, the door near the kitchen that everyone came and went through. I can’t remember now if they grew crops or not, but I clearly remember the horses. I was captivated by them. Captivated and a bit frightened. I was too young to be around them without adults present and much too small to ride them. Of course, I had ridden carnival ponies, chained to a merry-go-round that listlessly slogged around a circle, heads down, the squeals of delighted children on their backs filling the air. I didn’t feel sorry for those horses, not then, only excited to have a chance to ride them. My sorrow for them came later. But these horses were entirely different animals. They were huge, and beautiful, and strong. They ran in the fields, roamed in the pastures, grazing whenever and wherever they desired. They seemed so free.

Photo by Josephine Amalie Paysen on Unsplash

Once, I was allowed near one of the horses, a big blonde gelding, when it was outside being groomed by one of my aunts. It was special that I was allowed to stay near her and near the horse. My aunt instructed me to stay away from its back legs and to never approach a horse from behind so I wouldn’t risk being kicked. She told me I could lay my hand along its back. The horse was so big, my hand came only part way up its side. I couldn’t reach the top of its back, so I caressed down its left side. I could feel the strong inhale and exhale of its breath, I could feel its contented sighs and nickers at being brushed and groomed. Then my aunt picked up the horse’s right front foot to groom its hoof, and it shifted to the left, right onto my right foot. The pain took my breath away and I couldn’t make a sound. I had no words to tell her that the horse was standing on my foot. I froze, completely still. I couldn’t move. Waves of pain coursed through my foot. Fortunately, the horse quickly shifted its weight and lifted its foot off mine. I moved away, sat down on the driveway and cried, silent tears of relief, pain, humiliation because I knew I wouldn’t be allowed out there again when a horse was groomed if anyone found out what had happened. Fortunately, the only thing hurt was my pride.

After that, I largely kept my distance from the horses, watching them from the safety of the far side of the fence. I was told never to approach the horses, but if they came to me, that was fine. One afternoon I was leaning against the fence separating the yard from the pasture and one of the horses who was grazing in the field came toward me. I wasn’t afraid because sometimes we were allowed to give them a piece of carrot, their soft lips tickling my hand as they took the offering from my open palm. On this occasion, I didn’t have a carrot. I was just leaning on the fence, watching. The horse grazed its way over to the fence and then for no apparent reason kicked me between the rails. It kicked me hard, knocking me off my feet. Again, I was fortunate. Nothing was broken, but I had a beautiful bruise for a while. I didn’t tell anyone about that either.

Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk on Unsplash

To this day, I find horses to be both majestic and mystifying, beautiful and unpredictable. Fortunately, I had better luck with the wild barn cats, especially the kittens. I have always been a cat person. I love cats. One spring, a litter of three golden kittens was born in the barn. We weren’t allowed to play in the barn because there were so many dangerous tools and farm implements in there. But I did have permission to carefully look for the kittens. They were born near the front door of the barn, so if I was quiet and lucky, I might catch sight of one of them. I knew not to scare the momma because she would move them. I didn’t want that to happen. Calmly I would sit outside the barn door on the driveway hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the three. As they grew, they got more curious. I learned to tell them apart. One was playful and confident, interested in everything, curious. A second elegant and languid, slow moving, but aware in its movement. The third was timid and looked for the others to move first. I wanted them to want to come to me. I wanted to pet them, to hold them, to tame them. “Barn cats aren’t pets”, my Grandmother said. I secretly disagreed. My sister got to hold one first. The curious one came right up to her and she picked it up. She and I were both “animal whisperers”, but she was better at it. One time she actually walked up to a blue jay in our front yard and just picked it up. So, I wasn’t surprised when the curious kitten chose to come to her. I was jealous, though, and more determined than ever to entice one of the kittens to me. One day the elegant one strolled near me and laid down in the driveway near my ankle. I reached out carefully, not wanting to scare it away, and it let me touch it. I ran my fingers down the soft baby fur on its back. The kitten let me pet it for a moment, then got up, stretched, and strolled back into the barn. Yes! I was going to stay patient and someday the kitten might let me hold it. The next time we visited, the mother had moved them farther into the barn and we didn’t see them again. Still, in that one moment, the kitten had chosen to me. I felt special.

Tonight, as I lie in bed listening to the sound of cars on this country road, I am transported back to my childhood and I remember another old white farmhouse. We rarely spent the night there, but, when we did, I could hear the sound of occasional traffic on the road outside and the deep quiet of the country. It was so peaceful, the world passing by as I fell asleep. I think I will sleep well surrounded by those sounds tonight.

A Milk Cup, A Whistle, and Love

Grandma, Poppa, and the milk cup

When I was a baby, my first words were “bite butter” and my Poppa cheerfully obliged. When I was a toddler, I had a cup with a bird whistle on the handle that said “WHISTLE FOR MILK.” I loved that cup and blowing the whistle made me break out in peals of laughter. When I blew the whistle, my Grandma would scurry over to my highchair (I was only allowed to have the cup in my highchair.) and pour a little milk in my cup. Once I drank the small amount of milk she gave me, I’d blow the whistle again and she’d give me more. This went on until I’d had enough milk. Each round accompanied by my squeals of delight. Once I’d drunk my fill, I would stop blowing the whistle. Grandma would look at me expectantly and I’d shake my head. It became a game for us.

Clearly, my love of dairy started young. This story isn’t about that, though. This story is about love and the painstaking task of putting that cup back together again. Sometime, I don’t remember when, the cup was broken. I probably dropped it. I’m sure I was crushed. I likely cried as only a brokenhearted toddler can. 

Someone, I don’t know who, took the time to painstakingly glue the pieces back together, even the very small slivers. My Mother, who kept the cup for me for years, says she didn’t do it; she says my Grandmother would never have taken the time to do it, and that my Poppa didn’t do it. She has no idea who did. My guess is that my Mother is wrong. I think it probably was my Poppa or my Grandma. But, really, who it was doesn’t matter.

What matters is that today, that cup with its fault lines has pride of place on my desk. I look at it whenever I work. That cup, cracks and all, is as precious to me today as it was when I played the milk drinking game with my Grandma. It’s more precious because someone who loved me, because one would only take on this effort for someone they love, took the time and demonstrated the incredible patience necessary to glue the cup back together again. When I look at that cup, I know I was loved. Bonus, I can still blow the whistle, but now the milk is almond milk and I pour it myself.

Forgiveness and Anticipatory Hope

“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.” – Oprah Winfrey https://chopracentermeditation.com/ *

I don’t hold grudges. I don’t harbor resentments. For much of my life I simply forgave and forgot any transgressions against me – to the point that one night, over dinner, my best friend and my ex-husband recounted all the negative things that had happened to me since they’d known me. When they recounted the events, I knew they had happened, of course. I just didn’t value them enough to remember them. I might not even have been able to recount them without their prompting.

What I do hold onto is what I call anticipatory hope. Anticipatory hope is my belief that the bad, the negative, the hurtful, the lack in my past could have been different, if people had made different choices. Because I believe these alternative choices were possible then, I believe they remain possible in the present and in the future.  

In a recent conversation with my daughter about an upcoming event we were both dreading, she was lamenting all the negative things she expected. I was trying to lift her spirits talking about how this time things might be different. Alyssa paused, looked me full in the eyes and said, “That’s your problem, Mom. You always look on the bright side. You always believe people can be better, that they will be better. When they don’t, when they act like they always act, you feel let down and hurt. That’s the downside to you always having this anticipatory hope thing. It’s exhausting. You’re not realistic.”

Alyssa in her blunt, no-nonsense way had really hit on something. I’ve always viewed my anticipatory hope as a strength. It helps me be optimistic, remain positive in difficult moments, see possibilities.

Because I believe that anything is possible, that anyone is capable of making a different choice at any moment, it is hard for me to release those in my life who repeatedly choose to be other than who they have the capacity to be – to be honest, those who are damaging to me. More importantly, I hope they will treat me differently than they chose to treat me in the past.

When I first heard the meditation at the opening of this post, it was as if I had been punched in the stomach. Sometimes truths are so profound that when confronted with them, they change something immediately and fundamentally. Sometimes they are the catalyst for a more gradual transformation. For me, this truth was both.

I listen to these meditations to help me sleep. After hearing this statement, I knew there would be no sleep that night.

I turned to my journals for insight and realized I had been writing about the same issues for 1, 5, 10, even 20 years! My anticipatory hope made it impossible for me to let go, to move on.

I believed I had forgiven. But in the same way that holding grudges, harboring resentments, not forgiving, keeps us from releasing the past and moving forward, anticipatory hope does the same. Because I held onto anticipatory hope, I had not released those I needed to release.

I am still a work in progress. Releasing the “what could be” is hard. It’s a desired future we hope for. It holds us bound to the past, hauling the weight of the past into the present and the future. Releasing that burden. Releasing those who are not who we wish they were (which, to be honest, is not their job in the first place) is true forgiveness. And, in the long term, a gift to them and to me.

* 21 Days of Meditation – Finding Hope in Uncertain Times

A cherished holiday tradition and an invitation to share one of yours

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Holidays are very important to me. They are a time for family, friends, community. For me, they are a time to reflect, for 2 solid months on the gifts I have been given in my life, the blessings, the joys, and a time to plan for what comes next. They are also a time for traditions, both new ones and those that connect us with generations past. I have a number of new and old ones that I have shared in my family. I thought through this post I would invite you to share your favorite holiday tradition as I share one of mine.

The story of the Christmas bowls:

In the early 1900s, when my Poppa, Lee Anthony Pence was a boy growing up in a small Indiana town, “exotic” fruits like oranges were a special treat because they grew either all the way west in California, or all the way south in Florida. Apples were plentiful in autumn and many families kept bushels of them in their root cellars to eat throughout the winter, while others were boiled with sugar into applesauce and canned to enjoy year round. Peanuts were also common, but pecans, almonds, cashews, and Brazil nuts, were rarer. Candy was a special treat. Allowance was earned once a month, typically a nickel or a dime at a time and often tied to the accomplishment of chores.

A tradition in our family for four generations has been that on Christmas morning we awake to bowls under the tree, one for each person. The bowls contain an apple, an orange, some mixed nuts (they used to be in shells, but now I use unshelled ones), and candy. The traditional candy was colorful ribbon candy and sugared orange slices. Now I try to personalize candies to the preferences of each person for whom I (and my elves) prepare a bowl.

The surprise at the bottom of the bowl is a coin, to represent prosperity and good luck in the new year.

Sharing this tradition with my children and other family members helps me feel close to my past, to my Poppa, and creates a continuity across generations that I cherish. Do you have a cherished holiday tradition? If so, please share it in the comments below and keep this conversation going.

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas! 🎁🌲❄️⛄️🎅

 

Kansas Health Foundation Distinguished Chair leaves Wichita State University because of Kansas campus concealed carry law

I know the title of this post reads like a headline. That is intentional. I am claiming my voice; I am also speaking for those who have tried and not been heard, for those who are fearful to speak because of concerns over repercussions from doing so. I speak from the privileged position of a funded Distinguished Chair and tenured full professor. After 33 years of experience teaching at the college and university levels, I speak from my ability to retire.

I hoped this last year that the Kansas Legislature and Governor Brownback would come to their senses. That hope died this spring when the Kansas legislature refused to hear debate on the controversial law that will allow concealed carry on Kansas university, college, and community college campuses effective July 1, 2017. To make matters worse, no gun training, no background check, no gun handlers license is required. ANYONE over 18 can carry a gun into my classroom.

For 10 years, I have served as the Kansas Health Foundation Distinguished Chair in Strategic Communication and Professor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University. I have advanced the KHFs mission to “improve the health of all Kansans”.

After careful soul searching, I have come to the incredibly difficult decision that I cannot continue in this position. The day this law applies to WSU, I will retire from the university, from a job I love, and from a context where I believe I have made a positive contribution. I leave behind students that I love, colleagues I admire, and an administration that I have found to be very supportive.

The long and the short of it is this. I can not work in a climate in which students are fearful to claim their voices because the person next to them in my classroom may have both different views and a gun. I cannot work in an environment where I am fearful to challenge my students to reach their full potential because they may have guns. I find this law to be the antithesis of everything a civil society stands for. As a strategic communication scholar and teacher, I find this policy to be in opposition to the goals of higher education. I see my job as supporting the personal, relational, and character development of my students, as challenging them to be the best person, student, citizen they can be, as helping them to explore diverse perspectives and develop critical thinking skills. None of these goals can be achieved in a climate of fear and repression.

My full resignation letter is included below:

6/5/2017

President John Bardo                                                                                                 1845 Fairmount St.                                                                                                     Wichita State University                                                                                 Wichita, KS 67260

Dear President Bardo,

I am grateful for the amazing opportunity I’ve had for the 10 years I’ve spent at Wichita State University. Serving as the Kansas Health Foundation Distinguished Chair in Strategic Communication / Professor, Elliott School of Communication has been an honor and a pleasure. I have found dedicated colleagues, an administration supportive of faculty innovation, and motivated and engaged students who have inspired me.

Sadly, after much soul searching, I have found it necessary to retire from the university effective July 1, 2017.

While I have found the support to engage in work that I believe has enriched students and communities, I find the climate in Kansas to be more and more regressive, repressive, and in opposition to the values of higher education including critical thinking, evidence based reasoning, global citizenship, and social responsibility.

I see this most clearly in the concealed carry policy that goes into effect July 1, which can’t help but dampen open, frank conversation, so necessary for promoting intellectual growth and an informed citizenry. Worse, this ill-advised policy puts the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff at risk.

Clear, open, critical discussion cannot take place in an environment of threat and fear. Knowing that people will now be free to conceal and carry guns in classrooms without training and without licenses can’t help but dampen the free exploration of ideas. In the current social and political climate, when civility and respect for diverse perspectives often seem to be in short supply, many people already feel marginalized and threatened. Guns on campus will make it that much more difficult for them to feel safe.

As someone who has experienced gun violence personally, I do not feel safe with guns in the classroom. I cannot do my best as a teacher, as an educator tasked with supporting students as they challenge and reflect critically on their personal beliefs, as they struggle with relationships and communication dynamics. I cannot guarantee my students that they will get the best from me. I cannot promise that I will encourage the growth that they are capable of in whatever directions they choose. I cannot tell them that they are safe to claim their voices, their truths, when someone next to them, who might have a different view, may also have a gun.

In 2007, I came to Wichita State because of the Kansas Health Foundation’s mission to “improve the health of all Kansans.” Their gift that funded my position was the largest Wichita State had received at that time. I have worked hard as a teacher and scholar to honor their commitment. In many ways, it has been easy. Their vision corresponds with my personal and professional commitments to make a positive contribution to communities and to promote health and wellness. In recognition of my success in meeting these objectives while at WSU, I have won numerous campus, community, state and discipline-based awards as a teacher, mentor, and scholar.

In 2007, Wichita State University, the Elliott School of Communication, and the Kansas Health Foundation honored me with this position. I have embraced that honor. However, this gun policy is indication of a political context that threatens the health of all Kansans. This is no longer a context I can support. This is no longer a context in which I can work. I regret that I have to make this decision.

With deepest gratitude,

Deborah S. Ballard-Reisch

Deborah S. Ballard-Reisch, PhD                                                                   Kansas Health Foundation Distinguished Chair in Strategic Communication / Professor, Elliott School of Communication             Wichita State University                                                                                      Wichita, Kansas 67260

Cc:         Jeffrey Jarman, ESC Director / Ron Matson, Dean, Fairmount                     College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

The Day I Cut Off My Hair and Dyed it Magenta*

Large life changes happen through a severing, quick and brutal.
Large life changes happen through a series of small events that lead
to the undeniable reality that things simply can’t go on as they are.
Large life changes happen because of one event that as it evolves
changes our view of ourselves, our place in the world, our understanding of who we are.

I cut off my hair and dyed it magenta because I realized I was mortal.

I cut off my hair and dyed it magenta because someone I considered a friend descended into madness, threatened my life, threatened his family, and ultimately, took his own life in the most hostile, painful way I could imagine.

I cut off my hair and dyed it magenta because I am a survivor and I would not let my rage, my fear destroy me.

I cut off my hair and dyed it magenta because, like the phoenix, it was my first step in rising again.

I kissed a girl that day out of connection and gratitude, out of celebration that we were both still alive. We were safe.

I kissed a girl that day out of sadness and anger that Alan had opted out, that he was no longer alive, that he had chosen to leave the world violently.

After that kiss, for various reasons, we went our own ways, followed our own paths.

*********************************

The phone. I answered. Her voice. “It’s about Alan.” My heart filled with dread. “What has he done?” “He’s dead. He shot himself. He called me and said ‘I want you to hear me die’ and he shot himself. I heard him die, Deborah! He made me hear him die”.” I’m on my way”, I replied. I grabbed my purse and my keys, slipped into flip flops and fumbled around as I tried to lock the door to my friend’s borrowed apartment where I had been staying, trying to keep under Alan’s radar for over a week. “Where are the kids?”, I asked. “With my mom”, she said. “Please come now”.

He’d threatened me “If someone took Deborah out, you’d realize it’s not safe for a woman not to have a man to protect her”, he’d told his wife. This was before the confrontation in the grocery store, before the threats escalated. After, I went to the police station to help her file a Temporary Protection Order against him, the police officer turned to me. “We know about him”, the police officer said. “Go someplace. Lie low. Wait.”  “Leave my life?!”, I’d asked incredulous. ”Your children should stay with their dad. Do you have someone you could borrow a car from? You need to find a safe place. If you stay where you are, all we can do is clean up the mess after.” I was stunned. The police officer said “All we can do is clean up the mess after.”, I repeated this over and over to myself. Finally, it snapped me out of my fog. ALL WE CAN DO IS CLEAN UP THE MESS AFTER.

After I dropped my friend at the apartment where she was staying, I moved fast. I called my ex-husband. I explained the situation. We made arrangements to trade cars. He went to the house to get what the kids needed. They would stay with him as long as necessary.

I called friends. I knew they had a vacant apartment they were preparing to rent. “It only has an air mattress and a couple folding chairs. I’ll bring some dishes and glasses this afternoon. Will that be ok?” my friend asked. “I don’t need much”, I said. For more than a week, I lived in fear that he would somehow find me. A friend stayed with me every night. He shaved his head thinking it made him look stronger, more powerful, intimidating even, at least when he didn’t smile. He joked that he was my body guard. Nothing felt very funny to me.

Now Alan was dead. I felt elation. The threat was gone. I felt anger, a fury like I had never experienced. How dare he! I felt sadness for the friend I had lost, now permanently to the demons that tortured him.

After I visited my friend, now his widow, after I kissed her, I called the woman who cut my hair. “I need to see you. I need to do something new, something really different.”, I said. “I just had a cancellation.”, she replied. “You sound funny. Are you ok?” “I’m ok. A friend just died. I’ll see you in an hour. Thanks!”, I replied.

My hair was long, to the middle of my back. As the blonde locks fell to the floor, I slowly relaxed. I started to feel lighter, freer. When I looked in the mirror and saw my face, so different, framed in magenta, always my favorite color, I felt fierce. There was also something different in my eyes. I was changed. I would survive this. I HAD survived, but I was not the same. Alan’s death and all that led up to it changed me. The anger stayed the longest. To be honest I’m not sure I’ve ever let it go completely.

*The names and some minor details in this post have been changed as this is about my experiences around my friend’s death.

Reflections on Remembering and Forgiveness: Part 1

My approach to life has always been to accept that people do their best, to forgive and forget. I don’t hold grudges. I am incredibly optimistic and positive. I live my life in joy. I also try to see different perspectives, to understand standpoints, constraints, limitations others face, points of view. I don’t generally take things personally (even when they are).  I have taken this philosophy so far as to mindfully forget painful events in my life. Most recently, I forgot the face of the man who robbed my son and me at gunpoint because in that moment I realized that I was a threat to him if I could identify him. I forgot because it was safer to do so. I have approached many events in my life this way. If it is not safe to remember, I forget. I had no idea how strong this ability had become.

My best friend and my ex-husband used to marvel at my ability to forget. They said they held my hurts for me, remembered for me. I remember one evening,  after the three of us had enjoyed dinner together, we sat in the living room and they recounted all the wrongs people had done me in the time they’d known me. I was awed that they remembered. I was surprised that they cared about these things. None of the events they recounted were strange to me. I knew they had happened. I had simply chosen not to remember them, not to let them impact my life, at least not consciously.

My strategy has been to try to keep the lessons, but leave behind the emotion, especially the pain, to forget the details. In my work over the last year on healthy relationships, a culmination of over 20 years of work, I have learned that my strategy has at times crippled me. When I forget the details, the lesson is weaker. I am now working to embrace the details, keep the lessons, and forgive.

Here is my problem: When I forget, I remain positive. I remain optimistic about possibilities. I seek to understand the other. When I forget, it is easy to forgive. But, when I remember, the lessons have more weight behind them, are easier to sustain, have a stronger foundation. When I remember, it is sometimes harder to remain positive, optimistic, to forgive.

I am struggling with forgiveness in this. I don’t want to hold grudges, but I do need to keep appropriate boundaries. Forgiveness, to me, implies understanding, that “it’s ok”; forgiveness opens the possibility of a reconnection later, for second, third, maybe fourth chances.

In some cases, that simply cannot be.

As I try to embrace mindful remembrance without emotion so that lessons will have strength, I struggle also with forgiveness and separation. We all make mistakes. We all learn. We all grow. No one is perfect. But at times, doors do need to be closed and bridges do need to be burned.

I am trying to find the balance.

Musings on time, this week in my family’s history, and growth

Three years ago this week, my daughter Alyssa shredded her knee, severing her ACL, MCL, tearing her meniscus, and bruising everything above and below her kneecap. Through hard months of waiting, finishing the semester on crutches and a motorized scooter, surgery, PT, recovery, learning how to bear weight, learning how to dance, she persevered. Today she is again an amazing dancer. She is lovely and graceful, strong and passionate. Today she is a college graduate off on her own. So much has changed in 3 years.

Two years ago this week, I fell on the steps of Elliott Hall the building where I work at Wichita State University. I tripped and sprawled on the steps on my newly healed wrists. I sacrificed my right ankle, which I badly bruised, to keep from landing fully on my hands and arms, but it hurt. It really hurt. I sat on the steps and cried, injured and afraid. I was too shaken to move as one colleague walked around me on the narrow steps, the contents of my purse and computer case strewn all over the landing. Her disregard hurt worse than the fall, her ignoring me as I cried on the steps. The Elliott School’s administrative assistant Bill, the lifeblood of the ESC, came to my rescue. I was finally able to recover my cell phone, and I called him, crying, to come help me. He did. He picked up all my stuff, helped me stand, using my elbows, so he wouldn’t hurt my wrists, and helped me to my office. Today I am at the two-thirds point of an amazing yearlong sabbatical, three months of which I spent on a writing retreat in Florence, Italy. Today my wrists are healed and I can again do hot yoga. Today I am contemplating what I want to do with the next phase of my life. So much has changed in 2 years.

Six weeks ago this week, my son and I were robbed at gunpoint by a young man who kicked open our locked front door.  That day I had pink highlights put in my long blonde hair. For me hair is a toy. I’d worked on my website: http://DrDeborah.co with my friend Davis.  It’s still a work in progress, but that was a watershed day. I was happy and content. Then I was scared and threatened. Today, I have magenta and purple highlights in my long blonde hair thanks to the talented Jessica, and my son Stefan and I have moved into a new apartment, a lovely apartment. We are moving on with our lives. So much has changed in six weeks.

Time is an interesting thing. In the middle of rough moments it seems to stop, then drags so slowly when it finally begins to move again. In the beautiful, life affirming moments, time often moves so quickly. Time, as the cliché says, also heals.

This week has led me to reflect on the past, something I don’t do often, to examine the path that got me, that got my son and daughter, to where we are today. These events are simply a small part of our journeys.

I believe we have a choice about how we view the happenings in our lives. We can choose to view things as crises or adventures. As I reflect back on those three events and the emotions they raised, the ups and downs of negotiating them, I recognize our choices. None of us would describe ourselves as victims. We simply do not view things as crises. We are optimists. We do what needs to be done. We deal with what needs to be dealt with and we move forward. We learn and grow from our experiences.

We are stronger, as are my wrists, because of these events. We see the world differently than we did before, because of the events of this week over the last three years. I am inspired by the words of Anne Lamott on Facebook. Yesterday she wrote , “Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things”. I am inspired by Japanese Kintsugi pottery, the art of reassembling, of repairing, broken pottery with gold. We are each like a precious piece of pottery. The world tosses us about, breaks, chips, and often shatters us. We reassemble ourselves , often with the help of those who love us. We are remade, more unique, more different, more precious than we were before.

wood-fired-bowl-kintsugi-repair

Image of Kintsugi Pottery taken from: http://lakesidepottery.com/Pages/kintsugi-repairing-ceramic-with-gold-and-lacquer-better-than-new.htm

A Love Letter to Las Vegas – <3

As you know, dear reader, I am FINALLY in Las Vegas visiting my wonderful daughter Alyssa. I fell in love with Vegas several years ago when I spent 6 weeks here after my dancer daughter shredded her knee. Surgery had to wait until after the semester, so we lived in the other wing of her dorm in a double room. This gave me plenty of space to work on my WSU classes with the help of wonderful colleagues, like my friend Glyn, and students with whom I skyped and phoned. It also allowed me to stay close to my girlie in case she needed me.

Looking back, it was a truly amazing time. Las Vegas is absolutely beautiful in the spring. While it took me several weeks to realize it, I fell completely in love with the campus, with all the green spaces and nature paths filled with wild, desert flowers. I loved the clarity of the early morning air, the way the breezes caressed my skin and blew my hair, before the sun turned too hot. The wild flowers inspired me. I started photographing them on my phone, posting them to social media as a way of staying connected with friends and family. Based on the encouragement of my friend Pam, I ultimately turned some of these photographs into a calendar that I gave to friends and family for Christmas.

I trolled the campus each morning, sometimes running the steps outside the Thomas and Mack Center, listening to music on my iPod. I fell in love with a sky blue Lotus Elise often parked near the campus desert garden. I was tempted to leave a note to let the owner know how much I appreciated that car. I never did. I still look for it when I’m back on campus. Since Alyssa’s graduation, I don’t have an excuse to troll campus any more. I miss that.

I got comfortable with the shops near the university, especially those on Maryland Parkway. I frequented Einstein’s Bagels. I’d often stop there near the end of my 1 ½ hour walk to pick up yummy breakfast for Alyssa to start her day. We could eat healthy on fresh fruit and veggie drinks, or enjoy bagels with eggs, meat and cheese, or bagels with plain or flavored cream cheese. Alyssa’s favorite was strawberry cream cheese. We also found a car wash and nail salon I still visit whenever I come to town.

I remember with gratitude her teachers, especially those in the dance department at UNLV. They recommended surgeons and physical therapists, encouraged her to safely push the limits of her physical capacity. They told her she would get better, that she would dance again. Their support was priceless.

Alyssa’s and my pattern this trip is different now that she’s graduated from UNLV. She works as a concierge at Monte Carlo Resort. Each morning I get up, take Greyson, her Australian Shepherd, for a walk. This year, it is the bush and tree flowers that are just starting to bloom that speak to me. They are quiet, gentle. I photograph them.

pink flowerspansy

Each morning, I hang out with Alyssa before she has to go to work. I drive her to work and get on with my day. I do something useful, get the oil changed in her car, fill her tank with gas or get her car washed. I get a mani/pedi (no, it’s not ALL about doing things for my daughter). Then I find a Starbucks to write.

As I settle in with my iced chai latte with soy each day, I have a feeling about what I’m going to write. Rarely (never actually), do I write what I think I will. I write whatever comes out, whatever inspires me in the moment. This post was not what I had planned for today, but it is what I wrote.

As I reflect, I guess my message today, dear reader, is that life happens in the little day-to-day moments as well as when I have to rise to the occasion to deal with whatever challenges face me. Life happens when the beauty of a flower stops me short. Life happens when I pause from what I’m doing to listen for my daughter’s voice. Life happens as I run the steps at the Thomas and Mack Center or take Alyssa’s puppy for a walk. Life happens as my favorite song leads me to move faster on my morning walk, or an unexpected song triggers a memory. Life comes when the conversation of those next to me in Starbucks demands my attention.

I found beauty as my daughter healed from a traumatic, painful injury. I found beauty in flowers and the feeling of sunshine on my shoulders, a soft breeze on my neck. I fell in love with where I was. I fell in love with Las Vegas! I wish for you the same. Fall in love with your day! I’m off to finish mine.

White flowers 1 yellow flowers

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