Apr 30, 2013

The quality of anxiety

You know those ten ton anxiety bombs that fall whistling out of nowhere and level you emotionally? Good for you, if the answer is 'No, you loser!'. I'm sweeping up the debris from more than a few such recent collisions, even as I ponder better evasion techniques.

That visceral sting of anxiety was recently described by my freind
Shreya thus:
And though it's just an infinitesimal blot in the big picture of our lives, while it's happening, it feels like a free-fall into forever.

If we need to, we know how

On the drive home from school yesterday my 6 year old told me his class earned extra playground time for doing so well in the 'lockdown drill'. Reluctant to even ask but I did and was momentarily stilled by the non-chalance in his voice as he described hiding quietly in a closet upon hearing 'We are in lockdown!' on the intercom three consecutive times.
         The quiet crying I did for the next few blocks of the drive was as much for that non-chalance as for the indelible place 'lockdown drill' has now made in our memories of his childhood.
         When the Newtown shootings happened in 2012, I did not panic and rush to hug my child at the end of that day like many of my friends. My stomach still does a flip when I think of those little kids in the CT classrooms but I don't let myself go there very often. At the time, I channeled my fear instead into FB spiels about an over-sensational media that enables attention seeking psychopaths. Even got a petition started and wrote to a few papers.
         Our head space hasn't gotten any sunnier given that the past few weeks has forced us to tackle, with said 6 year old, why a couple of young men blew up 200 people at the Boston marathon, and then had us in a state of siege (we live a few miles from Watertown square where the showdown unfolded). Strangely though, all roads keep leading us to discussions about how NOT to be mad and make poor choices, how to instead do what we can to help each other out.

So I won't get any more maudlin than I already have about this now. Because this much is true: in the horrors that have unfolded in the public arena over the past few months, I've found myself thinking a WHOLE lot more about the power of goodness, kindness and Mr. Rogers' 'helpers' than ever before.
         In trying to equip our son with filters to help him see reality in shades of Hope, I've found them for myself. This too is possible then: angry, broken people who hurt others - can primarily inspire understanding and compassion and help highlight how much is right with the world.
        Besides which the truth is that it's probably more painful for us parents because of the comparisons we feel compelled to make with our relatively innocent childhood. Yet I'm convinced that our respective realities, our children's and ours, are as varied as they are valid. We are each shaped by our experiences and innocence - hope and goodness persevere regardless. 

It also made me ponder that strange behavioural phenomena of 'Transference', wherein we transfer our own despair onto others and craft a world that is necessarily darker than reality. Look at me: I felt so devastated at my perceived loss of Oyon's innocence but how wrong I was proved. Any loss of innocence is mine: MY perception of the world was damaged by the Newtown shooting, MY view of school as safe haven for the nurturing of my young child was corrupted. But it's ALL IN MY HEAD. There have been mass shootings before in this country and young children are killed all over the world all the time. I've just been inured to them through the priviledge of distance and entitlement. True - it should not be do and that acceptance of this is somewhat an admission of defeat. We should still canvas for gun abolition (like other civilized nations) but in the meantime....the truth is that world is just as it has always been - full of darkness AND light. When I focus on the one more than the other, I personally craft the quality of my experience. And by assuming that another person (like young Oyon) is also sharing in that experience, I run the risk of sentencing him to it, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

As it turns out, HE'S neither scared nor anxious. I AM! He's calm, collected and prepared to take care of himself if the need arises. So very, very illuminating for me to realise this so tangibly. That this pain and disillusionment is relative and really, invisible to a child's mind in the ways that count. There is no real cause for pain on their behalf.

          But that didn't prevent me that day from crying at my son's casual acceptance of Lockdown Drills 'in case something dangerous is going on in school'.
It DID however help me turn a smiling face eventually to him and say 'I'm glad you did so well at the drill'.
His reply? 'Yeah, me too. We're probably not going to need it. But if we do, I'll know how. What's for dinner?'

And that's all there is to it, I guess.

If we need to, we know how.
In the meantime, life goes on.

Apr 17, 2013

Reality, reflected

Lying on our tummies, on a boardwalk stretching out over vernal pool. Not quite warmed by the weak spring sunshine. Grainy wood beneath our palms as we peer into the murky shallows. Seeing but reflections in a pool opaque in the reluctant sunshine.

Songbirds, newly emerged from a deep winter exile, lull us into lassitude with their calls. We gaze at clouds, water and our wavering silhouettes without really seeing anything. Then suddenly, somewhere - something shifts. Our focal length changes. Just like that - we can see now.
Below the ripples spreading out from the whirligig's hops and just under the lazily floating dots of algae....something just moved.

And there.

This one has bulging eyes and a tiny gray toned body. Darting to and fro with elegance and speed. Mosquitoe larvae, we later find out to only a slight reduction in the romance of it (because even pests have an innocent start after all).

The other one has a notched tail with white streaks on its edge. Scuttles about on the many legs fringing its translucent, segmented middle . Fairy Shrimp, we are told.

There are more like these too.
Under, over, gliding, spinning, resting, teeming, seething life.
Under us, who are in turn pinned by the leaden sky.

Our heads that touched in delighted discovery part in time, to shake off the trance as the thrill pales. This window turns gracefully back into an obsidian mirrora and the secret world retreats.

Days later, the same heads touch in more delighted discovery. We turn the image of our reflection into an image of our reflection. Mixing paints with abandon on the painting software, we realize that a grey sky actually needs a little blue. The bare tree branches, gray from the winter, are really a little red. Half-focused eyes show us that swirly brush strokes don't make good clouds like we thought. Horizontal swaths of color, do.

There is no end, truly.

The photograph. iPhone.

The painting. 'Fresh Paint' program on Windows 8.

Hey there, young man!

'Hey, there young man!' he called out to any passerby over 6 and under 60. The women got 'lovely' or 'beautiful'.

And his smile. His smile.

He was peddling a newsletter called 'Spare Change'. The 'Homeless Empowerment Project' supplies it to the homeless for a pittance so they can sell for profit and find their feet.

Harvard square at 5:30 pm is bustling with life regardless of weather. On that 50 degree day at the end of a hard winter and frigid spring, you couldn't keep people in if you tried. Students and professors scurrying to meetings and appointments, tourists gawking, well-heeled couples ambling along to soak up the mild weather - all streaming through the area. The iconic 'Au Bon Pain' coffee store by the News Stand remains as good a spot as ever to people-watch as you wait for a friend.

I nursed my cup of Earl Grey and watched the peddler lob cheerful greetings and beaming smiles from the middle of the sidewalk at the human stream breaking around him. A few smiled back at him, even fewer bought a paper off him. Most ignored him. They swerved as far away as the available sidewalk allowed. Eye contact was avoided, chins tucked further in and even pre-emptive brush-offs executed with either a dismissive hand wave or an apologetic shrug.

The interesting thing was that he did'nt once, in my 20 minutes of fascinated watching, actively peddle. He did'nt push or hawk anything and his grin and cheer didn't waver a bit inspite of the relentless string of dismissals.

He eventually took a cigarette break, perching on the railing of the outdoor seating area near me to take a swig of water then light up. I went over and asked if I could buy a paper and a cup of something for him. Just because he made me smile. He told me he was fine but thanks for asking. I did'nt ask and he did'nt confirm that he was homeless. I told him I thought it was inspiring that he did'nt let the brush-offs get to him and confessed I was  much less patient than he. He grinned, shrugged and said 'Well, people, they're busy, you know?'. Or something like that. He let me take a picture for my blog, asked politely about it then thanked me for noticing his smiles.

There was too much dignity and kindness there for me to probe any further. Besides I did'nt even want to. His geniality might have just been sound sales strategy. Or he might have been adpet at that old Jedi mind trick we all know that let's us unhook our mouths from our mind, leaving the latter free to wander. I decided it was just his personality. Because it's a choice I am free to make. Also, it felt enough that I'd told him what I saw and that he heard me.

My freind Nan arrived on the sidewalk shortly after, scanning the crowded area for me as I tried to catch her eye.
She didn't see my frantic waving. But he did.
He called out to her and pointed my way.
When she'd set off towards me, he tipped his hat with one last brilliant smile and turned back to his sidewalk.

Apr 16, 2013

'A little bit of something' instead of 'a whole lot of nothing'

Yesterday a bomb took the life of an 8 year old boy at the Boston Marathon.
Actually, every day, bombs take the lives of innocent children in countries torn by violence.
But when young Martin, cheering on runners with his family at the finish line, paid the highest price for someone else's rage, it hit too close to home.

As we start to gather together our dismay into one big throbbing ball of horror at the world we are leaving to our kids, I think we should stop a moment to think.

Hasn't there always been rage and disproportionate responses in the world?
Haven't a few motivated people with grievances always crafted the shape of our future?
Haven't we always reacted bu first shrinking back in horror then striking out in rage against it?

And has this ever worked to correct imbalances?
No amount of outrage will bring back that smiling 8 year old or piece back his family in their old image. Or fully restore any of the other victims. We cannot fix this anymore than we can un-scar Bostonians whose city and public spaces are now stripped of security and a feeling of belonging.

Oh, Bostonians will rebound, don't worry. Everyone rebounds.  But we can do more....instead of venting our our dismay and rage we can harness it. Amidst all that we CAN'T do right now is all that we CAN do with our mental energies.

We can seek to restore some balance by looking out for the things that are good and right amidst all this horror.

I'm not saying we embrace inaction and condone terrorism. Just that for the most part, terrorist acts are beyond our range of influence. But if we do pause to think of 'action' I can't see any better way to respond to those who seek to un-hinge us by showing cohesiveness that blasts THEM out of their socks.

So what IS within our reach? The community around us.
We can connect with other to ease our pain, support each other and help ourselves through the challenges we face every day. We can all care just alittle bit more, reach out a little bit more and feel the stable groudn beneath our feet when everything around us seems to be shaken by tremors. We cannot right all the wrongs but instead of doing a whole lot of nothing we can do a little bit of something.

I for one want to be more mindful about identifying Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) and enacting Incremental Change that Touches (ICT). To describe what is good an right about the world so that we feel motivated to do more of it.


Kindness and caring will spread and touch people as much as rage and despair but only if we are as effective in spreading it.

Will you join me in recalling a RAK and ICT every day?

A Random Act of Kindness (RAK) is something you have experienced, something you can describe as 'They didn't have to do this. But they did'. An Incremental Change that Touches (ICT) is something you might have done for someone, something you can describe to yourself as 'I didn't have to do this. But I did'. Not to be smug about it, but award yourself due respect so that you continue 'doing' instead of burning-out.

I'm not saying we unnecessarily exalt the regular compassion that every empathetic human ought to have. I don't think we should lower the bars of just regular humanity in any way. But when we focus on the horrors amidst us without giving fair time to the tiny expressions of thoughtfulness as well as the soaring acts of kindness that are there too, we demotivate our neighbors and describe a hopeless world to them. One that seems beyond their influence and that enervates them into being passive commentators. THIS is what fuels terrorism in my opinion: that people give up, give in and move just a small step at a time away from humanity in the grip of rage and despair.

So here's to celebrating all the good and giving small, small actions wings:

Random Act of Kindness (RAK): April 16, 2013
Thanks to the ice cream server at Moozy's ice-cream shop in Belmont.
    We ended up there yesterday after a hike with 6 yr old Oyon and his buddy Noah. She served Noah a  serving of gummy worm toppings that he belatedly asked for. Just so that his and Oyon's cone toppings would match. We hadn't paid for it and she brushed away my thanks.
She didn't have to do that. But she did.

Incremental Change that Touches (ICT): April 16, 2013
We didn't really help anyone in particular yesterday but we did share our hiking snacks and extra nature watching telescopes with 2 kids (and their Dad) whom we met in the woods. It enhanced our day as much as theirs. We connected to strangers instead of looking away.

 A weekend marathon of the Star Wars trilogy produced these interesting reactions:

Friday night = Star Wars:
Me (on first sight of the bad-guy Imperial star fighter): Wow! That is SO cool!
Oyon: Why did you say that?! Thaty's the bad guy! Yo'ure not supposed to say 'wow' to the baddies!
Me: But I think the space craft is cool, not the bad guys.
Oyon (a bit puzzled): Oh.

Saturday night = The Empire Strikes Back
Oyon's reaction to Yoda's age: "Yoda got 900 Christmases?!!"
After watching Chewbacca and the Ewok's bring down a bad-guy Imperial tank: That's easy! When I was at Fun World (an arcade), I defeated SO many of these!

Sunday night = The Return of the Jedi
Oyon: So Mammam, is 'the force' good or bad? Darth Vader was a bad guy and had it but so did Luke and he was a good guy!
Me: That's a tough one. What do YOU think?
Oyon: Maybe it's both? When Darth Vader hurt people it was the Dark Side, when Luke helped, it was good. So it's the stuff they DO with the force, I think..
Me: You know, I think I agree. Thanks for clarifying.
Oyon: You're welcome, Mammam.

Oyon, Noah, bare-feet tucked under the table after ruining shoes in muddy ponds hunting for fairy shrimp and faces tucked into generously awarded gummy-worm ice cream toppings. The good things in life are small.