Gift love

Sometimes love is easy; other times… not so easy. When love is easy it bubbles to the surface of our skin, comes out in words, touch, and little notes. We don’t have to think about it. When love does not come easily it can still be given consciously and with effort. This, is gift love.

This post has been in my drafts folder since A was small enough to nap on her dad’s body. The picture is out of date but I kept it anyway because I like the palpable familial love so visible in it. I like to see M’s eyes sparkle; and baby A in that purple dress with her one-year-old mowhawk before the sides of her hair had grown in. I love the moment when this picture was taken.

Gift love started as my way of thinking about how to reconcile daily grievances, make-up when the unthinkable just happened, and forgive when apologies have not necessarily been given. Anyone with a spouse will relate, but also anyone with any valued long-term relationship; be it with a parent, sibling, lover, child, or friend.

The first few years of parenting are hard on a marriage, and I’m not sure it gets any easier. Why are relationships so hard? Why is it that the people we love most have this endless potential to cause harm; to take the most tender parts of ourselves, twist them into something ugly, and fling it back into our faces?

Gift love, put simply, is empathy. It is meeting a person where they are and saying,”I see you.” In loving a person at their worst we invest in the parts of them that are soft, vulnerable, fragile, and help those parts to grow. To love a child is somehow easier than loving an adult, but it is the same. Each of us was once a child. Each of us started out as precious.

Gift love is the love we give even when we don’t feel like it. It is courage mustered in small moments when we want to roll away and offer our back, but instead roll to and bravely talk about how we feel. It is a love given humbly, in remembrance of the big picture, and to the people without whom we would be lost. When it all falls apart, someone has to start somewhere.

I wish there existed some rote method of reconciliation that everyone was trained in: Then we could just move through the process and get on with it. You speak, and I will listen. I speak, and you listen. We each apologize and take responsibility for harms caused. Forgiveness is complete. Once again, we feel safe and loved in each other’s presence and the relationship is whole. We part ways feeling right with the world.

What holds us back? Part of gift love for me is that I will only take your words 100% seriously when you are clear-headed, centered, and speaking from the most authentic core of your being. I picture a circle of emotions that each of us works with. All of the places we reach for in difficult moments are along the edge: ego, pride, anger, control, defense, greed. The center is where the heart is; the authentic place we speak from when we are feeling vulnerable but brave and can be proud of our words and actions. When we speak from this place it is easy to love ourselves and each other; and when the conversation is over we rest in the knowledge that we did our best.

What do we do with nasty things said in a heated moment? The things we can’t rescind or un-hear hold kernels of truth. Take them seriously and reflect; but at the end if the day, understand that my harsh words are more a reflection of how I am doing on this difficult journey than of how you are doing. Know that I will want a chance to make things right.

Relational stress is the worst for me; it hurts for years. On the receiving end of an ear-full I take your words pretty hard. Maybe I should see that you aren’t centered in your emotional circle and try not to take you so literally. Maybe, if I stay centered, I can resolve some piece of your suffering rather than adding to it.

I am trying out this idea of asking people to apologize. It’s awkward but if you need something, ask for it. If I didn’t believe in you, if I didn’t value our relationship and want it to continue, I wouldn’t bother. I would write you off as a lousy human and move on. Revealing my hurt, is me loving you. This too, is gift love.

As a person who messes up frequently, I have had lots of practice apologizing. I have no shame in righting my past wrongs. If I caused you harm then I was oblivious to your needs in that moment or not centered in my circle. I don’t feel a need to justify my past poor behaviors; so please, just ask. I will hear your words as a gift.

I want to be a refuge for my people; a place where you can come to be heard and understood. I look at myself and my husband in this picture and I see how our lives have become more stressful than they used to be. I see how needs now go unmet; his and mine. Still, on a good day, we make each other lunch. We hold hands and kiss before dinner every night. We prioritize time together on weekends during nap time. I see how these small efforts, made with great love, accumulative into the days of our life. Love given freely always comes back in some form.

If you enjoyed this post, please share the love.

Share the love

A few months into my life as a blogger, Lovewarrior’s posts reached about 150 people. This was a serious uptick from the previous years when all writing stayed locked inside my computer (writer = 1; readers = 0). It was a very happy time for me.

Lovewarrior’s first followers included my friends, my mom, my mom’s friends… you get the picture. My personal network saturated and readership plateaued, but it felt great to write for you all so I posted more often.

Then I got my first “share” based on a post called her need for love does not shame her, and it reached 350 people.

Looking back on that post, I realize the potential of each cyber move we make and the power of the “share” multiplier effect. If value in written work can be measured by the effect of our words, then with one click, this reader effectively had more of an impact than I did. He or she also extended the reach of my words beyond my personal network. I don’t know who you are, but thank you.

The simple effort of that first share changed how I think about activism and my work in the world. If I spend several hours on any one written post, the least I can do is spend a few minutes sharing the work of others. If you like a post on this blog, or any blog, please click the “share” button and add that post to the feed on your personal page.

What do you want to see grow in the world? Share it. Your clicks change the world everyday.

Book group/Support group/Same same

Two weeks ago, while our president was tactically separating parents from their kids at the border, and a city in Oman sweated under a new record for the highest low temperature ever recorded–109° F, my friend J put out this call on Facebook:

“I ask for your advice, and support… a suffocating sense of powerlessness to help solve the world’s problems… it’s been hard to find…the energy for giving back to my community which adds to my sense of uselessness… With so much to…break our hearts in the news these days I welcome practical ideas. Because terror in my name is not ok.”

Me too. So, what do we do about it?

I am politically active; I enjoy being part of a small group in Gustavus called AK Standing Up. We host progressive political candidates who want to visit our little town, we participate in national marches, and we made some timely bumper stickers:

I also act as the liaison between that group and the Tongass Democrats, who meet monthly in Juneau, Alaska.

These are small things, but they are also big, because shared events and ideas give us a collective voice, one loud enough to be heard.

Locally focussed groups of 5-15 people have the ability to turn non-active citizens into powerful agents for change.

Small, autonomous groups acting locally organized the resistance against fascism during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, and Indivisible.org recommends this model for resisting Trump’s agenda.

Turning me into we, connecting and organizing people, enables groups to shape our world in a way that individuals just can’t.

When AK Standing Up meets, and I see familiar faces gathered for a good cause, it adds spark to my own momentum and energy. And it’s fun, because I love these people, and I love spending time with them.

But there’s another need right now, beyond translating anger into activism: We need conversations to help us process who we are as people alive at this crazy time. As citizens of the United States, and the world, we need to help each other digest the news, and all of these graphs where quality of life on Earth ends in the year 2100. Without action, this scary information stays stuck in our throats along with high-pitched emotions, and anxiety becomes the great unifier of our time.

We need to build the collective emotional strength to accept the miles racking up on our odometers every week, and the pile of single-use plastics filling our trash cans now that China has stopped buying America’s recyclables. These impacts, multiplied by all of us, are hard to swallow.

As a place to start such a conversation, someone suggested J read this book-

Mary Pipher’s The Green Boat: Reviving ourselves in our capsized culture. I also reached out to J, and now I find myself in a book group/support group with her and another woman, D.

The copy I read came from the 303.4 section at the library, which I would describe as “Hopeful books about moments when real people changed the outcome of history, at least for themselves.” I checked out some other books from this section too.

The green boat was difficult to begin but great for emotional processing. Mary Pipher does us all a favor and skips the glaze-your-eyes-over science of climate change and cuts right to what matters: how we feel about it, and what the hell are we supposed to do with that? As she says, Emotions, not facts, are what energize people to act. It’s a book that drives those emotions home, forcing one to sit still, read, and feel for a couple hundred pages.

Without flickering lights and Hollywood camera action, a book provides little escape via the senses. There is nothing to jolt one out of the body and into the sensation-loving mind. It’s a slow, simmering soup and readers will sit there and stew. The first day I felt so much anxiety that I quit drinking coffee again.

But the second day Pipher’s words lifted and loosened the anxiety somewhat from my body. I read the rest of the book straight through, eager to find out how I would feel at the end.

The finish is smooth, heartwarming, and helpful: Nobody knows what will happen to the planet, she writes, but we do know what makes humans stronger, healthier, and more resilient. That is facing the truth, dealing with it emotionally, and transforming it. Regardless of the results of our work, when we are doing our best, we feel happier and less alone.

Our book group has met twice now to discuss, both times late on a Sunday afternoon over pints of stout and Belgian ale. We talk about intentions, action items, what helps us cope. I’m still not sure what our group will become, but I like it, and I look forward to our meetings.

Facebook gave me a survey question a little while ago: Is Facebook good for the world? I let my response be colored by all the crap – the weird, deluded messages that people sling that they would never say face to face, the teenaged bullying, and the constant pressure for perfect-self portrayals – “No!” I said. But then there’s also our book group, and countless fun barbecues and other good connections, that come out of Facebook too. I’d like to publicly rescind my answer. Like any platform, Facebook is a stage for the whole human drama – comedy, or tragedy. It has the same potential to harm or heal as we have ourselves.

Imagine all the people

I remember the first time I saw this sign at the library for the University of Southeast Alaska in Juneau. I was nervous to go in. Would I see anyone of ambiguous gender? Would there be men? Would there be anything unsettling about the experience ? But then there were just some stalls, I washed my hands, and that was it. I walked out feeling very hip.

Alaska can be slow to arrive at hip; also slow to shed what is unhip (ie. last week my husband suggested I take up rollerblading = $&@%*!?!), so I’ve been impressed with this new idea of how to be a bathroom. Here are some more good signs:

This walk-on-in bathroom movement has been helpful for fathers with daughters, moms with sons, and parents of disabled children, but the root of the idea comes from the transgender community.

Let’s all take a minute to imagine what we think it is like to be a transgender person. Or if that’s an easy one for you, pick something else: beauty pageant winner (you’ve trained your whole life for this?), professional clown (what twisted path led you here?), rocket scientist (so, what do you do for fun?). This, imagining what it is to be someone we don’t understand, is empathy.

Do it now.

As part of this empathy project I also searched for posts about being transgender (use the internet for good!). I encourage you to click below; the images aren’t inappropriate, but they might make you uncomfortable. Your choice (or maybe you’re curious about investment bankers, or tiger veterinarians, or paintball champions…?)

This is what I learned: Transgender includes anyone who doesn’t identify with the gender assigned based on their genitalia at birth. Some “girls” eventually get facial hair and deeper voices. Some “boys” develop very real breasts, or become beautifully feminine. Sometimes the outer expression of a person’s gender is different from what is between their legs.

Which damn bathroom are they supposed to use?

On April 3rd Anchorage will vote on how we/they think transgender people should pee, or at least, in which bathroom.

A no-vote on proposition 1 upholds the current anti-discrimination laws that support the uni-sex bathrooms and the idea that each of us knows best which bathroom we belong in. Leave it at that.

Vote yes if you’d like the legal right to ask a person, in a bathroom, to see proof of their gender as assigned at birth. Because we all carry our birth certificates and enjoy bizarre conflicts with strangers in bathrooms ($&@%*!?!).

I do these mental empathy exercises a lot; there are a lot of people I don’t understand. The only time I falter, and basically can’t get there, is when I try to picture having very little empathy, e.g. some people feel so uncomfortable about the idea of sharing a public bathroom with a transgender person that they’d rather not share it at all. That level of discomfort must feel terrible, but I have a very hard time identifying because don’t you think it’s way tougher to go through life being transgender?

That, and I just hate when I gotta go, and can’t find a bathroom.

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope some day you’ll join us

And the world will be as one.

– John Lennon