Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yesterday's storm today

October 28, 2012

Dear Friends,

The Worst Hard Time is Timothy Egan’s riveting story of the dust storms that terrorized the High Plains during the darkest years of the Depression. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It is, as Walter Cronkite described it, “can’t-put-it-down history.” As one reviewer noted, Egan catches the voices of the survivors and the grit, pathos, and courage of their stories. And he catches too the way that these people themselves and their world were changed forever.

When I first opened Egan’s book, I halted for a long time in the introduction. I was mesmerized by the map Egan had labeled simply, “The Dustbowl.” Eventually, hesitantly, I put my finger on the spot where my family lived and I grew to adulthood. My sister was not yet a year old on April 14, 1935, the day of the worst dust storm of all. I remember clearly my frightened mother tacking damp sheets to the window in an effort to keep the dust out of the room where she napped in her crib.

Egan gives a frightening context to that day. He writes:

The storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal. The canal took seven years to dig. The storm lasted a single afternoon. More than 300,000 tons of Great Plains topsoil was airborne that day.
But seventy-five years later, I could only read a chapter or two at a time of Egan’s account of that massive upheaval of the very earth itself. For me it was more than a story—it was my story, and, reading, I could see again in my mind the eerie light fleeing ahead of the darkness of the storm, and hear my father’s voice saying, “Let the dog in. Keep him in here with us. God help the cattle—I don’t think even God can keep them alive through this.”

Last week a young friend gave me the gift of an afternoon of her energy to de-clutter and clean my kitchen cabinets. She was so efficient that we had time (and her energy) to tackle the pantry cabinet in the garage where I store basic foodstuffs and extra supplies.

She was singing to herself as she worked, but after a while she turned and said, “Forgive me if I am being rude, but why do you have three three-pound cans of coffee in here? I know you drink a lot of coffee, but this much?”

I laughed with her, and made some silly joke about my hidden identity as a closet caffeine hoarder. Had I wished to be factually concrete, I might have added (accurately) “And because I lived through April 14, 1935.” That is, of course, not all my story, and from other contexts, likely not the most important event. Nevertheless, seventy-five years later, that long-passed April day, its eerie light and the terrible afternoon darkness that followed, lives on in a caffeine shadow in my storage space. Would it have changed my relationship with my young friend if I had shared that long-ago event?

When we consider relational skills, we are confronted with the necessity to manage those things that remain when the experience itself has ended. And we are confronted as well with the ways in which we have woven these remaining things into our sense of the world and the relational goals we set for ourselves and others.

It is not an easy task to know ourselves at this level, and still more difficult to identify consciously the ways in which our past is present in relationships, our expectations, our joys and our frustrations. And managing these remainders in relationships is a lifelong responsibility that no one else can carry for us.

In that Dustbowl Depression world I learned two things: terrible things happen; and, two, people do survive. How do you suppose that learning affects my “rule book” for relationships?

What do you identify as the two most definitive life experiences that have shaped your relational rule book?

See you next week.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Off sides?

October 21, 2012

Dear Friends,

A warm thank you to Lori for last week’s fine blog. I did have one concern, however—I couldn’t place either the content or the composition in her suggested context of “first-grade.” Lori, the life-long learner, yes, I could see that. But “first grader”—actually, I saw no evidence at all of that.

Lori regularly writes “Fairy Godmother’s Dust” [her own blog], so in retrospect I could see an unintended irony in asking her to author this piece. Learning to deal constructively with injury in relationships requires confrontation with our favorite fairy-tale ending. We want to believe that the story reports fact: that people do indeed live “happily ever after.” Maybe, but not so much, as Fairy Godmother herself has pointed out.

Relational skill at this point requires well-developed emotional peripheral vision. We must be able to see ourselves—no small task—while seeing out of “the corner of our eye,” so to speak, the responses of others.  Conversely, we must be able to see others—both their acts and the half-hidden inner worlds from which their actions spring—while keeping clear out of “the corner of our eye” that the reality of ourselves (both who we are and what we do) may lie in a “blind spot” for others.

In relationships, we will both injure others and be injured through ignorance, and by both accident and intention, as Lori pointed out. We can choose to manage injury so that it is minimized; we can choose to manage injury so that it transforms the experience into compassion, insight and patience. We can shape the impact, we can alter the consequence, we can utilize pain for self-transformation and growth, but we cannot avoid it. In real relationships, there are no uncomplicated, unlimited, effort-free tomorrows of over-the-rainbow living.

Lonely people are often believers in the happy-ever-after ending who hang on the fairy tale in defiance of their own experience. They continue to be shocked when injury happens to them as though their personhood itself exempts them from the reality of relationships.

They argue (usually with anger), “I certainly didn’t deserve that.”

They take little responsibility for injury they cause. “I couldn’t help that.” “That’s her/his problem. I’m just being who I am.” “You don’t know the whole story. It wasn’t my fault—he/she asked for it.”

Their sense of their loneliness reflects unjustified (and sometimes "unexplainable") injury. Their stories reflect a sad, often bewildered sense that they deserved and would have had a “lived happily ever after” ending if only the rest of the world had been willing to play by their rules.

Spectators remain spectators. Whatever their passionate emotional investment in the game, as spectators they are only virtual participants. They avoid the bruises and injuries that may come as the result of a hard-played game. They may envy or admire the players but they can only imagine the comaraderie of those who, whatever the outcome, play the game and risk the outcome.

In life as in games, however, there are rules for a reason. A well-played game is hedged about by rules and protective gear designed to minimize injury. Few sensible people choose to enter a game with those who do not know the rules, or who hold themselves exempt from the requirement to abide by them. Wise people rarely enter deliberately into relationships (or games) without some protective gear whether that gear is knowledge, skill, or physical ‘stuff.’

In relationships as in games, not everyone knows how to play; not everyone is willing to keep the rules. Consequently, it is well to choose partners in relationships wisely. But it is vital to remember as well that whatever the skill level and the willingness to “play by the rules,” in relationships no one is immune from the potential injury that lies inherent in the nature of life itself.

Thinking with you today that in our culture thousands of people can identify an “off sides” in football but who do not realize that a “rule book” for relationships even exists.

What are the rules in your rule book for relationships?

See you next week.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hello Gay's Friends,

This is Lori writing for Gay while she is in Kansas with Beth. I've been pondering since last week what I might have to say that would be true, helpful, and remotely interesting about my experience in relationships that injure. Much more, I've been very concerned about the integrity of both the people whom I have injured as well as those who have been hurtful to me. While Miss Annie provides compelling stories and such vivid examples of relational topics, she is safe from injured feelings. Although she is quite brilliant, reading is a skill she has not acquired to date.

I'd like to preface that I am fully aware that I have been and will be--to my dismay-- the perpetrator of injury in relationship. I have at times injured with full intention to hurt and harm. I take no pride in admitting this. There are other times when I wasn't even aware that I was causing pain to another person. There were also those times when I knew my behavior hurt another person, I just didn't know how to not behave in that particular way. There have been relationships where the tap root of the connection was based on mutually poor relational skills with one another. 

I'm feeling quite vulnerable writing because I have said aloud multiple times lately, "I'm FINALLY in first grade in relationship school!" If you consider yourself in college or graduate school, feel free to ignore me or be excited that there are grown-ups in the world who take seriously the business of learning and loving.

Before I could even begin to understand the dynamics of the important relationships in my life, I had to learn two things: 
1. Boundaries.
2. What made me who and what I was. I needed to understand my history so that I could make informed, deliberate decisions to do life in different ways.

When Gay Hubbard mentioned the idea of a boundary to me in 1990, I had a school book knowledge of what that meant. I knew boundaries in a professional social work context. I didn't know that a boundary was something I should apply to my life. I wish I could report that some 22 years later, I'm an expert in explaining and applying healthy boundaries. I've grown from infancy to, as mentioned before, first grade. When rested and intentional I can understand the significance of setting a boundary by saying no. I can even accept the consequences that may result in my saying no. I can let go of what is my responsibility and what is the other person's. 


Catch me when I'm exhausted, or cranky and I might say yes just because it's easier in the short term than setting a boundary. I also know that my healthy boundary can be perceived and felt as intentional harm to another person. That's very, very hard for me to accept. It's even harder for me to accept that some of my boundaries will permanently change a relationship. Some relationships cannot survive healthy boundaries. 

I'm still learning. Sometimes, I'm still "learnin' the hard way", as my Memo often says. 

Learning about boundaries while trying to understand my own wounded-ness was a powerful combination. I began understanding why I am drawn to certain kinds of people. In turn, I could see why they were attracted to me. I learned that there are other options of relating than the ones modeled for me, intentionally or by proxy, in my family of origin. Over time I have found that I am far more gracious and willing to be merciful when I realize that so many that I love are ignorant of their own internal history and how it impacts their relationship with me. This knowledge also informs how deeply I am involved with those people. I learned from Gay that not everyone is helpful in the journey. Her voice resonates, "Choose wisely."

I am so grateful that Gay has chosen to invest in my life. It's my heart's desire to shower her with the fruit my life produces based on her work with a seedling. I may be a young tree; but, through her investment in teaching and training me, I am beginning to see stability and grounded-ness that will, I hope produce fruit.

Gay will be back next week. Thanks for reading the scribbles of a first grader. ~lori

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Miss Annie and the string

October 6, 2012

Dear friends,

This week my “golden string” did not appear to be anything at all like a golden string. In fact, an event in the life I share with Miss Annie made the string idea of William Stafford and William Blake appear totally irrelevant to daily living, and no fit subject for a blog. The end turned out differently than the beginning, however, which was a good thing.

The event that initially produced such a poor substitute for a golden string was NOT poetic in any form. It resulted from an activity in Miss Annie’s hidden life that, once revealed, left me in a fully developed stage of aggravation rather than a state of contemplation. Further, it left me strongly inclined to initiate a stern conversation with Miss Annie as soon as I could find her, and to restrict her access to the treat jar for two whole days. This is what occurred.

One day while cleaning I discovered that when safely out of my sight and hearing Miss Annie has entertained herself by converting a corner of the sofa in the study into a heavily used scratching post. The sofa, poor thing, has suffered damage that cannot be repaired. It must live out its remaining life carrying its Annie-induced scars. Given this event, what would you predict about the on-going relationship between Miss Annie and me?

Knowing that I have warm affection for this cat that through no choice of her own has come to live with me, some of you may suppose that I will say, “Oh, Miss Annie, it’s only a sofa and this damage doesn’t matter.” There is some truth in that—and I do understand that eternal issues do not hinge around damage to upholstery.

However, others of you who know another side of me may say, “Miss Annie, loved or not, you’ve stepped over the line. You are in big trouble.” And there is truth in that as well: it is not in my nature or thinking to regard Annie’s destructive behavior casually or to ignore it.

Still others of you, those who understand my belief that the test of our theology lies in the everyday events of living, are certain to raise an awkward question: “What do you think you [Gay] need to think about? Granted that flower blubs are more pleasant, suppose that Miss Annie’s destructive behavior is the end of a string (golden or not). Where do you think it leads?”

It leads, of course, to the difficult question of injury in relationships, and to the options that we have in response.

What do you believe are the possible options open to you in response to injury? The desirable responses for you?

You have a bit of time to think about these questions since I will not be back with you until October 21. However, Lori will be with you next week, and I hope will share with you from the experience and wisdom she has gained in living through relationships that injure.

Despite our realistic knowledge of this bent and broken world we often dream of relationships in which love makes pain impossible. Thinking with you that it is difficult to develop skills for handling injury while dreaming of relationships in which injury cannot happen.

You will see Lori next week. I'll see you October 21.