Archive for October, 2017

Caring for Myself: A Short Memoir

October 17, 2017

Yes, there are times in all our lives when stress or fear or despair or injury can send us into a downward spiral. Something like that happened to me when I awakened the morning after the last presidential election.

I was in shock. “How could our country have chosen as president the type of person—as evidenced by his words and his actions—that it chose?” I couldn’t fathom it had actually happened. I felt almost traumatized.

After the first few hours of gathering the news, I stopped gathering the news. I stopped tuning in to radio and TV reports. I avoided relevant articles on the internet. I went into retreat. I didn’t announce I was doing this. I couldn’t quite explain my actions. I just knew that I needed to care for myself. I needed solace and quiet. I needed to be free of all the noise. I needed to take refuge, to find a sanctuary for myself away from all that was swirling around me.

How was I to do this? The answer came quickly: I would return to a favorite creative outlet—the design and creation of stained glass panels that hang in windows. So most evenings after dinner I’d settle into my studio in the lower level of our home. I played quiet music that soothed me. In time I played albums that spoke to my conscience; Peter, Paul, and Mary joined me down there often. Sometimes I simply worked in silence, concentrating on what I was doing with my hands.

I came up with designs I had never tried before. I wanted to make my own statements in glass that were a positive, alternative response to the many negative messages that began to emanate from Washington D.C.—divisive words about Muslims, Mexicans, LGBTQ people, women, the powerless and the poor.

Choosing the six bold colors associated with the Pride flag, I created pieces surrounded by white glass and framed in copper that communicated (as I visualized it) a message of “I believe in diversity and inclusivity, in human goodness and possibility.”

This is what I wrote to accompany these pieces:

Where others seek to build walls—

     walls related to nationality, race, religion, gender—

         I seek to make bridges.

Where others sow suspicion, even hate,

     I reach out in search of common bonds and shared hopes.

When others resort easily to fear,

     I turn intentionally toward love.

When others push away the different, the unfamiliar,

     I choose to celebrate the colors—all the colors.

Will you join with me?

Weeks turned into months. I cut glass and sanded glass and soldered copper foil and sawed copper framing. Twenty stained glass pieces of various shapes and sizes became forty, then sixty, then eighty. I gave some away. Others were sold at a city-wide event with all proceeds going to a progressive non-profit called The Center for Non-Violence. One very large panel, entitled “The Flowering of Pride,” was auctioned at an annual fund-raising event for the LGBTQ community.

In time I began creating panels with a whole different look: these were small landscapes and seascapes, done in such a way that they communicated hope. Bright yellows and oranges marked the bold rays of a morning sunrise over undulating hills or a horizon line of blue water.

As I write this, it’s been eleven months and the pieces keep coming. I go to my sanctuary less often these days but I still go there—I still feel the need to. I’m able to take in more of the news, even if much of it saddens me or angers me. I continue, as I have done all along, to sign petitions and attend rallies and write letters and make donations. I make my voice known in ways other than glass.

I still practice self-care with what I watch and listen to. I still make sure that I have adequate time to make art and to share this art as a part of making my life. I still grieve and I still hope.

My outlet is not for everyone. It may be for very few. But I hope that whenever you find yourself stressed or shaken, feeling bruised or traumatized, you’ll find your own ways to settle into a healing sanctuary, or to channel your positive energies in ways that suit you, or to make time to be with others who support you, or to unleash your own creative self, whatever that means for you.

By taking care of ourselves, we are taking steps toward taking care of the world around us. I could not believe that any more than I do.

A Man Called Ove: A Book I Recommend

October 17, 2017

Swedish author Fredrik Backman has written a wonderful book in A Man Called Ove. I read it as I was preparing to travel to Sweden in June with my wife Bernie. These past two weeks I’ve been reading it again, this time aloud to Bernie, who is learning to deal with macular degeneration and cannot read as easily as she once could. I’m enjoying it the second time around as much as the first, maybe more.

Many readers will be taken with the way Backman develops the character of Ove, using almost no adjectives to describe him. He simply tells little stories about how Ove acts and the things he says. Ove is, simply put, a classic curmudgeon.

The novel unfolds slowly, moving back and forth in time, giving you a glimpse of what he was like at younger ages as well. At every turn the story the author tells is a unique and memorable combination of humor and pathos.

I’m recommending A Man Called Ove here for a different reason, however. In addition to whatever else it does, this book leads the reader to an understanding of grief—particularly a stereotypical masculine style of grieving—that is expertly portrayed. Yet it also lays out, side by side, another style of grieving that is often displayed by the female characters in the book. Fredrick Backman helps us understand the validity of both styles, different as they are.

It would be a shame to give away Ove’s story here, so I won’t. That means that I also cannot give away how he deals with his grief, sometimes without much thought, and sometimes after serious examination.

Experiences of loss visit much of Ove’s life and help make him who he becomes as he ages. And one massive grief later in his life becomes an avenue that leads him—ever so slowly and unexpectedly—toward the possibility of healing.

Read how Ove responds to early losses and you’ll see how patterns develop in his life. Read how he adjusts, or doesn’t adjust, to changing life situations and you may recognize how you and others around you do the same. Read how he attempts to live in a way that honors what he has been taught by his own parents, compared to how he sees his wife live her own life. Read how he daily copes with his massive loss and you’ll see a certain heroism in his ways.

The book has its dark moments—what story about serious loss does not? You may not always like how Ove behaves. Yet I believe you’ll gain an appreciation for this honest, intelligent, validating portrayal of human grief that will in time lift you as well as inform you.

I can’t help but believe that A Man Called Ove will prove in time to be a valuable book for understanding and appreciating the purpose and possibilities of grief, in its many different expressions. Read it and see how your way of grieving is represented by the various characters. Listen to others and see what you can learn from them too.

And then go out and live.

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October 17, 2017

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