Caring for Myself: A Short Memoir

by

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.

8 Responses to “Caring for Myself: A Short Memoir”

  1. sugistewart Says:

    yes, there remains pain and upheaval and negativity out there…..too much actually emanating through the media. You found your own way to escape. I attempt to as well through prayer. Your art says so very much – inspirational . God bless

  2. Joan Hummel Says:

    So incredibly wonderful that you found not just a creative outlet but one that reflects beauty with such resonance about inclusion, tolerance and acceptance in light of what our country has had to contend with from the executive branch, with spillover from the legislative one and potential terrifying repercussions from the judicial branch. I honor the way your self-care has had such loving impacts by producing works of hope and inspiration! Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Zak Zaklad Says:

    Hi Jim. it was more than 20 years ago that we met in Celo, NC. Like you, i was blown away by the recent election, and my first reaction was like yours, to cut down on my listening to the news.

    In January, 2017, i received another shock. i was fired from my job as therapist for low-income people living with AIDS. i loved this work which i had done for over a decade.

    I realized that to take care of myself, i had to find new ways to make a difference in people’s lives. So i have reinvented myself professionally in the past 6 months. i’m running a tai chi school with free classes for 50 students, leading therapy groups for domestic abusers, and helping seniors deal with opioid/alcohol dependence. It’s my art, my way of “adding harmony to the universe”.

    Thanks for the inspiration, my friend.

  4. Lois K. Jones Says:

    Where can I purchase one of these stained glass art works?

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