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vanitysearch

 

True confession: I vanity search myself. All the time.

What this says about my nature, I’ll leave to my next therapy session. Among other reasons, I Google myself periodically to make sure there’s nothing untoward attached to my good name. Most of the time it is harmless narcissism.

Then, last fall, someone hacked into my professional website. I had to rebuild it from the bottom up.

What was the first clue of this violation? A vanity search, which revealed my site and all its links were going to a free payday loan operation. So, while I’m aware that excessive self-searching is on par with repetitive mirror checking and compulsive stove knob checking (to make sure the burners are off, for the uninitiated), I’m defending the practice.

In all this Googling, I realize I am very findable. If someone were to stalk me, it would be an easy assignment. I wouldn’t think much of this except some of the people I’ve tried to find have no known online presence. Are they technophobes or savvy? It’s always possible their alter-egos rule the online world.

My uncontrollable Googling took a dark turn when I began searching for particular people, including the bad doctor. I hadn’t thought of him in a while. The last time was during my latest ill-fated attempt at therapy. 

And here’s the thing: I Googled him and right away I learned he lived within walking distance of my house.

How do I feel about this?

Like someone tackled me from behind, knocking all the air from my lungs, and when I get up to look in the mirror to check for damage, I see the ignorant, vulnerable and gullible 12-year-old me in the reflection. For a moment. Here’s another thing: I allowed myself to travel through the range of emotions and then I let it pass.

He is an old man now. How harmful could he be?

I am a grown woman now. How vulnerable could I be against an old man?

I did a little more digging. It looks as if he has turned around his life. But, who knows? His outward life appeared fine then, too. Family man. Accomplished in his field. The comforts of the upper middle class. This kind of thing is kept hidden, especially among the well-heeled. But it’s what I want — need — to believe.  That he is reformed.

What I still wonder are these things:

  • Is he aware that what he did to me and others was wrong?
  • Was he drunk/high when he did those things?
  • Did he do those things to his children?
  • Did someone do those things to him?
  • Was this a compulsion that he could not control then and continues to fight daily?

I don’t suppose he wonders how I am. I’m guessing he wipes his brow in relief from time to time that I kept my mouth shut.

Further research on the old boy showed that he has lived in my shadow for all my life. We’ve basically migrated along the same path around this metropolitan area. Coincidence? It has to be. He has made no contact with me since the ’80s.

Maybe he Googles me? and others? It’s something to consider: How much of what is precious to me is accessible to bad people?

While I no longer fear him, I fear his kind. I am a middle-aged woman who still harbors a serious doctor phobia. I delay physicals and ignore health symptoms as long as possible to avoid the clinical environments and naked probings of such places. When I can control the gender choice of doctor, I do. When I am ill enough, I give in.

The important thing here is my children, one still an innocent, the other with one foothold in adulthood but still sheltered from such things. How findable are they on the Internet should some twisted freak conduct a search? How much do they know about what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to other trusted adults in their lives? It is my job to make sure it is clear to them the course to take not only if they suspect something but also to speak up right away.

Even more important: Parents need to act on the courage of their children. Doubt later. Punish a lie later. Act now.

— April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Prevention month 

Paying my dues to the club

If there is a heaven, this is what it would look like for my father.

The day my father died suddenly was the day fate handed me a lifetime membership in The Dead Dads Club. Everything shifted in my world, which had already turned on its axis 18 months earlier with the birth of my first child.

I like to think I grew up that year, that I became a better person as a result of these events.  I like to think once I change for the better, it is a permanent change. Just as all of life is fleeting, so is any state of being. One day I woke up to realize I am riding the same trajectory as my father.

Today, my post is on Mama Mary’s newly launched site, The Dead Dads Club. It is through this longtime endeavor of Mary’s that we met online four years ago. The site is a companion piece to her book, a compilation of essays from other members of the club. It’s  a club we all wish didn’t exist, to which diminishing membership would be a plus. But life is not like that. People come into our lives and they leave. Ours is not to know the when, where, and why, only to know that it is inevitable and we must stumble along the dark path from grief to healing.

Click on over and read for yourself. Thank you.

The one thing

April is Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month. This post is a coming out of sorts for me, so if you’re reading this know I am squirming a little, no, I’m squirming a lot, on the inside. I wrote this as a part of The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse, a monthly online event. Can we prevent child abuse? I don’t know. The one thing I do know is no one should suffer in silence. Talk. Tell. Report. Help. A life depends on it.

——–

A first-grader's interpretation of me

The other day a friend sent me a link to Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s 2006 “This I Believe” essay on NPR. Gilmore writes of his struggle to overcome addiction and find peace. One line snagged that loose thread I always have trailing behind me:

“I basically managed to break my own heart.”

Until I read that line, I don’t think I ever acknowledged that I had done this to myself.

How do you break your own heart? Let me count the ways: Maybe you skip school on field day, where you qualified for three events, including relay; or you burn all your artwork and poetry in the fireplace and not submit it to the school’s creative publication; or fail to show up for your college graduation ceremony; or break up with the first guy who says he loves you; or walk away from honest, kind people and chase after projects and enigmas. You do it out of habit, believing you are diverting attention away from yourself. Really what you are doing is serving yourself before others in the most unloving way possible.

As Gilmore says: “It came as a great shock to discover that my real spiritual problem was not a product of the world’s condition, but of my own self-centeredness.”

Over and over I lost friendships and love interests because I couldn’t get past myself and this unnameable thing inside me. The worst part is I failed to see this. I’m still struggling.

The one thing I know now that I didn’t know then is that this stuff came from somewhere outside myself.  For the longest time I thought it hatched from a dark, unreachable pocket within me, almost like a partly formed twin. It must be so because all I ever heard was: We don’t know where she gets this stuff. Not from us, I’ll tell you that much.

Healing teaches that at some point you need to take responsibility for its long-term residency, no matter the terms of occupancy. You are the landlord. Issue an eviction notice.

Long before this knowledge, these inklings of wisdom, someone knew all about this unnameable thing. She watched. She kept quiet. She wept inside. One day many years later, she sat me down and told me everything (because she was tired of watching me do it all over again to myself) and said she was sorry she watched in silence. She was scared of consequences. She wanted to make up for all those years. So she loved me with all her heart. She put me above herself, the greatest gift anyone can give. I hold that love in a little box inside my heart, all that is left of her.

I am a woman of 47 years, a wife,  a mother, a survivor. I paid my way through college. I made a respectable if not modest place in the world for myself. I am old enough to know better but inside I’m still that skinny, hollow-eyed girl with the bull’s-eye on her back, the one who wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough, or anything enough to capture the attention of anyone with good intentions.

Tina Fey, in “A Mother’s Prayer for her Child,” implores: “May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty …”

Obviously, there is a connection between the unprotected, the damaged, and the predators, who will find that loose thread and pull you in.  It’s so easy to spot the damaged ones, the unprotected ones,  especially girls.  Maybe the kindly grocer didn’t see the mark on my back, but the wicked doctor did. Who would believe anything bad about a doctor  — back then?

I dreamed that when I grew up I would magically transform into a golden, blue-eyed goddess, an iridescent rain forest butterfly. I’d rise above.

You should be a writer, they said, you have such a wild imagination.

What was the truth? Where was the line between fact and face-saving fiction? Who knew anymore.

Year after year, sitting in one hard plastic chair after another, in one institutional counseling office after another, a middle-aged woman with red half-moon glasses or a balding man with the beginnings of a paunch and an IBM pocket protector, would lean in closer as if to count my blackheads, asking again and again:  “What is bothering you? Why are you fighting the world?” They’d ask, but I had no idea what to say. Were there words for such things? If so, did you say them out loud? I wasn’t fighting. I was hiding. I wanted to be let alone, ignored.  But this not knowing, this dark thing within, churned until it shaped a cold stone. It’s taken decades to chip away. It left a deep impression, one that cannot be smoothed away.  Sometimes I cannot resist the urge to run my fingers over its rough terrain.

Others taught me how to break my heart. Long after they were gone, I continued swinging the bat. At some point, I set down the bat and accepted the offer of healing balm. Books saved me. Writing saved me. Words in books opened a world of possibilities. If I couldn’t transform on the outside, I could decorate my insides any way I wanted. I could hatch a forest of butterflies within.

Every day, I continue to do so. Three years ago, I answered a call for help issued by the troubled local public school system. They needed volunteers for their literacy tutoring program. It hasn’t been easy. The conditions, the children, the system is a mess. The teachers are stretched to their breaking points. In spite of the obstacles, I keep at it.

Today,  I feel I have found my calling: I want to teach children how to read. Reading is power. Reading is hope. I don’t know what I’ll do, where I’ll end up, but I do know that reaching out to children in need feels right, the right-est anything has ever felt.

Week after week, building a bridge of trust, forging a bond, no matter how tenuous, you realize how vulnerable children are, how much power adults wield, how carefully you must tread. It’s dizzying how much trust children place in adults when they have no way of knowing what intentions lie within.

In his essay, Gilmore says:

“I finally discovered the beautiful, paradoxical truth that genuine concern for the welfare of others is the gateway to the only real satisfaction for myself. I cannot claim to consistently live up to this ideal, but it is with genuine gratitude that I can say I have come to believe the words of the Indian philosopher-poet Shantideva:

All the joy the world contains
Has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery in the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.”

Reading helps.
Writing helps.
Letting go of the self altogether helps most of all.

 

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Word

My night stand is like a cheap motel. Books of all sizes and backgrounds take up short-term residency. We have our thing. Edges curl under the weight of words. Spines twist and crack. Minds expand. Then, it’s over.

One book, on a long-term lease, sits quietly to the left. It’s plain, unassuming and solid. Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart is a safe place, a treasure chest, a beacon of light.

It gives me this quote:

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”

For one year, those words gave me the strength to go on.

Here are two more quotes by Chodron:

“People get into a heavy-duty sin and guilt trip, feeling that if things are going wrong, that means that they did something bad and they are being punished.

That’s not the idea at all.

The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To the degree that you didn’t understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you’re given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to open further.”

 ________________

“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched.

It is both.

Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction.

On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple.

Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”

____________

Eden asked.

I answered.

Open mic at a party. What words would you share?

Edenland's Fresh Horses Brigade

The best remedy

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.

–Frank Lloyd Wright

buds

red maple buds

 

sign

urban nature preserve

path

following the path

beetle tracks

vernalpoind

vernal pond

 

 

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.

–Anne Frank

 

sit

happy to be outside

Tear jerker with happy ending

Like most of us, I read a variety of blogs. Some I read for the pure beauty of the prose — even if I don’t have anything in common with the writer. Some are so well designed you just have to come in and spend some time admiring the wallpaper and furnishings.

Others always guarantee a good laugh to chase the blues. And then there are those you stumble upon quite by accident. What you see stays with you for quite some time. This is what happened when I found this family’s blog.

At first glance, it looks like a typical family blog with pictures of cute kids and trips to apple orchards. But this is a family blog with a message. You can read their message online or maybe you caught this morning on NBC’s Today Show. It’s available here if you missed it.

This blog brought tears to my eyes for many reasons. Obviously I have a place in my heart for China adoption since I am part of the community. I firmly belive that the China Center for Adoption Affairs works magic when it matches babies in need of homes with waiting families.

The other half of this family’s story is an unknown to me. It is every parents’ worst nightmare. I have no idea what they must have endured to get to where they are today. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I wish no other family would ever have to know such a thing.

I’ll stop here. As much as I’d like to, it’s not my place to tell this family’s story. My take away: there really is healing after sorrow, hope after despair, and that no one ever should drink and drive.

Oh, and don’t forget to hug your babies.