Story Wonders: Why Turning the Other Cheek Doesn’t Mean Rolling Over and How It is So Freaking Hard

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Many years before crows feet landed under my eyes, I read a book about forgiveness.

I had long thought that forgiveness meant you just sucked it up, whatever someone did to you and then tried to move on. Over time, this became unsustainable. I could not keep walking away, biting my tongue, or taking the hits. My feet hurt, my tongue bled, and my arms bruised from the practice.

Then I found this book.

(I can’t find it now. I’m sure I gave it to someone, and I think it was my father, who worked so hard to let things go and not be angry.

A few minutes of scanning Amazon and the wide web did not find it. I’ll be sure to post it if I ever do come across it.)

The book said things that made me question what I thought I knew about Christianity.

It explained that turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and giving up your cloak–all things Jesus insisted we do–actually were forms of non-violent resistance.

If you turned the other cheek, for example, the Roman soldier hitting you would either have to punch you like an equal or give up slapping you as an inferior.

In other words, Jesus did not advise that we roll over and become doormats.

He did not advise that we turn away from injustice or the pain. Martin Luther King, Jr. also wrote of this third respond to violence-not returning the cruelty or passively accepting it but defying it in a way that values everyone involved.

At first I was sure my new understanding of turning my cheek was fabulous. Then I discovered how terrifying it is to creatively and compassionately stand up for what I believe is right while giving the other the chance to change.

It’s hardest, I discovered, when I want to protect my son or another loved one.

Last week, I listened to Rob Bell revisit these ideas about Jesus’ often misunderstood advice. Bell gives a much fuller picture of the historical context if you are thirsty for more.

And so I’m looking for more ways to do this and, because it works best, I am starting small.

How, for example, can I creatively address aggressive behavior in traffic?

How can I talk to people who disagree with me politically without shutting them down or withdrawing into my comfortable shell surrounded by people who only ever agree with me? (Okay. This is not small. Perhaps I’d better start with my son’s meltdowns over his brother’s teasing instead.)

When I am honest, doormat is my default. I’m grateful Martin Luther King pulls me up off the floor and chastises me for this, telling me that is only allowing violence to continue.

And so I keep at it in my small way, one act at a time, trusting that I’ll get better with wholehearted practice.

Do wish me luck, grace, peace, and all that jazz. I’ll need it.

Update! Beth the librarian extraordinaire found the book. She added ‘Jesus comics’ to the keywords. What didn’t I think of that? Here it is!

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Story Wonders: A Story Blogging Excuse

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Below you will find what I posted on my Facebook page about the crazy writing time I had yesterday. This is my excuse for not blogging on my usual day. I have ideas for next week brewing but that’s about it.

Had the story ready in November.
Contest date was all the way in March.
I’ll hold off, I decided. Hold off until they announce the judge so I can address the cover letter.
Today, I think, “Wait a second! This is March! I’d better check the deadline!”
When is the deadline? Today! March 8th is the deadline. (And that was extended from the original March 1st, lucky dog that I am.)
Yes, I got it put together.
Yes, I submitted it.
Yes, I wonder why on this planet full of passions, I happen to have this need to write.
I wonder this often with my stiff back, my tired head, and my cursor’s spinning wheels of doom that come at the most inconvenient times.
And then I just feel glad. Glad I get to do it. Glad my son will rub my shoulders and tell me it’s going to be okay.
Glad I wrote the story in November, even, so I could put off submitting it until now.

Here are some photos from the Nihonjin Face play that I couldn’t fit into Japantown last week.

And here’s a Neil Gaiman quote for good measure.

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As usual, I have more to say than I thought.

Have a wonderful week!

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Wednesday Wonders on Friday: Hamburg and the Historic American Election

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In the early 1990s, I traveled to Germany and became desperately homesick. I had decided I wanted to really learn German and went on a work visa to Hamburg, far away from the American military bases. I lived with a German friend in her apartment and found a job serving banquets in a nearby hotel. My German improved quickly because I had dropped myself into the deep end of the language swimming pool.

I was miserable. 

I was the kind of homesick where I would go to McDonald’s (which I do not like) and sip cups of coffee because McDonald’s felt a little like home.

I was the kind of homesick where I went for long walks and searched for the American Cultural Center or a German class on the seedy immigrant side of the city or anything to distract me from my loneliness. Eventually, I got a job teaching English, so I had two part time jobs, but they didn’t keep me occupied enough.

I slept 12 hours a day and cried whenever I called my mother or wrote long letters home.

(This was before the Internet world. Going abroad created a distance that I struggle to imagine now.)

I was the kind of homesick that bordered on depression.

One day, as I walked around the Binnenalster, a small lake in the older part of Hamburg, I came across Benetton. Wandering inside the clothing store, I overheard an American speaking to a customer. This woman, I thought, was even better than McDonald’s! I felt crazy introducing myself to Jamie, the American Benneton saleswoman. But I did it, and we became friends.

Sometimes, I learned, when you live overseas, you make friends out of this kind of desperation and you put up with each other because you have no one else to connect with from your homeland. Hanging out gives you a shadow of what you need in companionship. Both of you know if you were at home you would never make friends with one another. It’s a relationship born of limited options.

Jamie was not this kind of friend. Jamie and I spent hours talking, walking, and rowing on the canals that weave in and around the northern German city. We talked of what it was like to live so far from home, of her Italian boss who refused to speak German, of the negative comments she overheard Germans say about Jews and how that felt to her as a Jewish woman. We drank coffee American style–by the potful instead of in small teacups. I told her of my crushing loneliness, and she understood.

For a few hours, I felt the homesickness slip away and the dark fog around my mind lift. I loved every minute of that time with her.

Then she had to go to work, or I had to go back home.

After my time with a good friend, my isolation intensified to a level I could no longer bear. It was as if I got a glimpse through a curtain into a happier life. That glimpse made it impossible to return to my sad existence.

At times, I even regretted meeting Jamie.

I had planned to stay in Germany for at least a year. I left after three months.

I write now about Germany and Jamie because I have struggled this week to name my feeling about coming so close to having a woman for president–to have her win the popular vote but not the electoral vote that matters. Many of the people I work with are happy about this outcome, and it is often all I can do not to cry. (That would be weak and womanly, I know. So, at the risk of becoming wooden, I don’t.)

When I was young, people told me that a woman could be president. That things had changed. I believed them. Geraldine Ferraro become a vice presidential nominee, after all. (I began to suspect something was up when everyone made a big deal out of that.)

Over the years, I gradually saw how impossible it would be for a woman to reach that level of leadership in this country. I saw how women struggled to lead even locally. I put the idea of presidency out of my mind and went on with my life, like you do.

For a few months this year, I let myself believe that things could change. That a woman could lead our nation. I researched and soul-searched to be sure I felt she was qualified and a person of integrity before I moved to her side. I know others disagree with me on this. Some of those others are people I respect, but I believed in her abilities.

Last Tuesday night, I knew the woman candidate would not step into the oval office. I knew that a man who repeatedly and without apology disrespects women will instead have that honor.

It is as though I just came back to the empty apartment after two hours of talking to Jamie. It’s worse than never hoping at all. Infinitely worse.

In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton told the young girls not to give up hope, and I don’t want them to, either.

But right now, I wish I could call my mother and have her wire me the money for a plane ticket, so I could spend the summer hiking with my dad around Mt. Rainier.

May you find your own home again-

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Wednesday Wonders on a Friday:The Guts of Grief

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Warning: My dog died. Read on at your own risk.

Last weekend we had to say goodbye to our sweet Cosmo. It’s a sad story with a sad ending that I don’t feel like telling on the Interwebs. In fact, I’m late posting this week because I don’t feel like telling that story, but it’s the one story taking up space in my mind.

I finally came to a few thoughts on grief I do feel like sharing. These are things I’ve noticed after losing 6 dogs since I moved away from my parent’s home. (Six!! My heaven will look like a tail-wagging pack.) I’ve also lived long enough to lose a few humans.

My Observations

In the beginning, I always forget they are gone for tiny moments and then remember with a slap. 

I once read that this feels like climbing the stairs and expecting another step when there isn’t one. The moment of falling into space when I thought something was under me comes closest to that moment when I remember my dog won’t bark to greet me when I get home.

 

I always think about the lasts and the firsts.

I think about how this last summer went by without me knowing it was his last summer. I think about the last bath he endured. I think about the last night he woke me up to reposition himself on the blankets at the foot of my bed.

I think about how my mother-in-law first found him shivering on her front porch on a below-zero February day and how I went out to help my husband take him to the shelter.

I think about looking at those brown eyes that first day and deciding we should help him get over his kennel cough before taking him in. And then how we could never take him into an animal shelter after that.

I always think of the others I have lost.

New grief pulls up memories of other losses. Losing Cosmo reminds me of the other five dogs, of the people I still miss, of the cats who have come and gone. (I know Cosmo would not like me to think about cats, so I left that for the last.)

I always miss the things that annoyed me most.

I miss having to keep the baby gates in front of the bathrooms, so he wouldn’t raid the cat boxes. I miss having to step over him in the middle of the night. I miss seeing him beg at the edge of the kitchen when I make the lunches.

And the other day I was practicing ridiculously high notes on my clarinet. I worked myself up to the G above the staff and then felt hollow inside when Cosmo didn’t howl about it.

I always feel guilty after they go.

Whenever I am grieving, I think of all the walks I should have taken. I think of the times I didn’t stop to notice Cosmo or pet his head. I think of how busy I got and how I snapped at him when he got under foot while I tried to get out the door.

I even regret getting the cats who stressed him out. If I had known he was so close to the end, I would have waited, I tell myself, so he wouldn’t have had the aggravation.

Now when I hear others tell me of their own regrets, I’ve started telling people it’s normal to feel guilty. I miss the one I lost. And I am only human. No matter how much I love someone or some dog, I cannot take all those walks or avoid all irritation.

When I lose my dog, I’ve discovered, it’s normal to see what I did wrong. I still wish I could go back and fix it, but it soothes me to know this ache is a part of missing someone.

And that’s all I have for today. For now, I sit here this morning with a calico cat on my lap ready to love those I’ve got the best I can.

May you make your own way through the guts of grief when it comes your way-

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Wednesday Wonders: How a Retreat Can Help (I Hope)

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Winter

I am hovering on the edge of doing anything writerly lately. I look at the work I need to do, lift my pen, scribble a few words, and then put the pen back down.

The keyboard isn’t much better. I’ll open programs, stare at a screen, and then wander away to vacuum. Or worse. I’ll click on the Facebook time warp and come up for air thirty minutes later, thinking it must now be time to go to the day job.

Today I had an even better excuse for not getting this blog post started: my internet was on the blink. I fussed for a good half hour with network connections before waking the teen and getting some help.

Instead of all this frittering away, I need to finish character sheets, follow plot lines, and most of all move forward. Somehow.

In an attempt to pull myself out of the funk, this Friday I am going to the Weekend on the Water through the the Western Washington chapter of SCBWI.

I hope the writers and editors there will inspire me and shake the muse back awake. At the same time, that little voice in my head is telling me how many other more motivated people will be there. (If I had the energy, I’d give that little voice what for. But I don’t.)

I can’t even decide if I should drag along the laptop or disconnect for a few days.

So it goes. Sometimes ennui is a wonder all by itself. 

May you find more pizzaz than I have this Wednesday-

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Wednesday Wonders: What Would You Say to the Past of Yesterday and Today?

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I’ve struggled with what to write this week. Much has happened.

A double funeral with dear friends who lost a mother and a father in two days.

The kindness of neighbors who could have hurt us but didn’t.

Neither of these are my stories to tell, though. So I won’t.

I did see something that grabbed my eye from another friend on Facebook, however.

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I posted these words:

Stay in Germany longer. 

I wish I had.

But then I had another thought. I even braved the process of making a meme to put it together here.

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I saw many post things to their 17-year-old selves that imagine I might later say to my today self.

Listen to yourself always. 

Know who you are.

Shut up and listen.

Be kind to yourself.

Do less, love more.

It will be okay.

Chill the (heck) out.

I think I might say all of this to myself. I might also say:

Keep writing. It matters.

At least I hope I’ll say that.

Wherever you are in the world,  I’d love to know what you would say to your 17-year-old self. (Especially you in Brazil. I see you on my stats page and have always wondered how you found me in the wide web.)

I’d also love to know what you think your future wisdom for yourself might be.

May you know love past, present, and future-

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Wednesday Wonders: Door of Doom Update

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This will be a short post. The door is done! Done! (I ache to replace the hardware with silver but have no more oomph for that sort of insanity.)

For now, I’m back to my usual groove of teaching and writing. A new quarter begins this Monday and I am gearing up for a poetry workshop followed by my favorite retreat of the year.

The home improvement stores can rest easy once more.

From the blasted start to the blessed finish: