I am writing this on a Saturday that is the punctuation mark on what is perhaps the longest week of my life.
The Covid-19 pandemic has elicited some of the same raw emotions as September 11, 2001. Only instead of witnessing the amount of damage human beings can intentionally do to each other in a matter of hours, this week felt like watching a failed rescue attempt in slow motion. I can see a person standing on railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train. That person is not only oblivious to the danger, but he’s inviting all of his friends to join him. And that scenario repeats itself over and over again.
Because I work at a social service agency, this wasn’t a week of self isolation or working from home. I oversee four offices that provide a variety of programs, including two food pantries. So this was a week of making plans, then changing plans then making new plans. It was a week of worrying about keeping staff safe, and clients safe and volunteers safe. It was a week of witnessing leadership failure and self-serving decision making. It was a week of hearing fear in the voice of a learning-disabled client with autism who had been living in his car when he first arrived at our office. He had finally been able to get his own apartment by working two jobs at two restaurants as a dishwasher. And this week he lost both of those jobs.
All of that was weighing heavily on my mind when I took my energetic puppy Jasper to a local park for a long walk in the woods on Thursday evening. The temperature was unseasonably warm, so a lot of people were taking advantage of one of the few recreational venues still available to us. Several fathers and sons were fishing. Athletes were running around the parameter of the park. Families were walking their dogs. And several people were standing still just listening to the spring peepers.
The tiny frogs were raising their voices to welcome the evening and provide me with a reminder that no matter what is happening in the world, we can always find beauty, peace and comfort among the chaos.
Amid the challenges of this week, family and friends reached out via phone calls not just text messages. Volunteers went beyond the call of duty to make sure our clients received the help they need. My amazing co-workers never complained about the increasing demands on them. When life gets scary, there are always kind people to help navigate it.
The sky was almost dark as Jasper and I finished our walk. As the last person in the park, I stopped for one last time at the edge of the pond. I took out my phone and did my best to capture a short video of the moment. The ducks called to each other as the peepers raised their voices in a joyous chorus.
“It’s okay,” they chimed. “It’s okay.
Most people would have thought that the contents of the cardboard box weren’t worth anything.
But I knew better. The box was actually a treasure chest full of hopes and dreams. It was a haunted place full of memories and ghosts. And most of all, it was a reference guide for my family history.
The box was the last of my inheritance from my grandparents. As the unofficial family historian, I’d already been given many of their photo albums, framed photos and scrapbooks. But the box wasn’t organized. It was a jumble of pieces of paper, dance cards, newspaper clippings, marriage certificates, medical records, death certificates, and even some property deeds.
It had sat for years in the corner of my bedroom gathering dust while I told myself that someday I would get to it.
That someday arrived on a rainy Saturday afternoon when I was feeling a bit down and questioning my role and place in the universe. To occupy my mind, I dragged the box out of the corner and began looking through the contents.
There were pages from an old address book with names and birth dates in my grandmother’s spindly handwriting. My grandmother was left-handed and had been raised to believe that being left-handed was deviant. Her teachers had forced her to learn to write with her right hand. Up until her death, she always wrote with her right hand even though she favored her left to do other tasks. As I turned over page after page with that handwriting, I reflected on how my two left-handed children have complained about being raised in a world designed for right-handed people. Yet no teacher ever made them use their non-dominant hand to write. I also wondered if being left-handed is a gene and if they had inherited it from their grandmother.
As I continued riffling through the contents of the box, I picked up a piece of graph paper with my grandfather’s precise printing. He was never diagnosed, but everyone in the family agrees that he suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder. One of his greatest obsessions was whether he would live longer than the other members of his family. On the paper, he had listed the names of his parents and each of his siblings along with their date of birth, date of death, and how old they were when they died. Next to my grandfather’s name, someone had penciled in “86.” For the record, my grandfather died only a few days short of his ninetieth birthday
Other random items in the box included a napkin from my great-grandparents fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1952, pages that had been ripped from an old family Bible, my grandfather’s retirement letter, my great-grandfather’s last will and testament and the deed to a family farm purchased in 1839. All of them pieces of my family history.
Near the bottom of the box I found the program from my grandmother’s 1932 college graduation during the Great Depression. My grandmother didn’t come from wealth. She had been raised on a farm and had worked her way through college. She met my grandfather there, and after they got married, she never had paid employment. I’ve asked my mother more than once why Grandma worked so hard to get a college degree but never used it. My mom always had the same response, “It was important to her, and getting a college degree isn’t just about getting a job. A job isn’t the only way you can use your education. Your grandmother used hers throughout her life.”
As I had emptied the box, I realized that, despite my life long interest in history, it was never the actual events that interested me. I was fascinated by the people who were part of those events.
My family will never be in any history books. In the eyes of others, they were just ordinary people with ordinary problems living their ordinary lives.
But to me? The world wouldn’t be the same without them. They are threads in the same tapestry of life that I and my children are now helping weave.
And that, just like the contents of the box, is priceless.
Every time I think I’ve dealt with the most difficult person I’ve ever met, God laughs. And then another difficult person enters my life.
And every time I’ve struggled with the chaos and hurt that person leaves in his or her wake, I tell myself the same thing: “I’m supposed to learn or gain something from this situation. One day, I will look back and tell myself, ‘Oh that’s why that happened.'”
And up until now, I’ve been right.
But recently, I’ve had a hard time believing myself and in myself. This time, I’m fairly confident that even God isn’t laughing,
You see, I’m dealing with the most narcissistic and manipulative person I have ever met. And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump (who I’ve never actually met anyway). However, I still respond when people ask if dealing with this person is like dealing with Donald Trump.
My response is, “it’s worse.”
That’s because most people recognize that Donald Trump is a narcissist. Those who support him obviously don’t care, but at least they recognize who and what he is.
Not so for the individual that I’m currently forced to deal with. In fact, this person is so good at manipulation that I was almost a victim of their false charm and gaslighting.
A part of me wishes I had been.
If so, I wouldn’t be so angry and frustrated, I’ve wasted too much time dealing with the narcissist’s efforts to manipulate. I’ve wasted too much energy being flabbergasted that people in positions to stop the path of destruction actually believe the narcissist instead of those who are complaining. And I’ve lost too much sleep searching the internet for ways to deal with a narcissist.
Unfortunately, all I really learned is that calling out a narcissist only makes the situation worse.
I didn’t have to Google that nugget of information. I learned it the hard way.
That which brings me back to what I’ve always told myself, “Eventually, you will look back on this situation and recognize how much you learned and why you needed to learn it.”
In the meantime, I have to find humor in how ridiculous the situation continues to be and to find solace in the fact that I have a great support system. Just the other day my husband sent me a text message reminding me to channel my inner Stuart Smalley. “You are good enough. Your are smart enough. And doggone it people like you.”
He only forgot one thing, but it didn’t come from the mouth of Stuart Smalley. Instead, it’s from that great philosopher anonymous.
“I’m thankful for all those difficult people in my life. They have shown me exactly who I don’t want to be.”
For the past few month’s, I’ve been feeling like Horton the Elephant in Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book Horton Hears a Who.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, the Whos live on a speck of dust that is floating through the air, which means their entire civilization is at risk of being destroyed.
Because Horton has such big ears, he is the only jungle animal that can hear the Whos. Initially, he saves their community by putting the speck of dust on a clover so he can carry and protect it. His efforts are undermined and ridiculed by the other jungle animals, who try to destroy the clover. Horton rightly believes the only way he can save the Whos is by ensuring their voices are heard by the other jungle animals.
Nothing works until Jo Jo, the tiniest Who of all, joins the effort.
I may not be carrying around a clover, but I am carrying around a lot of concerns. I’m worried that something I’ve cared for and nurtured is going to be destroyed, and the people who could truly protect “my speck’ won’t listen.
Fortunately, unlike Horton who felt all alone in his efforts to protect his clover, I know I’m not alone. Many of us carry clovers. And, like Horton, we persevere because we have to. We are responsible for those who have less power.
Dr. Seuss understood this and passed the message on through his books. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood it and passed the message on through his speeches.
And they both understood that no voice is ever too small.
Jo Jo had a tiny voice that made all the difference to the survival of the Whos. Members of the Civil Rights movement were the voices that changed the world. And all of us can be a voice for someone who needs our support.
Be a Horton. Or be a Jo Jo. Or be both. But most importantly, be someone who does what you can to make the world a better place for others.
I was a bit irritated when I walked into the retail establishment and saw both clerks were already helping other people. I had specifically planned to be at the store when it opened so I wouldn’t have to wait in line. A couple of uncooperative traffic lights had disrupted my plans, and now I was stuck waiting.
The assistance I needed was simple and could have been quickly addressed, but the guy ahead of me was in no hurry. Instead, he seemed oblivious to anything but the long list of complaints he was making known to everyone in the store.
Being forced to listen to him was making me even more irritated,
And so while I waited, I judged him.
I judged him to be an uneducated, racist, redneck. I also guessed that he was about my age, which is why his anti-technology rant was so intolerable.
He was in the store to pay a bill and was complaining about the late fee. His bill had been due on Christmas, and he told the clerk that he couldn’t pay it because the store was closed. The woman politely told him that didn’t have to pay the bill on the day it’s due but could pay it in advance. He ignored her statement and told her that his previously bill was due on a Sunday, and he couldn’t pay it because the store was also closed. The salesperson politely told him the store IS open on Sundays. She also noted that he could pay his bill online.
And that’s when the anti-technology rant began. The man used his limited vocabulary to explain that the one time he tried to pay a bill online, the bank had taken the same amount of money out of his account every month. When he called to complain, he had to talk to someone who couldn’t speak English very well.
“I’m an American, he said. “I speak American. If people are going to work in this country, they need to speak American too.
That’s when the clerk surprised me. “My husband is from another country. He’s working to learn English, but it’s been hard.”
She said it nicely without any note of condemnation or disagreement with the customer. She was just stating a fact, and, surprisingly the man said little else. He didn’t apologize, but his rant stopped. He paid his bill with cash and left mumbling to himself.
“Wow,” I told the clerk, “that was amazing. You have so much patience.”
“I have to. I work retail,” she said. “I have to forgive people because I can’t go through my day angry.”
“I’m still impressed,” I said. “Especially since he was so angry about people from other countries. Where is your husband from?”
“Honduras. He’s been here nine years, and he still struggles with the language.”
“Honduras,” I repeated. “Wow, I bet he came here for a good reason.”
“The cartel took over his family farm,” she said. “We are still trying to get the rest of his family up here but we aren’t having much luck.”
I chose not to engage her in a conversation about the current immigration system or political environment. Instead, she asked me what I needed, and, as expected, I was soon out the door.
But the encounter stayed with me for much of the day. I was angry at the man but impressed with the clerk. I envied her ability to remain unruffled and almost kind to such an ignorant fool.
Only that night, when thoughts about the day raced through my mind as I was trying to fall asleep, did I recognize what a hypocrite I was.
My job is to advocate for people who struggle.
My job is educate the public about how stress, and adverse experiences, and lack of early childhood education can have a lifelong impact.
My job is to work with people who have few resources and little exposure to other cultures or countries.
My job is to help people just like that man.
For all I knew, the man was illiterate or have a learning disability. He might have grown up in an abusive, hate-filled environment. He might live where there is no access to technology because of geography or finances. He might have emptied his bank account to pay that bill.
Standing in that store wearing my middle-class, well-educated, self-righteous attitude, I had judged him based on nothing but how he was behaving in what was probably a very stressful situation for him.
I did exactly what I am always complaining other people do: I made judgments based solely on my personal perspective and experiences.
I could have spent a sleepless night worrying about my hypocrisy, but I didn’t.
Instead, I took to heart the words the clerk had uttered that day: I have to forgive people because I can’t go through my day angry.
She was right. What she didn’t say was that sometimes the person we have to forgive is ourselves.
And that’s exactly what I did.
Last week, two of my high school classmates passed away in completely unrelated circumstances. I was never more than an acquaintance of either woman, but their deaths affected me deeply.
They made me think about my own mortality.
Even though I’ve been known to say “I’m so old,” I really don’t feel old. In fact, on most days I forget that I’m even an adult. My friends and colleagues can certainly testify that I frequently forget to act like an adult.
But when two people from my graduating class died within days? That not only made me question what I’ve actually done with my life, it also made me reflect on everything I still want to do. In all honesty, it made me wonder about my legacy.
Amid those thoughts, I considered how much I’ve changed since high school, how much I haven’t changed, and all of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. And I realized that aging shouldn’t be measured by the crow’s feet around my eyes or the laugh lines around my mouth. Instead, it should be measured by all the nuggets of truth I’ve picked up among the successes, mistakes, joys, heartaches, worries and moments of peace I’ve experienced on this bumpy road called life.
I’ve had 52 years to accumulate these little life lessons, so it seems appropriate that I share one lesson for every year of that journey:
- Be a goofball. Life is so much more bearable when you find ways to be a goofball.
- If a situation or person makes you uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to walk away. There’s a reason your’re uncomfortable.
- If something reminds you of song, then start singing it out loud . . . unless you are at a funeral. Then just sing silently or people will give you angry looks.
- Speaking of funerals, always act as though you recognize the person in the coffin. If you don’t, never yell out loud that you are in the wrong place. You probably aren’t. The person in the coffin just doesn’t look like the person you knew because of the makeup or clothes or hair. Or all of the above. After yelling you are in the wrong place, you will immediately realize that you are in the right place because people you know will check to see if you are all right.
- Never hesitate to tell someone that you love them. Unless you don’t love them. Then you should hesitate.
- Spend time with people who are younger than you.
- Spend time with people who are older than you.
- No matter what the weather is, spend at least 30 minutes outside every day. Extreme cold, extreme heat, wind, rain and snow will do more for your soul than staying cooped up inside every will.
- Comparing yourself to other people will never make you a better person no matter how hard you try to be as good or as strong or as smart or as successful or as talented or as skinny or as pretty. You are disrespecting your own unique traits, and are just making yourself miserable.
- Not everyone you meet is going to like you. Why would they? You certainly don’t like everyone you meet.
- If you want unconditional love, get a dog. No human will ever give you the unconditional love that a dog does.
- At least once a year, spend time lying on your back looking up at the clouds. You’ll always see something interesting. When you get older, you might see some floaters against the blue sky, but you should ignore them. The shapes you should pay attention to are the ones in the clouds.
- Trying to be perfect only annoys other people. Instead, be genuine. The only people who are annoyed by genuine people are fake people. And who cares what they think?
- Always keep at least one toy in your office. If you can’t play at work, you should find another job.
- Never be ashamed of your opinion. However, make sure you don’t confuse opinions with facts.
- If you are in an accident, your underwear is the least of your worries. Medics and health care professionals don’t care if your underwear is clean or in perfect condition. After you’ve been in accident, your underwear is probably neither anyway.
- Vote in every single election.
- Never pretend to like music or movies for the sake of someone else.
- Don’t listen to advice from people who say you should eat your dessert first. Trust me. Eat your vegetables first.
- Don’t let you cat pee in the dryer vent. I say this, but I have no earthly clue how to actually achieve this. If someone knows how to prevent your cat from peeing in the dryer vent, please share it with ever cat owner you know. They will be forever appreciative.
- Become a student of history. Read books or newspaper articles. Listen to podcasts. Watch documentaries. There is so much truth in the quote “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’
- Do your best to remember people’s names and something that is important to them. Don’t do this for their sake. Do it for yours.
- Get a little bit of exercise every day.
- Admit your mistakes. Always admit your mistakes.
- Get a copy of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder). Seriously. Every day you are going to have to deal with irrational people whom you don’t understand. If you have a copy of the DSM, at least you can try to figure out what is wrong with them. You might not be able to actually to that, but going through the DSM will keep you so busy that you’ll be less irritated.
- Find those friends with whom you can bitch about other people. I know this doesn’t sound kind, but let’s face it, we are all human and other people annoy us. Find those friends who are annoyed by the same people and keep them on speed dial. It can save your sanity.
- Visit the world’s churches and cathedrals just to enjoy the architecture and the sense of serenity.
- Recognize that money will never buy happiness but using your money to help others will make you feel happy.
- Spend more time listening to music and reading than watching television.
- Learn to forgive. Forgiving is so much better for your mental health than holding a grudge.
- Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you forget. There are some people who are better just not being in your life, and you have the right to make that choice.
- It’s just as important to forgive yourself as it is to forgive other people. But since you can’t walk away from yourself, you have to make a conscious decision to learn from your mistakes.
- Medication can help with anxiety and depression, but so can gardening. When life is tough, plant flowers, Get dirt under your fingernails. There is nothing like the feeling of satisfaction of getting all of the dirt out from under your fingernails after a day of gardening.
- Buy and wear colorful clothes. Most of us went through a black clothes phase at some point. Despite what we thought at the time, there is nothing interesting about black clothes.
- Carry an interesting purse. It’s the best conversation starter ever.
- Always wear a bra when you leave the house. Always. Even if you are wearing a t-shirt, a sweatshirt and a coat to walk the dog. You might think there is no reason to wear a bra, but something might happen. For example, you might fall down, shatter your wrist, and end up in the emergency room.
- Trust your gut more than the advice of other people.
- Never, ever accept credit for someone else’s ideas or work.
- Always wear your lightest clothes to the doctor’s office and remove all jewelry before being weighed. If you are going to the doctor’s in the winter, wear shorts and pretend you just worked out.
- Find your passion and you’ll find your tribe.
- Don’t regret your past. If it wasn’t your past, you wouldn’t be the person you are now.
- Don’t accept anything at face value.
- Give compliments. Just make sure they are genuine.
- Never strive to be the most important person in the room. Strive to be the most understanding.
- Spend some time with trees. Seriously. The energy and vibes you can get from trees are amazing.
- Feed stray animals. If your neighbors complain, lie.
- Sometimes you have to lie to keep the peace, but never tell a lie that could hurt someone.
- Learn to master the eye roll. Then keep sunglasses handy.
- Always remember that no matter how much you want other people to understand your point of view, they are hearing it from their point of view. That means words you didn’t intend to be hurtful can be hurtful anyway and statements you make as explanations can be taken as accusations. Knowing this doesn’t fix anything, but it does provide perspective.
- Spend less time trying to figure out someone else’s motives and more time ensuring sure your own motives are good.
- Find and keep friends who can cook.
- Remember life is like a satisfying bike ride. Sometimes you’ve been going uphill for so long that you are exhausted and feel as though the climb will never end. And just when you think you can’t go on, you reach the top. Then you can relax into the joy and exhilaration of going downhill. Sometimes your are just riding on flat surface maintaining. And every time you ride, you get stronger and learn another technique to make you a better cyclist. All of those struggles and joys become memories, and the string of memories each of us creates becomes our legacy.
I woke up on Sunday morning to the news of yet another mass shooting. It wasn’t the one in El Faso Texas that I went to bed hearing about. It was yet another one – this time in Dayton Ohio.
After texting to check on the safety of a college roommate and her family, who live in Dayton, I almost thew up.
I’m not exaggerating. I was literally sick to my stomach.
I felt completely powerless and angry.
When a friend called to check on me, she expressed the same thoughts. She was on her way to church and said she’d be praying.
“Pray that people actually elect leaders who care more about people than they do about money.” I said. “Because right now? They obviously don’t.”
We are both furious at the NRA, which is all about ensuring the gun industry continues to make money, that ignorant people fall for its propaganda, and that politicians remain in its pockets.
The current resident of the White House is no exception. Like so many politicians who think they need the support of the NRA, he’s pointing his fingers at mental illness and not at a problem with gun availability. In fact, too many so-called leaders do everything they can to avoid addressing the fact that there is a huge gap between responsible gun ownership and arming citizens with semi-automatic weapons. If they did, they’d be admitting there is plenty of opportunity for compromise.
In all the history books I’ve read, I don’t remember one that claimed America’s sordid history of racism is linked to mental illness. Can you imagine claiming that every member of the Klu Klux Klan or of a lynch mob was diagnosable? They weren’t. They were full of hate and fear.
The reign of terror carried out by the Nazi’s prior to and during World War II wasn’t linked to mental illness. Sure, the case can be made that Adolf Hitler was mentally ill, but not every single Nazi. They were full of hate and fear.
And now, do we claim that every perpetrator of domestic violence or that every racist is mentally ill? No. They too are simply full of hate and fear.
I can’t predict the future, but I do know that our present times will soon be history. And I can only hope that my grandchildren don’t have to read about how mass shootings became an acceptable risk of every day life. Instead, I hope they read about how concerned and compassionate citizens refused to let corporate interests control America and voted out the politicians who allowed that to happen.
A few months ago, my daughter performed the song “I’m Breaking Down” at a state thespian competition.
Her song choice wasn’t lost on me. You see, the character who sings that song in the musical The Falsettos is named Trina.
If you’re wondering why the heck my daughter would do that, don’t worry. You’ll soon know more than you ever wanted about my mental health.
On Wednesday night, I was truly breaking down. For a while now, I’ve felt overwhelmed in so many aspects of my life.
Every. Single. Aspect.
Nothing is going as I hoped, and there’s even a scandal making national headlines that’s impacting my job. Fun times.
I’m not throwing a pity party. There are still wonderful elements of my life, like my husband. (I’ll get to him in a minute.)
Let’s just say that, overall, I’m a walking mess. And when I’m a mess, all I want is for everyone else to understand exactly how I feel – even at 3:00 in the morning when I haven’t slept because I’m so angry, frustrated, stressed and just plain pissed off at the world.
(This is where my husband comes back in.)
After speaking only to myself for hours and realizing that my own words were only making me feel worse, I needed someone who would actually reassure me. So I woke my husband up to do that. He wasn’t happy.
In fact, he said something to the effect of “nobody cares.”
With those words, I felt like the whole world was against me.
Or, in the word’s of Trina in The Falsetto’s I was “breaking down.”
I got in my car and drove out of the neighborhood. The cop sitting in the church parking lot across from my neighborhood must have been thrilled to finally see a potential revenue source, because he (she?) pulled out behind me.
My first concern was to check to see if I’d actually thrown on a bra before leaving the house.
And even though I’m pretty certain that going braless while driving isn’t illegal, there might be some people who think it is. So I chose not to push my luck.
To get the cop off my tail, I turned into the nearby hospital parking lot.
That’s when I had a flashback to a few months earlier when I was in severe pain related to degenerative disk disease. I hadn’t slept for about a week and was miserable. I ended up making not one, but two, early morning visits to the Emergency Room. On one visit, to help ease the situation, the doctors gave me a shot of Valium and sent home a few more capsules to help me sleep until my condition improved.
Here’s what I learned about taking Valium:
- I don’t stay up all night being preoccupied, worried and pissed off;
- I don’t get preoccupied, worried and pissed off at all;
- I don’t care if people understand where I’m coming from;
- I can sleep;
- I like it.
As I pulled into that hospital parking lot, the glowing emergency room sign seemed like a welcoming beacon calling me home to an simple solution. And, for just a moment, I considered going in with the same set of complaints I’d had a few months earlier. The thought of not living with my head in a constant state of turmoil was overwhelmingly compelling.
But I didn’t. Instead, I parked in a dark, out of the way spot; I cried; I freaked out a couple of nurses who were sneaking off for an illegal smoke break; and then I headed home with the same set of problems and issues bouncing around in my head.
I honestly don’t know what stopped me from seeking drugs Wednesday night. Not wearing a bra might have had a little bit to do with my choice, but not a lot.
Maybe I’ve had enough experiences in my life to know this too shall pass.
Maybe I know that the consequences wouldn’t justify the immediate relief.
Maybe I am fortunate to have a support system that, while not available at 3:00 in the morning, is still there for me.
Maybe my childhood continues to impact my life well into my fifties.
Maybe I just don’t have the predisposition for drug seeking behavior.
Whatever the reason, here’s what I do know: the gap between maybe and don’t is precariously slim. Literally anyone call fall through it in certain circumstances.
I should know. I almost did.
I am one of those people.
There’s an old saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The saying may be old, but it’s more relevant than ever. From the world stage to the community stage, too many people use the slightest bit of authority to benefit themselves. Sometimes they do so with no thought to the damage they do to others, sometimes they tell lies to hide their true intentions, and sometimes they just don’t care.
But those left in their wake do care.
I should know.
In the last few months, weeks, and even days, the fallout from multiple instances of abuse of power has seeped into both my personal and professional life.
But, like so much in life, I’ve had to make a choice. I can either ignore the problems or I can can learn from them.
I’ve chosen to learn, and here’s what I’ve figured out: people only abuse their power because other people let them.
Sometimes, people allow the abuse of power because they think they too will benefit. They realize what is happening is wrong, but the potential gains outweigh the immorality of the situation. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people are afraid to call out the wrong doing. They fear they’ll be hurt, someone they care about will be hurt, or that an institution or organization in which they are invested will be hurt. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people believe more in institutions than they do people, and they will do all they can to protect those institutions. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people are in such awe of power that they truly believe that the abuse of power is justified. Or they believe that those who are abusing the power somehow earned and deserve to be where they are and to do what they do. Or they were taught not to question authority. So they say and do nothing.
These may be excuses, but they should never be excusable.
In the end, people who abuse their power only do harm: to people; to communities; to organizations; to institutions; and even to countries.
And while their behavior is reprehensible, looking the other way when abuse occurs is what allows it to continue.
It’s the sin that sits next to power.
Yesterday, I discovered that the old tree I’d admired during so many bike rides is now a broken remnant of it’s former majesty.
The sight of it literally made me cry.
I’d always considered the tree a living definition of the term survivor. It had, after all, obviously withstood so many of life’s storms, including a lightening strike. Because of all its scars, the tree was much more magnificent than the younger trees nearby.
Yesterday, seeing what remained of it, I no longer thought so. Even more bothersome was that some time had obviously passed since it had fallen, and I hadn’t even realized it.
Granted, I changed my regular bike route a while ago so I haven’t recently ridden by the tree, but I didn’t think it had been THAT long.
Apparently it had been.
Like so much recently, the overgrown stump was a reminder of how quickly time passes. And with the passage of time comes loss: the loss of friends and family, the loss of youth, and even the loss of the roles and responsibilities that we think define us.
But as I looked at the stump through the tears, I realized something else. The remnants of the tree were still making their mark on both the landscape and on me.
And that’s really all we can ask of anything.
Moments and people can’t stay in our lives forever. Instead, we have to make the most of what they give us and then use that to shape the remaining time and relationships we have.
In the past, I’d always thought the tree was there to teach me the lesson that being a survivor is about staying strong during tough times.
Yesterday, its remains taught me a new lesson: survival isn’t just about standing strong. Sometimes it involves letting go of what we think defines us so we can reach out to find new ways to make our mark on the world.
And it taught me I can do all of that while still embracing the memories.