Sunday, July 31, 2016

Stronger than we think

I had the honor of attending my 9th birth this past weekend.  It knocked me off my regular blogging schedule (a baby being born is slightly more important than my self-imposed goals...), so here's a quick one as I run around getting my head back on straight, my house back in order, and getting ready for the new week and month ahead.

During each and every birth I've attended, whether it's been completely drug free or medicated, whether vaginal or cesarean, there reaches a point (or several points) where the mother says, "I can't do this.  I can't do this anymore."

And yet somehow - they do.  They get through it, the baby comes out however he or she comes out, and life continues on to the next adventure, the next challenge, the next demands.

I'm inspired similarly whenever I come home from a visit with my sister, in frank awe of everything she accomplishes every day by raising her 3 small children and the absolute onslaught of work that entails - not just feeding and comforting and playing, but the phone calls to insurance companies and dealing with when things break in the house and being a support for my brother-in-law, who works his heart out on their business.

I never fail to be inspired by moms, and it never fails to remind me that we are all stronger than we think we are.  We can all do more than we think we can.  We all have more time than we realize, if only we did not squander it - through shallow distractions like facebook (and lord knows I am not counting myself above that one) and through deeper distractions like freezing in self doubt.

Sometimes, your body takes over and shows you the spectacular strength and capability you never realized you had, as in many births I've witnessed.  Sometimes, it's the mind that takes over in the face of overwhelming challenge, and a stubborn mental belief and strength is what carries you through.

The truth remains the same, though - we are all so much stronger than we realize.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Stewardship

A funny, fancy, formal, old-fashioned word - Stewardship.  That's been my word-o-the-month for July, inspired by one of my all-time favorite podcasts:  Two Gomers Run for Their Lives.

Like me, the Gomers choose a word to help to shape and define their thoughts, goals, and actions for each particular year, and I remember a year or two ago, one of them chose Stewardship.  It always stuck in my mind, and now it's maybe one of my favorite "words to live by" because it cuts across all categories - the gift of my time, my health, my marriage, my family, my friends, my work, the gift of my home, my energy, my city.  And it's less of a word, really, than a constant framework to a question - "Am I being a good steward of my {fill in the blank}?"

For me, it's become a simple way to get ahold of myself when my addiction to election coverage is causing me to breathe fire or a good way to motivate myself to get moving when the makes staying inside so very compelling.  When I know I'm squandering time or doing something not consistent with the habits I want to build and keep, the concept of stewardship pops in my head and makes me think about my actions - and on a good day, improve them.

It's remarkable the power that one little word or phrase can have when we consciously set an intention to be guided by it each morning.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A few words for Nice

I've been in love with the idea of Nice since around 2006, or maybe a year or two before.  I had read The Bay at Nice by David Hare, the one act play that was to be my senior thesis directing project.  True, the play is set in Russia, but its constant evocation of Nice as this heavenly place filled with perfect light and beauty, combined with my pre-existing love of all things French inevitably created a wistful desire to some day go and see it for myself.  I always smile as I remember some college friends teasing and mocking me for my snooty (though it was quite cheap) French wine and my Edith Piaf music as I was immersing myself into writing and directing my thesis.

Fast forward to 2013, and I'm newly married with a French last name, and I'm heading to the only place that's ever crossed my mind if I were to imagine where I might go on a honeymoon.

Over our two week honeymoon that September, we spent 4 or so days in Italy's stunning Cinque Terre, but the bulk of the time was spent, at my request, in Nice.  Our favorite beach was Lido Plage.  Our favorite restaurant, hands down, was Le Bistrot du Fromagere - we loved it so much we went there 3 times. We wanted to be best friends with the owner, who was also our server and the slicer of the home-made bread, which is still the best bread I've ever had in my life.   Our favorite wine was a rose, of course - Chateau de Berne.  Every single night, no matter how much we had at dinner, we got gelato and walked down the Promenade des Anglais.  I cried when we had to go home.

The beauty that I read about, the beauty that I saw in pictures, the beauty that I imagined - absolutely nothing compared to seeing it in person.  Even my own photographs don't properly capture the light and color - the staggering blue of the Mediterranean and of the sky, the spectacular golds and pinks of the sunsets, the vibrant bursts of color of the fireworks at night.  We were so wrapped up in the la-la land of honeymooners that I don't think we ever did figure out why there were fireworks displays so frequently during our time there in early September.  We were content enough to let the occasion be a celebration of the city itself.  Who needs a reason when you're Nice?  A city full of the friendliest French people you're likely to find, the best seafood in the world, endless bottles of cold rose, gelato for days, and simply effortless beauty.

My head and my heart can't keep up with this summer.  Orlando, Istanbul, Baghdad, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas, and now Nice.  And forgive me because I know that list isn't comprehensive - how could it be?  And I can't write an ode to each tragedy, to each city, I can't change my profile picture in solidarity with every act of violence in every culture - to do so would be pointless and madness, anyway.

But oh, how I love love love love love the city of Nice, France.  How my heart aches for the residents and tourists who stood where we stood, looked up at the sky as we did at the fireworks and the stars and the moon, breathed the same salt sea air.  It just aches, and I just have to share it and find comfort in the beauty of the city, and the knowledge that as it always does, out of this tragedy will grow love and brotherhood and fellowship and stories of courage and kindness.

Often it feels like there's nothing we can do in the wake of tragedies, particularly those that occur across the country or across the ocean.  You can always live your life striving to be an agent of peace.  You can strive to be peaceful in the microcosm of your life, and do what you can to allow your love in action affect the macrocosm of this brutal but beautiful world we live in - and it is a beautiful, beautiful world.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Fear and Heartache, Love and Change

What a week it has been.  I find myself both at a loss for words of what to write this week, and also overflowing with ramblings thoughts pouring every which way, going down this branch of reasoning or that.  The idea of coming up with something coherent and comprehensive and concise but not reductive is more than a little overwhelming.

This past week was mired in heartache, on a personal level for various private reasons, and of course, on a national level.  Baton Rouge.  St. Paul. And my beloved home during my childhood, Dallas, TX.

I think the root of so much of this violence and inequity is fear.  Black citizens are afraid of police officers.  Police officers are afraid of black citizens. (Dallas citizen Kellon Nixon articulates it much better than I; please give the video a watch.  It inspired this post.) That's what racism - conscious or unconscious - is.  That's why we use the word "homophobia" to describe discrimination or hate against gay people.  Homophobic people feel their own sense of normality and the way the world should be is threatened by this reality wherein it's okay for two men or two women to love each other, and that fear leads to hate.

Like with any extreme, though, there exists its opposite, and there have been heartwrenchingly beautiful moments of connection and peace in the midst of the division and violence.  Protestors from opposite movements crossing lines and embracing.  Police officers and Black Lives Matters leaders and protestors having respectful and caring dialogue, or marching together (as in Dallas, before the protest turned deadly).  Stories of kindnesses, and strangers reaching out to each other in their grief.

I can't pretend that I have a clue what it's like to be a police officer.  To undergo the constant stress of risking your life and putting yourself in harms way every single day.  I can't pretend that I have a clue what it's like to be a black American - to continually see videos of unjust police shootings, and live in a society where so many fellow black citizens are incarcerated disproportionate to whites, and a thousand small everyday injustices and inequities in between.  But I am a citizen of this country, and so I've been grappling with and trying to wrap my head and heart around all of this to see how we can cope.

One thing I've learned as a yoga teacher, doula, and student of my wonderful prenatal mentor, is that the opposite of fear is love.  Fear produces adrenaline; love produces oxytocin.  One produces the "fight or flight" sympathetic response; the other produces what some call a "tend and befriend" parasympathetic response.

How do we overcome fear?  We look it straight in the face.  We get to know it.  We educate ourselves.  Movements progress through dialogue and connection and common ground with your counterparts.  On the small scale, it's reaching out and talking.  Hate speech and violence perpetuate the problem, dig people deeper into their entrenched beliefs, narrow their blinders, and either affects no change or makes things worse - usually both.

My mom told me this week that life is all about change.  That's all it is.  Yoga teaches us that nothing is permanent.  As Lin-Manuel Miranda so poignantly put it - "nothing here is promised; not one day."

Change is scary.  Change usually provokes fear.  This is a situation that has to change and has to stop.   There is so much we can do - and there are many helpful lists circulating online of numbers to call, bills to ask for action on, groups to join, marches to attend - there's so much we can do on our community level and by engaging with our lawmakers.

On a smaller level, the change we should first and foremost be enacting is within ourselves and to our neighbors.  Especially in New York, where the order of the day is to avoid eye contact with everyone you encounter on your commute - make a connection.  Even a moment of eye contact and a slight smile.  Be an agent of peace and love.  Speak out against racism even when it's uncomfortable.  Be kind.

It's oft-quoted to the point of cliche, but Ghandi's, "Be the change you want to see in the world," has never rung more true for me than during these violent and unkind days.  Focus on those kindnesses you see in the news alongside the tragedies that also rightly demand our focus.  Then do it, and be it.  That's how I see getting through this, and I hope many more join.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Control, Risk, and Cliche

I realized after I posted my blog last week that I had completely lost the little spark of inspiration that led to me wanting to write about that topic at all.  In my haste of following my rigid and totally arbitrary standard of posting something every Tuesday no matter what, I found the random idea I had jotted down and went with it...totally forgetting about the root and revelation of it all.

As I was running in a race last month, I had found myself thinking of the 2017 NYC Marathon - which is not unusual, as that's where my thoughts usually tend when I'm running these days.  Then my thoughts shifted to a few variations on the theme of crossing my fingers and hoping that I'd be able to make it through this marathon uninjured and relatively unscathed.

And that's when the thought occurred to me - so much of that is in my control.

We don't realize through the course of living our lives just how much of what happens to us is in our control.  How much control we have over our reactions to events that befall us.  How much influence our previous actions have over those events that befall us.  How much responsibility we bear, how much of a difference we can make.

In the context of running, that of course led me to figuratively smacking myself upside the head and realizing that I could wish and hope that I can do this without getting injured and continue to live in my comfort zone - in this case, doing some PT and strength training when I'm inclined to, but mostly just rigidly following an intense running schedule - or I could actually change my behavior which might actually change my result.

Do I want to change my behavior?  Hell no.  The ways in which I've prepped for a race are challenging but familiar in their challenge.  Changing that will be uncomfortable and require way more effort, but I know it will lead to the results that I actually want.

Now, I know there's no such thing as being totally injury proof, but if I make an active, concerted, real effort to do the work that I know in my head I need to do to prevent injury...that's not just me wishing and hoping and throwing it to the Gods that I don't get injured, but that's me putting in a real effort, making a real change, and actually contributed toward that hoped-for outcome.  And hell, I might make this big change and put in all this effort and still get injured, and that sure would suck.  But it probably wouldn't suck as much as it would if I made a half-assed effort and just crossed my fingers for the other half.

So yes - that's the running context.

In the larger context, I think it has to do with putting yourself out there.  Or with choosing optimism over cynicism.  To admit that you're actually trying to do something hard or new or different or risky or something that doesn't come naturally.  From the small and mundane (attempting to keep a house plant alive would be on my list) to the bigger and bolder (making a career switch, moving to a new city), just making the decision to try, and just making that attempt to succeed is a brave act.

It sounds very simplistic and obvious, I know.  And more than a little superior and preachy despite my best efforts.  But the older I get, the more I realize that often the lessons that are the hardest to learn, the most profound, and the most valuable are the simple cliche's that you've heard repeated a thousand million billion times before.  You hear them, repeat them, let them fly in one ear and out the other thinking that you get it, but then some sort of life circumstance befalls you and you really hear that advice for the first time and get it.

The phrase "putting yourself out there" is probably the most neat bow I can put on what it is I'm trying to talk about here.  It's often easier to accept challenges in life without challenging back.  It's easier - in the short run - to play the victim of your circumstances instead of seeing what kind of space there might be for you to change the course of things.  Because what if you put yourself out there, what if you try to take control, what if you try to make a change - and you fail?

Well, then.  You fail.  And that sucks.  And that's embarrassing.  And sometimes it's even heartbreaking.

But what's the alternative?  I'd rather not find out if I can help it.