Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Remembering a favorite aunt

As a little girl I sat beside my mother as she wrote letters to Aunt Dorothy in California - her big sister.  Mommy must have told me stories but I don't really remember any.  I just imagined her as a movie star and drew a picture of how I thought she might look. 
In the summer of '67, a year after my mother died, we traveled west and stopped to see her.  The instant I saw her I said, "you look just like my mommy" and she did.  Her eyes, her nose, the way she moved and the quiet way she spoke.  Through the years she wrote, nearly always sent Dates for Christmas and she moved from place to place with her husband Gordon, that I never met - even during that visit.
Each time she moved, Grandma made certain I knew and encouraged me to write.  I did.  Somehow, without saying outright, Grandma let me know that Aunt Dorothy struggled somehow with life.  About 20 years passed, Grandma was gone and I learned that Aunt Dorothy had come back to Pennsylvania close to home.  This time, she somehow found me living across the state.
We wrote and I sent audio recordings of stories for her about my travels.  Soon, I too moved closer to home and we planned to meet at the group home she now made home.  I sat waiting for her to come out not knowing what she now looked like.  A little grey haired woman passed.  'Aunt Dorothy' I wondered, but no - she passed on by.  And then she emerged with a huge smile and dancing brown eyes.  "Who do I look like now?" she asked.  It took my breath away and I could not stop tears.  "You look just like Grandma," I said.  As we hugged, I knew I was holding Mommy and Grandma all at once.
She pulled out the picture I had drawn of her so many years before.  "I didn't wear glasses." she laughed.  And she said she played my audio recordings over and over for everyone.
Over the next few years we spent precious but too little time together.  She did indeed struggle with life.  She helped me understand some things and left too soon.  I miss her but often know she remains with me.  I look a lot like her and Mommy and Grandma.  I talk a lot like them and hope I walk a lot like them.  I don't struggle with life in exactly the same way Aunt Dorothy did, but I believe I understand the heart of life's questions that tortured her.  She was a gentle soul in a not so gentle world.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


What I would like to see more in the world around us is diplomacy.  The communication skills required to act toward resolution or prevention of conflict are the most important skills anyone can possess.  Those skills are tact, empathy, careful persuasion, honesty, credibility and active listening - just to name a few.
We need those skills in our personal relationships.  We need those skills in our community.  We need those skills in our world.
If we are surrounded by family and friends who are strong in those skills, it has a profound effect on our lives.  There aren't enough people who are able and willing to step into a situation with diplomatic intent.  And even less people who are willing to listen to diplomatic reasoning.
I guess it's just human nature to want total support and sympathy for our side of a conflict.  We want someone to justify our hurt.  At that moment we are most vulnerable to influence toward actions based on our hurt.  All too often the person beside us fans the flames.
I want a diplomat beside me in those times.  I want a diplomat on the other side as well.  If you have not experienced a situation where diplomatic friends help resolve a conflict, you are not as lucky as I.  It changes more than just that one particular moment.
Diplomatic friends carefully step up and say - "Hey - we care about you both and this hurts all of us.  Let's get this worked out."  They are focused on the bigger picture and the interconnected relationships. 
It's very effective because the next time there is potential conflict, you think about more than yourself.  You see the faces of the people who care about you and remember the pain your conflicts cause them.
If instead, you are surrounded by people who do nothing when you are in pain or encourage actions that raise the level of conflict, you need new friends.
Give me a diplomat.  I want to develop those kinds of skills.  If we could all develop those skills, there would be less divorce, less need of courts, and less war.  Wouldn't that be nice!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Neutral Navigation

We process all kinds of information every day via the internet, TV, newspaper and stories people tell us.  We take it in, put it in categories in our minds and move on.  Most of what we read and hear does not have a big emotional impact especially if it doesn't involve us directly.  We believe it or not and move on.
Sometimes we act on what we learn.  Early this week I read about an otter that attacked a man on the river near my house.  It reminded me that I got a post card from the vet that Molly Mutt was due for her rabies shot.  And I acted. 
We act on other things we hear.  Our interest in spending time with friends, family or organizations shifts with what we hear.  We process the information - decide if it is credible and act accordingly.
Unless the information is emotionally charged, we do that without a lot of drama, and just ride the closest current.
When the information is emotionally charged, the current is much more swift and our reactions to it are generally more deeply entrenched.  Once we have processed the information we first heard, it's very difficult to process conflicting information.  That's especially true if we like to think of ourselves as impartial.
With some humor I can look back at situations in recent years when I have encountered someone who brought up a conflict and when I started to react to their comment, they quickly stopped me.  "I can see both sides," they would say or "I don't want to get involved".  What humors me is knowing they had listened extensively to one side of the story.   Their comment told me, "I already have an opinion and don't want to hear what you have to say." 
We are all so very connected.  It's nearly impossible to remain neutral about much of anything.  We may try to act impartial but in our minds, we have formed opinions about everything we know.  Sooner or later we will do or say something based on that opinion.
I learned to keep several layers of separation.  Neutral parties are used by the cunning.  We are so interconnected that proximity alone is a message.  The current is stronger closest to the source.  You have to swim much harder if you intend to stay in place and not get swept into it.