My Dream of Being a Badass Girl Superhero

As an adult woman, I have lived through the progression from encountering sexual harassment in the workplace, to coming to understand that it happensand everyone knows about it, to now the #MeToo movements. That journey has allowed me to feel anger for the first time about things that happened more than 35 years ago, and that are still happening now far too often.

I think about the boss that raped me after my first night at work as a bartender, and how I didn’t say anything, and went back to work the next night, because I was young, and alone in a strange town, and needed the job to support my daughter. And how I made sure to stay away from my boss, who looked at me strangely for a while, like he was wondering what I would do.

I feel rage now for what happened to my 22-year-old self. At the time I felt shame — surely it was my fault somehow. And then I felt nothing for a long long time about it because I pushed it out of my mind. It happened. It couldn’t be changed. There was no sense thinking about it.

If I had been my SuperHero self then, I would have strode into that bar the following day, snatched that contemptible little man up by the front of his shirt and told him that if he even looked at me again with so much as a speck in his eye, he would face lawsuits and criminal charges and a swift kick in the important area of his Speedo underwear.


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

I don’t think we can underestimate the amount of anger women feel.

Regardless of your political leanings, watching candidate Trump stalk his female opponent Hilary Clinton in the nationally televised second debate was uncomfortable — I felt my shoulders growing tense as he walked up behind her, standing too close when she spoke. It was a tactic of intimidation, not even conscious on his part. It’s what happens all the time to men who intimidate women.

My former husband used to beat the bejesus out of me so often that I have described it humorously in the past as being like a grown-up version of the arcade game Whack-A-Mole. When a right-handed man hits you in the head often enough, you come to know the rhythm of his swing, and the time it takes for him to draw back his arm to strike again. I would bury my head between my arms and absorb the blow as much as I could, and then pop my head up to spit back my defiance in the time it took him to reload. Then I would duck my head again, turtle-like.

It makes me sick to write those words publicly now. It makes me more sick to know that my children were watching. Oh, how I wish I had been strong — both physically and emotionally — and had been able to push back against his aggression, back him away from me, and made him think twice about the wisdom of hitting a woman again.

I used to daydream about having a secret Girl Vigilante Gang that received word of a wife beater (maybe there was some kind of bat signal?) and showed up, silent and stealthy, to beat the tar out of a man like that. Worse than the beating, I knew, would be a beating at the hands of women. But I didn’t know of any badass women like that, except maybe Sara Connor. And Crossfit wasn’t a thing yet, where women could become strong and buff.


Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

Look, there is a time for ass-kicking, and we may be there.

I am not a man-hater by any means. I have sons, sons-in-law, and grandsons that I adore, as well as a good and honorable husband. I don’t believe in war per se — I think we need to do a lot more listening, and a lot more trying to find common ground in every area of life.

But there are some really rotten people afoot — Hitler-esque, even. And people like that don’t stop because you ask them to. They stop when they are made to stop. Except no one seems to be making it a priority for some of these guys to stop.

All over the world, rape has been widely used as a weapon of war more devastating than any firepower, deliberately infecting women with HIV and impregnating them, as well as stigmatizing them in their own communities. And yet, nothing of substance is done about it — no one rolls up on these “This is my weapon, this is my gun” animals and does any real disarming. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, could inflict some real damage.

Clergy from every denomination — every damn religion and every sect— are known to prey on children and women sexually. And doctors. And cops. And teachers. We arrest them when we catch them. We make it hard to prosecute them by doubting their victims when they come forward. And then we slap their little wrists, tell them that this is their last chance, and we worry about screwing up their reputations and their futures.

We’ve talked, we’ve tweeted, we’ve written and we’ve marched. In response, we’ve been called feminazi’s and harpies, immoral and unf*ckable. We create spaces for ourselves wherein we can let down our guard and feel safe, and we are challenged for being exclusionary. As if the whole world isn’t male-centered currently.


Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels

Women are ready to be their own superheroes.

There’s a reason why the women of Wakanda were so striking in the movie Black Panther. The women warriors are strong, skilled, and best of all, highly valued and trusted. There’s a reason why Wonder Woman was also such a hit for DC, and Marvel has plans to answer the call with Black Widow.

One of my favorite pieces on Medium is from Shannon AshleyYou Can Be Your Own Damn Hero
And quit waiting to be saved by everybody else.medium.com

I feel like women are deciding they will be responsible for their own safety since they can’t rely on it from anywhere else. Women want to be stronger, tougher and more proactive because being softer, sweeter and more pliable has gotten us raped, abused and killed.

We’re taking charge of the retirement account and the financial planning because too many of us have done the unpaid work throughout long marriages and ended up with poverty in retirement after divorce.

We would love to be equal partners in a world that values both the masculine and the feminine, but this is not that world in 2019. So we’re creating worlds for ourselves.

Like real superheroes.

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I’ve written about women and how badass we are before if you’re interested

A World Wrapped Up in Women
I read an article this week about a village in Kenya where women are banned, and the women who live there. Umoja, the…medium.com


Today I Will Die

Today I will die.

Right now, I can feel the pressure of the ventilator shoving air down my throat and into my lungs in a rhythmic whoosh. It startles me every time, used as I am to breathing that happens spontaneously. I can’t say that it’s a bad thing, but I am weary of it. I will be glad to see it go.

The last few days have been a parade of family in and out of the room, entering the doorway as if onto a stage. Their voices are louder when they talk to me. “You get out of here and we’ll hang out like we did when we were little kids!” my sister shouts in a weird, cheerful singsong. Where once I would have jumped her shit for being phony — Bitch, you haven’t seen me for eighteen months and now you want to get together for old time’s sake? — now, I get it. It’s what we do. Death is a hard thing to look at. We ignore it as long as we’re allowed to. It’s not like any of us were so great at confronting the hard stuff head on.

Without opening my eyes, I will know when the kids come into the room. My only daughter will be first — she’s been here for days. Daughters are the women we can love unreservedly, without expectation and without counting the cost. Daughters love us back the same way. She’s tender hearted — I have felt her hot tears drops onto my face, and then she apologizes as she hurriedly wipes them away. But she’s strong too. Like her mother. She will be with me today as I die, grieving but unafraid.

And ah, her mother. “Ladies love outlaws,” she said to me once, coyly. I laughed and buried my face into her luxuriant hair. “And outlaws looooove ladies,” I assured her. Ours was the love story that never should have happened, forbidden and taboo. And yet, it did, and we gloried in it for ten years before it crumbled at our feet. Addiction and fear smothered it. But in its ashes, the love remained, in a bright ember lying at our feet.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Today I will die.

It’s been a long, strange journey of treatments and medications. I actually thought I had beaten death — they said the treatments were helping. I should have known better. When did a man like me ever have that kind of luck? When they went in to make sure the tumor had shrunk, they nicked a damn artery in my lungs and I have been bleeding ever since. How about the irony in that, right?

My feet are black and as cold as ice — me, the guy who always had to leave his feet out from under the covers. My sister rubs them whenever she comes into the room and tucks them, like a baby, under the bed linens. I heard my daughter whisper yesterday that my fingers are turning purple now too.

My one natural son will sit at the foot of my bed. I’ve raised so many kids in my life — my brothers and sisters and their kids, and the kids shared with me by my women. But this one is mine, and it’s like I spit him out. We’ve never known quite what to say to each other, him and me. If you want to know the truth, we still don’t. But he’s here. He will be with me.

I’m not afraid to die. You’d think I would be with the fire and brimstone I was fed all of my childhood. We had the streets on one hand, and Brother Don on the other. To me, God is no God who could abandon the children He has made. That’s something humans do, and if God is like humans, then what have we all been so worried about all these years?

Source: pixabay.com

It’s time. The kids file in, they huddle together. The nurse looks at them and, seeing no one lose their nerve, she reaches over and turns off the machine that forces me to breathe. I immediately give one big sigh. It feels so good to do so without being forced.

And then it is as if the molecules holding me together — holding everything together — start to dissolve, slowly at first but then more quickly, like sand falling in on itself. I don’t resist it — I’m part of it all, as the fetters fall off and the light gets brighter.

I lived — oh how I lived — and I loved with every breath in my body. And today is my day to die.

I miss being pretty – I miss being young.

Yesterday I was trying to write how women, as they age, start to feel invisible in the world around them — to potential employers and potential lovers. Several of the pieces I read gave defiant advice to “Embrace your age”“Stop coloring your gray!” and, best of all, “Fix your mindset and you won’t feel invisible.”

Look, I’m only 58. I’m not playing out on the last holes of the back nine yet. But I have noticed that I don’t get flirted with as often as I used to. A patient, praising my compassion when he was nervous, likened me to Mrs. Claus. Mrs. Claus!!! “You know, all jolly and warm.” And those handsome movers and shakers, those young power players? They don’t give me a second glance anymore.

The truth is that I was raised in an era where beauty was praised, sought after and — if we’re honest — used to our advantage when necessary. Any woman in sales has learned how to use the coy smile, and feminism be damned. Even science tells us that physically attractive people are more likely to be perceived as healthy, trustworthy and happy by onlookers.

I’m not pretty anymore.

I mean, my photo won’t serve as pest control, but the lines around my mouth, my Deputy Dog jowls, and that crepey stuff on my neck cannot be denied. And truly, I’m honestly not that worried about it (or I would at least have been wearing makeup when that picture was taken), but it is a little jarring — a little disorienting. After traveling through life as a young, vibrant and not-mud-fence woman, it’s weird to realize that I have to learn a whole new style of communication.

Especially with men, I’m sorry to confess, I have taken the easy way out in the past, letting them focus on my looks and holding my intelligence and my capabilities closer to the vest. I know that that’s crap, I know. It’s as wrong as it was for people to assume that, because I was cute and sassy, that I must be vapid and dumb as well. But if I’m honest, the truth is that I played that system, that game, with the only weapons I understood myself to have.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

On the flip side, my relationships have become more authentic.

Of course they have, because layers of the cosmetics of expectations have been scrubbed away . With women, I can form deep connections free of the internalized misogyny that made me consider other women to be rivals. We support each other, encourage each other and accept each other in the here and now, without embellishments.

Even with men, I am able now to lead with my confidence, my experience, and my knowledge. I am able to listen better, and to consider the other person’s thoughts, because I am seeing him as a person come to this place in this time by way of his own life story. He is not a caricature anymore — a foil against which to practice my skills. We can co-create solutions. And if we disagree, I have no aversion to telling him so, with bullet points about why.

Still, I miss feeling like the future is infinite in front of me.

When a blockage was found in one of my coronary arteries, and was replaced by a drug-eluding stent, my entire perspective shifted and I understood myself to possibly be closer, at 56, to the end of my life than I was to the beginning. What a burlap bag full of bulldogs that can be to deal with.

I’ve started to get far more picky with the way I spend my time. While I can get sucked into a good Facebook fight with the best of them, I get bored easily, and wonder how many of my precious grains of sand in the hourglass I have wasted on them. I have less patience for those people who tell me, “Have patience.” This is, after all, my life. Even if I believed in reincarnation (and I’m not sure yet about that), I know I won’t come back as me, picking up exactly where I left off. I’ll have to waste as much time as I did in this lifetime banging my head against walls trying to figure things out.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

If you want to know the truth, I’m pretty good with it all.

If there’s one thing I have become used to in almost sixty years, it’s the idea that everything changes. Wonderful days will give way to others that are not as wonderful, and even the most horrible days will soften and stretch out to be ever so slightly less painful, given enough time. So I don’t bemoan — much — my evolution from fresh faced teenager with the metabolism of a drag racer, to a ripe and fertile wife and mother, to the one left standing as those little birds took wing.

But I revisit those times in my mind sometimes, fondly, and remember what it was like when my skin was smoother, my hair shinier, and my ability to read things close at hand less arduous.

And then I slowly open my hand, and like petals in the wind, I let them drift away.

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Regaining my Youthful Optimism

You had One Job, Facebook – and you blew it.

Because I can at least remember how I processed thoughts when I was awash in idealism, I can imagine a young Mark Zuckerberg envisioning his Book Of Faces that would allow people to be connected from around the world. Even people living in podunk little towns, he would have said (in my imaginary prequel), can reach virtually across the globe to clasp hands with another dreamer from Katmandu, or a seeker from Sicily.

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The Jew and the Arab would get to know each other as people through the sharing of hummus recipes. Catholics and Protestants would discover a shared humanity seeing photos of each others’ kids and grandkids. Whole generations of children would grow up “color blind” because digital proximity had made them neighbors with others of different races and ethnicities.

PROTIP: No one really has 1,207 “friends”.

I know, because that’s the official count of my personal Facebook account as of this writing — and that’s after pruning and trimming and deleting as friends those I know who have died, but live on in the Facebook alternate reality.

In reality, I have one husband, three children to whom I gave birth, and two children I got as a wedding present. I have six grandchildren. I see roughly twenty patients a day in our clinic, and there are somewhere just over 100 employees where I work, of whom I see about thirty on a regular daily basis — and that’s only because I am social and chatty and wander around to see people.

Of my high school class of 400+ students from forty years ago, I keep in touch regularly with probably ten, even though I rarely see them in person. I have cousins and in-laws that I rarely see, but like to keep up on the milestones in their lives. I have college classmates and former co-workers and colleagues from throughout my career — let’s estimate fifty of those, even if I may see them on an average of once a year.

There are neighbors that I wave to more frequently, and friends from running groups with whom I have shared races and weekends and injuries and highlights — I would guess twenty of those with whom I am still close, since I don’t run anymore. I remain friends with the people in the town where I raised my kids — and friends of those kids, now adults and raising children of their own.

Realistically speaking, that’s about all I can truly tell you I feel a connection with. The other 900 names show up on my friends list because I hate to be exclusionary, or hurt anyone’s feelings. Even if they wouldn’t have been caught dead talking to me in high school and their political views are abhorrent to me today, I can “unfollow them” so I don’t have to see the things they post, but I cringe at cutting them off as “friends”.

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We’ve forgotten what friendship really means.

Friends have relationships, and relationships are, with few exceptions, best nurtured face to face, with precious time devoted to each other. Connections are built when we can hear the inflections in each other’s voices, and notice each other’s body language.

In substituting real friendships with sterile, digital approximations, we have also given away talking to each other on the phone in favor of texting each other. For heaven’s sake, “sexting” is even a word — and no one can tell me that anything meaningful related to sex can be accomplished with your thumbs on the screen of a smart phone.

In fact, we shy away from actual physical encounters with friends. We tell ourselves we are introverts when really, it’s just downright inconvenient sometimes to go hang out in real time with another human being, when we can sit on the couch with no pants on and text each other.

We’re becoming socially isolated instead of connected, Facebook.

We have whole passels of “incels” meeting in dimly lit chat rooms and nodding avatars at each other, whining about how women won’t have sex with them and therefore should be killed. We have virtual assemblages of conspiracy theorists who huddle behind blue screens and encourage each other in ideas that would be shot down in eight seconds in the light of day.

We have record numbers of people reporting depression, anxiety, and disillusionment with life. And for that, we have therapy by text. You don’t even have to put pants on to go talk to a counselor, where they can notice subtle differences in your appearance, your voice, your speech cadence. You can receive mental healthcare via text messages now.

Kid don’t go out and play, wandering like a pack of puppies from one friend’s house to another’s and finding each other by the telltale pile of bikes thrown down in someone’s front yard. They stay inside, behind their bedroom doors, and fall prey to monsters posing as other kids online, who promise them a sense of belonging and love.

Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels

Our strength is that we are relational creatures.

Since the dawn of time, we have gathered around each other’s fires and passed along each others stories, trading goods and pieces of our culture with those nearby but not of our tribes. We are made for a sense of belonging to a group, and so we slide into groups online, like the pasty faced nitwits who never realized their actual faces would be seen and photographed as they Heil Hitler’d themselves through the streets in Charlottesville or in Washington, D.C.

And I end up with people on my back stoop — virtually speaking — calling me a “libtard”, a “snowflake”, a “cuck” and a “feminazi”. I assure you, no one would say that to my face without backing up several steps immediately afterward. I can bring the crazy.

And that right there is what causes me the most pain. I have friends — people who are IRL friends — who disagree with me politically or over which Iowa sports team I elevate — who get downright nasty. OK, honestly, I’ve done it myself. The firewall of my computer screen allows us relative safety in acting like jerks without getting our blocks knocked off. But our feeling and our souls don’t know the difference between virtual name calling and schoolyard taunts hurled at mega decibels in our faces.

We need, more than ever, to rethink what “connection” means.

Our democracies are at stake, our families, and our communities. We need to think critically about the affects on our psyches and those of our kids, and our expectations for each other going forward. Technology is a fabulous thing that has propelled us forward by leaps and bounds, but I opine that it is our connection and collaboration with each other, in real life relationships, that have wrought the most amazing marvels in our history.

For more thoughts about connections and relationships, you might like this:

Living in a World Wrapped up By Women

A World Wrapped Up by Women

I read an article this week about a village in Kenya where women are banned, and the women who live there. Umoja, the Swahili word for unity, is an intentional community formed in 1990 by 15 women who had been raped by British soldiers at a nearby base, and met with anger and blame by their families. Residents now range from 98 years old to infancy, as women have fled domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, forced marriages and even the loneliness and isolation following the death of a spouse. They pool their money, which is appropriated to each household for food and education based on numbers, rather than status.

The striking part of the article, for me, was the interview of an 18 year old woman who has lived there since she was carried on her mother’s back at the age of three. She describes how, in the surrounding patriarchal culture, a life outside of the community would have meant no education, probably genital mutilation, and marriage at a young age to an older man as his second or third wife.

I had been thinking for several days before I read this article about how I live this later part of my life in a world encircled mostly by women. I am a family nurse practitioner, which is an overwhelmingly female-dominated profession. I am surrounded daily by nurses, auxiliary health professionals, and administrative staff – also positions with heavy concentrations of female workers compared to men.

I remember, about ten years ago, a conversation with a smart, funny, and motherly nurse co-worker and friend, who heard me lamenting about how my husband didn’t listen to me. “Ohhhhh, honey,” she clucked. “That’s what you have your women friends for. Men aren’t good at things like that. Lawn care and auto maintenance – that’s what men are good at.”

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Men, and sometimes women – in a heartbreaking display of internalized misogyny – are prone to describe female-dominated workplaces as hotbeds of emotional mayhem, back biting and cat fighting. The jokes are that hormones drip from the light fixtures, performance is skewed by timing in a menstrual cycle, and reason takes a back seat to feelings. (And by jokes, I mean actual reasons given for the glass ceilings and wage disparity still glaringly obvious in almost every occupation.)

Reading the story of Umoja, however, I thought about what it must be like growing up in a world where you felt safe from the constant underlying simmer of male violence that every woman has lived with since her first toddling steps. No stone faced response to catcalling, no learning to hold your keys in your hand, poking through the fingers as potential weapons, no knowing to walk in pairs or groups whenever possible – what must that be like? Would one take deeper breaths and exhale more completely just naturally? Would one’s limbs be more fluid, more relaxed?

There’s a reason why women plan Girls Weekends, and it’s not – as men may think – because they want to skip the traces and sample other flavors, as it were. Even the men surrounding the village of Umoja are recorded as saying, in criticism, that there is no way the women of the community aren’t sneaking out to meet with the men around the countryside. Clearly, the thought goes, the biggest goal on the women’s minds is men.

Sorry, fellas. You ain’t it.

image via Pexels.com

As I have gotten older, I have hosted a few women’s gatherings at my house, in the back yard oasis with a pool and a deck and a porch swing. You know what we do? We eat, we drink, we laugh. We lean forward in our chairs, knees touching, and listen as one woman talks about her struggle with her teenage son, offering hands to hold and tissues for falling tears, but not solutions or answers or advice. We lean back, knees over the arms of our chairs, without a care for decorum, laughing about our own foibles or those of our men. We hold hands and we hug. We discuss our work lives, our love lives, politics, spirituality, and our dreams for the future for ourselves and for those we love. We connect.

I love going to work, and the number one reason is because of my coworkers. There are a few men at my clinic, outnumbered 20:1, but the women who work with me are my sisters. They notice when I’ve lost weight and celebrate with me. They sidle up beside me and nudge me in comfort when they know my dog is dying. We have perfected a dance, intricate but efficient, where we anticipate each other’s needs and have learned each other’s routines. We are not intimidated or challenged by each other’s brilliance and accomplishments, and we don’t jockey for position in a hierarchy.

I have also worked in male-dominated workplaces, and I can tell you that is very different as a female. Men and women communicate differently, and use body language differently. I’m in my late fifties, and with a lifetime of acculturation as a woman, there is a different kind of wariness for a woman surrounded by men. Wordlessly, we accept the fact that we feel less safe – physically, emotionally, and professionally.

The idea of Umoja, the village in Kenya, continues to bob to the surface in my mind. I imagine what it would be like to live there, relaxing at the end of the day in front of tiny homes, chatting with other women, with children playing nearby. I think about Western women, and how we gather together in occupations and church groups, for girls weekends and women’s retreats. I get it. I understand and I celebrate the Kenyans’ strength and courage and grit, their recognition of their own worth and the way they protect and elevate each other.

Do you have a space where you are wrapped up by other women?

What It’s Like to Visit A Prison

It still hurts a lot, every time I leave, and I have to start the long drive home without speaking to anyone to get my emotions under control.

You learn a whole new vocabulary as you become immersed in the world of corrections, both formal and colloquial. The incarcerated men are referred to as “offenders”, and the “VR” is the visiting room where your life intersects with the life of the imprisoned person you love. You learn what clothes you can wear and cannot wear. Men cannot wear what a male prisoner wears: no plain white, gray or navy T-shirts. And women cannot wear anything, basically, that might unreasonably titillate a male inmate

two person holding credit card closeup photo
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You learn to bring money to load a special debit card to use for overpriced snack items in the VR. The incarcerated see them as luxuries – items that aren’t part of their usual fare. You also remember to bring a quarter so that you can use a locker – you can carry in no purse, no phone, no watch and no keys. Walking through the metal detector and being “wanded” becomes commonplace. The heavy clang of massive metal gates with coils of murderous razor wire on top no longer make you jump when you pass through them.

As the months and years pass, you get to know the “CO’s”, short for “correctional officers”. You learn which ones are young and eager to earn their stripes. They swagger, twirling their keys, their hair spiky on the tops of their heads and close shaven on the sides, and they lean on counters, their eyes darting back and forth, vigilant for any infraction. Others have been in the position for years. They have gotten to know some men well. They have seen people come and go and, in some cases, return again. The Old Guard know me and greet me by name, asking about my plans for the holidays. We’re all in this together.

low angle view of tower against clear blue sky
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My son has been incarcerated almost nine years, and not wrongly. He committed the crimes and, at my naive urging, he confessed to them fully. He could spend a total of thirty years in prison, arrested when he was 23. A better possibility is 21 years, and we hold out hope that he may be released soon. My son says that he cannot think about those prospects. He has to “do his time” one day at a time, not allowing his mind to invest itself in thoughts of going home, focusing only on the days just ahead.

I have learned to follow his lead. Being with him in the VR, surrounded by other offenders and their friends and family, no longer seems strange to me. He remains my oldest son, my Old Soul, and the only one of my family who could have survived a long sentence like this. My daughter would have organized the population and reformed the whole system by now. My younger son would have staged a Rambo-esque revolt. Me, I would have fallen in love with the warden or something. Classic Stockholm Syndrome.

Over the years, we have visited in every family configuration, but my favorite visits are those alone with him, him and me. We laugh, we eat, we discuss politics and sports and family members. It still hurts a lot, every time I leave, and I have to start the long drive home without speaking to anyone to get my emotions under control. Someone wise and beautiful taught me once to sit with my pain, so I imagine my pain as a crone, wrapped in black, who sits beside me in the passenger seat and rocks back and forth, keening her grief. I breathe in and out, and when her mourning is complete, she disappears.

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Every time, I remind myself that way too many mothers would give all to have the chance to visit their son in prison, instead of in the morgue. As the bodies of young men litter streets everywhere, mine is safe. Mine still does what he can to be a father to his young son, a son to his mother, and a leader in his community. My son, someday, will come home.

Optimism – Not Just for the Young Ones

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When I was a teenager, my plan was to become a journalist, and more specifically, a war correspondent. My goal was to write about the women, the children, and the civilians affected by war so powerfully and so eloquently that the world at large would take notice. “No more,” the world would say. “We cannot continue on this way and allow the innocents to be slaughtered.” And war would stop on the planet.

This year in June, I watched my oldest grandson graduate from high school, and I listened to the speeches of the class valedictorians. Proud, hopeful, and full of fire, they knew beyond a doubt that they were going to grab hold of the world they were inheriting and make it better.

The students who survived the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland rose up like phoenixes with courage and grit and set out to empower a generation to make changes to our electoral process and our society as a whole.

While feeling at once tenderly protective of the young ones, and refreshed by their energy, I am aware of a smug cynicism that sneaks into the back row of seats in my consciousness. I feel disappointed with myself for the mental smirk. I tell myself that the young, idealistic activists will become tired, and jaded, and as pessimistic as I have become. We see cynicism as a measure of maturity and wisdom, and consider optimism to be naivete.

Psychologists believe that cynicism arises from not trusting others. Fechenhauer and Dunning showed in 2010 that study participants can become more trusting if they have more practice in actually trusting other people – if they are in situations where others behave honestly and sincerely. But that’s the rub, isn’t it? No one can control how other people are going to behave.

I have often said in my own life that I don’t need to worry about trusting or not trusting anyone else, as long as I feel like I can trust my own response to whatever another person does. The burden is on me to respond in a way that matches the kind of person I want to be. Michelle Obama’s famous injunction “When they go low, we go high” is a mantra for choosing a positive response.

Our input shapes our output. I deactivated my Facebook account in the week before the midterm elections because I could tell that the constant barrage of negative posts on all sides were eroding my naturally positive demeanor and spilling over into my offline life. I became more irritable in traffic and at work. Within ten days of my social media fast, my iPhone told me I had decreased my screen time by 38 percent. I noticed I was more patient and better able to let others do their own thing without feeling the urgent need to swoop in and let them know how wrong they were.

Nomadic photographer Anne McKinnell tells us that she found it easier to see the negative things around her in her early career, but she felt that changing when she made the decision to photograph beautiful subjects like nature and wildlife. She reminds herself with each shot to look specifically for the good, and in doing so, she writes that she has begun to notice the beautiful in the rest of the world around her. She was happier, and it became a positive feedback loop of optimism and adventure.

So I find wandering back toward the sunny fields of my buoyant youth. Along with the usual daily news, I seek out writers who tell me about the heroic, the selfless, the brilliant and the generous. Bill and Melinda Gates are bringing together talent and innovation from around the world to revolutionize sanitation in places where people still sicken and die from human waste born illnesses. Americans will see a record-breaking number of women in the incoming Congress in January, as well as the first indigenous and Muslim women. I continue to be aware of the serious challenges facing us, but controlling what enters the little computer of my mind has improved my ability to confront them with confidence and courage.

On the Virtues of Feeling Small

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I have spent time over the last decade learning how to take up space without apology – to speak up, to make a priority of my needs and my dreams, and to generally make my character in this life as big as those around me.

A recent trip to the Grand Canyon showed me that there is virtue and peace in recognizing myself as a small but vital part of a larger cosmos. Standing on the edge of a chasm that dwarfed me, I felt myself to be not insignificant in a grander scheme, but certainly not the be-all and end-all as I generally imagine myself to be.

Egocentrism is the practice of seeing oneself as the center of one’s own universe, and not the same as egotism or being selfish. Simply put, we see the world around us from the starting point of us. It’s normal and it sort of anchors for us a place in our surroundings.

Doing so, however, naturally makes everything about “me” and “mine” become distorted until it looks bigger than it really is, to anyone except ourselves. In general, I don’t lie awake at night worrying about the things going on in your life as much as I do about the things going on in mine: my marriage, my health, my finances. From the perspective of being the one living in my own skin, what affects me personally is bigger than events and issues, for instance, that affect my country, my society, and my planet. At least, that’s how it’s been for me.

And then I faced the south rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time. Sure, I was wowed by its indescribable and ever-changing beauty. Of course, I was drawn to clamor down trails to explore it further, and driven to photograph it in every light.

But the most striking thing for me was to realize that that feature has been changing – and leaving its trail for others to follow – for hundreds of millions of years. While I have been worrying about weight loss and my relationships with my children – while whole civilizations have risen, flourished and fallen – layers of earth have been laid down, compressed, and worn away by wind and water with relentless forward progress that doesn’t give two hoots about me and my drama.

I sat on the sun-warmed rocks on the edge and let a feeling of “everything is fine” settle down into my bones. Even the tragedies and the missteps – they had their place, or at least could be worked into the finished piece that was my life. And my life was part of a larger tapestry that was always meant to occupy its particular spot – not insignificant, but certainly not the focal point of the whole masterpiece.

It has also helped me to remember to stay in my own lane, and focus on my own tasks – I can trust that everyone and everything else is proceeding down their own evolutionary highway without the need for my constant supervision and critique. My fussing over it all hasn’t been productive at all.

Even better, I have found since I returned home that this sensation of being right where I am supposed to be is easy to recapture and experience again. All I have to do is go outside and let the sounds and smells of nature become larger than those that are man-made. Perhaps I catch a glimpse of a squirrel running up a tree that has lived its whole life and never thought about my bank account, or a bird soaring overhead that sees life from a much higher perspective, and doesn’t lose sleep thinking about the midterm elections.

In a strange paradox, feeling smaller has also given me an unshakable belief in my own perfect rightness in life. I’m supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be exactly what I am. And I will progress in my own time and on my own path just as I should. And that is more beautiful than even the seen beauty of the Grand Canyon.