Comments to my last post http://lucymoore.com/no-need-to-worry/ gave me a lot to think about. My critics accused me of butting in where I had no business when I criticized a man for leaving his car running for over 45 minutes while parked. They called me a lot of things but “self-righteous busy body” sums it up. And of all the things to be called, that really smarts, because that is precisely my least favorite person. But I guess this is not surprising, that we would harbor those traits that we abhor in others.
I’ve always hoped that I would get some pushback on my posts to liven things up, and I guess this qualifies as a “be careful what you wish for” moment. But it was very enlightening for me, and here is what I learned:
Critics have a point: That perspective from the other side is worth considering, no matter how tempting it is to defend yourself and blast them back. In this case I have to admit that I would probably do it again on the basis that sometimes it is worth being a self-righteous busy body. After all, the line between good citizen and busy body can be fuzzy. But I will think twice next time, which is probably good advice for us all.
Humor disappears: I couldn’t seem to convince my critics that putting potatoes in the exhaust pipe was a fantasy, that I would never do that…well, almost never, but certainly not in that case. Writing style is tricky. I try for easy, clever, entertaining, maybe with a little surprise. But when you have offended someone as I did, the humor is lost and the lens is literal. Another insight to remember when I take something literally that may not be meant that way.
Stereotypes take over: I assumed that my critics were all …well, I don’t need to go there. Let’s just say I assumed beliefs and values that are different from mine. I actually don’t know if that’s true, but making those assumptions was the easiest way to distinguish myself from them, to make them the “other.” On their part, they made it clear that they were assuming I was a rigid, humorless, strident, politically correct snob. I plead guilty to busy-body but not the rest…well, let me think about it. Anyway, it hurt to be stereotyped, and I’m sorry I stereotyped them.
Dismissing comes next: After stereotyping comes dismissing. “I know who they are and that’s enough.” No need or desire to keep talking, to learn more. The comment that hurt most – yes, even more than self-righteous busy body — was “Just ignore her.” To be dismissed as not worth another breath, another word, that really got me. I wanted to know more about my critics, and I wanted them to know that I wasn’t the monster they thought I was. How often do I hear friends say they hope they never meet someone from the “other side.” They would never want to talk to them or hear their story. This kind of dismissal hurts. Take it from me.
I was going to write something uplifting for the new year – and if you want that right now you could revisit my post from January 2017 (see past posts) which is even more relevant now than then – but I cannot get this guy out of my mind. No, it’s not the one you think. This one has a longish gray ponytail and a silver Lexus with a solar-powered prayer wheel on the dashboard. And this is how we met.
Roberto and I took our ten-year old grandsons to Meow Wolf. It was our first time and we were blown away by the art, the craft, the cleverness and the delight in every room and around every corner. I can’t describe it here, but if you are not local please google it to get the idea. After a couple of hours of amazement we staggered out into the warm December day. Always being hungry, the boys headed for the food trucks. We loaded up with sandwiches and curly fries and found an empty picnic table nearby. As we were happily munching and reminiscing about the Meow Wolf experience a silver Lexus pulled up to the curb just a few yards away and stopped. The driver sat looking at his phone for several minutes, maybe waiting for a child he dropped off inside, I guessed. We took our time, marveling at the solar-powered prayer wheel on the car’s dashboard, twinkling as it turned in the sunlight. We also marveled at the length of a curly fry and wondered whether we could enter it in the Guinness Book of World Records.
After 45 minutes or so the driver got out of the car — that’s when I saw his gray ponytail — and walked over to the espresso truck. And that’s when a grandson, whose hearing is a lot better than ours, said that he thought the car was running. “It couldn’t be!” I said. “He’s been there so long.” The boys went over to the car and felt it. Yup, they declared it was vibrating. (more…)
Just a quick note to wish you all a fulfilling new year. And also to thank you for being part of my online community. It is comforting to know that you are “out there,” mulling over some of the same curiosities of life that I am.
(My January post will follow when I straighten out some computer issues….speaking of the curiosities of life!)
“I’m going shopping. I think I’ll get some salmon,” I say to Roberto, and he agrees. We both like salmon a lot. You might be imagining a couple of nice salmon steaks, being that there are just two of us, but he and I know that whoever goes to get the salmon will come back with at least half a fillet, even a whole one if it’s small. Because we are not the only salmon lovers in our family.
About twelve years ago a feral cat came wandering through the community. We have a flat roof with a huge apricot tree hanging over it, and he took a liking to that spot where he could look down on us going in and out. We called him Bruiser, he being big and orange and very manly. One day we were standing in the patio looking up at him, and I said in a rather hushed voice, “You know, if we could ever catch Bruiser I would take him straight to the vet and get him fixed.” Bruiser’s hearing must have been excellent because he disappeared for at least a year. I regretted my words and hoped that he would return. We learned from our neighbor Wayne that he was hanging out at his house, and for the next few years we co-parented. Wayne and Roberto built a handsome house for Bruiser, complete with a heating pad and heated water bowl for below freezing nights.
But there was domestic trouble at Wayne’s. His two cats were upset with their foster brother and expressed themselves by spraying the furniture. Nothing would stop them and it apparently became unbearable. In order to save his marriage Wayne trapped Bruiser in a big cage and took him three miles across the arroyo and through the hills to a lovely ranchette with horses and barns and lots of mice. In less than 24 hours he was back at Wayne’s. (more…)
I am at a table with fifteen people around it. They represent several tribal governments, a federal agency that has caused critical contamination of their natural and cultural resources, a state agency responsible for natural resource protection, and another federal agency thrown in for good measure. Some of these parties have lawyers with them, some have technical experts. There is a consultant to research, gather data and help the group come to agreement on the facts. And there is me, responsible for the negotiating environment at the table.
The goal is to determine damages to the resources and find ways of compensating for those losses. Some of the damages cannot be remediated, some tribes are suffering economic, social or cultural impacts, or all three, and there are limited funds with which to compensate. The damage is done and these parties are left to pick up the pieces and reconstruct a way forward. In the world of natural resource mediation this is about as grim as it gets.
I should dread these meetings, and yet I look forward to them. How can this be and what does it tell us about handling conflict? (more…)
Roberto and I were having breakfast out the other morning and a friend came up to say hello. He and Roberto are fellow combat veterans, although a generation apart. Roberto was in Vietnam and Daniel was in the first Iraq war. He asked how I was and I said automatically “Doing fine, thanks, and how about you?”
“For me,” he said with a slight pause, “I’m doing great.” He explained that given who he was, given his particular set of challenges, it was actually a great day.
He is a counselor, working with a population that is battling a lot of demons – veterans, addicts and those with mental illness. A client of his once answered the “how’s it going” question with “I’m at one hundred per cent, top of my game!” even though by outward appearances none of us would want to trade places with him. He was tired, hungry, needed shelter and a shower. But for him, given what he was dealing with and how he often felt, this was an excellent day. If he had been using another measure – mine, or yours, probably — it would have been far from a good day.
Maybe it’s because I was raised an atheist, but when I saw the total eclipse I burst into tears.
My anticipation had reached a fever pitch as we drove from New Mexico to the center of the path of totality in Wyoming. I had seen TV and newspaper coverage and understood that this was going to be a remarkable sight and well worth traveling for. As those of you who were not in the path of totality are probably sick of hearing, the total eclipse bears no relation to the partial. It is an entirely different experience. I was prepared for it, at least intellectually.
We arrived at a city park in Riverton in plenty of time, before the moon had begun its journey across the sun. With our special eclipse glasses we watched as the moon crept into view, taking the tiniest possible bite out of the upper right corner of the sun. It took over an hour for it to reach totality, and every minute my excitement mounted. The inevitability of it (science told me it was going to happen) and the suspense (what if it didn’t happen for whatever reason) were an almost unbearable combination. (more…)
“Where can I find steel wool?” The Ace Hardware greeter directed me to Aisle 5, where I found it on the bottom shelf. I was looking for the coarsest kind to plug up the many holes in our house that led to the crawl space. I had done a quick survey and found at least three gaps where pipes went from the baseboard heating or from appliances down through the floor to the crawl space, a place where one hoped never to have to go.
And what is so repellent about our crawl space? It is home to mice, of course, which is nothing new and part of country life. But wait, as they say on late night TV, there’s more! Let me back track a couple of weeks.
We took a short trip to Grand Canyon and while we were gone our cat-sitter Miranda called us to report that our cats were delighted with their new companion, a three-foot snake which she found on the rug in our bedroom. It was a good thing that I was in our hotel room and not near the canyon or I surely would have leapt in when I saw the photo of Miranda, clearly in our bedroom, beaming and holding the snake by the head while it wrapped around her arm. She likes snakes and took it to her house to live…outside I presume.
If you saw my post about the giant pink snake in the tree you will understand how deep my fear of snakes runs. http://lucymoore.com/strangest-thing-ive-ever-seen/. By the time we got home I was a wreck. I forced myself inside and walked from room to room, eyes glued to the floor, flinching at a computer cord, a snake-like cat toy, even shoe laces. Anything long and thin was a source for panic. Clearly we had to find every possible snake access and plug it up.
So there I was, sitting on the floor inspecting the bins of steel wool when a young woman in a red Ace Hardware polo shirt asked if I needed help. I looked up and saw a smiling 20-something, with short black hair and a piercing or two. On the verge of tears, I explained that just that morning I had found the second snake to invade our house. This one, much smaller than the first, (could there be a nest of baby snakes???!!!) had apparently been killed by our cats. I was so afraid of snakes, I explained, and I figured that the best way to keep them out was to plug all access, hence the steel wool.
She listened thoughtfully before speaking.
“Of course, you need to plug those holes — you can’t have snakes in your house. I would recommend this expanding spray foam. It will fill the holes and dry hard. Snakes can push steel wool out of the way if they want to. They are very strong, but this foam will stop them.”
She handed me a canister and I thanked her, but she went on, stooping down to my level.
“You know, I was very lucky. My uncle loved snakes. He had a boa constrictor.” I probably made a face but she went on. “I spent a lot of time at his house, and one day when my mom came to get me, that boa was wrapped around my body – I was about five and it wasn’t squeezing me at all, just gently hugging me. Every time I went over there, it came and wrapped around me. It loved me, and I loved it. In the summer I would walk outside with the snake around me. It always let me have my arms free, so sometimes I would hold a book and read stories to the snake as we walked. Those were great times. I was really lucky.”
I was waiting for the “so there’s nothing to be afraid of, snakes are kind, you should get over it, etc.” Instead she said, “But you have a phobia and that’s a serious thing. We need to get those holes plugged up.” We examined the different foam canisters and chose one especially for pests. I thanked her, got to my feet and left for home.
I thought about her story and found that, rather than revolting me or freaking me out, it gave me real pleasure. The picture of her walking around the garden reading to her boa buddy made me smile. There are lots of ways of relating to snakes and I do not have to be locked in my version. I’m not saying that at this point I am able to free myself of the phobia, but it is very helpful to have a different version to draw on. My Ace Hardware therapist understood that and generously offered her story — an alternative narrative about snakes — rather than trying to talk me out of my phobia. She was respectful, sensitive and knew what I needed. What more can one ask from a therapist?
Note: I realize I am on a roll with stories of strangers helping me deal with fears. See last month’s http://lucymoore.com/i-was-on-my-way/Is it just me, or have you been lucky in this way, too?
I was on my way to saying no thanks. In fact I had said “no thanks, I would rather just stay in the house.” I would really be perfectly fine if Roberto went by himself. He looked at me questioningly, hesitated, then picked up the phone and dialed.
“Yes. I’d like to make a reservation to go on your snorkeling trip – at night – the one with the manta rays.” Pause. “Um. How about tomorrow?” Pause “Good. That’s great.” Pause “4:30? Yes, I know where that is. And do you provide wetsuits and gear and everything?” Pause “Sounds good. Here’s the credit card number.” He read the card number, expiration date, etc. another pause, and then he said, “Just one – I just need one reservation.”
“Wait” I shouted across the room. “I want to go, too!” I realized that if he went without me and came back so excited about some adventure he’d had, I would feel bad. Worse, I would feel like a wimp. I am a happy, comfortable swimmer and love the ocean. I just don’t want to see what’s down there. It’s all too scary, and the thought of looking down there at night just multiplied the fear factor.
“Just a minute, please,” and Roberto covered the receiver with his hand. “You don’t have to, really. If you don’t want to it’s ok –“
“No! Get two tickets. I want to go.”
And so I did.
The boat was noisy and smelled of fuel, but I was encouraged by the crew who were young, jolly, and clearly used to handling all kinds of tourists, all shapes, sizes, and attitudes. It was late afternoon when we arrived at the manta ray feeding grounds and took our first dip. I was determined to be a good sport. I pushed off from the boat and peeked into the water. Nothing remarkable. Then in the distance, I saw a manta ray-shaped thing. I was excited, gurgled through the mask to Roberto to look in that direction and he confirmed it. I stayed out a few more minutes and clambered back onto the boat, well satisfied.
The main event, of course, was snorkeling at night, but I felt sure that I had seen enough, and so I munched on my box dinner relatively anxiety free. With the sun dropping into the sea behind us, a cheery crew member told us a bit about the remarkable manta ray and explained the drill. We – there were about 8 of us – would get in the water and swim a hundred yards to a spot where our snorkeler wrangler would be waiting with a giant hula hoop floating on top of the water. We would grab onto the hula hoop with one hand and point our flashlights downward into the water. This would create a column of light, which would be matched by the scuba divers already on the bottom about 40 feet down, shining their flashlights up toward us. The column of light would attract the plankton and the mantas would come to dine. We were setting their dinner table for them.
I listened to all this with detached interest. When Jack, one of the crew, said it was time to go in, I said I would be staying on the boat. A grandmother and grandson had already made that decision and I thought they looked like good company.
“Why don’t you want to go?” Jack asked.
“Of the manta rays. They’re so big.”
“What do you think is going to happen?”
“One might touch me, hit me with his arm – his wing – whatever.”
“And then what would happen?”
“Well, it might flip me up in the air”
“And then what would happen?”
“I might die of a heart attack.”
“Lucy,” he said gently. “You are not going to die of a heart attack or anything else out there.”
I thought for a few seconds. OK, if I wasn’t going to die….how bad could it be? And if I did die, it would all be Jack’s fault. Anxiety rising, I jumped in the water before I could change my mind.
We swam out to the hula hoop and grabbed on. I was next to Roberto, who put his hand over mine reassuringly. I put my head down, let my body float out in back of me and looked down. There were manta rays! They were huge – 14 feet wing spans – they were wheeling and somersaulting under me, sucking up the billions of tiny plankton meals drawn to the light. Their wings were frilly at the edges, and they glided and swooped from bottom to top in arcs and circles, their mouths like car grills, huge wide slits. They were so graceful, so beautiful, so grand and so natural, weaving in and out, avoiding each other and us, coming close – two feet sometimes, but never touching us.
I was so overwhelmed, I turned to Roberto whose eyes were bugging out of his mask, and got his attention. I gurgled and spluttered and squealed through my snorkel tube in my excitement, and he nodded violently. I stayed there clinging to the hula hoop for a half hour. I can’t explain the depth of the feeling, but I was moved to tears at times…. my own salty tears inside the mask…the ocean outside. They were so beautiful, like ballerinas, huge ballerinas of nature, ocean dwelling acrobats. I felt so lucky to be there, to see this wonder of the planet. I felt so small. It was inspiring, overwhelming. I swam back to the boat a different person.
I had been on my way to fear and dread, and I had found peace, a deep and awesome peace.
I don’t know why this tickled me so much, so I thought I would share it with you and see if together we can figure out why.
My son Nathan lives in Manila and works throughout the Philippines for USAID (Agency for International Development). It is the arm of our government that tries to do good in the world, funding roads, water, health and human services projects in countries that are struggling. He worked in Palestine before being transferred to Manila for four years after which he will probably be sent to a hardship post like Afghanistan. But I digress.
He sent me these photos recently and this is the story. He went to evaluate a project in the city of Legazpi in the Bicol region of the island of Luzon. He and the local folks working on the project visited a nearby volcano called Mayon. There were a couple of guys there, Nathan said, who were available to take staged photos of tourists. There wasn’t any advertising, no hustling, they just made it known that they could take a photo with your own iPhone that would amaze and amuse friends and family. Nathan’s local colleagues told him that they hoped for a tip and that was all. Intrigued, Nathan agreed and they choreographed and snapped these three photos. (more…)