A Morality Tale

My mother preferred the term agnostic.  “You just can’t know for sure,” was her line. But  my father had no doubt. He was a proud atheist.  “Make them prove it to you, Lucy. You’ll see. They can’t!” That was the end of the subject.

This is the crowd I yearned for….

The “them,” of course, was a large chunk of the country and most of our neighborhood in Seattle, and it was painful for me at a certain age not to be one of “them.”  When I was twelve many of my friends were getting ready for confirmation at the local Episcopal Church. I had no idea what that meant, and I’m not sure they knew either, but they had new white dresses and were anticipating receiving a bible, I imagined with gold-edged pages. Every Monday after school they went to the church to prepare for this exciting event. Their parents picked them up and they bounced into the car and drove off, leaving me in a wake of not belonging.

I fretted about this for awhile, screwed up my courage, and asked my parents, “Why can’t I be confirmed, too? Everyone is doing it. I feel left out.”

“That’s for people who belong to that church…” my mother began. “And for people who believe in God,” my father finished. I knew that we did not fit in either category.

“But can’t we just join that church, just for this year, so I can get confirmed, too?

Epiphany Episcopal Church in Seattle

And then we could stop going after that?” I built my case, but to no avail. This was the day I learned a new word, hypocrisy.  They couldn’t pretend about something so important, my parents explained. But if I really wanted to be a member of that church and get confirmed, they would drive me, drop me off and pick me up every Sunday and take me to the practice sessions, too.

“But I want us all to go. I want to be a family that goes to church.” I knew it was futile – another word I learned that day. They wouldn’t budge. I was angry. It would be so easy to go through the motions.

So why didn’t I take them up on their offer? I could have joined the church, been dropped off and picked up, and earned my white dress and bible. Or, maybe my friend Dotty’s parents could have adopted me just for a few months of Sundays and I could have hopped in the backseat with her and belonged, just temporarily.

I remember struggling with the dilemma, a battle between my desire to belong and my budding sense of morality. In the end I saw that pursuing the confirmation would be pretending I was someone I wasn’t, and that once I took that step it could be a very slippery slope of dishonesty with myself and others.

I also remember taking solace in the fact that in just four years I would be sixteen and could drive myself to any church I wanted, maybe lots of them, and see what I thought. In the meantime, I was learning how to make honest and moral decisions from my parents, and that was much more valuable than a white dress and bible with gold edges.

And, lo and behold, my grandmother, who was a wonderful Christian lady, gave me a bible with gold edges for my next birthday!
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Building a Fort

Most summers my son and his family visit us in Santa Fe from their home abroad.  This year they have a longer than usual break which means that we can actually undertake a project which has been a fantasy until now – the building of a fort.

The Fort — nearly complete!

Roberto has been the supervisor and engineer. We all had a hand in the design which maximizes reuse: an old wooden ladder was cut in two for access to the landing and the top floor, and the round top of a telephone wire spool serves as a landing. The rest of the lumber was all found on the property thanks to Roberto ‘s  instinct to hang onto materials just in case. (more…)

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Where Did We Go Wrong?

As I type this title I smile – a sad kind of smile – because there are so many things I could be talking about. But not to worry, this is not about melting icebergs or immigrant children in cages. You can relax.

On May 13, Doris Day died at 97.  The news was full of her radiant, blemish-free face, her tiny waist and twirling skirts, her perfect and perky figure. She was singing, she was dancing, she was acting. She flirted, she pouted, she laughed, she cried (but not for long). She stamped her size 5 ½ foot and got what she wanted. AP called her “the sunny blond actress and singer whose frothy comedic roles opposite the likes of Rock Hudson and Cary Grant made her one of Hollywoood’s biggest stars in the 1950s and ‘60s and a symbol of wholesome American womanhood.”

These images took me back to my teen years when she was everywhere. I didn’t particularly want to look or be like Doris Day, but the message was clear: this was what American girls and young women should strive for if they wanted to land some version of Cary Grant – which we were all expected to want to do.  Her contemporary, Marilyn Monroe, offered a different model, one with a naughty twist.  But still the basics were the same. It was about being amazingly, perfectly beautiful for starters. You could tweak your own style after that. (more…)

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Bonding at the V.A.

Ready to serve a Marine in need

I’m not saying I didn’t take him seriously, but when Roberto stood up and declared that he was going to his shop to get a pair of curved pliers so he could pull out his tooth…I took notice. He had been pretty stoic for a few days, until he snapped. It was unbearable. We found some oxycodone (expired in 2012) in the medicine drawer and that seemed like an excellent alternative to pulling the tooth out with whatever was handy on his workbench. It worked wonders and kept him relatively pain free, or at least oblivious, over the weekend. On Monday he called the VA dental clinic and declared himself an emergency and was told to come in first thing Tuesday morning as a walk-in. (more…)

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Giving a Hand, Stepping Aside

not my birthday cake, but it could have been!

I had a birthday recently, a reminder (as if I needed it) that the ranks of those younger than me are growing, and the numbers ahead of me are dwindling. And perusing the paper on that special day, I read that composting human bodies is now legal in Washington state, the ultimate in recycling. It made me think about life and how to make the most of every stage, every year, even the end. I am not ready for composting, nor do I think I will ever be ready to join the teeming activity of a compost heap if it looks anything like mine.

All this makes me think about my responsibility to those aspiring facilitators and mediators, who are behind me in line, wanting a career like mine. I am still working as a facilitator and mediator because I can still do it and I love it, but in so doing I am taking work away from some younger aspiring mediator. We hear about a crisis in some universities where long-lived professors refuse to give up teaching, and lower level associates, ready to move upward, are stuck waiting in line for the opening that never comes. I do not want to be that old fogey unwilling to step aside, but I want to practice at least a little as long as I can. Here is my solution: I mentor. (more…)

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Report from Uppsala

Hotel Grand Hornan

I spent a wonderful week in Sweden, thanks to my friend and colleague Sue Senecah who has an appointment at SLU university in Uppsala. She took such good care of me and I had a great time getting to know students and faculty in the environmental communications and conflict resolution field. My only disappointment was that the city is pronounced oopSAla rather than OOPSala, which is so much more fun to say.

As I explained in my last blog, understanding each other’s “landscape” in all senses was my goal. So, here are some glimpses into the Swedish landscape.

In mid-March it was dark and gray and wet. It reminded me of my hometown Seattle on steroids. But I was there for the equinox on March 21, when the temperature shot up to near 50, the sun came out, and everyone went nuts. After a long, very dark winter, here was proof that the long, bright summer was in sight. Restaurants had outdoor seating, with giant heat lamps, and people bundled up and sat outside, faces upward toward the precious sun. Some bikers and runners even donned shorts. Surprised babies were unzipped from their mummy-bag-strollers, like little butterflies coming out of cocoons. (more…)

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Uppsala Bound

My advice to anyone entering a conflict, either as a party or a conflict resolver, is to learn about the landscape — not just the geography, natural resources and climate, but also the cultural landscape. What values guide decisions? What are the economics, politics and history of the place?

Uppsala, Sweden

And, so when I was invited to Uppsala to speak to graduate students studying environmental conflict resolution, I immediately turned my attention to the Swedish landscape. I began, of course, by binge-watching Swedish TV shows and movies. There is a wealth of nail-biting Swedish entertainment out there — “The Bridge,” “Johan Falk,” “Beck,” “Modus,” “Wallander” – all excellent.

Santa Lucia

We just finished the “Sandhamn Murders,” which I highly recommend. A troubled policeman with an ex-wife in the wings meets a gorgeous, bicycle-riding, flower-arranging, gourmet-cooking woman, mother of two supremely healthy children, who is unhappy in her marriage. As they flirt and misfire with each other, horrific murders are committed by the last person you would suspect. The setting is an island of summer homes owned by vacationers who wear very natty, color coordinated casual wear and poor locals who mostly repair boats and drink a lot of beer. All this screen time in the interest of understanding the Swedish “landscape” has been perfect for a non-academic, TV addict like myself.  I admit that this style of immersion is like learning about the US Southwest by watching John Wayne movies and “Breaking Bad.” But I have come a long way from my previous “landscape of Sweden,” which was pretty much limited to pickled herring, Santa Lucia with candles on her head,  winter sports and Northern Lights. (more…)

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Doing Things

I had coffee with my friend Miriam the other day. As we sat down with our cups at a local coffee shop, she said proudly, “This is my fourth thing today.” Miriam is a poet and a wonderful, rambling thinker. I was intrigued. What do you mean a “thing” I asked her.

She explained that every day she does ten things. They can be fun things, hard things, boring things, any kind of thing. (I was relieved to hear that our coffee was a “fun thing.”)  She seemed to want to explain, with nervous laughter, why she did ten things each day, but I was already way ahead of her. Each day would have an order, a calculation, each thing I did would have a legitimacy – it would be a “thing.” No more would I slog through the day and wonder at the end, “what was that all about?” I would have a mental list of things that I did, proof of a good, productive day.

(more…)

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Composting 2018

Living in a rural area outside Santa Fe, we are masters of our own waste, free of pesky rules concerning style and content of compost facilities. Our “facility” is about the size of a small bedroom or a large closet, contained within four walls of straw bales, stacked two bales high. It is divided into two cells, one where the fresh offerings go, and the other where the compost is left for the final conversion to soil. I know there are those with other systems, plastic barrels that you roll on the ground to activate whatever the composting agents are, and plastic bins that sit in a frame and you turn with a crank. They adhere to strict rules about what goes into the bin – only fresh vegetables. — but the result can be disappointing, smelly and slimy.

Not our compost, which is currently covered in snow. But this shows construction.

We, on the other hand, are equal opportunity composters. There is nothing in the animal or vegetable kingdom that is not welcome. Our compost bucket takes all vegetable matter (the older the better), as well as chicken carcasses, fish bones, paper towels, egg cartons, stale crackers, sour milk, old wine, and leftovers whose identity is masked by a thick layer of blue, green or gray fuzz. Egg shells and coffee grounds are treasured.   (more…)

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Lotus Blossoms and Racism

My field of conflict resolution seems to have exploded lately with workshops to help people deal with racism and bias. Believing that this is a critically important focus these days, and wanting to answer the call, a Hispanic colleague and I have facilitated several workshops for agencies, nonprofits and others. We help attendees (usually a mixed group of White and People of Color) tell their stories — stories that reveal the power and dynamics of historical trauma, unintentional bias, institutional racism, and more. Hopefully, these sessions are enlightening, provocative, and lead to more awareness of how to deal with each other in these volatile, divisive times. But the real learning comes from our own experience and a willingness to examine what lies within us.

And so, here is a story…

Washington DC was gorgeous. Late July, not too hot, clear skies, slight breeze. My work ended a day early and I was in the mood for a little nature after all those buildings and monuments.  I heard the lotus blossoms were in full bloom at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and grabbed a cab from my downtown hotel. The driver had apparently never taken anyone there before, but I showed him the address on my phone and we took off, through downtown, brief stretches on highways, in and out of neighborhoods. I saw the signs fly by – Kenilworth Avenue, Anacostia, Baltimore, etc. – and luxuriated in the cocoon of the cab, not needing to know anything of where I was. (more…)

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