Sometimes abandonment is a rescue mission


Recently a friend of mine posted a meme to Facebook. It said something along the lines of, “I might get angry at you but I will never abandon you.” It stung.

See, I used to be the one who shared that stuff. I’ve had a lot of people close to me die suddenly and unexpectedly, so to me cutting people off seemed too risky. After all, when you cut someone off, often you have the hope that things will get right again. But you never can know for sure. What if you lose that person without reconciling? I could not understand people who said things like, “One and you’re done” or “If you don’t treat me right you’re gone.” It always seemed so cold and unfeeling.

That awkward moment when life kicks your butt

As is so often the case, when you walk around with a solid idea in your head, life finds a way to make you reconsider. Such is the case for me. Life gave me a couple of people whom I had to cut off because my dynamics with them were just not healthy. I knew, and still know, that cutting them out of my life was the right thing to do.

That meme though, and that word abandonment, stings. The fact is, society stifles our desire to put ourselves first. If you escape out of a bad situation, you are abandoning the other person, or you are giving up. Sure, people might not know the whole story. They might not know that she lies to you so much your head spins. They might not know that he has you walking on eggshells day in and day out. You left that person alone. You abandoned them. You’re the bad guy.

That magic color grey

Like so many things, knowing when to leave a bad relationship or friendship is not a matter of following rules 1-7. Every situation is different. I can’t tell you if, in your situation, you should cut and run or try to stick it out. But the point is nobody can tell you such things. It is very difficult not to internalize the guilt that society asks us to have. Even though our heads know that we are doing the smart thing, putting ourselves first, and getting out of a very bad situation, our hearts may still tell us that if we wait it out a bit longer, things will get better. Maybe if we try a little harder, it’ll get easier. Sometimes that may be true. It is amazing how things like stress and fatigue can color everything and make it look worse than it is.

But sometimes those guilty feelings are symptoms of the bad dynamic we’re in. You have to dig deep inside yourself and decide if you are truly being unfair or if you are being manipulated. Defer to people close to you. If you feel that something is not right, usually there is a good reason you feel that way.

Guilt no more

My fear is that people who are in abusive situations may succumb to that guilty “I’m abandoning them” feeling. It can be a no-win proposition. I think society punishes people who stay in abusive relationships by showing a lack of compassion (You must not have felt it was that bad), but then society also exerts high pressure on men and women who decide to leave, particularly, their spouses. “How could you do that?” they ask. That word “abandonment” gets tossed around.

Ultimately, nobody knows your situation and how you feel better than you. It sucks to have to cut people out of your life, especially because that seldom means your care for them just randomly stops. But if you feel like your life is being impacted negatively, or if you have kids who you feel are being impacted negatively, you need to overcome those worries that you are abandoning your partner. Remember instead that you are rescuing yourself. You are worth it. Don’t worry about what anybody else says. It is not your job to explain yourself or rationalize for others. If you are in trouble, survival dictates you try to get yourself out.

I think we need to change the way that we talk about some of these issues. We need to be more forthright about the fact that not all relationships are the same. Sometimes you need to try to hang in there and sometimes you just need to go. If you don’t know where you are seek help from either friends and family or professionals. Just remember, you are worth prioritizing. You are worth saving. By a long shot.

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A Case Study in Racism


11059446_895279337180290_383348508309004775_nI have been a “fixer” for as long as I can remember. I first became conscious of this during the Live Aid concert, which aired when I was a little kid. I didn’t understand a lot, of course, but the images of those starving Ethiopian children sure struck me hard. The fact that these musicians were raising money to help those kids made me wonder what I could do to help them. I didn’t really act on this sentiment, though, until 2003. In the wake of 9/11 and all of the horrible news coming out of Iraq, I wanted to create something tangibly good in the world. I co-founded Homespun Helpers with a friend of mine.

The idea behind this online only group (Livejournal was the platform we started with) was pretty simple. Instead of just working by yourself to donate items to one cause or another, we wanted to tally the work of a whole bunch of people, with the goal of all of us contributing to make and donate 3,000 items in a year. After a brief hiatus of a couple years or so, I brought Homespun Helpers back to Facebook.

My dream has always been that Homespun Helpers would get enough notoriety so that if an organization needed homemade items, they would reach out to our network and we would be able to help where we are most needed. We are not to that point yet, but I still have hope that we will get there. In the meantime, we try to fill gaps as best we can.

The first really big gap we tried to fill came after the Boston Marathon bombings. There was so much fear and hatred in the air after that. Do you remember that? I posed the question to the group. Can we make something that would be given to the victims’ families, victims themselves, and the caregivers at the Boston hospitals where the victims were taken? From that question, Blankies for Boston was born. It has since branched out into another group. Within a day or so, we had 100 items on the new page. Currently there are 933 “fans” on that page. I am proud to have been a part of such a great effort.

It was that experience that inspired me to fill another gap more recently. When I heard about the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, my heart sank just as it did after the Boston shootings. The Marathon is certainly sacred to some people, but churches are known as safe spots. What could be more innocent than a prayer meeting?

The Boston Marathon bombings killed 3 people. The shooter in Charleston killed nine people. I figured if I could get an effort started there would be an even greater reaction than the one we got after the Boston tragedy.

It’s almost exactly two months later, and there are currently 69 “fans” of the page. For these efforts to work, it is not about one person trying to make 1,000 items. It’s about 1,000 people trying to make five items.

I do not want to imply that I do not appreciate the 68 people who joined the page to support the effort. The people who have made items (we’re at 13 so far) will forever hold my gratitude. But one person can only do so much. The hope was that we would be able to show solidarity in the face of race hatred. The hope was that we would be able to shower the congregation of that church with what I like to call “tangible love” – afghans, prayer shawls, and other hand-crafted items.

Some have suggested the name for the new effort (Love for the Lowcountry) isn’t as catchy as Blankies for Boston. Some have suggested that people have their own charities they are crafting for and those take the priority.

That could be so. To me, however, the silence is deafening, and I can only come to the conclusion that people were not as hurt, not as outraged, after the Charleston event as they were after the Boston event. Boston maybe was easier to get behind. A Muslim guy killing mostly white people is something we can all rail against. The Charleston shooting and the church fires that happened afterward, against a backdrop of cases like Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland, perhaps make people face questions they do not want to ask. Crafting things for Black Americans who once again fell victim to race hatred may be too uncomfortable. If we craft for those victims, we have to acknowledge that they died, how they died, and why they died. Maybe that is too much for people to swallow.

I would love to hear other explanations as to why the need to heal was not as great after Charleston. You will have a hard time convincing me that racism – subtle and savage – was not at the heart of this mostly failed effort. I am heartbroken, to be honest, to see how few people were looking for a way to comfort that Charleston community. If they had been looking, they’d have found us.

Until we acknowledge racism in our country, we cannot kill it.

On Closing Books


16483954655_e04848b3ed_zOne of the great things about my friendship with Kaarina Dillabough is that we are not the types of friends who talk about what we did yesterday and which is better given the choice of chicken salad or tuna salad. No, we skip right past the “Hi how are ya” and delve into trivial things like how the universe got started and what is the difference between a friendship and an acquaintance. No small talk for us!

Recently we had a conversation about books, which seems simple enough. I was debating whether or not to invest time in reading a book that I thought would be good even though it was by an author whom I do not admire. Kaarina said I could always start reading and if I don’t like it, I could just close the book and move on.

“Oh no, not me,” I said. “I always keep reading to the end. I always think the book will get better.”

Then I realized my approach to books is exactly the same as my approach to people, or at least the same as my approach has been for years upon years. I tend to find myself in bad situations with people, and friends and family warn me that I am in a bad situation, but for some reason I keep sticking it out. I keep thinking the relationship will get better. I keep believing the person will change.

I’ll never know if Kaarina led me to this realization on purpose or not, but my bet is she probably did. She’s smart like that. She said that life is too short to spend time immersed in a book you aren’t enjoying. Similarly, life is too short to stay immersed in a relationship that is bad for you. Closing the book does not mean you have to burn the book. Leaving the relationship does not mean you have to hate the person. It can be as simple as pressing the covers together and saying, “This just isn’t for me.”

The author of the book, if you know him or her, may press you. “Why don’t you like it?” They may ask. A person whom you decide to exit from may also ask questions. They may not see how they are a bad match for you. You can be as blunt or as gentle as you wish. Normally getting into a conversation like that will only result in hurt on both sides, however. Sometimes it is better just to quietly slip the book on its shelf. Sometimes it is better just to quietly drift away over a period of time. It is not necessarily the kind of “instant gratification” closure for which we all lust, but it can be enough.

Do you have trouble closing books?

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Book Review: Go Set A Watchman


unnamedTo be honest, when I heard that a new Harper Lee novel was coming out, I was not euphoric. I of course read To Kill A Mockingbird as a child and loved it, and who could not love the movie? But to me, at least. To Kill A Mockingbird is now such an icon that the idea of Harper Lee writing <another> novel just seemed weird. I figured I would read it eventually, but I was not frothing at the mouth.

Then all of the spoilers and reviews started coming out, and overwhelmingly the news seemed bad. The resounding cry seemed to be, “How could she do that to Atticus?” I tried to avoid the spoilers and read these things through the spaces in my fingers that were covering my eyes. I decided I had better speed things up and read the book myself so I could formulate my own opinion and then see what all of the hubub was about.

Generally, there seem to be two sticky wickets about the book, as it turns out. The first is the provenance of the book. Did Lee really write this before To Kill A Mockingbird? As a New Yorker article pointed out, that doesn’t make much sense unless she had a really really good idea of how she was going to present Atticus. I read the book assuming that it was meant to be a sequel, and approaching it that way, it worked very well. But I suppose if you re in the publishing business, you want to know how an author and publisher created such a splash when the basic facts, like when the book was written, are quite hazy.

The other issue is, of course, the presentation of Atticus, perhaps one of the most beloved male characters of the 20th century. When you watch Gregory Peck play Atticus, you have that sensation that you wish this guy could be your dad and the dad to all of your friends. He is a hero, warm and strong, smart and funny, imposing and gentle. For American readers, one might argue that the character of Atticus Finch is a bit on the sacred side.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you but let’s just say that Lee brings Atticus down to earth in Go Set A Watchman as he is seen through the eyes of Scout. It’s uncomfortable because unless you are extremely fortunate, all of us have watched our idols get torn down at one point or another. We all have that person who seems flawless in our eyes, and realizing that they are just another human, just like us, is like realizing that you just built a mansion right over a sinkhole. Everything you have relied on must now be questioned, and indeed, that is what Scout experiences.

I think Lee’s handling of this transition is a bit rough. Lee uses the character of Uncle Jack to explain the psychological ramifications of what Scout has gone through, and to me it seemed a bit clumsy. However, the power of the tale remained strong.

Reading Go Set A Watchman this summer against the backdrop of all of the racial tensions that has reared its ugly head was an interesting experience. Nowhere in the book does Lee mention the Confederate flag, and yet the bigotry that we have been dealing with in the US appears against the quaint background of a fairly isolated and charming Southern town. People who you thought were just normal (whatever that means) good people turn out to have views about race that are ignorant, antiquated, racist, bigoted, and otherwise ugly. But you know what? That is how life is.

I have heard a lot of stories lately about people saying things to African American friends of mine that you would not believe, including virtually hedging on using the phrase “You people.” These people seem decent, otherwise, but these little nibbles at their laminated exterior reveal an underbelly of race hatred that most people haven’t begun to accept within themselves yet.

As for the reading experience itself, it is hard to separate the writing from Lee’s gestalt. You give her a lot of leeway because you know she is an amazing writer. After all, she wrote To Kill A Mockingbird. However, if try to separate the book from the legend, as it were, I find that it was not a book that would really stick with me. The character maneuverings are interesting because we all know Scout and Atticus (which is another point the New Yorker review made). But in and of itself, I thought it was rather clunky. The flashbacks seemed like a “hammer into the head” way of contrasting the new present with the nostalgically held past. I wanted to say, “I get it. She’s nostalgic but is facing a new and darker reality now.”

I also found the ending rather abrupt and unsatisfactory. I won’t spoil it for you, but if you’ve read it, or once you’ve read it, let me know what you think.

Overall, I guess I would recommend reading this book if you are into literature and are curious what all of the noise is about like I was. But as a book itself, I did not find it as wonderful as I had hoped.

Let’s hear from you now.


When the right thing feels wrong


This morning, my alarm went off at 5:30. I was supposed to get up and exercise. I’ve been working on the July workout calendar from the awesome Natalie Jill, and I always preview the night before what I am supposed to do in the morning. I knew this workout was going to be hard. “I could sleep for another half hour,” I thought to myself. “I could do the workout tonight when I get home from work.” But I kind of knew I wouldn’t do it when I get home from work. I have other stuff I need to get done. I decided to get up and do the three workout videos, and it was hard enough that I actually almost threw up. Yuck! But even though I wanted to sleep a little longer, and even though doing the exercise was hard work and was not comfortable, it was the right thing to do.

Sometimes the right thing feels wrong

There are many occasions in life when doing the best thing we can do for ourselves is not necessarily what feels right. Sometimes you are starving and want alllll the carbs, but the better thing is to have a glass of water and something healthy to eat. Sometimes you are in a bad relationship and you know need to go, but it doesn’t feel right to leave for whatever reason. Sometimes the right thing to do is push yourself a little harder when you feel like giving up.

How do you know which choice to make?

Increasingly, humans are all about instant gratification. This guides our decisions. If something will make us happy NOW, that is what we want to do. Whether or not there will be future repercussions does not seem to enter our minds much. To make the truly best decisions for yourself, you need to consciously take the time to consider whether this decision will be better for “future you.” Sleeping an extra half hour would have made me happy in the moment, but in the long run, adding up days where I get up and work my butt off (literally and figuratively) is the better decision. Eating 17 pancakes may seem like the right decision right now, but it won’t take too long for you to pay the price for that decision in the future. Staying in a relationship that is toxic may seem like the easier choice for you now, but in the long run, getting out will be better for you by far.

Take the time to think about “future you.” What will they appreciate in terms of your decisions? What will present obstacles for them? You have the power to direct your own destiny at least to some extent. Sometimes that is done simply by pursuing what feels wrong even though you know it is right.

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