Monday, July 30, 2018

Helping Hands

Many hands make light work.  This was something my mother believed in and throughout my childhood I watched her in action, helping others.

I saw through her example that helping friends and neighbours was a good thing to do.  And goodness knows, we all need help at some time in our lives.

This morning I saw my doctor for a routine prescription renewal.  I'd been having fairly high levels of stress, what with The Book, editor arriving on Wednesday, the house - but more importantly the studio - a mess, then the AVL compu-dobby breaking yesterday.

I am not shy about posting on this blog about my anxieties and I have to tell you all - the messages of support, both public and private - have really helped me stumble through the last little while.

At any rate, when we discussed the new blood pressure medication he'd added in response to bp numbers that had suddenly gotten way too high (likely an adverse reaction to the Ibrutinib - a well known and documented adverse effect), he was somewhat astonished that such a low dose was being so effective.  As I got up to leave, he called me a 'strong woman'.

I don't know how 'strong' I am.  I am stubborn.  And maybe that's just one facet of being 'strong'?

Strength is a funny thing.  Usually when we refer to someone being 'strong' it is physical strength.  But there is also emotional strength.  There is strength of character - doing what is 'right'.

We - as human beings - also have the strength of our relationships.  We are all interconnected.  And when someone is being dragged down by Life Happening, our friends/family can lend us the strength to pull ourselves back up again.

And so it has been throughout the past few years.  I have been helped, over and over, by words of encouragement and actual physical assistance.  The friends who have been the beta readers for The Book, giving the gift of their time and opinion as well as their encouragement to carry on.

We are not an island unto ourselves.  We are part of community.  That community can give us assistance when times are tough.

We are our brother's keepers.  It costs us nothing to be kind.  To help.

To all those who have helped me, a most grateful thank you.

Currently reading A Bigger Table; building messy, authentic, and hopeful spiritual community by John Pavlovitz


Tien Chiu said...

I've always felt that strength was the ability to go on. I read this passage in The Deed of Paksennarion (book 3, Oath of Gold) when I was in college, and I still think it captures perfectly the idea of courage:
Courage is not something you have, like a sum of money, more or less in a pouch—it cannot be lost, like money spilling out. Courage is inherent in all creatures; it is the quality that keeps them alive, because they endure. It is courage, Paksenarrion, that splits the acorn and sends the rootlet down into soil to search for sustenance. You can damage the creature, yes, and it may die of it, but as long as it lives and endures, each living part has as much courage as it can hold."

Paks felt confused. "That seems strange to me—"

"Yes, because you've been a warrior among warriors. You think of courage as an eagerness for danger, isn't that so?"

"I suppose so. At least being able to go on, and fight, and not be mastered by fear."

"Right. But the essence is the going on. A liking for excitement and danger is like a taste for walnuts or mushrooms or the color yellow. Most people have a little—you may have noticed how small children like to scare themselves climbing trees and such—but the gift varies in amount. It adds to the warrior's ability by masking fear. But it's not essential, Paksenarrion, even to a warrior. The going on, the enduring, is. Even for the mightiest warrior, a danger may be so great, a foe so overwhelming, that the excitement, the enjoyment, is gone. What then? Is a warrior to quit and abandon those who depend on his courage because it isn't fun?" Paks shook her head.
(It's an excellent trilogy, btw - I think you'd like it. It's by Elizabeth Moon - ex-Marine writes gritty, realistic fantasy. The main character, Paks, runs away from home to become a soldier in a mercenary company. She's one of my favorite authors.)

The other writing on courage that I have carried with me for the last twenty years is by Ruth Gendler:

Courage has roots. She sleeps
on a futon on the floor and
lives close to the ground.

Courage looks you straight in the
eye. She is not impressed with
powertrippers, and she knows first aid.

Courage is not afraid to weep, and
she is not afraid to pray, even
when she is not sure who she is
praying to.

When Courage walks,
it is clear that she has made
the journey from loneliness to
solitude. The people who told me
she is stern were not lying;
they just forgot to mention that she
is kind.
That poem was given to me by a woman who had been gang-raped when she was sixteen, and come back through alcoholism and several suicide attempts to heal herself. That's real strength.

To me it's pretty obvious that you're very strong, and you have a lot of courage. Courage isn't just running into burning buildings to save someone - that's heroic, but it's short term and it's easier because you're pumped with adrenaline. Being able to get up and slog towards a goal day after day, even when it's hard, because you've decided that's what you're going to do - *that's* strength, and that's courage.

My $0.02, anyway!

Laura Fry said...

I have not - yet - read Elizabeth Moon, but just recently I've seen her recommended by several people with whom I share reading tastes. I will have to add her to my to-be-read pile.

People sometimes say someone is brave or courageous when what they really are is too stubborn to give up. When you really only have two choices, to give up or go on, is that really brave? I don't know. All I know is that I'm not ready to stop quite yet. If that makes me strong or brave or courageous, someone else will have to make that determination. For me it's just do - or do not. (channeling my inner Yoda?) I will wear the label stubborn with no small degree of pride. :)

Peg Cherre said...

Great post, and GREAT comment from Tien Chiu! Thanks to you both!

Tien Chiu said...

Laura wrote:

> When you really only have two choices, to give up or go on, is that really brave?

As someone who struggled with severe bipolar depression and suicidal impulses for almost half her life...HELL YES!!!!!

Seriously. The bravest people I know are the ones who have been through terrible pain (cancer, mental illness, sexual abuse/assault, etc.) and who have chosen to go on. It takes courage. And it takes enormous strength. The people I most admire are the ones who choose to keep going. Because it is a choice, and it can be a really hard one.

You rock.

Laura Fry said...

Wow. I just teared up reading this. Thank you so much for your support. I am currently nearly paralyzed with anxiety. Time to choose to get up off this chair and go do something to get ready to work on The Book.

Tien Chiu said...

Go you!!

I should maybe add that I think that there are three components to strength/courage/inner peace:

* The courage to see, accept, and love yourself, exactly as you are - not as you were, not as you would like to be, but where you are right now in the present
* The strength to do what you have with whatever resources you have
* The vision to see, and celebrate, your accomplishments for what they are to you, rather than how you would like others to see them, or how you worry others will see them.

One of the most perfect examples of courage I've ever seen was a woman in one of the self-defense programs I was volunteering with. She had been abused by her entire family, and then raped by the priest she went to for consolation. She was living in a camper shell that she parked in the back of her landlady's driveway, and working as a sign painter.

One day she came into class and announced proudly, "My accomplishment this week is that I took a bath!"

She explained that normally she took sponge baths, because there wasn't a bathroom in her camper. Her landlady had said that our student was welcome to come into the house to use the bathroom whenever she liked, but because our student had been abused her entire childhood, she'd never felt like she had the right to ask for anything.

But this week, bolstered by the work she'd been doing in class, she got up her courage and asked her landlady if she could take a bath in the bathroom. And she had a long, luxurious bath, with bubble bath and floating candles and so on. And then she came in to tell us proudly about her accomplishment.

What made her courage perfect was not only that she had done something very difficult for her, but that she had the vision and strength to see her act - asking her landlady to use the bathroom and then taking a bath - as the amazing accomplishment it was, rather than getting sucked into thinking things like "I'm so pathetic that even taking a BATH is an accomplishment for me."

Nope. She knew this was a huge accomplishment for her, something to be proud of, and she had the courage to come into the class and say "This is a big accomplishment for me," even knowing that to many people it might look like something pathetic. And she wasn't kicking herself about it. She was who she was and where she was, this was a big accomplishment, and we celebrated it with her.

I know a lot of rich people, a lot of successful people, a few famous people - but I don't know that I've ever met anyone with more courage than I saw in her that night.

Something to think about, anyway?

Laura Fry said...

I work on acceptance. Just when I think I've finally got it, I find another challenge. But there is magic and power in acceptance. Some people think acceptance is giving up, but I believe that acceptance is being able to clearly see what is, and when you know where you are, then you can figure out how to move forward from there.

On my fridge is a magnet with the quote from Churchill "when you are going through hell...keep going". I bought it shortly after I was initially diagnosed with cardiac blockages and the hell of adverse effects to the statins everyone insisted I had to take while they made me hugely ill - and keep it there to remind me that no one should stop while they are picking their way through hell - get out of there, get to the other side, but don't stop.

I am about as ready as I can be - just a few minor things to deal with in the morning. I took the day 'off' - sort of - and hope I can sleep tonight. This getting decrepit thing really sucks. As does lack of refreshing sleep...

Tien Chiu said...

A two-part answer...

A story:

In my first year of graduate school I got felled by bipolar depression. I spent finals week in the locked ward of a mental hospital, and when I got out, I literally could not do mathematics or any form of analytical thinking, because trying to concentrate was incredibly painful. So there I was. I had prized my mathematical ability above all else. I consistently scored in the top 200 nationwide in elite mathematics contests, and I was almost certainly one of the top 10 women in the country in those contests. I graduated from the top science/engineering school in the country. And suddenly I could barely add. And no idea whether the ability would ever return.

So I had to find somewhere else to put my ego, something I could stand on even if everything else I had vanished overnight. I finally decided to choose the definition of greatness that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached in one of his final sermons, "The Drum Major Instinct," where he talks about the human need to be first, and how it can be destructive if focused in the wrong direction. The full sermon is here:

But the most relevant parts for me were these:
"And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto him saying, ‘Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.’ And he said unto them, ‘What would ye that I should do for you?’ And they said unto him, ‘Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.’
The setting is clear. James and John are making a specific request of the master. They had dreamed, as most of the Hebrews dreamed, of a coming king of Israel who would set Jerusalem free and establish his kingdom on Mount Zion, and in righteousness rule the world. And they thought of Jesus as this kind of king. And they were thinking of that day when Jesus would reign supreme as this new king of Israel. And they were saying, "Now when you establish your kingdom, let one of us sit on the right hand and the other on the left hand of your throne."

What was the answer that Jesus gave these men? It's very interesting. One would have thought that Jesus would have condemned them. One would have thought that Jesus would have said, "You are out of your place. You are selfish. Why would you raise such a question?"

But that isn't what Jesus did; he did something altogether different. He said in substance, "Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you're going to be my disciple, you must be." But he reordered priorities. And he said, "Yes, don't give up this instinct. It's a good instinct if you use it right. It's a good instinct if you don't distort it and pervert it. Don't give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do."

And he transformed the situation by giving a new definition of greatness. And you know how he said it? He said, "Now brethren, I can't give you greatness. And really, I can't make you first." This is what Jesus said to James and John. "You must earn it. True greatness comes not by favoritism, but by fitness. And the right hand and the left are not mine to give, they belong to those who are prepared."

And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.

Tien Chiu said...

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.
Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.

I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say.

Most of the differences between people that lead to wealth, fame, professional success, etc. basically fall under "choose your parents wisely" - getting a combination of good genetics and childhood training/opportunities,plus the opportunity to build relationships with similarly privileged/prepared youths. Those have to do with your parents and the family you were born into - strokes of luck that put you on the path to fame and/or fortune, and give you a much better shot than those not so privileged.

But being lucky doesn't make you a good human being. Dr. King was extraordinarily successful, but was also wise enough to see (and teach) a better definition of greatness than worldly success.

I've gotten my analytical abilities back (though not the prospective mathematical career), and I'm grateful for that, but I'm much more thrilled when someone comes up and says "You helped me so much!" than when someone comes up and says, "Your work is brilliant!" or "You're a genius!" Yes, I work hard on my creative projects, and yes, I'm really smart - but that's really not what matters, and not where I put my ego. Because those things aren't who I fundamentally am. And things like being smart and successful can be taken away. A dedication to serving others, and to love, can't be - and, frankly, they're much more important.

And your work - and your intent with your work - is fundamentally about helping others, which is one of the (many) reasons I admire you. :-)

Laura Fry said...

It is what keeps me going - getting emails or messages from people saying how much I helped them. It is exactly why I am trying to get this book pounded into some sort of shape, all the while knowing that some will be disappointed. My language might not be clear enough, my examples not clear enough, my concepts not clear enough - for everyone. But as one person famously said, you can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.

I just had a conversation with my chiropractor who also teaches and we agreed that all we can do is our best and ignore the people who don't get our message, no matter how hard we try to convey it.

Much easier said than done! (I did give her a pro-tip - don't read the student evaluations - my ego doesn't really need the compliments, but it especially doesn't need the complaints!)