My List

“Your task is not to seek love, but to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” — Rumi

When a friend asked me last weekend what the Women’s March was about, I could tell she was having difficulty discerning truth from all the hyperbole gushing from every perspective. I thought she might be having a difficult time reconciling the fact that people she loves fiercely have diametrically opposed viewpoints – and nothing I said about the Women’s March would necessarily be helpful with that issue.

Her question did give me pause, though. Millions of people around the world marched that day. I could not begin to speak for such a huge group of people – anyone who feels comfortable characterizing the whole or summing them up with one or a few pithy statements or soundbites (whether pro or con) is likely to miss the mark. And since I couldn’t answer my friend’s question for the whole, I wanted to answer it in the particular – for myself, the one person whose reasons I needed to be clear on.

So, I made a list. It was a magnificent list! I listed all of the issues and ideals that I am concerned our country isn’t adequately supporting under our new administration: equal opportunity and equal rights for all, voting rights, affordable and just health care policies, immigrant rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, preventing gun violence, protecting families in need and the federal programs that support them…it was a long list and had soon filled two sides of a piece of paper.

After a while, I stopped and looked at the list. That’s when I realized that this lengthy laundry list was not really why I marched. Sure, I care about these things – I’ve cared about these things most of my life and I’ve often felt that, as a country, we weren’t doing enough or were doing something but missing the mark.

So I made a new list. At the top of the list I wrote: #WhyIMarch:  (which also happens to be a social media hashtag used by many). And the reason that came immediately to mind was: Love.

  • Love led me to march in Dubuque, Iowa where an estimated 600 people gathered, instead of marching in larger crowds in Des Moines or Chicago. Dubuque, my hometown, where I could stand side-by-side with women I love: my cousin Stephanie and my dear friend, Sue and some of the women who taught be to care about the world around me.
  • Love led me to march in solidarity with my sister, Anne, and with all the queer folk I admire and care about. Since the day she was born, Annie has been one of the great loves of my life. Annie doesn’t need to be cured of anything, thanks; but she does need and deserve legal protections and a world that accepts her innate right to exist (and thrive, and love) without fear of violence and discrimination.
  • Love for my niece, Zoe, who attends public school in Chicago, led me to march. Zoe is bright and engaged, and at eleven she can already reason better than many adults. She deserves an education that reflects the fact that we live in the greatest nation in the world. And because I love Zoe and want this for her, I also want it for all the children – even those living in lower income neighborhoods or communities without a strong tax base to support their schools.
  • Love for this Earth led me to march with deep concern for the environment and for continuing the momentum against climate change that has been gathering globally. I want my country to lead on these issues, not bring up the rear. Pope Francis admonishes us to “hear both the cry of the earth, and the cry of the poor”, to practice an integral ecology – and because I love this universe we were created to be a part of, I am doing my best to heed this call.
  • Love for all of my nieces: Myka, Rachel, Hallie, Atalie, Zoe, Nikki, Emma, Elsa, Ada, Carys led me to walk. It leads me to want a world for them in which they are free to walk safely on city streets, country roads, running paths and wooded parks without fear. A world where they are protected legally if the men in their lives behave violently toward them. A world where the laws that are already on the books are actually applied. I want them to feel loved and supported as contributing members of society – whether they work in the home or outside. When/if they have babies, I want their health care to be the best available, and I don’t want them to become statistics in a United States where mortality rates for mothers are rising.
  • Love for my nephews: Ben, Tim, Ezra, and the tiniest yet-to-be-born little baby E., was part of why I marched, too. I want them to live in a world where their strengths are cherished and so are their gentler attributes. I want them to live in a country where the men around them – regardless of their income level or the color of their skin – have had the same opportunities. I hope they live in a world where, if they or their families should need help to thrive, that assistance is available without forcing the diminishment of their self-respect.
  • Love for my parents took my feet to the march. These two have always worked hard, made the best of what life dished out, and tried to leave a better world than they were born into. They deserve a retirement without constant financial worries and stress over changes to “entitlement” programs enacted by people who will always have an easier retirement than my Mom and Pop (due in significant part to the fact we taxpayers will foot the bill for their peace of mind).
  • Love for my former students led me to march for today’s young adults. In my 25 years on college campuses, I worked with: uncountable suicidal and mentally ill students who could not get mental health care because of ever-shrinking community resources; dozens of young men and women who faced discrimination and bullying for daring to explore, and to share truthfully, their own identities; enough young women who had been physically, sexually or mentally abused or assaulted to lose count – and almost invariably these young women were treated shabbily by the very people/systems ostensibly designed to protect them – as well as blamed/shamed by their peers. Each of these students deserved better than they got, and I want more resources to be made available for them and for their peers who aren’t in school instead of fewer resources for communities that are already hurting.
  • Love of self, too, added to my desire to march. I marched because my life has dignity and meaning despite the fact that many, many people have tried to tell me otherwise. Those who think I am somehow “suspect” as a woman because I am single and not a mother, those who have felt it was their right to publicly humiliate me for their own pleasure because I haven’t met their standards of beauty, those who have behaved with physical and/or sexual aggression toward me because they perceived me as “fair game”, those who have disrespected me, talked over me, paid me less and tried to silence my voice because I am a woman – those individuals have only made me more determined to speak, from love, for my own right to fairness and justice.
  • Love for the ideal of sisterhood, for the reality of sisterhood, and for the incredible history of sisterhood on this planet.

Love. It’s why I marched – for the love, the people, and the reasons listed above and for more on my list at home. I know that other marchers had different lists – some shared concerns and some disparate. I understand that there are those who are critical of the Women’s March – and that is their right, too. To be clear, though: I wasn’t duped into marching for something I didn’t support regardless of what anyone else’s reasons were and, despite ludicrous assertions to the contrary, George Soros did NOT pay me to walk on Saturday.

It would have been easier and more comfortable to stay at home, but I felt called to go. I didn’t carry a sign. All I took with me were my sisters and my heart full of love.


Help and Sanctuary in These Times


“I’m inspired and troubled by the stories I have heard.

In the blue light of evening all boundaries get blurred.

And I believe in something better, and that love’s the final word,

And that there’s still something whole and sacred in this world.”

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States, mere hours before marchers enter the streets in protest and solidarity (and, yes, in celebration) throughout this country and around the world…

…here, on the cusp of whatever is about to emerge…

…I find myself seeking comfort, searching for courage, for wisdom to choose right action and to speak truthful words.

There are very few things I can claim to know with certainty. But I am certain that love is the answer to all questions of how and why and to what end. I believe that we can always change for the better – in our homes, our communities, our world.

And in our hearts.

I believe we are created with a desire for this implanted in us; that we are hardwired for compassion. My simple prayer is that we, the people, will wake from our collective nightmare into a new day, remembering that this is so.

“In a state of true believers,

On streets called us and them,

Its gonna take some time,

’Til the world feels safe again.”  ****

“I can’t tell you it will all turn out fine,

But I know is there’s help in hard times.

Sure it could, it could all be just fine

But I know there is help in hard times.”

**** (Most of the words in quotations, above, are from “Help in Hard Times” by Carrie Newcomer. This stanza is from her song “Sanctuary”. Both songs are from her album The Beautiful Not Yet.)



Channeling Lizzy

Mill City Ruins, January 11, 2014

It was not till the afternoon, when he joined them at tea, that Elizabeth ventured to introduce the subject; and then, on her briefly expressing her sorrow for what he must have endured, he replied, “Say nothing of that. Who would suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”

“You must not be too severe upon yourself,” replied Elizabeth.

“You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”

— from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Mr. Bennet (above) facetiously observes that we are are prone to be too severe on ourselves. Had he been written in the last decade (as opposed to two centuries ago), he might have appended the word, “NOT!” to his statement. One of the reasons I’ve always appreciated Mr. Bennet’s character is just this: he may fail utterly due to a weak will, but he is clear-sighted enough to be aware of his own failings.

The reason I have loved his daughter Lizzy more, though, has always been her self-efficacy and willingness to change.

As I considered what I intended to write about this week, I heard Mr. Bennet’s voice first. His “mea culpa” in the scene above has stayed with me over the years and comes to me when I am feeling particularly – and rightly – self-critical.

This post began when the photo I shared above popped up on my Facebook memories (though its subject has been hovering, unspoken, for a while). The picture is from a particularly memorable weekend in January 2014. The day of the photo, I worked an 8-hour shift on my feet, biked fifteen miles in the snow and cold for fun, attended the mayor’s victory party (another several hours on my feet) listening to speeches by people I admire like Senators Klobuchar and Franken. The next day, my friend Mike and I bundled up for another wintry bike ride, this time to – and on – Lake Calhoun, followed by coffee at Spyhouse.

That weekend was indicative of the whole year that followed – jammed full of new experiences, standing in crowds of people listening to folks I admired (mostly musicians, rather than politicians), shift-work on my feet, miles and miles logged by bike and on foot exploring and laughing with friends. By the time the year was over, my average mph by bike had risen from 12 to 16. My feet always hurt but the rest of my body felt amazing – by January 2015, I was in the best shape of my life.

Seeing my photo of the Mill City Ruins brought it all back. Looking so closely at my memories from 2014 into 2015, I could hardly avoid the sharp contrast with where I am today – a mere two years later. There has been, in those two years, a spectacular failure of will – mine. I’ve stopped riding or walking, I’ve stopped making time for new people and experiences, I’ve stopped paying attention to my food intake. I am now seventy-five pounds heavier and in horrible shape. My feet hurt, my heels hurt, my knees hate me. Like Mr. Bennet, I need to own it, need to feel it. Though moments of self-recrimination have popped up occasionally, even the worst of these passed by without effecting any real change in my behavioral choices.

And now, I’m worried that I’ve left it too late. What if I’ve backslid so far I can’t fix it? I haven’t written much about it here, even though this whole blog began as a record of my weight loss journey – and this certainly qualifies as part of that long travail. I haven’t written about it because  I have been too ashamed. Not embarrassed by a number on the scale – I’ve truly learned not to measure myself or anyone else based on that. Rather, ashamed of my self- neglect. Ashamed of my almost willful lack of self-discipline.

So, this is probably the moment to call upon my inner Elizabeth Bennet, rather than her father. Lizzy could have allowed her pride to carry her forward, refusing to be seen as fickle in her opinions or wrong in her assessment of character. In doing so, she certainly would have saved herself some moments of extreme embarrassment – imagine having to admit to virtually everyone in your community that you were the complete opposite of right! But there’s a good reason Lizzy is a beloved heroine to generations of women who’ve read Pride and Prejudice: Lizzy chose to grab her chance to be happy even though it meant admitting her mistakes, standing up to those who wished to belittle her (especially that bully, Lady Catherine deBourgh), and working to set right the damage her behaviors had inflicted.

This is definitely the moment. But, I can’t help wondering, is there enough of Lizzy’s fortitude in me? Getting healthy and in shape the first time around required all of my attention and energy, plus most of my non-work time. It also sucked up oceans of support from loving friends and family. Now that I’ve pissed all of that away, can I find the strength to do it again? I honestly do not know. But it is about time to find out.

May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.

   — John O’Donohue, from “A Morning Poem”



Centered: Taking Aim at 2017

I have often vacillated between speaking and not speaking. Many times, I’ve spoken and regretted it. Other times, I’ve chosen not to speak, and found that my silence has hurt me – or worse, hurt others. Occasionally, I’ve held back for a while, allowing a little time to elapse and then tried to speak from my heart in a centered way that was not accusatory or defensive or in another way emotionally manipulative.

In my experience, the latter of those options has generally produced the best results.

And by results, I mean that I have found less cause to regret my words when this is the case. I am not referring to how others have reacted to or responded or felt about what I said.

In personal relationships, I generally err to one extreme or the other. Either I over-explain, over-state, over-emote OR I clam up and suppress my words. The result of both extremes is a disservice to self. When I over-express, I end up becoming hopelessly entangled in rambling sentences, often ending someplace completely unintended – expressing not what I hoped to convey but, rather, drifting  far off-course. When I clam up, I telegraph a message of disregard to my own emotional self that what I’m feeling isn’t important enough to burden someone else with. I don’t believe that everything I feel needs to be shared, but I have learned that sometimes what I’m feeling must be conveyed to another person in order for it to be acknowledged and (hopefully) honored by both listener and speaker – sometimes this is vital for the relationship to thrive. I’ve learned the hard way that relationships do not thrive if one or both parties cannot speak from a place of truth.

In the workplace, I have often told colleagues that I know – and they need to know, too – that my first reaction is rarely my best one. The good news is, it is also rarely my final reaction. But because I know this about myself, the onus is on me to manage my response to various situations and stimuli. It isn’t really fair to ask others to differentiate whether I am knee-jerk-reacting or giving a considered response.

In political life, it is sometimes fun to pronounce a zinger that carries home my point with the surety of an arrow fired from Katniss Everdeen’s bow. When I’m discussing politics with like-minded people, that can be fairly harmless because we’re all shooting in the same direction. But I often wonder what I’ve done to the positive when these arrows are deployed against opposing viewpoints – when the whole exercise is intended to find a soft spot where my point can burrow deep behind someone else’s defenses. I know I’ve managed to wound my opponent – but have I effected a change in their opinion or position? It is a fair question to ask whether the yield is worth the wound inflicted. Often, in my experience, the answer is difficult to ascertain.

Where is the line between saying too much or too little in a polarized world? When does moderation and compromise become collusion and appeasement? When is it necessary for my own holistic well-being to speak and when should my need to speak to be sublimated to the greater good? These are questions that I find myself asking more frequently these days, and to which quick answers are not particularly satisfactory.

That said, I am slowly coming to believe that love speaks from the center.

What do I mean by that? I mean that, looking back, there are a handful of moments when I know that the words I spoke were true and meaningful and carried the full force of love.   In one case, I needed to speak on my own behalf about the ways someone was repeatedly hurting me. I didn’t want to erupt in anger and hurt, but I also needed to stand up for myself and say, “This hurts.” Another instance was when talking with a friend about some personal difficulties she was experiencing. I certainly did not want to add to her pain, but to offer, with compassion, an insight that might be hard to hear. Another final instance was one in which I needed to share a differing perspective with someone in a more powerful role than me. In all three of these cases, I was anxious about what to say, emotionally desirous of a particular outcome, and powerfully drawn toward keeping my mouth shut out of fear. Instead, I took a little time – time to breathe, time to get clear on what the central issue was for me, time to relax the fight or flight response that rears up when strong emotions and fear are at play. I took the time to let go of my need for a predetermined outcome. In other words, I took the time to get centered within myself so that, when I did speak, the words could well forth with the intent of love (as opposed to intent to hurt or to control or to curry favor).

These times in which we are living require something from us. If you’re like me, figuring out what that might be is a difficult and ongoing process of discernment. But I know I will be at my best, offer my best self, when I am able to remain centered, able to access the truth and love available to me in that still place sometimes called my heart, sometimes called my soul.

That, dear friends, is why my one word for 2017 is “centered.”

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.
–Benjamin Franklin