Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Dear Jewel

Dear Jewel,

I am one of those people who has a virtual jukebox living inside her head. Your song, "Hands" often gets stuck on repeat, but specifically the part where you say, "In the end, only kindness matters." You wrote these words long before the advent of Genius, in the infancy of the internet, where I would finally find the rest of your brilliant words.

For so long, you see, I have been able to let go of so much, in the interest of kindness. Or so I thought. Unknowingly, due to not one, but two near death experiences (one because of an accident, and another during childbirth), I would see that we are all part of something larger, I would take on a philosophy that would constantly threaten to be my undoing. Seeing that the end is not something to fear, and that we all go back to where we began, I realized that your words are true - "In the end, only kindness matters."

So, I walked through life, trying to be the sweetest version of myself to other people. When they were hurtful to me, I would swallow it down. I thought I was letting go - I really did. But I wasn't.

I dedicated myself to a life of service to others. At one point, when I was still on Facebook, my place of employment simply stated "Wherever I am needed." I focused on empathic communication. Rarely did I receive the empathy I needed, though, and for so long, I have taken on the pain of others, mindless of what it was doing to me.

How I wish I had paid attention to the rest of the song.

"My hands are small, I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken." - Jewel

I know now that I had a disordered relationship with both kindness and letting go. I have, in trying to do the work of God/the Universe, in spreading kindness, not accepted my own humanity. I have not extended the kindness to myself. I have held myself to standards much too high for a mere mortal. Amy, you are human. You are enough. You are never broken.

In the interest of kindness, I would attempt to "let go" of some pretty hurtful things. I ended up in a lot of one way friendships which kept me from enjoying many of the better relationships in my life, and also stole energy from me that would have been put to better use on my children, who really needed me. What do I mean by "one-way friendships?" I mean those friendships where I would be there for someone in their darkest hour - bending over backward to help - when not only would that energy be lost for the time being, when I needed reciprocation, the person was nowhere to be found. In an effort to build trust, I would be vulnerable with people who never had any intention of loving me in return. Sometimes they would even use my vulnerability against me, or when I would try to advocate for myself in the relationship or clear the air, they would ignore me or even use my words against me. Yet, I would forgive them and welcome them right back when they were in a time of need.

"I won't be made useless
I won't be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear." - Jewel

The message I internalized through all these toxic relationships was that I was not worthy of love. I felt useless. I wasn't just idle with despair, I was swallowed by it. Swallowed. Had I listened to this stanza, however, I would have seen what I needed to see. I would have been more diligent about seeking out the light. I would have worked harder to cultivate it within myself. This is my responsibility. It is the responsibility we all have. It is, in familiarizing ourselves with this light, that we can see and let go of toxicity, and limit its effects on us.

I had an experience quite a few years ago where I was helping a family member who ended up in very serious trouble because she had this same mentality, cultivated through an immature relationship with religion and authority. How many women get in trouble by thinking they can "save" individuals who have been swallowed by darkness? A lot, I think. We are not taught how to take care of ourselves, we are only taught how to take care of others. It became clear to me that if I didn't remove myself from the relationship, danger might come to my family. But another family member, not knowing the seriousness of the situation assumed that I was "One of those people who give up on people when they make just one mistake." No, not at all. Quite the opposite. I now joke that it's more like "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me thrice, shame on me, fool me four times, shame on me, fool me five times, shame on me... fool me eight times, okay. Fine. F&#k you."

I don't have time or energy for these kinds of relationships. I don't have time for lack of reciprocity. It is my duty to take care of myself, to cultivate my inner light, so I can do what I am here to do, which is to amplify love, not waste it.

Jewel, thanks for letting me see how to do that:

"Poverty stole your golden shoes
It didn't steal your laughter
And heartache came to visit me
But I knew it wasn't ever after
We'll fight, not out of spite
For someone must stand up for what's right
Cause where there's a man who has no voice
There ours shall go singing." - Jewel

The universe has put me in a position of having a lot of time and head space. I am not going to use this gift to help people who are capable of helping themselves. I am going to use it to help people who, despite having a tough road to bear, are constantly working to better themselves, to cultivate their inner light, to cultivate their laughter. I will sing for the people who have no voice, and stop giving pieces of myself to people who simply could care less, or feel entitled to my love.

I have to love myself, be kind to myself, and let go of toxic one-way relationships, so I am not inadvertently feeding the darkness in the world.

I have to let go, appropriately, to cultivate my light.

"In the end, only kindness matters." Yes, it's true. But first and foremost, we need to be kind to ourselves, and only then can we see what needs to be let go.

Thank you, Jewel, for using your voice to help me see how to help myself and others.

With gratitude for your gift,


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Dear Mister Rogers

“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”
Fred Rogers 

Dear Mister Rogers,

Thank you for being you. I also like you just the way you are. No, I love you just the way you are. I think people have screwed up the word "love." I think they confuse it with a feeling of desperation and possession. I think they confuse it with lust. Sadly, many people also equate money and love. Thank you for showing me how to love unconditionally, to meet people where they are at, and let them go while still loving them. It hasn't always been easy, in fact sometimes it has been so hard I was sure I wanted to give up entirely, but what you taught me has come in handy almost every day of my life.

“Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

I watched you regularly as a child, and you filled some holes where my teachers would have been, if they weren't getting to know thirty new students each year. You filled holes where my grandparents might have been, had they been alive. You filled holes where my aunts and uncles might have been, if they had lived closer. You filled holes where my parents might have been, had they not had so many struggles with their adult relationships and careers. You helped me feel wanted in the big, cold universe. You, and others like you, who stepped outside of the grownup world to be with me, helped me see how important love is in the world.

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ”
Fred Rogers

Some people say that your message of unconditional love, that we are all "special," led us all to believe we are entitled to things, and to special treatment. I know you didn't really mean that, because you lived a fairly humble life yourself, content with yourself for your ability to love your neighbor. You simply believed that everyone deserves to feel worthy of their life here. Sometimes it is hard to feel worthy of the life we are given, when so much value is placed on aesthetics and wealth. Many people suffer because our society values image and money over kindness. People who choose to value kindness over status end up struggling because they chose caregiving professions which require them to work long hours for little pay. Some of them give up because they cannot afford housing and go into a profession which makes better money, but leaves them feeling lonely at the end of each day.

“The thing I remember best about successful people I've met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they're doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they're doing, and they love it in front of others.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

It was very challenging at times, especially due to the isolation which I had to fight constantly, but I was able to take your message with me into my adult life - nearly half over, now - so that I could do my best to raise two children into secure adults. I chose to give up my career as a scientist so that my kids would know without a doubt that they are wanted and loved in this world. Sometimes I feel guilty for bringing people into this world because I feel like most people have given up on the idea that being a kind person is enough. It seems that some people feel like kind people are faking it, or are just boring. Often I feel that people only like me for what I can do for them, and so I try very hard to please people. I worry all the time that I have failed at helping my kids feel loved, because I know it will be difficult for them to feel like they are "enough" just being kind people. Many times when I meet people and tell them I chose to educate my children at home, I get the feeling they think I thought I could do it "better." It wasn't like that at all. I received an excellent public education and got a graduate degree in a difficult field. I have no doubts about the educational system's ability to make economy-supporting individuals. Doors to many occupations are open to me because of my education. I chose to educate my children at home because I wanted to protect them from the stress and bullying I experienced growing up. I didn't want them to feel badly about their bodies, their interests, who they love, their haves or have nots. These are the worries that I have that keep me from succeeding in the "real world." They are worries I did not want my children to have. Learning at home is easy in the context of following our hearts and intuition, spending time with others who made the same choice for the same reason we did - they want to raise children who feel loved, who feel excited about learning at their own pace, whose confidence hasn't been stripped away by the trickle-down economics of narcissism that prevails in this country.

“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”
Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers, I know that you were deeply saddened by the events of September 11, 2001. I was, too. I was alone that morning, nursing my 4 month old baby boy down for his morning nap. I had no deep friendships in California where I was living, and our families were so far away. I had brought another person into this cold, lonely world. We had made the decision to move back to Colorado to be near family, near where we thought we would find love again to support our little family - where we could be more than an employee in a company, a house in a planned urban development. But Colorado had its problems, too. A few years earlier, I watched, horrified and alone in California, packing my suitcase to go defend my thesis in Ohio, as helicopter footage of the Columbine High School massacre streamed across my television. In that moment, I had felt that the bloodbath was the result of children who did not feel love for themselves or other people. Very disturbed youth took vengeance on the community they felt had failed them. In the years since your death, entire industries have arisen to protect us from the wrath of the unloved, and people are becoming more and more distrustful of each other. Our elected officials are increasingly people who value money over kindness, and display these values in their business, career, and lifestyle choices. Political alliances end up being more about career advantages than helping constituents or communities. Me, me, me, the world cries, as everyone wonders why even though they got that bonus, they still feel empty inside.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say "It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem." Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
Fred Rogers

I can tell that people are scared. I am scared, too. But I do think that what we're dealing with is nothing new. It used to be that the common man had no choice in his life, and so this question of wealth and power over people was largely left to aristocracy alone. But in this democratic state, now everyone has the chance to "make it big." To live the "American Dream." To prioritize status. As more and more people have chosen paychecks over people since the 1970's, the basic things we need - shelter and food - have gotten more expensive. And it takes more time to earn the money needed for these basics, so there is less time to love one another, and that empty feeling seems to be growing.

“Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else.”
Fred Rogers

This is, I think, a huge opportunity for change. If, instead of frantically trying to fill that empty feeling, each person were to take the time to notice it, to become really aware of it, to really feel it, and then fill it with acts of kindness to others, rather than material acquisitions, the world would change. I really believe that if we were put here for anything, it is to love each other. A friend once asked me, when I proclaimed that I was certain that the reason I am here is to love other people, to help them feel less lonely, "But how do you deal with never getting love back?" Well, I thought in that moment two things (which I did not say), 1) that finally I had met someone who tried and understood how challenging it can be to love, and 2) how sad I was that this person had not felt love. This is, I feel, a casualty of people conflating love with possession and lust. If love of the variety that you practiced were everywhere, maybe we wouldn't be so afraid to really love one another. Love wouldn't be so much about loving and losing, as abundant love.

“When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers, I am afraid that people will read this and think it is a bunch of malarkey. I do hope they will take the time to see the movies made in your memory - the recently released Won't You Be My Neighbor? as well as Mister Rogers and Me, which is currently available on Amazon Prime. I can't imagine what the world would have been like without you. You were the only one giving an unadulterated message of love to many of the children of my generation. You made it okay to feel anger, sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, joy, hope, love... all of the feelings. Yes, I was a huge fan of yours. I know you met many, many people during your career. Do you remember spending 20 minutes with a little brown-haired brown-eyed dimpled girl in the narthex of your seminary colleague's church in Denver, sometime in the 1980's? Do you remember that the little girl gave you a snake scarf she knitted herself with a rick-rack tongue and button eyes? You were that girl's hero, and you were exactly the beautiful loving person she hoped you would be in real life. You are the reason that every time her heart breaks, she tries even harder to love more deeply next time, even though it's becoming so rare that people think she is weird and often hurt her.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
Fred Rogers

Please, I ask you, help me to not give up on the world. It's so hard, and I hurt so much. I'm so tired, and I am having trouble being optimistic as my kids become young adults. People keep telling me this is a good way to be, but I just don't know if I can do it anymore. But I'll try, just for you. For humanity.

With all the pieces of my broken heart,