Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category
I’m writing today to ask you to please mind your tone in your online correspondence. It’s so easy to come off irate or bitter or jealous or devastated in email, especially if you are writing to someone who doesn’t know you or the full context about which you are writing.
Take this example: “We NEED to fix this problem NOW.” In email, this sentence sounds harsh and irritated and angry; it also implies that the person reading the email does not think the problem needs fixing or at least doesn’t need fixing immediately. However, the case may be – as it was for me when I received this email – that I hadn’t know there was a problem until that very minute when the email reached me.
Or consider this familiar Facebook refrain: “Today is absolutely the worst day of my life.” My initial response is to call or drive right over to be sure this person is okay. However, often such posts have to do with dentist appointments and frustrating children, not the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or deep depression as the hyperbolic tone of the statement implies in written form.
When we write things down, our readers take things much more seriously than if we just said them. Taking the time to commit something to print typically signals a greater seriousness than might be conveyed in a spoken conversation. Our challenge, in our 21st century cultures, is to be remember that just because we use online media like we use speech does not mean that our readers perceive them that way.
So instead of, “We NEED to fix this problem NOW.” perhaps we should say, “I would appreciate hearing from you about how we might handle this issue.” Instead of “Today is absolutely the worst day of my life.” maybe it would be more appropriate to post, “I’ve had a really long, hard day.” Then, we – the readers – can respond appropriately as the thinking, feeling people we are.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
What tonal mistakes have you seen in online correspondence? Why do you think we tend to write these types of things?
The house even seems bigger now, without the chairs and table and wardrobes, the carpets and end tables and piles of things we never used but only moved from spot to spot. It’s been a good reminder to me, about how our life can expand if we’re willing to throw some of our stuff on to the altar. — Shawn Smucker
The sky is that soft pink that I only like in things not human-made – clouds and tiny multi-floral roses, sea urchins and the underbellies of hummingbirds. I feel like I could spend all day looking out this window at the sky.
Last night, I stood outside my old high school waiting for someone I had known in twenty years ago and am getting to know a bit now. I watched the girls from the travel softball team move in and out, bats slung to their backpacks with elastic straps, and then, I looked up at the sky. It was that perfect silver blue of dusk, and across it, planes etched pink trails that faded quickly back to blue. I breathed deep and marvelled at the mystery that is flight and our ability to become accustomed to it.
Lately, I have been filling my life up with activities, with obligations and plans. Not quite subconsciously, I’ve been trying to make-up for things that I am lacking – a partner, children, a home of my own – and yet, still, I find that these things don’t fill me. Instead, I get full from pink skies and plane trails.
Perhaps this is what is asked when we are told to be like little children. Sometimes filling up means letting go.
In what ways do you try to make up for “lack” in your life? With activity? Food? Alcohol? TV? Does it work?
Over the past few weeks, many wonderful women have sent me blog posts to share with you. None of these women know each other, and yet, several of them have written about Christmas letters, without any prompting from me. I think something significant is going on here. We should probably pay attention.
I made a resolution this New Year’s Day (well, actually in December) when I started to get the annual round of Christmas cards from friends. Except most of them weren’t cards at all. They were simply photos of their children, on a single piece of photo paper–sometimes a collage, sometimes just one photo with a phrase like, “Happy Holidays!” or “Seasons Greetings from the [insert family name here]”. Every time I got a mailing like that (I hesitate to even call them “cards”, I looked into the envelope, hoping for a letter to go along with it. Practically every time I was disappointed –and hurt, to tell the truth; there was no narrative about what they had done over the past year–no listing of their children’s accomplishments or developmental milestones, no litanies about their family vacations or staycations. To those of you who did include a letter, or at least a brief handwritten note, I thank you. For some, it doesn’t seem to make too much sense to give me that whole narrative (or even a card) if I’ve seen you every week; I would have welcomed a letter though, and not found it boring.
There have been many jokes and derogatory comments about gushing Christmas missives written by braggadocios that only serve to belittle the recipient. But that type of correspondence is extremely rare. Perhaps those snide remarks have discouraged many people from writing notes, or perhaps given them an excuse not to do so. Really, when do most of my friends have a chance to boast about their kids? It shows their love and pride, and the progeny that are old enough (and care enough) to read their parents’ letters feel good about themselves. For this reason we get: “Johnny’s working hard this year in school, really dedicated to his schoolwork. He has made many friends and his teachers often mention how much he adds to their classes” instead of “Johnny is failing in school and is either in remedial tutoring after school or in detention for disruptive behavior that creates frustration for his teachers. He has many acquaintances in the school office where he commonly visits the principal; the secretaries all know him by name”. So parents may sugar coat their children’s activities–that’s okay. I understand and expect that to a certain degree.
Why do we feel the obligation to write Christmas letters, anyway? It is the same need as putting up decorations and a tree, or the holiday won’t be a holiday. You must make cookies and have family dinners and fill your calendars with Christmas programs. You must get the shopping done, searching around for the best deals whether that means going from store to store or just searching the internet to buy online. You need to find that perfect gift for your family and friends. Busy and ragged, we don’t really celebrate at all.
Slow down a bit. Take a couple of hours to write a letter, to print it out and mail it. You’re doing the stuffing of the envelopes already, since you’re planning to send the photographs. Go ahead and include them, too. My perfect gift from you doesn’t cost you any more than some time (probably less than what you may have spent in looking for a gift anyway) and the price of ink and a piece of paper. I just want to hear about you–your excitements, your hopes and dreams, what you desire for your children, the sorrows you have met in the past year. Yes, I would love to see your kids’ pictures but I also want to hear about you and what has filled your life. I’ve lost touch with so many of you over the years. Sure, I have your addresses, but I no longer know how to reach you. I may have you as a friend on Facebook (thank goodness for that connection or I would have lost so many more of you) but those updates are snippets, not narratives; comic strips, not short stories. All I have of you is a picture that may end up on my refrigerator for a couple of weeks and then get thrown away. (I do throw them out; you do too, just admit it.) I’d like a letter that I tuck away to read a number of times, perhaps keep for years (although I do, of course, eventually throw most of them out).
What would happen if we met on the street? I might recognize you (assuming I can recollect what you look like and that you really haven’t changed since high school or college–doubtful by now), but could I easily strike up a conversation with you? I want to be able to ask, “How is Johnny doing? Has he won the Merit Scholarship? He sounds so dedicated, he must have a lot of college prospects!” No, it would be that awkward getting-to-know-a-stranger conversation: what do you do, what are your hobbies, how many kids do you have and how old are they? A letter makes more of an imprint on the soul than a casual photograph. It is an etching, a work of art. I can run my fingers over it and feel the texture of your lives.
I would like an etching for Christmas, a keepsake of you. I resolve to give you one of myself this year.
Jill Herr dreams of receiving countless Christmas letters from everyone she knows. She is an intermediate knitter, an insatiable reader, an eager writer, and a neophyte voice actor.
This weekend on Facebook, I posted a link to Honoree Fannone Jeffer’s analysis of the angry encounter between President Obama and Governor Brewer. The response to that post was intense. People found Jeffer’s ideas correct and sound; others found her divisive and hyperbolic. Many didn’t, it seem to me, even read the post but simply reacted to the idea that she was suggesting a racial element to the encounter. It was this last reaction that frustrated me so.
I believe – with everything I am – that the only way beyond pain and hardship is through it. I don’t believe we can back away from it, or hide from it, or skirt it and make any progress as individual people or as a nation. Thus, when the subject of race comes up, I want to talk about it. I don’t want to hide. I don’t want to pretend I have it all figured out or that race isn’t an issue. I want to have a real conversation. And to have a conversation, we have to hear (or in this case, read) the other person’s point of view.
No doubt, these conversations are so hard. They require us to be vulnerable and admit what we don’t know; they can reveal our own undiscovered prejudices and stereotypes; they can make us angry and hurt and sad. But they can also lead us to more understanding, a deeper appreciation of our individual struggles and our cultural clashes. They can show us more of who we are and help us become more of who we want to become.
To pretend that race is not an area where we, as a country, struggle mightily is very naive. To pretend that some of the things we all do – consciously or unconsciously – are racially motivated is willfully ignorant. For example, do I think Governor Brewer was doing something that was intentionally racist? No. Do I think that her action may have been spurred by unacknowledged racial attitudes? Maybe. Do I think, after reading Jeffer’s post, that President Obama and other black people in this country might have seen it as racially and culturally insulting? Definitely.
I know other people see this moment in our nation’s history differently, and that’s just fine with me. I would like to talk to those people, hear their opinions, weigh my own, and, perhaps, change my own. I would like the same respect shown to me and every other person – including Ms. Jeffer’s – who wants to participate in this discussion.
Too often, though, we choose not to have these conversations because they are hard and because, sometimes, we don’t really don’t want to risk having to change our opinions. That’s really sad and cowardly. We can do better.
What do you think about conversations about race and other tough topics like religion and politics? Are they important to have? How should we conduct them if they are?
By the way, I don’t think Facebook is necessarily the ideal place to have these conversations. In a perfect world where we spent time with people face to face, those personal, physical conversations would be so much better. But in our world where we connect so often via social media, maybe we need to learn to be better at having these conversations there, too. I certainly need to be better at that.
This weekend, I had the absolute honor of spending time with two of my closest friends, their husbands, and their beautiful children. We talked, we walked, we ate (boy, did we eat), and we just relaxed in each other’s company. A lovely weekend, and one I really needed.
But it was also a very hard weekend for me in many ways. For one, I was again the single one in a group of not just couples but families, units that work together to make decisions and build a life. As much as I truly love seeing my friends with the people that give them hope and security, it is also hard to be the one still alone in that time.
Perhaps, though, the hardest thing was something I have gotten better at over the years but still find very challenging – the complexities of relating to someone else’s children. I am not a parent, and I am certainly not their parent; yet, I am an adult and not their friend either. It’s a tough position to be in – to help settle squabbles or not, to calm the legs kicking the cabinets or not, to hold a scared little boy or not. I’m never sure what my role is to be in those situations. I muddle through, but it’s a challenge.
Then, of course, there is the pain of not having my own children to muddle through with. Most days I am at peace with what seems to be a fairly solid reality, but when I spend time with kids, hear my friends talking about schools and books and the gorgeous, unique identities of these people with whom they build their lives – well, it makes me sad.
I also find myself absolutely unable to contribute to entire conversations. What do I have to say about school choice or discipline strategies? Usually, I just sit and listen – or check email on my phone.
I love my friends, and I wouldn’t trade them or one minutes with them for the world – not for anything at all. I wouldn’t want them to have any less of all the glorious people they have (even though I know they are not always glorious). Yet, sometimes, it is very hard to be in those friendships. Very hard.
How do you guys negotiate friendships with people who are married and/or have children? How do you find your place in those relationships?
Sometimes being a woman—and a mother—brings achingly, painfully beautiful moments into our lives.
Becky and Her Daughter Now
When our daughter was six, she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. After her second surgery, Sarah was moved from Intensive Care back to the peds oncology floor and since she was still on morphine and couldn’t walk due to the pain of her incision, she had to use a bedpan.
On one particular night, she called to me that she had to go to the bathroom so I got up to help her. She was in such pain though, that I couldn’t move her and adjust the bedpan at the same time without hurting her even more; I finally rang for help and one of the wonderfully patient nursing assistants appeared almost immediately to lend a hand.
I don’t know why such a simple act would be so indelibly burned into my memory but I will never forget standing there beside my suffering daughter, looking down at her almost naked, scarred, bruised body, and seeing her stripped of the dignity and innocence of her childhood. Since she didn’t possess the strength to walk to the privacy of the bathroom, she was having to attend to one of the most basic and private of human needs with an audience around her.
She was powerless, helpless, dependent, and miserable—there were no sweet smiles, no rosy cheeks, no golden curls. There was only the sight of a small child too weary for the battle and a weeping mother who could do nothing at all to help except kiss the skin on the top of her head and whisper the comforting words that only a broken hearted parent knows how to say.
It seemed to me that the whole world faded away that night and all that remained were the nursing assistant and me, bound together in an intimate, sacred moment of ministering to “the least of these.”
I loved my daughter more at that moment than I ever had before—far more than I did when she was happy and healthy and gorgeous. I loved her with a deeper love than I ever knew could exist for another human being and I was honored to be standing by her in the middle of the night, being a load lifter and an armor-bearer for the beloved, bald soldier of my heart.
I have gazed into the face of sorrow and pain. I have heard a little girl’s whimpers of fear and discomfort. I have seen the compassionate heart of a medical helper. I have seen all of life boiled down to a few holy moments in the middle of the night–moments that were holy because even in the midst of great suffering, peace was in the air, love was in our hearts, and hope was in the room.
Becky Smith is a book addict, cancer mom, blogger, published songwriter, pastor’s wife, thrift store shopper, breast cancer survivor and mashed potato lover.
I was so jazzed I could have jumped up and grabbed the railing on the historic courthouse. That is, if I could jump more than three inches off the ground. And if I wasn’t a little nervous about the return to the courthouse floor.
You see, it was our team kick-off for the Relay for Life event I’m chairing here in my home county. (We don’t really have towns, you see, so we have to call it a “home county,” which sounds very urban for a county that just got it’s first stop light a couple of years ago.) We were bringing people in to hear their stories of how cancer had touched their lives, to get them excited about Relay, to give them information about cancer support services, and to get this event rolling. We have $35,000 to raise to fight cancer, and I am ready.
Nothing gets me more excited than a good cause. This cause – more than any other besides perhaps working to write the people who were enslaved in the U.S. back into history – is very close to my heart. Since I only knew my mother as a woman who had cancer, I have walked all my days with the spector of this disease lingering just behind Mom. Then, when they found another melanoma, when it recurred again, and when this time it took her life, I vowed to do all I could to end this disease for everyone.
In 2012, scientists predict that cancer will overtake heart disease as the number one killer in the United States. If you have suffered from this disease yourself or if you have watched someone you love suffer with it, you now how excruciating it can be physically, emotionally, and psychologically. We need to stop this.
So last night, when I stood in that historic courthouse and watched people get antsy with excitement about our Relay and our goal, all I could think was, “Yes, Mom yes! This is for you. We will do this for you!”
How has cancer touched your life? Have you had the opportunity to do something to fight it?
I highly encourage you to find a local Relay For Life in your area. It’s a great way to fight cancer, build community, and have a blast!
Sorry, I saw Fiddler on The Roof one too many times when I was growing up! For me, the holiday season has always been about traditions. As a girl, I remember so many at Christmastime – making a birthday cake for baby Jesus, the candlelight Christmas Eve service, going to Park City Mall with $100 (!) and getting gifts for all my friends and family, laying under the tree with my brother and looking up at all the lights…there were so many things that made Christmas Christmas for me. And now, I’m the (exhausted, thrilled, frightened) mother of a 5-year-old dude. What traditions am I handing down to him?
I suppose I should say, in the interest of honesty, that my husband and I are not huge on tradition. We are too annoyed with the line to see Santa to stop and wait for the time-honored pic with the jolly guy. I think we both just want to survive this game of life and don’t always get caught up in the small details that make traditions possible. This sounds morose when I write it that way, but it’s not – it’s just the way we live our life. Maybe it’s just that we don’t conciously create traditions. I suppose we won’t know what Henry takes away as his holiday traditions until he’s older, or old enough to tell us about them in a non-Inception-like fashion.
I often worry about this child-rearing approach: am I messing up my child by not giving him these stable experiences, a sense of what to expect each year? Isn’t there something to be said for raising your child with the same experiences, year in and year out – at least at Christmastime? The beauty of becoming a mother is that I got the chance to just chuck it all out the window. Ever since the doctor came in and said the words Ed and I had been praying for – “I think it’s time to talk about a C-section” – I’ve had to admit/accept that I am not in charge here. Yes, my name’s on the insurance card and I control the cookie jar, but I am so far from being the person who makes our lives happen. I like to think that the three of us, as a collective, make that happen…together. And this is the sticking point for traditions. If you wanna have ‘em, you’ve got to be in charge of ‘em.
For the past 5 years, life has just happened – in a glorious, wonderful, crazy way. We’ve had wonderful adventures and I’ve learned so much (lately, about the Justice League), and that’s all been possible because I’ve stopped dictating every second of everything. Life just got to be too much for me to control (if my husband’s reading this, he’s for sure snickering by now, if not outright gaffawing – stop it, Ed).
Looking forward, I hope the traditions we make – whatever they are- are about us, as a family, living life together. And hopefully, that cake part sticks around.
Heather Heisig is a full-time Montessori teacher, mother and wife. She’s also a book enthusiast, TV nerd and all-around goofball. This is her first time in almost ten years writing something other people will read.
The holidays are glorious times for many, many people – friends, family, good food, gifts, laughter.
But as we all know, they are also painful times for man – loneliness, hunger, poverty, tears.
So today, I challenge you to take a couple of actions – this weekend even.
The sign reads, "Cold. Hungry."
First, invite someone who is lonely to come to spend part of this weekend with you. You don’t have to give up all your family time, but for a few hours, invite someone who doesn’t have a big family to be with yours. Have them over for a meal or to watch a movie. Just give them something to look forward to this weekend. Invite someone.
Secondly, give something substantial to someone in need. Go to the grocery store and buy $25 dollars worth of canned goods for your local food pantry. Take a ham to that older woman who can’t afford Christmas dinner. Find your third winter coat and hand it to a person sleeping outside on a grate. Serve Christmas dinner at a soup kitchen. Give something.
Finally, give up something and turn that money or time into a gift. Maybe you could cut back on your coffee shop runs or maybe you can not see a movie every weekend. Maybe you can pass on a TV show once a week or not get your haircut every month. Then, use what you’ve saved in cash and minutes to give back. Mentor a child through Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Volunteer to give make-up lessons at the local abused women’s shelter. Teach writing classes for kids at an afterschool program. Sacrifice.
It is so easy to think that the holidays are about OUR family, OUR gifts, OUR time. And while we often spout platitudes about “giving back,” it’s easy to forget that. So let’s not forget. Let’s invite, give, and sacrifice.
And just in case you’re wondering how I’m doing that, we had our friend Ray out for dinner last night; I am buying a bag of food for the local food pantry today, and starting in January, I will be someone’s “big sister.” It’s not much, but it’s something. Something important.
So who could you invite? What could you give? What could you give up?
Happiest of Holidays to you all.