L’État, c’est moi.

I am the State. – Often attributed to, but almost certainly not said by, Louis XIV.

Nonetheless, it kind of illustrates the prevailing attitude towards politics for most of human history. We have forgotten that the Founders of our country came up with something incredibly radical: the concept of loyal opposition. Until they came along, one was not loyal to one’s country – one was loyal to one’s king. At the time the Framers created the constitution, even imagining the king’s death was considered an offence punishable by being publicly drawn and quartered (for men), or burned at the stake (for women).

But then came the concept of loyal opposition. Nationalism. Prior to the American and French revolutions, there was no such thing. If you google quotes about nationalism, you get a lot of negative stuff, but it doesn’t have to be. At its basic form, nationalism simply means loyalty and devotion to a nation.

We’ve refined that, quite a bit. Now we have patriotism: devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country.

Devotion to a nation. Love of a country. Not devotion to a king or ruler or, dare I say, president.

Isn’t that amazing? Our Founders created a world wherein it is possible – even encouraged – to love your country without liking the rulers. Our very government is based around the ability to change our decision-makers at will. We are allowed to say we don’t like them, and want to replace them with someone new. We are constitutionally required to periodically replace our own government.

So, what?

It means that I can be loyal to my country, even if I don’t like the people in charge. Because we do not owe loyalty to a president. We owe loyalty to the Office of the President, and to the United States of America. There have been times when I have not necessarily liked the president, or decisions that person has made. But I will always respect the Office. Regardless of who gets elected today, that is what patriotism and nationalism are. I don’t have to like the president. I am allowed to not like the president. But I will defend the Office.

I believe that one’s love of country cannot be determined by the person they vote for. Can it be an indicator of other things about them? Maybe. But I don’t believe you can ever truly say that a person who takes the time to do their research and vote for the person they think is best has no love of country.

L’État, c’est moi, et c’est également vous.

Gay Guy Friends, Grieving Girl Friends, and Sleeping Babies

She knew that she had a tendency to allow her mind to wander, but surely that’s what made the world interesting. One thought led to another, one memory triggered another. How dull it would be, she thought, not to be reminded of the interconnectedness of everything, how dull for the present not to evoke the past, for here not to imply there.”

-Alexander McCall Smith, The Novel Habits of Happiness

I mentioned in my previous post, that my feelings on grief are evolving and complicated. This is sort of related to that, sort of an expansion of it, sort of barely related at all. And it’s the sort of thing that makes me wonder at how everything is interconnected.

In my freshman year of college, a couple of friends felt it was time for them to “come out.” I realize now that my reaction probably wasn’t as supportive as it would be now. Not being in such a situation, I didn’t quite understand the enormity of such a thing. I’m afraid that in one instance my friend was quite nervous, and had been very serious when he had asked me to meet him. (To be honest, we were supposed to meet in my town, but when he asked me to meet him elsewhere, my first worry was that something terrible had happened, that had made him unable to travel. Having recently had an acquaintance be arrested, my thought went there, and I wondered if conditions of bail wouldn’t let him travel to the next county. Which is ridiculous, because I can’t for the life of me figure out what  he would do to be arrested for in the first place. Dear Husband is not kidding when he says I can be irrational from time to time.) I believe my response was something along the lines of, “Whew! I’m glad it’s just this, and not something bad!” Another friend’s coming out was responded to with a shrug, and “Okay. Where shall we go for dinner?” I am wincing at that response, even as I type it.

A dear person close to me just expressed that she wasn’t sure if it was okay for her to still be asking for support after the death of her husband, six months ago. My reaction was better this time, I hope. I told her I was flattered. And, I am.

Because I learned from my kids. Children really do teach us lessons, don’t they? That’s one of the the things I should add to the Mommy Rule Book: Don’t Forget to Learn From Your Kids.

And all they had to do, was sleep.

This precious little thing, sleeping on my lap. Whole naps, snuggled against me. I was quite content to hold my babies for their whole naps, to be a comforting, safe place.

To be a safe place. What a revelation! To be a safe place. It came to me, slowly, that people can be safe places, and that we can be safe places for grown-ups, too.

I was not, by far, the first person any of my friends came out to. I am not the only person supporting my friends and family in rough times. And I am so glad, because we all need many safe places. (As nice as it is, Mommy can’t hold you for every nap, child!) Thank you for considering me one of your safe places.

 

The Etiquette of Grief

I’ve been contemplating this for a while, now. I have discussed it with friends and family, and yet, I still don’t know how to say any of this exactly right. I’ve just about come to the conclusion that, maybe, there is no “exactly right.” Also, as I began to type this, I realized just how complicated my feelings on this are.

2016 has been a rough year. Even as I type this, I am feeling a little bit guilty. There has been so much loss around our family this year. And yet, for all of that, I have been mostly on the periphery. Certainly, I’ve seen it, and felt it, in the way that something that is just there, suddenly is not. It’s like the big tree that used to mark the turn to my parents’ house. A large live oak tree, standing in the island of a divided highway, marking the turnoff to a backroad that was otherwise poorly marked (or unmarked altogether, if the local perennial pastime of stealing street signs was being exercised). And then, the tree was gone. Too many vehicle collisions. Too many years in exhaust fumes. Poor soil. Or maybe even the isolation from other trees wore it down. We were still able to find our street, of course, but the marker that had always been there was gone. It’s been gone many years, now, and that intersection still looks somehow naked. And I think that is a perfect analogy for how I am feeling this year. I miss that tree. Yet, I was not one of the birds or squirrels or other creatures that called it home. For me, it was just a signpost, but for others, it was a vital and concrete part of their lives. I miss it, but it was never my home.

There are not words to express to our friends and family how much I truly wish I could help you. I can’t make it better, though. I can’t become your home. I hope I can help, by not making it be worse than it has to be. There are a hundred thousand things that we do, everyday, that maybe we can take some of the burden of. And that is all I can do.

I am watching my friends and family struggle. They are worried about how their grief appears to others, and in some cases, are even being told (overtly and through hints) that their grief is illegitimate or too-long-lived.

Your feelings are legitimate. You are allowed to feel what you are feeling. You are homeless, now, without your tree, and you are allowed to grieve that loss as long as you need to.

But for all of the different kinds of loss that I’m seeing around me, and all the different ways I am seeing these people cope, or try to cope, I am hearing the same refrain – a worry that they are not doing it “right.” Do you feel like we are watching you, and judging you on the ways you are processing your loss? I’m sure you think we are watching every detail, from the words on the funeral program to the speed with which you clean your house to the day you go back to work.

You’re right. We are.

But it’s not because we think you are doing it wrong. It is because you are guiding us. There is no way to know how to do this, because we have not done it. There is no wrong way to mourn a loved one. There are no signposts. We are watching you, because we are wondering what we would do. What we will, inevitably, one day have to do.

For those who I have not supported as well as I should have: I did not understand. I still don’t fully understand. But much to my sorrow, I am learning. And I am sorry. I’m so, so sorry that I didn’t see. There are some lessons, I suppose, that we don’t want to learn, and so we simply don’t acknowledge that the lesson is being taught. And there are some things, that because they are scary, we willfully decide not to understand. Maybe that is part of maturing – learning the lessons that we never wanted to recognize.

There are those who are going to find this to be an alarming post, and worry that my thoughts are going to dark places.

But I am troubled by a coincidence that cannot go unremarked. My father-in-law passed six months ago. His family is wondering what the statute of limitations on grief are? How long can they be forgiven their sadness? An acquaintance’s husband passed two months ago. She is already getting implications that she should be moving on. This horrifies me. There is no cap. Nor should there be. That is one of the important lessons that I have learned, just recently.

If I have ever made you feel like you have passed the allowable limit on grief in the past, I owe you a profound apology. I had no right, and you are allowed to feel what you are feeling. No matter how long it’s been.

So many of you have taught me these lessons, some gradually over the years, and some who have hit me over the head with it like a proverbial frying pan. I thank you. And sincerely wish I had not only been better to you, but that there was a way to make things better for you.

I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught. – Winston Churchill

My Spiritual Adviser is a Grocery Clerk

There are two ways of spreading light – to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. – Edith Wharton

I cannot count how many times I’ve heard phrases in the family of “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Or, “God is bigger than your worries,” or “Give God your weakness, and he’ll give you his strength.” There are probably 10 different memes telling me this on my facebook news feed, right now. Sometimes, it feels kind of aggressive, to tell you the truth. Have you ever just tried to vent a little bit, and gotten a very assertive affirmation that if you just “Give it to God,” it’ll all be okay? Many times, I would rather sit for a few minutes in a quiet, empty church on a random Tuesday, than be told it all again. (My youngest child and I are alike, in that. We find our peace in quiet places.)

The thing is, there is a clerk at my local grocery store who says the same thing. But there is something about the way she says it – I believe her.

Perhaps the other folks I’ve heard the same message from are just not the people I’m meant to hear. Perhaps Ms. J doesn’t resonate with everyone, and there are folks who find her as jarring as I find some people. But she resonates with me. Perhaps because she’s quiet, like my favorite churches. She’s a very soft-spoken woman.

She’s not a trained theologian. (At least, not that I know of.) She’s a grocery store clerk. An elderly woman, whose son and his family have just moved in while they build their own house. Who raises chickens, but because the rooster is just too much of a character to get rid of, she sells chicks instead of eggs. Who cannot manage to keep her kitchen garden alive. Who loves to go camping. Who remembers her regulars, and asks after my kids and how they’re doing in school, and lights up on school holidays, when they go with me to the grocery store and she gets to see them.

I will wait in a longer line, just to be checked out by Ms. J. It is entirely possible that I have decided to cook a dinner I do not have all of the ingredients for, as an excuse to visit with Ms. J. (I’m not saying it’s absolutely true, but it’s possible.)

Does she know? Does she know that she has customers who prefer her? (I know I’m not the only one. I’ve spoken to other customers who agree that “Ms. J is worth waiting for.”) I hope so. I made it a point to tell her, today, that she brightens my day.

I want to make it a point to tell people that they matter.

We’ve had some losses this year. Our own family is missing some loved ones, and friends (both close friends and developing friendships) have lost people, too.

Tell people they matter. Tell the grocery clerk that she brightens your day. Tell the guy who patiently walks the limping dog every morning that you look for him when you drive the kids to school, and were happy and excited to see the dog running yesterday. Tell your kid’s teacher that for the first time ever, your daughter thought the math homework assignment was fun. People are surprised, when they find out they did something that matters to you. And I’ll bet you don’t know the impact you’ve had on other people, either. You and I, we may never know.

I don’t know if Ms. J knows that she is special. How many other people don’t know? It’s time to go reflect some light back at them.

R2-D2 is a Jedi Master

Disclaimer: there are many, many people who are bigger Star Wars fans than myself or my immediate family. We recently rewatched the whole series, though, and took the kids to see Episode 7 (Cultural Education!), and these are our immediate observations. This may not be new to “real fans,” but to us, it was pretty cool. I didn’t come up with all of these. Dear Husband made the first observation. I ran with it.

Naturally, there are potential spoilers all over this thing. Consider yourself warned.

We’ve been missing an interesting subtext of the Star Wars saga. Did anyone else notice that the cute little r2droid with the big personality is not only sentient, but also seems to be one with the Force?

(We’re not the first ones to make this observation. This reddit blog suggests that R2 must have a cooling system, and that the liquid in the system is host to opportunistic midichlorians.)

Let’s take this one Episode at a time, shall we? We’ll do it chronologically:

Episode 1:
Our saga begins with R2-D2 as the only droid who is able to complete repairs to Padme’s ship, and the captain seems pretty surprised about it. I would contend that Qui-Gon’s later observation that the Force wanted him to find Anakin was true – and that the Force was working partially through R2-D2 to do it.

At the end of this episode, R2 finds himself hiding in a fighter with Anakin. Conveniently, Anakin accidentally hits a series of button and switches that cause the cockpit door to close and engage the autopilot system to follow the rest of the squad into battle around the orbiting droid control ship. Also conveniently, R2 does not manage to turn off the autopilot function until Anakin is in the exact position necessary to destroy the control ship. This always felt like a pretty weak plot point, but it becomes a lot more watchable if you imagine R2 as a Jedi Master using the Force to make all this happen.

Episode 2:
We don’t get a lot of R2 here, but we do get some. He escorts Padme and Anakin back to Naboo, which is a little bit odd, since they are posing as refugees to avoid drawing attention. Yet they bring an astrodroid? Either they are very, very bad at disguises, or they had a very good reason for bringing him along.

It is also be worth noting, that along with C-3PO, he is witness to Padme and Anakin’s secret wedding.

Episode 3:
R2 makes a splash right from the very beginning, while assisting Anakin and Obi Wan in their mission to rescue Chancellor Palpatine from Count Dooku. He actually ends up saving everyone, by once again being in exactly the right place and time, after being attacked himself by battle droids.

The twins are separated. Luke is sent with a powerful Jedi to watch over him, in a backwater planet so insignificant that none of the major powers in the galaxy have a presence there. Leia is sent to a very high-profile planet, to be raised as a princess in the household of a prominent Republic supporter, with no guard. Though, we can assume that R2-D2 was sent along, since he appears to be in Leia’s possession at the beginning of Episode 4. I’m arguing that R2 was her Jedi guard.

R2 and C-3PO are the only characters that appear in all seven films, but at the end of this episode, C-3PO’s memory is wiped, effectively making R2 the only character who has witnessed the entire saga.

Episode 4:
R2 and C-3PO are dropped on Tatooine. I’ll hazard a guess that there isn’t a very sophisticated network of GPS satellites around Tatooine, yet R2 is very confident in his ability to find the only Jedi on the planet, for whom he makes a beeline, despite being abandoned by his best friend. After being kidnapped by Jawas and sold to Owen, he escapes and again crosses a featureless desert, presumably using the Force to guide his way.

During the rescue of Leia from the Death Star, R2 and C-3PO are met by storm troopers. They convince the troopers to let them wander off. So, either a)Storm Troopers are really dumb (not terribly complimentary to Jango Fett), or b) R2 is using Jedi mind tricks. The latter is more fun, I think.

As I’ve noted, R2 knows the whole saga, yet he finds it unnecessary to fill in any of the other protagonists. Setting aside the fact that the movies was written kind of piecemeal, we can explain this by understanding that R2 knows this is not his story to tell, and that Luke, as a developing Jedi if not an outright padawan, must find his own path.

Eventually, he once again finds himself being the droid that guides a Force-powerful person to destroy a critical space vessel.

Episode 5:
R2’s one shining moment here is his ability to fix the Millenium Falcon’s hyperdrive, at the exactly critical moment, despite C-3PO’s admonition to “Never trust strange computers.” (Certainly relevant advice we should all be heeding.)

Episode 6:
R2 is very cool under pressure. And you cannot tell me that he and Luke were able to extensively practice throwing his light saber at the exact arc necessary to intercept Luke during his escape from Jabba. I think there was some Force action involved, coming from both Luke and R2. Luke was using the Force to accomplish that major leap, R2 was using the Force to direct the saber – there you go.

Episode 7:
I mean, come on. R2 is in power-down mode. He has been tossed in a corner with other spare parts. Until he meets someone strong with the Force. Hmm.

I would also argue that C-3PO making a point to tell BB8 that R2 has powered down, rather than been deactivated or turned off, indicates that on some level, R2 is processing what is going on around him, allowing his continuity as the saga’s only witness to continue…..

On a completely unrelated note (maybe? okay – a probably unrelated note), I have always enjoyed the fact that R2 truly has a universal connector. And that he once mistook a power port for an info port (on Endor). It happens to the best of us.

Unhelpful Hints and Teasers

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It is part of a parent’s duty to engage in good-natured ribbing with your kids.

This is MRB Chapter 12 (Just Because…) and, to a certain extent, Chapter 9 (Education. Yes, really – I think this leads to a certain level of mental gymnastics that is helpful to figuring out other things).

Our kids have sort of embraced it. They’ve started with the puns and sarcasm and ribbing of their own.

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At Eldest Progeny’s request, here is her list of Unhelpful Hints for Gift-Giving Occasions (her words; my comments are in italics):

Kid: Mooooom, what did you get me?

Parent: Here’s a hint:

  • Not an elephant.
  • Not a giraffe.
  • Not a house.
  • Not a swimming pool.
  • Not a hippo. (My addition – this is the point where I would probably start singing “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.)
  • Not a home on Mars.
  • Not a bowling ball (flat presents only).
  • Not extra homework.
  • Not a huge spacecraft headed to the moon as we speak.

Kid: Daaaad, what did you get me?

Parent: Sweetie, I got you nothing but…..

  • socks. (I would start singing that MLP classic Nothing Says Christmas Like a Pair of Socks)
  • pink fluffy unicorns (for boys).
  • shoes (for girls). (She’s young, and doesn’t appreciate the value of a perfect pair of boots under a Christmas tree...)
  • a wolf.

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And, that’s what life is like in our house. I’m so proud.

I hear you.

Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are indistinguishable. – David Augsburger

Listening is an important tactic for getting along with just about anybody. It’s amazing how just knowing that someone is listening to you brightens your day.

This is a big reason that little kids have big tantrums. They have something that is very important to them – but they don’t know how to say it. Even bigger kids – we had this same problem just this morning. Littlest was frustrated, and just needed someone to understand why she was frustrated. Even though there wasn’t anything I could do about it at the time – we were late for school – she knew I understood, and that was enough for that moment.

This is the very first tip from the wonderful book by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.

Listen with full attention.

But this is important for more than kids. Do you ever find yourself hanging up the phone and filling terribly unfulfilled – because you heard a lot about what was troubling the voice on the other end of the line, but didn’t get to speak what you had to say? It matters to know someone is listening to you.

Everybody has the same need. To know that someone has heard you. Because that is the same thing as saying, “You matter.”

I think the world would be a better place if we all just listened a little bit more. Is it going to solve all of the world’s problems? No. But it might get us started. At the very least, we’d all feel better, and maybe learn something, too.

alisten