Tag Archives: peace

When Privilege is Grateful

In light of the spotlight on humanitarian crises and injustices across the world this Thanksgiving, I’m finding it really hard to be grateful.

On the one hand, I feel like I should appreciate that most of these atrocities are not directly impacting me or my loved ones. I should be grateful not to be searching for safety like a Syrian refugee family. I should be happy that I know where my loved ones are, ecstatic that they all have homes, food, and relatively healthy bodies. I should be glad that my family and many of my friends are not targets of violence and hate that has been perpetuated by terror attacks and brutal police misconduct.

But, I’m not really grateful for those things.

I refuse to look at my privilege as something to be grateful for. I know and appreciate the advantage that I have been given, just because of my skin color and the family I am a part of. But, I appreciate it the same way I appreciate the ocean–a powerful, sometimes scary presence in my life that I can only interact with when I come from a place of seeking to understand.

To be grateful for things that so few people have in this world just feels off to me somehow. I want so much more for the beings that inhabit this earth, and so much of what makes my life ‘good’ and ‘safe’ comes at the expense of others who are less fortunate–humans, animals, and planet alike.

So how do I answer the quintessential Thanksgiving Day question? What can I say I’m thankful for without feeling the words eroding away beneath me before they’re even spoken?

I’m amazingly grateful for connection. I’m grateful for the beings in my life that have opened me up, taken me in, shared with me, created with me, touched me and others’ lives in beautifully spiritual and human ways. I’m thankful for the beauty of the mountains, the strength of the wind, the patience of trees, the quiet of midnight, the questions in the sky. I’m grateful for music, for dance, for prayer, for communities that share those gifts with one another. I am grateful for hope.

There are so many things in my life that are good, and a lot of them are the direct result of luck. But what I am grateful for has little to nothing to do with who I am or the advantages I have.

I am grateful, above all else, for the wonderful, awesome, exhilarating parts of existence and for the fact that, with or without me, these wonders are shared and loved among people everywhere. On the days when we hear so many negative news stories reminding us of all the things in this world that are grim, I can only hold on to the potential of the utterly simple beauty surrounding us and hope that with all this light out there, we’ll one day figure out how to lift everyone above the clouds.

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Day #2

This isn’t a great picture, but I didn’t have many options for what made me happy today. I have always found strength and intrigue in the wind. It actually makes me really happy to see and feel strong wind, and there were some great gusts today. I sat watching them for quite a while and reveled in the power of the earth. Sometimes remembering that I’m not that important in the grand scheme of the universe makes me very, very happy.

Christmas

I’ll just put it out there: Christmas hasn’t been my favorite holiday for a good ten years.

It’s not that I stopped liking Christmas. In fact, I love Christmas. I love the lights, I love caroling, I love cookies, and I love the spirit of the season. But as we get older and things get more complicated, staying excited about Christmas can get a little more challenging. This year, though, I enjoyed Christmas in a different way than I ever have before. I wouldn’t call it the ‘best’ Christmas, but it made me feel something new, and that’s a really valuable thing.

On Sunday night, my dad and I decided to call 911 and have an ambulance take him into the ER. All day, he had been too weak to support himself and had been drifting in and out of a clear head. Although I’m stronger than I look, I can’t carry my dad, and he didn’t have the strength to transfer into our new wheelchair, so 911 it was. Even though I knew my dad wasn’t in immediate danger, there’s something about having emergency workers in your house that amps your adrenaline.

My dad spent the night and all of the next day in the MICU, ironically in the same exact room he had been in the very first time he had stayed at the VA overnight. He didn’t remember, but I did. (It’s kind of hard to forget coming to the hospital after a 17 hour flight and seeing your dad completely unconscious and on a ventilator.) This time around, though, he didn’t need a ventilator, which meant a much shorter hospital stay. He was transferred to the main oncology unit late Monday night. We hoped he’d be able to be home before Christmas, although, I think both of us knew that it wouldn’t really make a difference; I think it was more like we felt we were supposed to want to be home for Christmas.

While we were at the hospital, several volunteers made rounds to say Merry Christmas and to hand out goodies. One woman brought my dad a really nice fleece blanket. Another brought a card and $10 for the Canteen. And a small troop of younger men wandered the halls handing out cookies and candy. It was weirdly karmic to me because my very first experience in the VA hospital was doing that very thing. I appreciated what those volunteers were doing on a really fundamental level. And even though my dad wasn’t one of the neediest patients–after all, he had me with him–I hope he was touched by their kindness the way I was. But even with their warm spirits, the craziness of the last days had wiped me out, and I had all but given up on making any sort of Christmas effort.

The night before my dad came home from the hospital, his good friend Gene met up with me to deliver a few strands of lights and a tiny Christmas tree. Up until that point, I had pretty much decided that Christmas was going to be pretty bland this year in terms of traditions and decorations. My dad didn’t seem too excited about the holiday, and I didn’t want to expend the energy if he didn’t care. But once I had the lights and the house to myself, something kind of came over me.

I can’t quite explain it, but decorating by myself, and mostly for myself, was sort of therapeutic. Maybe it was because I was taking some ownership of my space, or maybe it was because I was creating beauty, or maybe it was as simple as the fact that I was appreciating having some control over my life for a few hours. Whatever the reason, as I set the DVR to record White Christmas and I strung lights over door frames, I suddenly felt Christmas sitting on my shoulder.

It’s funny because the commonly celebrated theme of the holidays doesn’t often include the scene in which I found myself. Christmas is ‘supposed’ to be about togetherness, connectivity, love, and family. While those are all great things, this year I realized that I don’t think that’s what Christmas is really about. Christmas isn’t about any individual’s specific relationships or circumstances. Christmas isn’t about getting along with your estranged grandmother, and it isn’t about giving someone a gift they’ll really love. When I think about what Christmas is really about, I think about the birth of a humble, yet pervasive, symbol of hope and love.

Sometimes people find their connection to that spirit through family or community. But, sometimes we don’t. I think sometimes it’s more effective to tap into the hope and love we carry within us. Sometimes, Christmas is most beautiful when we’re all alone.

A Non-Religious, Semi-Agnostic Walks Into a Monastery…

…and decides to stay for 9 months.

If that sounds a little odd to you, you’re not alone. My decision to enter the Monastic Immersion Program at St. Gertrude’s in Cottonwood, Idaho seemed a little out of the blue for a lot of my family and friends. To be honest, it even surprised me. But here I am, about to begin a yearlong program with two other women, working, praying, living, and studying as the sisters who live here do.

The assumption a lot of people make is that I must be thinking of converting to Catholicism or considering becoming a sister, but neither of those things is true. Although I am not affiliated with any church, I am, for the most part, comfortable with what I believe. Entering this experience, I have resolved to be open to the possibility of an epiphany or a sudden altered paradigm, but I also do not expect or even hope for it. So, what am I hoping for?

I’m hoping that being here will teach me about living out the values that underlie the Catholic religious practices. I hope to experience another way of life—one dedicated to faith, community, compassion, and simplicity. I am hoping to find a way to carry the peace that I feel here with me into the rest of my life and the rest of the world.

I have always been an introvert—a fact that I’m sure makes this yearlong stay much more possible. I am fascinated and compelled by simplicity, a life unburdened by unnecessary things and unhelpful negative emotions and thoughts. I love Seattle, and it will always be a home to me, but any city over stimulates me. I have lived at my current pace, chasing after cheetahs, for a long time, and I am ready to slow down and have the time to think everything through. It’s time to breathe and imagine a life where I feel at peace, maybe even in the midst of chaos.

Of course, it’s incredibly hard giving up all that I loved about my life: late night Thai and pizza delivery, the clothes I love but will never wear in a monastery, the friends who drink wine, watch scary movies, and laugh with me, the smell of Starbucks on a wet fall day. But on the other hand, it is so freeing to be in a place where I realize I don’t need any of those things to feel complete and happy (except the friends, but letters are a relatively good substitute). No pressure, no money, no TV, no crazy boy drama.

So this blog is to keep everyone who is interested in my journey here updated, intrigued, and maybe even inspired, if I’m lucky, to lead a more thoughtful, fulfilled life. And my hope is to prove that you don’t have to be in a monastery—or religious—to do it.