Gratitude 1 – February 6, 2015

Carol A. Hand

I volunteered to help a dear friend, Skywalker Payne, with her newest project, described in one of her recent posts (link here).

“O.K. No beating around the bush and trying to be subtle. I need your help. I need at least 100 of you, who follow and read this blog, to join me in the practice of Gratitude 100 – A Simple Practice for Fulfillment, Balance, and Happiness. As I began working on writing this book, I realized I need more than just my experience to show Gratitude 100 works.” (Skywalker)

I am sharing my first reflection with her blessing to help spread the word about her project and her efforts to recruit volunteers. I hope you will check out her post and consider participating.

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Good morning, Skywalker! I decided to write before the question for the day arrives. Today I awoke grateful that I have my house to myself again. This may sound like a strange thing to celebrate, but for two weeks I have lived in messy chaos as a contractor came to repair the damage from last year’s winter. The five feet of snow on my roof remained until spring. An ice dam formed along the edge when the snow began to melt, sending the water into the house wherever it could find a spot in the roof to leak through. It took until mid-December for the insurance company to send a check, and for me to find a contractor who would do a “small job” for a reasonable price. It’s not an easy service to find here.

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Photo Credit: March 9, 2014

The first day, the contractor called me to let me know what time he would arrive so I could make sure my little dog, Pinto, was safely out of the way in my other downstairs office. (Pinto doesn’t like many people and as a little 12-pound dog who’s been abused and abandoned by an unknown number of people, he’s fiercely protective of his new home and territory.) The contractor was pleasant and agreed to do the necessary jobs in the upstairs bathroom and downstairs bedroom, and began his work by tearing off the “wainscoting” in the upstairs bath – bright pink faux tile printed on tarpaper-backed contact paper. I do wish I would remember to take “before” pictures. Words can’t quite convey the mess that years of cob-job repairs left in the upstairs bath – an obviously patched wall and floor under and behind the toilet. Dark water-damaged sub-flooring was visible between the patches of linoleum

The next day the contractor once again called before he came at the pre-scheduled time and we went together to choose materials for the floor and walls. When we returned, the contractor announced he was just going to put the new flooring on top of the old (rippling, cracked, and patched) linoleum. “That’s what the leveling compound you bought is for.” “Do you think that makes sense?,” I asked, as I gazed at the water-stained subfloor clearly visible for all to see. It seems our relationship shifted at that point and became a power struggle. He spent the rest of the day removing trim and tearing off the “tile.” I didn’t say anything at the time, but resolved to pull up the old floor myself when he left for the day.

I don’t have the carpentry skills to do these jobs well, but I do have a sense of what it means to do things in the right way. (And I was paying for this!) It’s quite obvious to me that one shouldn’t just cover up old problems – be they floors or disagreements. It requires going to the source to see how deep the repairs need to be. I’m often reminded of Kahlil Gibran’s words “Work is love made visible.” I can only surmise that my silence and gently-framed questions were interpreted as an insult and resulted in a battle of wills.

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Photo Credit: Pinto at Peace Guarding His Territory

So the next morning, the contractor arrived unannounced. Little Pinto was in a frenzy, barking furiously. He would not go willingly into the room where he spent “contractor days,” and because he’s a biter when he’s upset, I had to grab my special soft leather gloves, chase him around the house, and carry him into his sanctuary. The contractor seemed to enjoy the chaos his  unannounced appearance had caused, and he seemed to be sneering happily when he walked in the door. (Maybe it was just my imagination. But the scene repeated itself the next morning, so I can only think it was deliberate. Pinto is not friendly to many people – he’s learned to protect himself. Some people just can’t understand that “being good with dogs” just doesn’t work with him. It seems to bother people who can’t accept that’s just how Pinto is  – his barking isn’t an assessment of their trustworthiness – not always, anyway. It’s why I put him in his own protected space when others visit.)

I didn’t need to be overtly confrontational about Pinto or the jobs. When the contractor left the second day after announcing his plans for the floor, I decided to see what was underneath the old linoleum, so I pulled up the flooring and swept and bleached what I discovered. Clearly the toilet had overflowed more than once in seventy years, leaving behind a well-dried smelly, disgusting mess. The next night, I finished the job. I could go on whining about the other slights that were small, but nonetheless felt mean-spirited. Was it something about me that made the contractor feel he needed to assert his power to feel superior? I don’t understand how someone could find it amusing to upset a little dog with a long history of abuse and abandonment. The plumber who helped with the job has never behaved disrespectfully. I’ve known him since I moved here – old houses have lots of plumbing issues! He always calls before he comes, takes off his boots just inside the door, and walks around in his socks. He doesn’t mind Pinto’s barking, and he does his job with care – with finishing touches that tell me he takes pride in his work. And he’s always professional and kind.

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Photo Credit: Upstairs Bath – February 6, 2015

So today, I awoke grateful that my house is mine again and peaceful. I am grateful the contractor finished most of the heavy and skilled work I can’t do myself. He did an amazing job on the woodwork in the bath. But I’m also grateful he’s done with the jobs that he was willing to do. Most of the jobs left unfinished are things I can do – polyurethaning, nailing, caulking, and painting. I am grateful that I have the ability to do the small jobs that are left, grateful for the simple tools I have, grateful for the knowledge and ability to use them, and grateful for enough sight, physical strength, and physical well-being to be able to climb ladders, kneel, and do “deep-knee bends” for hours as I work.

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Photo Credit: Downstairs Office – February 6, 2015

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Photo Credit Downstairs Office – February 6, 2015 – Finished Work?

But mostly, I am grateful for shelter and for a space where my friends and family feel safe and welcome – a place where I can breathe love into the work that I do. I wish this for others in the world. And as I work, I think of the families in Palestine whose homes were demolished, whose olive trees were bulldozed and uprooted. I think of the refugees of war and climate change who have little in the way of shelter, food, or comfort. I think of the many people without shelter in the world. I wish I could do more to help them. My gratitude for the privileges I have is always tinged with deep sadness for those who are suffering…

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Just Be Who You Are

Carol A. Hand

Today, I just want to share one of my favorite songs. I wish I could find a free recording to share, or record my own version, but alas, I can’t. What I love most about the song, though, are the lyrics. I hope they touch your heart as they do mine.

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Photo Credit: Black-Capped Chickadee

Little Chickadee
(by Cheryl Dawdy)

She is only a little chickadee
Just a common backyard bird
And she knows no care or worry
She is happy in this world

Just a simple little chickadee
With a simple song to sing
She’s not a peacock or a toucan
Not some fancy colored thing

But she can fly
She can fly
Anywhere she’d care to roam
And call anywhere her home

Then I said, “Tell me, little chickadee
Don’t you wish sometimes to be
Someone bigger, someone more beautiful?”
And this is what she said to me

“If I were bigger or more beautiful
If I had fancy colored wings
It would not make me someone better
‘Cause these are not important things

‘Cause I can fly
I can fly
Anywhere I care to roam
And call anywhere my home”

Now she is only a little chickadee
Not the boldest bird to see
But she knows that she’s most fortunate
There’s no one else she’d rather be

‘Cause she can fly
She can fly
Anywhere she’d care to roam
And call anywhere her home

She is only a little Chickadee

 Recorded by The Chenille Sisters on their album, Teaching Hippopotami to Fly

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Photo Credit: Chickadee Flying

If you’re lucky, as I was when I first heard Little Chickadee on a children’s radio show, here’s a link to the show

If you’re able to connect to the show, whatever you hear may touch your heart, surprise you with people’s creativity, or make you laugh.

May you all have a wonderful day ❤

Simple Words for the Wise Children in All of Us

Carol A. Hand

The winter solstice holidays have passed for many of us, yet this morning, a story and song from years ago wouldn’t stop playing in my mind until I decided to share them.

“It’s in every one of us to be wise.”

It’s my way of expressing gratitude to all of the blogging community who share their commitment to peace and all life. Let us all remember that the spirit of love and giving is wisdom in action – something we may share every day.

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Photo Credit: The Great Tree of Peace

“Say a prayer for the wind and the water and the wood,
And those who live there too…”

Giving Thanks

Carol A. Hand

In recent times, there are many moments of everyday when I am reminded of all there is to grieve in the world – deliberate cruelty, environmental destruction, disease and war, and continued oppression that will cause death and suffering for generations yet to come. I know it has been thus throughout history. Yet as an elder, at this moment, I chose to celebrate the beauty and wonder of life. Today, at this moment, I choose to share images and words of gratitude for that which makes life worth living.

The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee
(by N. Scott Momaday)

I am a feather in the bright sky.
I am the blue horse that runs in the plain.
I am the fish that rolls, shining, in the water.
I am the shadow that follows a child.
I am the evening light, the lustre of the meadows.
I am an eagle playing with the wind.
I am a cluster of bright beads.
I am the farthest star.
I am the cold of the dawn.
I am the roaring of the rain.
I am the glitter on the crust of the snow.
I am the long track of the moon in a lake.
I am a flame of four colors.
I am a deer standing way in the dusk.
I am a field of sumac and the poome blanche.
I am an angle of geese upon the winter sky.
I am the hunger of a young wolf.
I am the whole dream of these things.

You see, I am alive, I am alive.
I stand in good relation to the earth.
I stand in good relation to the gods.
I stand in good relation to all that is beautiful.
I stand in good relation to the daughter of Tsen-tainte.
 You see, I am alive, I am alive.

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Photo Credit: The Great Tree of Peace

I send my sincere wish for all my relations. May we live in peace with each other and in balance with the earth we all share.

Work Cited:

N. Scott Momaday (1998). The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee. In B. Bigelow & Bob Peterson (Eds.), Rethinking Columbus: The next 500 years (p. 72). Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I Wonder if You See How Beautiful you Are?

Carol A. Hand

Some mornings, obligations pile up so the question of how to focus my day is not even an option to consider. Today, I am revisited by a sense of obligation to explain the reasons for writing “Well Met.” Before heading off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning on the day I wrote the post, I tried to catch up on reading many of the blogs I follow. I know I am weeks behind. I fell asleep afterwards floating in gratitude for the gift of being able to glimpse the depth of scholarship, beauty, wisdom, and commitment to a kinder world that is shared by so many people around the globe. When I awoke, I wanted to share my gratitude and reflect back the beauty I see in all of those who follow and visit Voices from the Margins.

In the blogs I read, people may write about their fears and struggles or the disturbing state of the world today, but what I see beneath the surface is beauty – people who care deeply about oppression, inequality, and suffering. But I’m not sure if you all see how special and beautiful you really are. You’re a beacon of hope and inspiration in a world that so needs your wisdom and light. As Robbie at eloquently wrote in a comment on Well Met,

“I am realizing lately that it is not so much “about” what our blog identity “is”…it is about our spirits 🙂 it is ” what” we are saying…we have a common core that is sometimes not visible to the human eye…our words + photos capture something that we all feel.. it connects us all..+ that is what I enjoy about blogging over the cyber fence…we live all over the world but somehow we have a spirit that connects us + when we find each other… we are loyal + truthful which is hard to find today :-)”

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Photo Credit: Lake Superior Silhouettes – Photographer Jnana Hand

There was a second realization about the beauty and suffering of “ordinary” people that had been on my mind. Amid the never-ending messages of fear and hatred from news media or political emails, there is much that touches my heart with hope. Gardening has provided a rare opportunity for me to connect with some of my neighbors. Three women in particular have spent time sitting in my yard while I puttered – planting, weeding, clearing brush – to share stories about their lives and hopes for the future as they kept me company as I worked. What touched me most deeply was that all three balanced financial, family, and health challenges, yet all represented incredible beauty – gentleness, generosity of spirit, and a commitment to do what they could to make the world a kinder place. Their simple kindness is inspiring. They give to others who are less fortunate even though they have little themselves in the way of material extras. Stories about ordinary people who are loving and kind don’t make the news, but they are the bedrock of what makes life meaningful and bearable. I wanted to say thank you. I am honored to be in the presence of people who, despite society’s disregard, are really quite extraordinary.

As I listen to the stories of hard times my neighbors have lived through and still face, what I see are women who have become kinder and more generous rather than angry and bitter. I doubt that they see their own beauty and how precious their gifts are – how deeply they touch others. I wonder how many in the blogging community see the beauty of spirit that shines through their work. I just wish to say chi miigwetch (Ojibwe thank you) to the bloggers and neighbors who share faith in a better world and who simply do what can be done in different ways to leave a more hopeful legacy for future generations. You are so beautiful

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?: Blogging 101

Carol A. Hand

The need to explain how things came to be is part of the ongoing challenge of being different, of being from a high-context culture. Today’s topic for blogging 101 is no exception. Why this name for the blog in the header? Why this photo? And why this blogging partnership?

I’m curious to know how many people have wondered about a blog administered by partners from different states, one who is semi-retired and living in Minnesota, and one who is on a faculty in Tennessee. We are an odd pair – one is “straight” (a funny label) and of Ojibwe and Anglo-American ancestry, and one is gay. Our friendship was forged on the first day we met and firmly cemented during the test of advocating for a student who was targeted by discrimination. Although we were somewhat successful as advocates, allowing the student to successfully finish her degree, our advocacy cost us our standing at the university. I know I would willingly choose to go down fighting for social justice time and time again. I am grateful to the friend who volunteered to take the lead and withstood the ordeal by my side.

Graduation 2008

Photo Credit: Cheryl Bates and Tom Bates – Graduation Day – May 17, 2008

If I remember correctly, it was a snowy day at the end of March 2008 when I went to pick up Dr. Cheryl Bates for our breakfast interview at the campus where I taught. She was one of the candidates interviewing for a tenure-track position, a grueling ordeal that requires interviews with faculty and administrators, a teaching demonstration, and a presentation of one’s research. As I stood at the hotel desk where she stayed during her campus visit, waiting for someone to appear, I saw a lovely young woman approaching. Instantly, I felt her enthusiasm, humility, and gentle spirit. Our breakfast meeting at a favorite local greasy spoon confirmed my initial impressions. We shared stories and laughed, and of course arrived just on time for her meeting with the dean. She was whisked away by the chair of the department to face this new adventure among strangers. I am grateful she accepted the position, although I know the experiences will probably leave deep scars on her gentle spirit.

Despite her many accomplishments and the crucial perspectives she brought to a homophobic context, she was quickly relegated to the margins. I remember sitting near her in a meeting while other faculty discussed how to respond to the concerns of the national accrediting body with the lack of content in our program’s curriculum on dealing with the “isms” – folks like Cheryl and me. You know, people who were Native or gay or Black. There are several encounters that helped me understand the magnitude of the every day micro aggressions and outright ignorance she encountered. Imagine having each word you utter be misinterpreted as a sexual innuendo by some of the young female students in your class? The same words out of my mouth would not be interpreted in the same way. And how about the eager candidate who came to interview the next year who sought her out to make a memorable impression in hopes that she would recommend him for the open faculty position? “I’m so interested in your research on transgender issues. I was fascinated when I read an article on the history of dildos.” Cheryl met these challenges and many others with humor, humility and grace.

We stayed in touch as one headed to the northwest, and the other to the southeast. When I began blogging with a different partner in June of 2013, Cheryl followed the blog and would share her insights when we spoke on the phone. My former blogging partner negotiated the technical aspects of setting up our site, and although we agreed to the purpose of posting pieces that challenged the status quo, it became clear over time that we had different perspectives on what that really meant. Although open to feedback and suggestions, I grew weary of hearing that my language was too academic, my titles too long, and my insistence on citing references was pretentious. The final straw was an article I wrote about caregivers that wasn’t “good enough to post on our blog.”  I rewrote it in several versions and none of them sufficed. It was then that I turned to Cheryl and asked if she would read the three drafts and let me know if any of them worked. In the conversation that followed, Cheryl said “I’m still laughing at the second version. It’s so funny and it’s good.”

So, despite my technophobia, I created my own blog to post those pieces my blogging partner didn’t feel were good enough. Unfortunately, this move was interpreted by my original blogging partner as the end of our partnership and friendship. I was deeply saddened by the misinterpretation and loss, but I persevered through the first few months. I am so grateful for the blogging friends who supported me (and my former partner) through the rough transition. When Cheryl told me she was taking a class on writing html code, I was excited and asked her if she would like to partner on the new blog. I made it clear that we were both free to publish what we felt was appropriate, but to me partnership meant the chance to make the blog feel like her home, too. She was the one who figured out how to create the header, Voices from the Margins, that now graces our blog, and how to upload the background picture. It’s a picture that has special significance to her, but that is a story I will leave for her to tell – or not.

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Photo Credit: Jill, Cheryl’s Faithful Companion – Bull’s Gap, Tennessee

For today’s assignment, I’ll simply say that I believe I can now figure out how to create a header and upload a background picture in the Runo Lite theme thanks to Cheryl. So instead, today I’ll work on overcoming my fear of widgets – maybe removing those that make the site a tad too busy. Someday I might even successfully tackle adding the copyright statement to the margins instead of coping and pasting it on every post. 🙂

(A final note – I would like to thank Skywalker Storyteller for inspiring this post. Miigwetch my sister in spirit.)

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand, and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Inch by inch, row by row …”

 Carol A. Hand

 Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna to make this garden grow …
Please bless these seeds I sow
Please keep them safe below
‘Til the rain come tumbling down
(Pete Seeger)

I have been thinking about how important blogging has become to me. When I posted my first essay on June 18, 2013, it was only because of a partnership I had with a friend who knew more about technology that I did. Anyone who visits this blog now can probably see that, despite a little over a year of blogging experience, I still have many technological challenges to overcome yet. The few improvements are due largely to my new blogging partner, Cheryl.

I remember that the only one who liked my first post was my blogging partner at the time, Susan Sutphin at intersistere. Much to my surprise, someone pressed the “like” icon for my third post, and then honored me with recognition for my fourth post. Over time, we became virtual friends. Without his support, encouragement, and recognition, I am sure I would have given up many times. I know he has done the same for many other bloggers. When he announced that he was taking a hiatus from blogging for a little while, it felt a bit like the sun going out. Since then, I have been contemplating how to express how important his posts have been for me, and how crucial his support for other bloggers has been in building a network that feels like an authentic community based on honesty, creativity, inclusiveness, and critical thinking.

Because he often remembers to ask how my garden is doing, it occurred to me that the work he has done in the blogosphere is similar to gardening, and Pete Seeger provides the metaphor – “inch by inch, row by row… Jeff Nguyen, this is my way to say chi miigwetch for continuing to be part of all of our lives (Ojibwe thank you very much). As I look at the before and after pictures for my garden, I am reminded of where I began as a blogger and where I am at present. It’s still a work in progress, but you gave me the hope and support to continue.

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Inch by inch…

I moved to Duluth in late October of 2011 to a house I bought sight-unseen. My daughter picked it out, although I had seen the following pictures that were posted on the internet.

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Photo Credit: Mesina Realty Photo September 2011

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Photo Credit: Mesina Realty Photo September 2011

I wondered about the log cabin and the windmill and the strange metal “tree” in front of the deck with its ringed branches holding flower pots filled with plastic flowers. I guess we all have different ideas of beauty. And then there was the aged greenhouse frame surrounded by raspberry bushes and little trees, and the rotting weeping willow that showed daylight halfway up its mighty trunk. Cutting trees is not something I do lightly. Yet, as I watched children walking past everyday on their way to and from the elementary school on one side and the high school on the other, I realized I would need to do something to make their passage safer.

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Photo Credit: February 13, 2012

So the dying tree came down, leaving its partner to weather the winds and storms on its own. The next spring, I cleared the brush the old fashioned way, shovel by shovel, inch by inch, and painted the greenhouse frame – still a work in progress.

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Photo Credit: August 13, 2013

 

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Photo Credit: August 11, 2014

Of course there are always challenges – critters that have been displaced by urban development, and brutal winters.

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Photo Credit: The Polar Vortex Winter – February of 2014

 A deer just ate my tomatoes

Photo Credit: A Deer Just Ate my Tomatoes – May 15, 2014

Yet gardens, like blogging, provide opportunities to help others develop knowledge, skills, and a belief in their ability to honor life and create something beautiful. This is the newest project that my granddaughter, Ava, helped to create out of salvaged lumber from the old fence that was replaced as a deer repellant.

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Photo Credit: Ava’s Garden – August 11, 2014

Inch by inch, the garden is continuing to grow, and post by post the blogging adventure is continuing to grow as well. I wish to thank of everyone who has stopped by our modest blog to share your wisdom, kindness, and insights. And again I wish to say chi miigwetch, Jeff for helping build a community that is working to create the peace and unity your work represents.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For-giving

Carol A. Hand

“Be moderate in all things; watch, listen, and consider, your deeds will be prudent.”
(Midewewin Code, the Ojibwe “Path of Life,” Basil Johnston, Ojibway Heritage, 1976, p. 93)

forgiveness medinalmeadows dot com

Photo Credit: Medicinalmeadows.com

This morning I was reflecting on the dynamics of forgiving. I remember the first time I consciously moved beyond merely reacting to bullying and began to explore the ways in which I escalated other’s behavior through my own actions. I was a senior in high school. One of my former friends suddenly organized a group of other girls to begin making disparaging remarks about me as we stood in line to get lunch in the cafeteria. Their comments were loud enough for everyone to hear. I have long forgotten most, but the one that comes to mind, hardest to bear as a teenager, was a precursor of cyber bulling. “There she is, that arrogant slut.” The group followed me into classes and in the hallways as a chorus of unrelenting harpies.

Why, I wondered, are they behaving this way? I had never done them any harm. I believe it started as a result of a dispute between my father and the father of the girl who began the taunting. Her family needed access across land my family owned to get to their house on the top of a mountain in northwestern Pennsylvania, which my family granted. But when they wanted to widen and pave the road through the middle of the farm, a battle ensued between my father and my classmate’s father that reminded me of the Hatfields and McCoys. The conflict escalated from shouting to fistfights to an attack on my father with a road-grading tractor that left him bleeding on the road from a partially-severed leg. I knew the conflict was a two-way “pissing match” between two men who were not able to back down and appear “weak” in front of others.

I refused to engage in the conflict even though it angered the rest of my family. I also refused to move from the hilltop home when my family moved to an apartment in town. Although it was sometimes a frightening, I lived alone. I drove the one-lane dirt road around the winding turns up the mountain to my house knowing that I would be able to deal with any challenges on my own. But there were none, at least not at home. The challenges came at school from the neighbor’s daughter, also a senior who was in some of my classes. We had been friends before the conflict, but as it escalated, she stopped talking to me and then began organizing her group of friends to make my life in school hell.

So far, I sound like the virtuous victim, and in my own mind I know I thought of myself that way. I didn’t respond to the nastiness in a like manner. I remained stoic and reserved – “cool.” But I also used abilities I developed to cope with, and then end, my father’s abuse. I learned to read people’s greatest insecurities and fears. For my father, it was being diagnosed as “crazy,” a word he would have used to describe his uncontrollable bouts of depression and violent outbursts.  For my neighbor, it fear was being seen as “lower class” and not as smart as others. She tried to hide her family’s limited income by dressing in expensive clothes, and enrolled in the advanced classes because she was very bright.

I didn’t need to say a word to make her feel bad. I simply had to outshine her as a student and as someone whose family could afford things hers could not. And I could do it in a way that others didn’t think was intentional or mean. I could even fool myself into believing that it was fair to deal with a bully by making her feel small and insignificant. And then, one day, I woke up. I realized what I had done to hurt her, and I knew it was far more harmful than anything she had ever done to me. Waves of grief passed through me for the harm I had caused. There was no way to undo the hurt. I did try to apologize at the time and again years later, but I could never heal the harm that I had done.

Decades later, I had another opportunity to understand lessons about forgiveness more deeply. I accepted a position as a faculty member with a school of social work that prided itself on its unique approach to social justice as the foundation for its new master’s program. What I quickly discovered, however, was that the program was really no different than other social work programs. At first, some of my colleagues welcomed me as an innovative, compassionate critical thinker, but that changed when I didn’t engage in conversations that disparaged vulnerable students or colleagues. The tenured faculty with power functioned as the guardians and enforcers of the status quo, and they did so in ways that left lasting wounds for the most vulnerable and gifted of students and colleagues. When I began to speak in defense of colleagues and students, I was definitely no longer seen as desirable. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they saw me as a threat that needed to be silenced and neutralized because I could effectively buffer many of their targets from their bullying.

Although the four faculty members with the most power often bickered and jostled for power amongst themselves, they quickly created a united front against the threat to their unquestioned hegemony. As a new faculty member, an Ojibwe with a different set of values and approaches for teaching and doing research, I was an easy target. They used the most minor excuses to discredit my teaching skills despite student evaluations that documented otherwise, my scholarship despite publications and new research, and community service despite an overwhelming load of committee work and students advisees. And they got nasty. Again, I sound virtuous, but not necessarily blameless this time because I did serve as an effective advocate where there had been none before.

So they piled extra work on me, belittled me in front of their classes, and tried to force students who were my advisees to falsify my evaluations by fabricating deficiencies in my performance. I still sound like the victim, and I honestly saw myself that way. Going to work became increasingly more painful, and in my mind, I characterized my colleagues as evil incarnate. So I began to use the same defensive skills I had used in high school. I knew that the most frightening thing in academia is to feel you are not as smart as others and to have others find you out. In the midst of personal attacks, I knew how to use my voice, facial expressions, body language, words, and actions to play on those fears. It was clear that I won the popularity contest with students, not because I was easier, but because I was compassionate, supportive of students, and still expected excellence and authenticity. Although my scholarship was not as voluminous as that of some of my colleagues, it was nationally acclaimed. And although I tried to stay away from the spotlight, it’s impossible to do if you’re one of the very few Native American faculty in an institution that purports to serve Native communities.

It was easy to win over student loyalty and community support just by being myself. As individuals, my colleagues were intimidated by my graciousness, intelligence, and dogged refusal to falsely massage their egos by complimenting them on their skills or cultural competence. (I didn’t see any at the time.) I demonized them in my thoughts while I concomitantly struggled with the question of how to create world peace when I couldn’t even live in harmony with my colleagues. They weren’t invading countries or murdering children. Yet I resisted the growing awareness that I needed to forgive them. Then, in a moment of overwhelming grief, resignation, and despair, I realized it was not my colleagues I needed to forgive, it was myself. I needed to forgive myself for transgressing my own values and ethics. Just as I had years before, I had used my defensive skills to wound others in the areas where they were most vulnerable. I had escalated their violence by making them feel they were somewhat dull and uncreative, small and insignificant.

lady justice

Photo Credit: Google lady justice images

It is true that they did this to others, often to those who were the most vulnerable, and their actions left lasting harm. It is also true that they tried to make me feel small and insignificant as a human being, and did their best to destroy my career. But I realized that there was no excuse I could use to justify the way I treated them. I knew that whatever gifts I have been given are meant to lift others up, not to oppress or harm them. I learned that I really need to always remember a universal truth my culture has taught me about moderation and mindful actions.

I am sharing these memories with tears in my eyes in hope they will help others. I cannot undo the harm I have caused others. I could continue to cling to the illusion that my actions were justified, but I know that’s not true. This doesn’t mean that I feel I should ever accept oppression and violence as universal and unchangeable. What it does mean for me is the need to shift my focus from resisting or unseating “oppressors” to one of compassion, seeing individuals who have strengths as well as weaknesses, gifts as well as faults, and relating to them with hope and kindness. I need to work from the same foundation with those who oppress others as I do with those who are oppressed, to try to raise awareness about the systems that oppress us all, to help them see and unlock their potential rather than respond with reifying judgment that locks them more firmly into an identity as the “deficient” or “evil” other.

compassion greatergood dot berkeley dot edu

Photo Credit: greatergood.berkely.edu

There are no guarantees that this will work. I can only try to be more vigilant and mindful in the future as I remember the deep wounds in my own heart, not from the actions of others, but from my own.

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In Gratitude

Carol A. Hand

Although the polar vortex has returned, I awoke on this frigid sunny morning to a clear blue sky. As I looked toward the sky, the rays of the rising sun turned the bare branches of trees to gold. I was filled with a sense of gratitude for friends new and old who have helped me remain hopeful during the long cold winter. It has been a time of learning and a time of loss. I was reminded of a poem I read long ago.

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Duluth, MN – February 25, 2014

Comes the Dawn
(by Veronica A. Shoffstall)

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down mid-flight.
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn…
With every goodbye you learn.

In the spring, I will plant my gardens again because you have all given me hope. You have opened my eyes to new truths, inspired me with your courage and commitment to making the world a better place, and touched my heart with your kindness, depth and beauty. Chi Miigwetch for all that you share (Ojibwe for thank you very much).

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Duluth, MN – August 13, 2013

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