Tag Archives: Loss

Privilege Comes with Such a Heavy Cost

Carol A. Hand

A few days ago, I intended to write a story using the metaphor of sharing a canoe to describe relationships. I spent more than half of my life with a partner I only accompanied on one canoe ride. He built canoes at one point during the years we spent together – works of art built of different colored strips of cedar. But he never took the time to learn how to canoe or build vessels that traveled well on the water. Traveling in a canoe with a partner is not like rowing a boat with two oars, where riders take turns being the one person who does the heavy work. There is usually only one paddle for canoes, although I carried a second just in case on this one and only ride. It turned out to be a wise decision.

Wetlands-of-Paunacussing

Photo Credit: Wetlands

We set off through the narrow channels in the wetland between thickets of water lilies, tall cattails and swamp grass. He was in the front of the canoe, while I sat in back. He used his paddle forcefully, as the canoe lurched from side to side, frequently entangling us in the reeds. He wouldn’t listen to my mild suggestion that he needed to use his paddle gently, alternating it from side to side to guide the canoe slowly through the center of the channel. Finally, I lifted the second paddle to try to buffer the lurching. He quickly decided it was time for us to return home. I think that was my role in the partnership – to steer us on a straight course though the challenges.

I wanted to tell the story of how I first learned to love traveling in a canoe. I didn’t learn about canoes until I was a teenager. Even though my Ojibwe uncles and cousins took me on tours of the interconnected chains of lakes in Lac du Flambeau, they used motor boats, not canoes. (Historically, canoes were one of the primary modes of transportation for Ojibwe people, as were snowshoes in the winter.)

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Photo Credit: Lakes Surrounding Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin

My family moved to northwestern Pennsylvania when I was twelve. My parents and brother spent the summer in their new home, the third floor apartment above the 20-bed nursing home my mother bought to administer. I spent the summer with my grandmother on the LdF Ojibwe reservation. I arrived at my new home just in time to attend my new school. I had no friends, the classes were all at least three to five years behind what I had already studied, the summer with my grandmother had eroded my self confidence in profound ways, and my father’s mood swings and abuse escalated. I tried to commit suicide that first year and really did not intend to survive. But I did survive. That was when I began spending time with Clara and other elders in my mother’s nursing home. They helped me find a reason to live, at least for the moment. The next summer, my parents bought a tiny summer cottage on the Allegheny River. Although the cottage smelled of mold and mildew, I loved to spend my summers there. The river became my sanctuary, like the woods that had surrounded my old childhood home.

Our cottage was nestled among a cluster of similar cottages along the shore of one of the many placid wide sections of the river, positioned between islands and eddies on both sides. Some of the channels formed on both sides of the islands were rocky and shallow, and others ran deep and fast. It’s where I learned how to canoe. Perhaps I was motivated by my father’s near disaster. Like my partner in later years, my father was confident that he knew how to canoe. So confident, in fact, that he went on his first trip alone in his best suit and dress shoes. He made it to the middle of the river and proceeded to show off his skill. With a mighty tug on the paddle, he intended to make a quick turn about. He ended up swimming back to shore, swearing, pushing the overturned canoe in front of him.

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Photo Credit: Allegheny River – Hemlock Eddy

At first, I used the rowboat. I could leave my family on the shore and drift or travel around the islands to another quiet place. I quickly learned it was wiser to travel upstream first and then let the current carry me home. But the islands and eddies downriver were more interesting because they were shallow and rocky. Sometimes I needed to exit the boat to guide it through the rapids and the river eddies. As my muscles and skills grew, I used the canoe instead. It was lighter and easier to maneuver.

The river was my sanctuary. Until I did a little research online to contextualize this reflection, I didn’t realize that my sanctuary came at a great cost to others. Suddenly I understood many things. Why my mother expressly forbid me to ever mention our Native heritage, why we could afford the cottage and why it smelled of mold and mildew. I wondered why I never heard anyone speak of the dam upriver, except to say it was a good thing that would prevent future flooding. Not one teacher, not one article in a newspaper, nothing.

A few days ago I understood the cost and my heart was heavy.

For My Seneca Relatives

Your villages condemned, your houses and schools and churches burned down
To build the Kinzua hydropower dam, a dam that would flood your homeland,

Land promised in treaties to be yours forever is now your ancestors’ watery grave.
All to protect white towns from (maybe) floods and power their insatiable greed.

My privilege was just downriver – a few mile west of your suffering,
My sanctuary was your hell.
As my horizons expanded, your history was buried beneath tons of water.
As I learned to paddle a canoe, all that you owned was lost.
I didn’t know the cost.
My mother never told me, I doubt if my father cared.

True, I was only a teenager, finding solace downriver while your community disappeared.

I might have stood with you, if only I had known
Please forgive me. I didn’t know…

 Kinzua

Photo Credit: Kinzua Dam Recreation Area

A Brief History (an excerpt from David Sommerstein, Seneca Nations New Chief Seeks to ‘Change Course’, 2011, NPR):

In Allegany, one of the Senecas’ two territories in southwestern New York state, there’s an area where a paved road turns to dirt and disappears into the woods. The road is blocked off with concrete slabs. A quarter mile down is an abandoned bridge.

“Old Red House Bridge – that went through the community of Red House,” says Leslie Logan, spokeswoman for the Seneca nation. “Nobody lives down there. It’s a bridge that goes to nowhere essentially.”

Sixty years ago, the road meandered past thriving communities, with Seneca homes along the Allegheny River, hunting and fishing grounds, cemeteries, churches, schools.

But in the 1960s, the U.S. government decided it needed the land to control flooding downriver in Pittsburgh. The Army Corps of Engineers condemned the villages, burned down the houses and schools and churches, and built the Kinzua hydropower dam. The Senecas had fought the plan in Washington for almost two decades.

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.

Gratitude 101 – Question 1

Gratitude 101 – Question 1

Carol A. Hand

“… today, on reflection, why am I most grateful for having a functioning brain?” (Skywalker Payne, January 7, 2015)

I will soon be eight years older than my mother was when her dementia became apparent. It was the year I moved back to Wisconsin, and before I went back to the university to complete my BA and MSSW with a focus on gerontology, policy, and administration. It was after my decision to return to complete my degrees because of what I had witnessed as a nurse’s aide, attendant, and home health aide caring for people whose cognitive and self-care abilities were affected by birth, abuse, institutional placement, accidents, or illness.

My mother’s forgetfulness, tendency to repeat herself, and inability to find words were all new behaviors. These changes followed a routine medical exam that stopped her heart due to an allergic reaction to the dye injected to examine her kidneys. Yet my father was there to help her remember, to complete her sentences, and to remind her of the necessary daily chores. The extent of her cognitive losses didn’t become apparent until after my father’s death fourteen years later. I did my best as her legal guardian to help construct supportive environments over the last sixteen years of her life as the cause of her dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, slowly eroded her memories and abilities for self-care.

Because of my experiences with my mother and those I have worked with over the years, I don’t take my ability to think clearly for granted. But I don’t often take the time to be grateful. I learned some preventive measures as a result of my mother’s experience. Vitamin E and Omega 3 with D3 are the only “medications” I take every day. I read, write, and fall asleep with cryptograms to keep my mind working. I exercise physically most days, and avoid Western medical practitioners as assiduously as possible. Most importantly, I try to remember to take time throughout the day to breathe in peace, love, light and joy.

I am grateful for my ability to think, reason, process, and question. Yet, to be honest, my critical thinking ability has been both a gift and a challenge in my life. It’s not something I could really share with my mother. Her strengths were empathy and compassion. It was my father’s influence that forced me to develop analytical skills in order to survive. These very skills, however, often placed me on the margins. I find it amusing that there are now treatments to help people become “smarter.” But what is the value of intelligence without compassion? Intelligence, like the many other wondrous abilities our brains bestow, is quite meaningless without the recognition that it is our responsibility to use these gifts to help others.

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Skywalker Payne for inspiring this reflection.

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.

In a World Ruled by Windigos

Carol A. Hand

In a world ruled by windigos,
What can we do
To end a hunger that they can never satisfy?

The_Wendigo_by_Ashere

Photo Credit: Windigo, by Ashere

They tear open the earth
For coal, diamonds, and oil
While farmers commit suicide and hungry children cry.

As the land that fed people
Becomes barren arid soil
The life that once flourished has rapidly begun to die.

They cut down her forests
That give us air to breathe,
And they poison her waters and blacken her sky.

koch brothers

Photo Credit: The Koch Brothers, Fox News Radio

Although legends say only medicine people
Can send their evil spirits away,
If we stand in solidarity together to protect life and expose the lie
That there are no options to their rule as we idly wait to die,
I believe we can reclaim our world if we’re courageous enough to try.

 According to an essay posted in Indian Country Today,

“The most important difference between Windigo and the European vampire is that surviving an attack by Windigo does not turn you into one. The creature is evil and the human who takes that form must have an evil heart rather than just stumbling into the path of a hungry monster. People can turn into Windigos, but they must be predisposed to evil.”

Read more here.

***

Reflections on Winters Past

Carol A. Hand

New Year’s Day, 2015. I know there’s much work ahead of me as I embark on the serious business of finishing books I began last year. But today, I remembered past winters while I took time to refurbish my old Sorel boots with oil and new liners for yet another winter. My boots date back to 1990, the first winter I spent in the northwoods of Wisconsin. I had accepted a position as deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency, but the clothes I brought with me were meant for a different climate. I needed more practical, warmer, clothes.

sorel boots

Photo Credit: January 1, 2015

My first winter was spent in a tiny hotel room above a bar that often had live performers belting out off-tune country and western songs until the wee hours of the morning. I could walk the two blocks to my office in downtown Lac du Flambeau, but the days I had to drive were challenging. My old car, with 190,000 plus miles, didn’t like to start or keep moving in the winter cold when I first started out. The pack of stray dogs that called the downtown their home loved to chase cars, but they quickly learned that chasing me was not a contest worthy of their time and effort. As my car sputtered and bucked and stalled down the road, they grew bored. Eventually, they didn’t even look up when I chugged by. But that car, like my boots, lasted many more years. I was sad when I was finally forced to replace my car, but my boots lasted despite the many miles they’ve seen and the many places they’ve traveled.

But of all the places we’ve traveled together, these boots and I, there is one place that remains golden in my memories. It’s the cabin I moved to after that first winter above the bar. Before the winter even began, I knew that I couldn’t live there forever, so I decided to see if I could find somewhere to move that was affordable. You’d think that would be easy in the northwoods, but that’s not so. Long ago, it became a favorite spot for wealthy urbanites who were able to buy up the lakefront properties that were lost to the Ojibwe people despite a series of treaties that guaranteed tribal ownership of land within reservation boundaries in exchange for ceding the northern third of Wisconsin to the federal government.

I was fortunate to find a local realtor who knew how to find the best deals and we spent many fall days exploring such interesting fixer-uppers. We became friends. One day in mid-November, she called me at work and asked if I could take some time off in the afternoon to see another property. I said, “Sure.” (It was interesting to see so many houses in need of loving care.) She picked me up and we drove, first down the highway, then down a narrow winding country road, and then on a dirt road. We turned about a mile later onto what I can only call a rough rutted path that could just accommodate a car, again, winding down a little hill and into a forest. When we emerged in a clearing, I saw the small brown cabin, but what caught my eye and made my heart sing was a vista of the lake and wetlands glowing in the afternoon sunlight. I knew I was home. I had no idea how I would be able to afford it, and I had no idea what it meant to live without electricity, or heat with wood. I had no idea how I would be able to get in and out during the winter, especially with my car, but I did have my boots (and later, snowshoes to attach to them.)

Amik Lake 1

Photo Credit: Amik Lake Lane

Living down a series of country roads, some of which were unpaved, presented both benefits and challenges. I had an opportunity to witness nature up close – the bear, deer, beaver, otters, rabbits and porcupine. I heard the powerful rhythmic pounding of eagles’ wings as they flew just over my head, the hauntingly lovely song of the loon echoing over still waters, and the howls of coyotes in the quiet winter night. Winter was my favorite time, even though it was often cold and snowy, and even though it meant a mile hike to my car when I had to make the trip to some distant city to go to work, attend class or travel for a speaking engagement or consulting job. The hike was easier in the winter. The path through the snow was easy to follow, even at night, and the mosquitoes, sand flies, deer flies, horse flies and ticks were nowhere to be seen as they bided their time for the spring thaw. Spring – mud season – also meant hiking. But I was younger then and used to the grueling physical labor living in the woods required.

Amik Lake 2

Photo Credit: Amik Lake Lane

Of course, living in the woods meant warm clothing in the winter, and a bug suit during most other seasons if you wanted to do serious work outdoors. I don’t have a picture of the bug suit my daughter gave me as a gift, although given the ubiquitous northwoods’ mosquitoes and sand files, I often wish I still had it. I still have the coat in the picture below. It’s the only thing I ever purchased from Victoria’s Secrets – it was incredibly cheap in their annual clearance sale. (I don’t think it’s any mystery why it hadn’t sold for full price.) The coat is a few year’s newer than my boots, but it got me through the polar vortex last year and with new loops for the buttons in lieu of the zipper that finally gave out, it will continue for many winters more.

ldf winter

Photo Credit: Amik Lake – Winter 1994

As I unclutter, some things will remain because they are still useful. Who needs the latest fashions when old things were built to last and carry such rich memories? These old clothes remind me of quiet, starry winter nights, of the sanctuary where my grandson spent many of his childhood days.

aadi and toys

Photo Credit: Aadi’s Christmas – 2001

Aadi & bubbles

Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Aadi (my grandson) and me, blowing bubbles – 2001

They were simpler days of hiking, hauling wood, and clearing the beaver-culled trees from the road. Living in an urban neighborhood now, watching the plumes of toxic exhaust from the factories that block the sunlight on the few winter days without clouds, I feel the loss of times past. Not just my past, but the past of my ancestors. Strange though it may sound, as deep as the grief of those lost times often is for me to face, it’s what motivates me to do what I can to touch people’s hearts for the sake of this wondrous earth and future generations. And now, my boots and I are ready for the challenges ahead.

***

Finding the Light on Foggy Days

Carol A. Hand

I struggled with the title for this post. Should it be “finding a reason to breathe in times of pain?” Yet as I sat on my back step this morning, it seemed more fitting to view this time of my life based on the metaphor provided by my immediate environment – a warmer morning of dense fog created by the melting snow with the dark skeletal tree branches highlighted against the grey sky. In many ways, this image describes the first three years of my earlier-than-anticipated decision to retire from a job I loved and did well on some levels. I loved the challenge of exposing students to a variety of perspectives so they could think critically about themselves and the world as it was, is, and could be. Retirement has forced me to ask deeper questions. Who am I really? If I could do anything, what would it be? Where are the visions and passion that inspired me to create and survive despite the fog and pain I often had to endure in the past?

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Photo Credit: Duluth, MN – November 23, 2014

I know these questions would not have come to mind without the events of the past two weeks of excruciating physical pain, fear, and frustration. I know I don’t mention the physical challenges that I sometimes deal with that are often simplistically viewed as a normal part of the aging process. Really, that started for me in third grade when I was diagnosed with myopia – near-sightedness. Fortunately the ever-increasing vision loss I have experienced since then could be corrected with eyeglasses. Granted, in grade school, I was often teased with the mocking label “four-eyes.” The only frames available then were made of thick plastic, way too big for my tiny face, and the lenses were ground from real glass. Participating in sports required lenses made of safety-glass – even thicker than real glass – quite attractive with the addition of a heavy metal screen face guard 🙂 . But corrective lenses meant the end of constant nausea and headaches and the ability to read the blackboard without resting my face on my open palms with just the right position to slant my eyes at the outer corner. (This really did help bring the chalk messages into clearer focus.) Yet the most amazing outcome I remember was the ability to see that the tree tops were not really like cotton balls – I could suddenly see the details of individual leaves.

Despite heavy thick glasses I could still read, sing, draw, study snowflakes on my mittens or pond water life under my microscope and see the stars in the nighttime sky. I could ice skate, play softball, run races and ski. And I could still continue attending public school in an era when children with visual, hearing, or cognitive differences that could not be “corrected” with existing technologies were housed in segregated institutional settings. In this public school and community environment, I was unaware of the need to contemplate the reality that we are all at best temporarily able-bodied. (“Before the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was enacted in 1975, U.S. public schools educated only 1 out of 5 children with disabilities.” Source)

Often with age, severe myopia places one at greater risk of other conditions, and in my situation, retinal detachment and optic nerve damage. As someone who loves to read, write, and travel, and who lives independently, the threat of losing my sight at this age is indeed frightening. I don’t normally think about it but have tried to diligently engage in preventive strategies, relying on the expertise of ophthalmologists. Moving to a new community meant changing to a new one whose competence I increasingly questioned, so two weeks I got a second opinion from another practitioner that was both hopeful and alarming. The recent vision loss in my left eye is correctable because it’s due to a cataract, not optic nerve damage. When the vision loss is serious enough (more than 20%), Medicare will help cover the cost of an operation (if it still exists at the time.)

In the meantime, reading and driving are challenging but not impossible. But it does make me somewhat clumsier than normal, and so two weeks ago, just before my doctor’s visit, I stubbed my little left toe on a chair leg – HARD – and it broke. Still limping in pain on my swollen foot several days later, I discovered I could still fit my swollen left foot into my overly large winter boots without the heavy woolen sock that could still cover my right foot and went out to shovel snow. I didn’t take into account the delicate movements I always make when I am lifting heavy objects to avoid provoking an old back injury. Because I was dealing with a painful toe by the time I finished shoveling, I failed to recognize the faint muscle twinge in my back that presaged the excruciating spasms that would spread across my entire back by the next morning. Normally, I would have simply applied an ice pack as a preventive caution. The next morning, I awoke in agony. The simplest tasks were excruciatingly painful. All of a sudden my ability to maintain my independence in my own home became uncertain.
The pain was constant and excruciating and made me remember the dream message I shared in a recent post.

“You have a choice. You may leave now. You don’t have to stay to face the storm.”

But what would happen to the little special needs dog I adopted, Pinto, or my parakeets, Queenie and Bud? Pinto has finally learned not to go into the snarling and biting fits in my presence – a condition that made him unadoptable for most homes. And what about my daughter and grandchildren? Yet, what use would I be to anyone in these difficult times if I become totally dependent on others for everyday care?

I had to face these questions and breathe through the pain, sleep, and sit on my exercise bike, the only seat I have with a hard straight back support that can hold an ice pack. Because it didn’t make sense to just sit still, I pedaled – over 50 miles so far. It’s all I could do because I don’t take pain relievers or use medical services other than ophthalmologists or dentists. Pedaling made me feel better, so I decided maybe Yoga would also help, and ended up rolling on the floor in even greater pain, almost laughing at the absurdity as I struggled to find a way to get up off the floor. “Enough’s enough,” I thought. “Either end your life now or decide you’re willing to bear the pain because you love others enough to see if it’s possible to heal.”

The quirks that helped me survive abuse as a child can sometimes be serious flaws – being stubborn and fiercely independent, unwilling to admit that I ever need help from anyone else. I decided to seek the only assistance that I have found valuable in the past. I found a Reiki Master who helped be begin the long journey of deeper healing. She helped me remember that physical pain and challenges provide an opportunity to connect or reconnect with the deeper sense of love that can help guide us through the fog. This morning, I realized that there are still meaningful gifts I can contribute. With this realization, the pain began to ease. The path before me will require endurance and hard work, but I still have promises to keep. I choose to live the time ahead remembering to allow love to light my way through the fog.

mystical-path-through-a-forest-307360

Photo Credit: Mystical Path through a Forest

 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.

 

 

Ballad of Suicide

Cheryl A. Bates

I saved a self-destructive friend, escaped from a predatory friend and regretfully,

had to leave a truly kindred “friend” behind.

Bruised, battered, and in need of repair, I escaped from the burdens my kindred friend continuously bared.

Selfishly, I isolate my wounds from those I think don’t care.

While she gives her spirit so generous and loving; masking a secret so deep with despair.

With nothing left for anyone or myself, somehow she always showed me she cared.

I promised her I would return. Just hang on my dear, that day draws near.

She taught me to love and laugh at the simple treasures we shared.

A memory, an escapade, a trip to into the lake.

Dripping and squishing we’d dance on the bank.

A loud crack of the ice, a wide eyed stare, she’d giggle at my inexperienced scare.

Grab the net, a fish to snare; rip goes my pants, she’d fall into fits of hysteria.

Her laughter and care taught me to not take myself so serious.

Polar Bear Plunge, Oshkosh, WI 2012

(Photo credit: Author/ Polar Bear Plunge, Oshkosh, WI 2011)

My car, packed and ready for the trip, slightly earlier than our long ago plan.

One last phone call, I finished grading early, we can share more time and make more fond memories.

She hesitated and said “No, I have it all arranged, you should come as we’d planned.”

So, I agreed, and waited.

 The day before I was to leave,

a ring of a telephone shattered my heart and buckled my knees.

“She gone” I remember the speaker said to me, “She’s really gone.”

The words were like a foggy dream, never did I realize, she’d hidden from me,

a plan of her own.

My heart bleeding; my mind searching for meaning, I drove two days without seeing.

Country western played on the radio, a moment of clarity, that’s one of her favorites.

A moment of relief quickly replaced with disbelief, she’s gone, she’s really gone?

Relief didn’t come until I saw her, body cold and lifeless,

yet, so peaceful.

Gone to what is beyond; her love, her laughter, her mischief, her joyous heart.

Seven-eleven, death is freedom, obtained with one sure fired bullet.

Her despair ended, her spirit freed

to know what peace there can be for a tortured soul.

Horse Creek, Cherokee National Forest, TN

(Photo Credit: Author/ Horse Creek, Cherokee National Forest)

Though I am still broken and my heart still aches,

the darkness around me, slowly lifts toward the dawn.

When I am unsure, her gentle nudges remind me of my strength.

Her presence is around me, whispering to me through the wind in the trees.

I hear her laughter in the bubbling creek, and  I feel happy.

I feel her smiles, imagine her deep blue eyes – I don’t feel so alone.

She knows now what we all seek to know, that which is eternal and free.

So, just hang on, my dear,

I promise I will join you again someday.

Copyright Notice: © Cheryl A. Bates 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 Cheryl A. Bates and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

No One’s To Blame

Carol A. Hand

I wonder, were your eyes always devoid of light and grace?
I don’t remember seeing past your handsome chiseled face,
Or the golden curls that fell almost to your waist.
Years passed, sometimes so slowly without warmth or desire to embrace.

I used to feel important but now I am alone.
Who can comfort me when my heart feels like a stone?
You seem so lost and trusting – for now I think you’ll do.
I know it won’t be long until I grow tired of you.

Your face is now masked in the pictures that you share
I wonder what feelings and thoughts you hide and will not bare?
I remember clearly your cold stare, eyes without any light
After I helped save you from dying one September night.

I awoke to find a nightmare, I’m a burden you resent
Incapable of anything because of the money I have spent.
I fill my days being busy to escape the growing fear
My life feels so pointless, and I feel my death is near.

Freedom has a price – but I’m willing to pay
For the silence and peace that greets me each day.
You made me feel damaged, ugly and gray,
Yet I really can’t blame you because I decided to stay.

I resent you for your certainty, I’ve followed you so far
Hoping that I could prove to you I really am a star.
But with every passing year I feel a growing dread
Time for me is running out, soon I might be dead.

You maligned me to those who hurt others with glee
The bullies’ compatriot – how could it be
That the one I supported for decades and more
Became a would-be destroyer of the hope that I bore?

There are days I hate the way you care for others more than me
I’m suffering and I’m lonely here but you don’t seem to see.
I know that I embarrass you, it makes me feel such shame.
But I know that I can make it hard for you so you’ll suffer just the same.

I continued to work spinning straw into gold
Despite my deep longing for someone to hold
My work kept me focused on healing the pain
Easing the suffering of others again and again.

I deserve to be treated well, to be seen as an important man
But because you pay all the bills, you treat me badly just because you can
So I’ll make sure to buy whatever I want so you can pay the cost.
I promise you’ll pay dearly for the dignity I’ve lost.

Yet age has a way of leveling the past
Superficial beauty doesn’t usually last.
You mocked my learning and stifled my voice
But I’m free from your envy and what I say is my choice.

I’m grateful to be finally free to travel as I will.
I know the cash I got is pittance, but at least you paid the bill.
I’ll fill my life with other things, masking all my pain.
I’m grateful to be done with you and not see you again.

When I read other’s love stories, I’m not sorry you’re gone
My heart is free to dream and sing its own song.
I hope you fare well as I let go of the past
My future is now in my own hands at last.

Arguments

Photo Credit: Michael Josephson 2012

 

Yet I know we both did our best, imperfect though we are.
I really do wish you well but I’m glad it’s from afar.

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.

No Toys Under the Couch

No Toys Under the Couch

By Cheryl A. Bates

I sat on the floor for a moment to scratch behind the dog’s ear

and happened to notice there were no toys under the couch anymore.

No singing coming from the bathtub after dinner or

water on the floor to soak my socks.

No lingering smells of baby lotion and bubble bath

no more stories about dinosaurs, ballerinas, or

living room camp outs before bedtime.

No hair clips and tiny toys left forgotten on the floor

to pierce the arches of my feet at midnight after work

when headed across the room to bed, in the dark.

I lay on the floor now but something is wrong,

no sudden full body attacks from a two and a half foot munchkin.

No giggles of delight from when I toss her into the air

No more, do it again Mommie. Do it again!

Gone are the dainty ribbons and bows for her hair

and the sophisticated nail polish of grape purple and cherry red.

Blue jeans with holes in the knees – “no mommie, I want leotards, please.”

“I am a girl,” she proclaims emphatically, all the while gently stroking her newly found backyard toad.

No more crickets in the jar – where she added a little grass and oh, better yet some dirt.

Her eyes twinkle with an idea – she disappears momentarily to return proud,

having added some water.

“But where’s the cricket,” I say. She points to him caringly.

“There he is mommie!” Poor little cricket covered with mud, I’ll let you go after bedtime.

“Here mommie,” she’d say, “hold this while I go play.”

Off she goes to discover more treasures for the day.

I lay on my floor now – I glance over and see

no complacent toads in a cup, no bewildered crickets in a jar, and

no toys under my couch anymore.

How empty life can be.

Copyright Notice: © Cheryl A. Bates 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 Cheryl A. Bates and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Burden of the Sentinels

Carol A. Hand

Throughout my career in academia, I was unable to move from the space between cultures. Like some of my students, I, too, carried the burden of the sentinels. Most of my fellow faculty defined their role as that of gatekeepers for the profession of social work. Many faculty felt the purpose of education was to inculcate and enforce student compliance with professional competencies and standards. Of course, few questioned the origins of these standards and who really benefitted from the resulting assimilation. Fewer still contemplated what was lost through the process of homogenization. In my work, I tried to create a space for students to find their own voice and develop the skills to overcome or buffer the forces of conformity. Yet I sometimes had to witness the painful and tragic costs of my colleagues’ oppressive approach to education. Sometimes, all I could do was write about my observations and insights, as in the following essay drawn from those years.

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It is tragic and deeply troubling that three students have committed suicide in the past two years. The faculty who worked with the students were grieving and confused. In an effort to heal, the head of student counseling services came to discuss suicide during the faculty meeting yesterday. I did not know the students who died, so as a person on the margins, my reaction to the discussion was very different than that of my colleagues. In fact, the discussion left me deeply troubled. The focus was on a new university policy. In order to reduce liability for the university, faculty would be required to force suffering students to meet with the dean for possible expulsion. The head of counseling services explained that suicide was a form of violence perpetrated by imbalanced individuals on those around them. They needed to be stopped.

When the discussion of suicide ended, no one asked what we might do differently in the future. When we seamlessly moved on to mundane issues, I was angry and distressed. I have seen the way our actions as faculty create problems for the most gifted and sensitive of our students. So I asked what we might do differently. There was no response. The conversation shifted to how to use the corporate credit cards. My response was to get up and leave the meeting at that point, slamming the door as I exited the room.

I know my colleagues interpreted my behavior as strange and annoying rather than as the only way I could express the depth of my distress. So be it. This reflection is my attempt to make sense of the strength of my reactions. And typically, my reflections are based on stories and metaphors that may seem unrelated.

A while ago, my partner at the time shared a story he heard on public radio about the experiences of researchers who were conducting a study of a community of chimpanzees (Thom Hartmann, November 22, 2006, Transcript: Drugs, Depression & Chimpanzees). Early in the study, the researchers noted that about 5 percent of the community appeared to exhibit all of the characteristics of depression. They stayed on the periphery of the community, they rarely engaged in social activities, and they appeared lethargic. With the best of intentions, the researchers decided to treat this isolated group for depression, so they removed the “depressed” chimpanzees from the community and worked with them. The treatment seemed to work. But each time the researchers returned to the troop, they noted that new chimps had taken up posts on the periphery, and they too were removed. At the end of the year, when the researchers returned to the troop’s home to reintroduce the “healthy” chimps, they discovered that the rest of the troop had perished from an undetermined cause. The researchers hypothesized that the sentinel chimps played a crucial role on the boundaries, scanning the environment and warning the troop of danger. Without sentinels, the troop fell prey to external predators. This raises questions about the importance of the “boundary spanners,” those who remain on the periphery to scan for external threats while still relating to the community, albeit in a distant manner. I have pondered this story’s links with my own observations of the burdens carried by people who are on the margins of society because of their difference.

It has been said that those Native people who are the most sensitive and gifted are the ones who do not survive. It is only those who are the strongest physically and psychologically who survive. For me, it is no wonder that Native people who carry the gifts of vision appear most susceptible to addiction. They are the boundary spanners who can see what can be, perhaps what should be, and how far we have strayed from that possibility. To be surrounded by a global society that is focused on exploitation of resources rather than preservation for future generations, on gratifying the self-interested pleasures of the moment rather than the preservation of meaningful relationships, why would not the burden sometimes be too great to bear?

To listen to a discussion of suicide, then, to hear it described as a form of violence perpetrated by deficient individuals on others, is profoundly disturbing. Is it sane or reasonable for sensitive boundary spanners to settle for the insanity of war, the destructive exploitation of nature, the disparities that mean some individuals can buy gold-laced shower curtains while many people throughout the world die of starvation? Where does the violence originate that leads to despair for those who are most sensitive? Does it help give heart to boundary spanners when we label them as deviant? When we medicate them to see the world through a drug-induced haze of mediocrity? When we fail to understand the profound suffering of those on the boundaries who try to warn those in the center about the dangers that surround the community?

When people choose to end their suffering, is it their violence or ours as a society that is the cause? To take one’s own life is the most profound sacrifice. It may be the only way left to alert others of the dangers we face because we have created a world where the brightest and most sensitive among us find no hope, no comfort, no sense of a deeper meaning in life. And when they die, who will be left as sentinels to alert us to the dangers that surround us? Who will protect us from our self-destructive consumerism and exploitation of the environment and others’ labor? Who will alert us to the slow death this imbalance promises for those generations to follow?

The well-meaning among us who would remove the sentinels for their own good may only be hastening the death of that which makes us most human. We can try to convince those who see what we cannot that their visions are hallucinations. We can anaesthetize them and preserve them in a state of half-life because it makes us feel “moral” and it makes our life more comfortable. Yet, by doing so, we do not even serve our own self-interests. The lesson of the chimpanzees is that we need to understand what the sentinels are telling us. We need to create a space to truly listen to what they are trying to tell us about a world that has become toxic to the most sensitive among us. It may be the world of our classrooms. It may be the world outside. How can we, as social work faculty, learn from the sentinels about our own practice as teachers and advisors? Are there things we need to change about how and what we teach to create a place where sentinels can preserve a sense of hope and possibility? I do not have the answers to these questions. I grieve the deaths of these students even though I did not know them as individuals. And I grieve the lost opportunity to explore this issue in a thoughtful way with my colleagues.

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By sharing this essay penned years ago, it is my intention to honor the sentinels who remind us what it means to be truly human. It is my hope that we can learn to value them while they live so they no longer feel the need to sacrifice themselves.

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Photo credit: flickriver (Dec. 7, 2003)

Another Partial Success — Silent Sentinels of the Avebury

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What Does the Future Hold?

Carol A. Hand

In April, 2013, I wrote a story about an encounter that featured my beloved dog, Cookie. I ended with the question, “Who knows what next spring will bring?”

front yard april 21 2013

It was the end of the longest, snowiest winter I can remember during her life – it kept snowing until May. I suspected as I wrote the question that it would be Cookie’s last spring. I had seen her gradually age during our 11 years together. I have lost loved ones before, yet losing Cookie is somehow much more painful. I have lost a beloved friend and teacher. She taught me about becoming ever more loving, peaceful, and gentle. And on our final walk together, she showed me how to savor each moment of life, to stop frequently and take in the beauty that surrounds us with each new step.

I am so grateful for her friendship during those years of frequent moves to new places. I first met her in central Illinois in October of 2002. The year before, I had begun yet another new career. I was recruited by a university in central Illinois to serve as an assistant professor. I left my northern Wisconsin home on the Ojibwe reservation where my mother had been born, and although married at the time, headed off alone to meet this new challenge. After the lonely first year, I decided to see if I could adopt a dog from the humane shelter in town.

When I went to visit the shelter, I was asked what kind of dog I would like to adopt. I replied that I would like to adopt the dog that had been there the longest. It was Cookie, a name the shelter staff gave her. She had been living in the shelter for six months after she was rescued by someone who found her starving on the side of a prairie road in central Illinois. Shelter staff could only guess her age as 2 or older. Cookie was pacing in the 8 foot cage that had been her home for months, her thick hair was dull and thinning. She was thin and not particularly friendly, but that was fine with me because I was living by myself in a home next to a rather unsavory character.

Our first month was interesting. Despite what I was told at the shelter, Cookie had not been spayed. She had to be hand-fed for the first few weeks, but she loved to play with the squeaky soft toys I brought home with her. When I took her out on a leash, she would sometimes lurch. She was strong and had gained some weight. She could easily pull me over and drag me! I would often take her out on her leash when I was clearing sticks and debris that had blown down from the trees in my yard due to the ever-forceful prairie winds. When I picked up large sticks, Cookie would cower, as if she were afraid to be hit. I could only assume that she had been abused. Yet, she was not a cowardly dog. If we encountered large white men, she would suddenly place her front paws firmly on the ground, the hair on her back would raise up. She would look fiercely at them and bark a warning. If they reached toward her to pet her despite my warning not to touch her, she would wrap their wrists in her teeth. She never broke the skin, but people did learn not to invade her space or pose a risk to her new friend.

Given this response to male strangers, the first time she “smiled,” I was concerned. I had never seen a dog smile, a strange site with her bared teeth. But I learned that she liked to smile, especially when she had just done something clever or mischievous. Gradually, we bonded. I learned that she loved to ride in the car, so on my days off we explored the town and countryside. But then, it was time to move.

The university where I worked was a place of continuous political turmoil. Many of my newer colleagues were mistreated and forced out. It was not a particularly welcoming environment for Black or Muslim professors, and faculty were quite ignorant when it came to Native American history and cultures. So I accepted a position at another university in the Rocky Mountains in a state with a sizeable Native presence.

During the next winter, Cookie lived with my partner in northern Wisconsin. In the spring, she came to her new home on the high plateau surrounded by mountains on every side. She spent most of her days in her large fenced-in yard, barking at passing dogs and chasing squirrels that would hang on branches just above her head chattering away just out of reach. We continued our ritual of car rides on days when the weather was cool. Her fur became a lustrous soft, fluffy black coat that was protection in the winter but so uncomfortable in the summer heat. But at least it was the “dry” heat of a high desert.

Despite the summers, Cookie grew comfortable in her new home, although I did not. I discovered that a large Native presence did not mean that the university was willing to be inclusive. Like the border communities that surround reservations, the anti-Native prejudice was deeply ingrained throughout institutional practices. Native students in my department were less likely to be treated with kindness and respect, and were less likely to graduate. As the advocate for Native students and students who were different, I quickly became unpopular with white faculty in positions of power. So, it was time for me to move yet again. Cookie and I set off on a new adventure.

Our next move took us to the Great Lakes region. The neighborhood we moved to was, like our others, a mix of thoughtful neighbors and some who seemed to have personality disorders. On one of the first days I took Cookie out to walk in her new backyard, two large male dogs jumped her. I was there to chase them away, but their owner was unconcerned. He felt it was just fine for his dogs to roam anywhere they pleased, despite city leash laws. Two days later, thanks to a fence-company owner who had a soft spot for dogs like Cookie, she had a fenced-in back yard. When we first moved to her new home, she loved to run and play. After a few years, though, the fur on her lovely face began to have silver highlights and she became gradually more sedentary.

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In part, she was affected by my partner’s illnesses and increasing frequent mood swings. For our final year in our home, it was just Cookie and me. I hired someone to take Cookie for walks on my long work days. This seemed to help her. Yet, by this point, I had decided that I really did not fit in university settings. Once again, I found myself serving as an advocate for students and colleagues who were being treated with cruelty by middle-class white heterosexual faculty.

We packed up and moved to the southwestern tip of Lake Superior. I hoped that it would be my last move, and perhaps it will be. But it was the last move for my beloved Cookie. Gradually, it became more difficult for her to jump onto her seat in the car. Her fur turned more silver. During the winter, the dry air from the furnace made it harder and harder for her to breathe. I would often awake at night to hear her struggling for breath. Instead of responding to her panic by quickly rushing her outside as I did in our last home, I learned to use my voice and calming presence to reassure her that it would pass and she would be fine. But ultimately, there was nothing I could do to stop the painful and debilitating arthritis that made it too difficult for her to walk. My tears were falling on her soft fur as I held her in my arms while she struggled for her last breaths.

I do not know what the spring will bring. But I do know Cookie will not be here to greet it with me although she will remain in my heart for all of the springs I have yet to experience.

front yard open gate 2 closer april 21 2013

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