Triage Nation

These days it seems we have a whole lotta talkers and precious few listeners. Everyone walks around, day after day, with a chest full of hopes, disappointments, passions, ideals, opinions and needs. If we’re lucky, we have a tribe or a partner or a friend who bears witness to some of what keeps us awake at night. But even still, it can get lonely. I think Vincent Van Gogh said it best:

“One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul and yet no one ever came to sit by it. Passers-by see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on their way.”

It would seem we have forgotten how to sit by each other’s fires.

Few would argue that our current political climate has accelerated our estrangement. But we can’t place all the blame at the feet of politics. The sheer velocity of life and all of its distractions are major players in the “passers-by” equation. Still, I don't remember any other political era in my lifetime that has felt as antagonistic, angry and tumultuous as it does today. (Yes, I was in middle school when the Vietnam War ended, but when the debate was truly raging, I was running around the elementary school playground.)

I think politics is just a symptom, not the cause. We want to pin our blame on this platform or that, this party or the other one, this politician or that guy over there. Forest, meet trees. From where I sit, one of the most aggressive cancers in our public discourse right now is blind judgment. Assumptions. It’s easier to associate you with all I hate than to sit at your fire and listen to why you feel the way you do. Granted, it's difficult to listen when people are yelling, or when they’re setting you straight about things you don’t even support. So we defend and they talk louder. Then we talk louder and they defend. By and large, we are fighting over what we think someone else thinks!

It’s easier to peg someone than it is to listen to them. And it’s absolutely killing us.

What if we found a way to listen, really listen to each other? I’m not talking about the kind of listening where we’re just waiting for someone to stop talking so we can set them straight. It’s not the kind of listening where we pick out words and phrases that we can use against the person who’s talking, so that we can point out their errors and faulty beliefs.

I’m talking about a listening of the heart.

Triage is described as assessing the wounds and injuries in a large number of casualties, to discover which ones are the worst and thus must be treated first. News flash: we’re all in critical condition. We are two ticks and no dog. We are a nation of solitary fires, some blazing, some smoldering, most unattended. I’ve never been more convinced that the cure for what ails us is listening. My three year-old granddaughter recently said, “I need to tell you a secret, Gia. Spread out your ears.” Spreading out our ears without any other motive than to bear witness to another’s life is a supreme act of love and kindness.

Supreme.

Relax. Listening doesn’t mean that we’re agreeing with them. It doesn’t mean that we can’t work toward the change that we believe the world needs. It doesn't mean we have to let them unload for hours on end. Try five or ten minutes. Sure, some want to win at any cost. Some will accuse. Some will flat out make us angry. But we don’t have to pick those people right out of the gate. We don’t have to listen to everyone. How about starting with just one?

I'd like to invite you to participate in an experiment. What if the next time you want to argue with someone, you lay down all of your preconceived notions, arguments, and the need to be right, and say, “I’d really like to better understand where you’re coming from. Can you tell me why you feel so strongly about this?” And then listen without having to have the last word. In fact, listen without having any word at all. Ask questions for clarity (pro tip: the more you ask, the more a person feels heard.) Then thank them, say something benign, like, “interesting,” and walk away. If you follow up with your viewpoint, it doesn’t count. In this exercise, you don’t get to talk about you. Maybe you’ll get a turn next time. But for now, zip it. Even if baited, resist. Shock the hell out of them by saying, “I don’t want to talk about my views today. I’m here to listen to yours.”

I've come to believe that if I'm unwilling to listen, I don't have a right to be heard. 

Of course one-way conversations aren’t the ultimate answer. But we’ve been trying to have a productive dialog for so very long, and it’s clearly not working. There’s an old recovery slogan that says, “Let it Begin With Me.” So how about it? How about you try being the big person, the benevolent person, the person who holds space for someone you don’t agree with or understand? It sounds easy but it’s hella difficult. Take a chance. Sit by a fire that makes you uncomfortable. And please, oh please, tell me what happens.

Post Script: Below is a photo gallery from the recent Women's March in Austin, TX. I'd like to invite you to look beyond the signs people are holding, and spread out your ears to their faces. Their bodies. Their pain. Their hearts. A word to my more conservative friends and family: I'll attend an event that reflects your ideals and values soon. And I'll do my best to give voice to your hearts. In the meantime, these images may offend some and/or trigger a reflex to turn a deaf ear. Can you make it through without assuming you know what's motivating them? 

Pearl Farmer's Market

Yesterday all my grandkids were in one place, so like any lovesick grandmother I followed them to San Antonio. Their moms (two of my three daughters) and I took them to the Pearl Farmer's Market, and of course I didn't take many photos of anything but my power trio. We ran into a dear family friend, Jessica, who had her first baby nearly four months ago - Jeremiah - and I got to meet him for the first time.  Finally, we ran across a couple selling bulldog puppies - for $2700 EACH! They had the parents on hand so I snapped a few photos. Very cute pups but I can think of a lot of other things to spend $2700 on!

i am...

...undone.

As in, unfurled, spilling over, like an entire box of tiny ball bearings that've been released all at once. Hundreds of memories and hopes and dreams and joys and sorrows scattering in every direction, bouncing from table to floor with a percussive cadence that sounds impossible to understand. 

My baby left again today.

If my tears were solely about her departure, it'd be silly, really, because Anna is a grown woman -- 28 years old. And she's so very wise and capable. I am happy that she's courageous enough to follow her heart and move back to Nashville so she can be with her people. Her music people. She has given convention the slip again and chosen the path that comes with no road maps or guarantees. That's how I raised her. But this afternoon I'm a very proud mother blubbering her way through a box of Kleenex. Even though I'm sending her off with a heart full of admiration and hope, I will miss her terribly. My daughters are my best friends.

My girl, sitting at my breakfast table for the very last time before hitting the road. I deeply wished for a pause button.

My girl, sitting at my breakfast table for the very last time before hitting the road. I deeply wished for a pause button.

I'm sure there are other things contributing to my waterworks. This morning my oldest daughter sent me a TimeHop video of my two oldest granddaughters when they were babies. I couldn't see her face but I could hear my mother's voice laughing and talking to her great-granddaughters. She's been dead nearly six years. The baby on the ottoman, now in second grade, is a brilliant little beauty with cascading red curls. She is fluent in Spanish. The diapered toddler has grown into a stunning, brown-eyed adventurer, flying on a trapeze, going rock climbing and hanging with monkeys and gators in Central America. Life goes on.

And on.

And on.

The tick-tock has picked up speed and increased its volume. Or maybe it's just that I'm finally paying attention.

Over the last 12 years I've said goodbye to a 25 year marriage and the obliteration of our family as we all knew it. Due to circumstances out of my control I found myself in bankruptcy court and in the middle of foreclosure proceedings. I've moved five times. I've seen both of my parents through cancer; my mom didn't make it. My dad triumphed over his, but several years later succumbed to multiple mental and physical health problems that required a crushing load of care. I spent three long years walking him through his last years on earth, and it may have been the hardest thing I've ever done. I've helped my children bury their their father, even though it was extremely painful for me to do so. In the last 12 years I've fractured my ankle (twice), been diagnosed with two autoimmune illnesses, and had back surgery earlier this year.

But there've been a lot of positives, too. I forged a new career at 44, started two businesses, and earned a college degree at 48. I am happily remarried. I have three beautiful granddaughters. I have found a sister and brother I never knew, both of whom have enriched my life exponentially. I have a lovely new home in the country, away from the hustle and bustle of a hometown that has ceased to feel like home anymore. I have a loving spouse, great friends, a wonderful family, and a comfortable life.  

And yet. 

Today I'm feeling the weight of sadness that accompanies goodbyes. Though I've emerged as best I could from what's felt like an avalanche of loss, I suspect I'm still carrying a load of grief that wants its day in the sun. As I watched Anna drive off today, I felt the dam cracking and breaking open a little bit more. 

I apologized for not being able to stop the tears. And she was so good about it. I don't know if I've ever hugged her so tightly.

I apologized for not being able to stop the tears. And she was so good about it. I don't know if I've ever hugged her so tightly.

Godspeed, child. I believe in you.

Godspeed, child. I believe in you.

peaceful

The sound of water is one of the most peaceful, healing forces in my life. I love to listen to fountains, waterfalls and oceans. They have so much to tell.

"Let go," they say, in a resounding chorus. "Accept the ebb and flow of things. Quit fighting and float. Allow life to unfold. Don't push the river--it knows exactly where to go." 

Multnomah Falls, Oregon.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon.

I adore hot baths. Hot tubs. The cold, take-your-breath-away rush of jumping into natural springs. I even love the sound of those pivoting sprinklers. They're a signal that very thirsty ground is soaking up exactly what it needs. This give-and-take invites me to consider that perhaps I'll get what I need, too.

Somehow.

Bitterroot River, Montana

Bitterroot River, Montana

Thunderstorms are my favorite. Somehow they make me feel safe, which is a little surprising because many people have the opposite reaction. A rainy day gives me permission to slow down a bit, take a book to bed, watch an old movie. Sometimes I just sit on the back porch and watch the wind and the rain and the swaying trees have a fascinating three-way conversation. Somehow, storms stop (or at least slow down) time for me.

This is the backyard of the home we left just two months ago.

Frio River, Leakey, TX

Frio River, Leakey, TX

I mostly swim laps for exercise. I love it because it shuts out the common, everyday world and submerges me in a muted universe where the laws of gravity are suspended and my restless mind can wander. No agenda. No problem solving. No noise but splashing. Just jump in, glide, feel and listen. 

 

 

today is...

... another rainy day. 

 

We are certainly not getting pounded as badly as Louisiana is. But it's been raining and raining and raining for several weeks. Low water crossings are plentiful in central Texas, and if you're not familiar with them, they're pretty dangerous when it's perpetually rainy.

 

Flash floods are common here, and when a large amount of rain falls in a very short time, the low water crossings can rise in a matter of minutes. And when they rise, it's hard to tell exactly how deep the water is. There are gauges, but too many folks think they can drive through the water because the slope of the road makes it look shallow. But all too often the strong current sweeps the car off the roadway and scores of people lose their lives that way. There's a slogan to remind people not to try and cross them: Turn around. Don't drown. 

 

We have three low water crossings near our new house. The road was closed last night due to flash flooding, which meant I had to turn around and go around through a neighboring town to get home. We're grateful that we live in a spot where there's another way to get out of our neighborhood. Some of our neighbors get stranded every time the creek rises. But it's so beautiful out here, it's worth it.

 

We went down to the low water crossings today to see what we could see. They were back open, but in the following photos you can see how if there was a deluge it could become a dangerous situation very quickly. The cypress trees along the creek are so dreamy. I still can't believe this is my 'hood. 

In case you're wondering just how volatile these currents can be, take a glance at this video clip from today.

 

Today is also a day of spending some much needed time with my youngest daughter, who is soon moving to Nashville. We took a bike ride together this morning; it wasn't terribly hot (in the 80's) but the humidity was suffocating.

As you can see, Anna is a badass. 

And finally, I had to include a couple of photos of a beautiful weed I kept seeing along the way. Yes, sometimes weeds can be lovely. I especially love the symmetry of the leaves. 

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