Archive for October, 2014

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Blood, sweat, {onions} & tears

October 22, 2014

onions

I watched the knife descend in slow motion. The blood that followed looked like an homage to a B-rated horror film.

And in that moment, I realized that I forgot. I forgot all that I had learned about anger and people. I forgot the moment, years ago, when I learned about the power of choice, and the ownership of rage.

I was a young teacher. Married, no children. And the principal where I worked said something outrageous, painful, horrible in a meeting. And I stewed over it for days. I stomped. I moaned. And I told my story over and over and over, each time stirring the pot, nurturing my anger, encouraging it to grow. I was self-righteous and I was pissed.

Then wisdom stepped in.

A senior member of the history department, who had taught for decades in Asia, pulled me aside. “Emily,” he said very gently. “There’s an old proverb that states those who anger you, control you.” Then he looked at me kindly. “You have been carrying this issue for days, and I can assure you that he hasn’t once thought about it since you left his office. It is time to put this down and take your power back.”

It was one of those moments. A marker in time that divides space into before and after.

So I practiced. Over and over. And over. I learned how to see my anger and how to put it down. This practice is now part of who I am. It is something I talk to clients about, something I model for my children.

But a few nights ago, I forgot. I forgot that a true practice must be well practiced.

Someone threw something at me passive-aggressively and instead of dodging it, I caught it. I reached out and trapped it to my chest. And held on. Tightly. I squeezed and squeezed and encouraged my anger to grow. I was self-righteous, and I was pissed.

And, I also happened to be slicing onions. You can guess what happened next.

Now it means I shower wearing a latex glove, rotate my wrist in odd ways while typing with only nine fingers, and swear more often under my breath.

And it means I am gently taught. Again.

It all seemed rather poetic that night as I lay with my arm propped up on pillows, my heartbeat throbbing in my fingertip. The places I lead my heart hinder or help me. It wasn’t the instigator who did harm, it was me. It was my choice to grab on when the better path was to step aside.

When we forget what we know it comes at a cost. Luckily, mine did not require stitches.

What have been those life-shifting moments for you? What did you learn in the turn of a single sentence? And when have you faltered? When has the knife-wielding ninja turned out to be you? Then once cut, how do you heal? I’d love to know. Keep me posted.

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House Calls

October 4, 2014

housecalls

My mother likes to say I was hers until I discovered science. And when I hit chemistry in high school, I became my Dad’s.

And that is partially true.

Pediatrician and his fledgling science geek, our animated conversations covered covalent bonds and chemical formulas. We discussed how to ask questions. How to problem solve. How to apply the scientific method to everyday life.

The other part of the truth is that he taught me other things as well. Because underneath his scientific mind, lies a tender heart.

In college, he taught me how to speak.

To present my point of view. We’d sit at the dining room table during school holidays and he’d say something deliberately outrageous. It worked every time. My strident-20-year-old-self would explode. A tirade would follow. Ideas spewing everywhere, trying to bludgeon him to believe in my worldview. {which, of course, he did. I just didn’t see it at the time.} He’d wait for me to finish, and as I was trying to catch my breath for the next wave, he’d calmly interrupt. And remind me that I may have valid points, but if I didn’t say it in a way that invited people in, it would push them farther away.

Early in my parenting journey, he taught me how to listen.

Not to the voices around me, but to my own. I would call and ask for his advice. “Dad, what would you do?” “It doesn’t matter what I would do. The question to ask is what’s the best thing for you to do?” He would happily provide information, but he wasn’t going to give me his wisdom because it was exactly that, his. What he wanted me to do was hear my own.

He taught these lessons not just to me, but to our whole community. His philosophy as a pediatrician was to help parents make the decisions that were best for their families. Inviting them in, helping them grow. A philosophy that is the ground for my work, now, too.

I know this because after living far away, we now live back here. Just minutes away. People ask what it is like to return to my hometown. And while, yes, Archibald Sisters is still located on Capitol Way, I wasn’t paying attention as a child to the location of the organic dry cleaners. So while it is the same city, I am not the same girl, and I see it and live in it in different ways. But one of the best parts of being back home is listening to stories.

Stories told by strangers. Who, when I meet them and they realize I am his daughter, stop. Reach out and touch my arm. Tell me about how he changed their lives.

Stories told by neighbors. Memories of him crossing the street or walking down the road to attend wrenched elbows, dislocated shoulders, sprained ankles. Even first on the scene at a tragic home shooting.

Stories my children tell. Because they now call him. And he dutifully arrives, black bag in his hand, twinkle in his eye. Knowing that, 90% of the time, they have called just to see him. To be with him. It isn’t medical attention they need, but emotional connection. Because they adore their grandfather.

Just like everyone else.

And so, on this day, I’d like to speak for the town, the neighbors, the grandchildren. Thank you. Thank you for being a man of wisdom. A man of truth. A man of science. A man of heart. Thank you for inviting us all in. And teaching us all how to grow. Thank you. Happy birthday. With all of our love.

 

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