Monday, May 31, 2010

Give and Take

Over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time with family. My siblings and I have stayed around the hospital for three weeks, moved my dad's bedroom downstairs, set up aides around the clock, worked with four different doctors, with nurses, physical therapists, and agencies. We've stocked the larder, bought equipment, sorted and re-sorted pillboxes, asked a million questions and forgotten to ask a million more, and seen things we'd rather not have seen. Hopefully, things will go smoothly so that my dad can resume his very active life.

I've also been dealing with a personal issue in the midst of all of this, and what I've come to realize about myself is that although I'm very good at taking care of people, I'm no good at having people take care of me. I don't like for people to feel sorry for me or worry about me. I don't like for them to be gentle or tender. But I am also realizing that I may need to accept these gestures because I need them. In the same way others have needed my gestures, I need to be coddled and cared for when I'm down or worried or sad.

As I've said to many a friend in crisis, "There's so little others can do. Please let me fix dinner, call or send a card. Please know that I'm thinking about you." And even though it's not about me when I say that, I know that people need to show their love and support of others, and I'm going to work on allowing that in to my life right now.

I'm opening myself to the care of others if I need it, grateful that others have opened themselves to me.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jan Phillips Part 3

Bet you thought I'd exhibited my usual distracted behavior and moved on from Jan Phillips. Quite the contrary. I'm immersing myself in her work and feeling exhilarated!

I am listening to one of her CD series entitled, "Creating Every Day". One of the stories she tells is about a sister in the parochial school where she attended high school. For an entire semester, instead of having the students recite a prayer as most of the nuns did, this teacher had a poem for each day of the week. e. e. cummings, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shakespeare and two others. By the end of the semester, the students were proud of their ability to recite from memory these five poems.

The sister also took advantage of times when the kids were acting up and rowdy. Instead of continually saying, "Cool it, calm down", begging "C-l-a-s-s", or threatening punishment, she had them take out a pencil and paper and write for a few minutes about what they were feeling at the moment.

In my opinion, this teacher was brilliant. She took two times of the day when kids tune out and made them something special. I have a friend who is a first-grade teacher, and when I told him about these ideas, he decided to immediately start doing them in his classroom. Do we ever need more teachers like this.

There's more to come about Jan. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cloud Nine

My life has been composed of ups and downs lately. Way ups and deep downs. But tonight was definitely a way up.

When we were at the workshop with Jan Phillips, she told us that when we want something, we should picture ourselves already having it. What would our emotions be? What would having it satisfy in us? The type of visualization that is popular today.

A few weeks ago I submitted a short piece to a contest at my local bookstore, Quail Ridge Books. The theme was a high school reunion, and author Elizabeth Berg was going to judge the entries and read the winner when she came to promote her new book. I felt that my story was a winner, as good as anything I had ever written. So I decided to try out Jan's theory.

I started imagining Berg saying the title of my story. I thought about how excited I would feel, proud, and affirmed. Every time I pictured the moment, I grinned. And today I realized that even if I didn't win, that the imagining had brought a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure to me.

At the store, the third place and second place were announced. Then Rene, the events coordinator at the store, said that Berg had had problems with her voice and was not going to be able to read the winner's story, so the winner would have to read it. She fumbled around, trying to find the entry, realizing that the winner would not have brought a copy. The tension was high in the room, and I called out that it was worse than American Idol. Finally, she had the paper in her hand and read the title of my story. And all the emotions that I had felt thinking about that moment were magnified ten-fold.

I almost choked and cried reading the story in front of the crowd of over 60 people. What an exciting night, and I got to live through it several times, thanks to Jan's suggestion. I'm on cloud nine.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Empathy vs Sympathy

I've discovered this week once again how wide the gap is between feeling sympathy for someone and feeling empathy for them.

I can't tell you how many times a friend or acquaintance has told me that their older relative has broken a hip. It has come to represent the first step toward a downhill descent. I've expressed my sympathy and moved on.

Last Friday, my father, who is eighty-seven, fell down two steps and landed on his hip. He has gone up and down those same steps many times a day for forty years. He counts them to make sure he hits every one. He's not sure quite how he missed the step, whether he tripped or blacked out or just miscounted. Someone was at his front door, and by some unimaginable stroke of luck my dad had in his hands a set of keys that went to his keyed deadbolt. He was able to inch over to the door, reach up and unlock it, and let the man in. After trying to get my dad up and seeing how serious the situation was, they called my brother who called an ambulance.

Because my dad has two artificial heart valves and takes coumadin, he had to lie motionless in a hospital bed for four days before they could do the surgery. He became more and more upset as the days went by, and finally I asked him what was the most important thing he was worried about. He said, "Not being able to take care of myself."

My dad delivers Mobile Meals. He goes to work most days, to Rotary every Monday, sings in the choir. He makes pounds of potato salad, pimento cheese and cakes to take to shut-ins and bring to family gatherings. Most holidays he has us all to his house and does a large part of the cooking and setting up. He still drives everywhere, even to Raleigh and the beach. This is a real blow to his independence.

I trust that my dad will recover from this, but it's going to take time. And now, when someone says, "My father/mother/grandparent broke a hip," I'll know that the trial is just beginning and that they need my healing thoughts and cards and calls for some time to come. I've got empathy.

Friday, May 7, 2010

San Diego and Jan Phillips Part 2

I can't remember being in a city that has as many blooming plants as San Diego. Everywhere there was beauty and color, and for me the fruitfulness became a metaphor for the workshop.

On Saturday morning, we began the real work of determining one thing that we could be successful at workshopping. One woman, a stylist, wanted to work with cancer patients on their inner and outer beauty. Another woman had recently found the daughter she gave up for adoption and wanted to help others make the transition go smoothly. When it came to me, I really couldn't think what I wanted to do. I said something vague and tearful about working with children, then said that I sort of thought I had already worked with children, and finally sat red-eyed and puzzled. "We'll get back to you," Jan said, and we moved to the next person.

All morning as others worked out the details of their workshop, I kept trying to think about what it was I wanted to do. At lunch my husband reminded me that the whole reason I came was because I wanted to create a space for workshops, not just be a good facilitator. And I think he went and tattled to the teacher because after lunch, she said, "Do you have a confession to make?"

When I think of the word "facilitator" I immediately go to the root word, facile, which means easy in French. And I think of facilitation as the process of making things simple for others, not just at the moment of participation, but after they leave the workshop. What I want to do is make it easy for the facilitator by creating a space where they can work their magic.

So this was my inner "aha" moment. For the rest of the weekend I was able to move forward with this in a very big way. This was the seed and the bud of an idea; the flowers will come later.

A nougat from Jan: When something becomes an ordeal in your life, do three things:

1. Ask yourself, "Why did this happen for me?" and,
2. What is the reason that I invited this into my life?
3. Dwell in gratitude for where you stand right now.

And another thing she said: "Don't ask yourself what Jesus would do. Ask what a fully realized you would do."

My father broke his hip today, and at 88 years old this is no small problem. He lives in a house that has many steps leading up to his bedroom and there will be logistical problems when he comes home. I'm off to see about him tomorrow, and will try to post Part 3 from the hospital. But I'm not finished with the story of our trip, so hold on to your horses until I can get back.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

San Diego and Jan Phillips Part 1

Have you missed me? I've got a lot to tell you. I'm going to tell it in installments, and here's the first of them:

A couple of years ago I was searching for workshops that would combine photography and writing and came across this website for Jan Phillips. I subscribed to her Museletter, and have kept up with what she does through reading it.

I saw that she was teaching what she called a "Facilitator Workshop" and thought that might take us on our way to leading workshops as a way of living. So we took a grand leap of faith, booked reservations, and went to San Diego to spend a few days sightseeing and the weekend with Jan.

We had gotten directions to her house from Mapquest, and had a moment of panic when we couldn't find her house number on the street. We called, and we were on the wrong street. We got there, relieved that Jan was a real person!

Remember that we knew nothing about Jan but what I'd read about her on her website. We sat in her office/den with four women, Jan, and us. The first thing she did after welcoming us was announce that she was going to read a poem. Remember this post? That is the poem she read. I was stunned.

Then we proceeded to build what she called our story by answering the following four questions. I'll leave you with these questions for tonight.

1. What was something in your life that you considered a curse that turned into a blessing?
2. Talk about a time that you felt transformed by an experience or a person.
3. What is something that you're afraid of?
4. What is something that you're really proud of?