Nailing down your vision

“Privilege blinds, because it’s in its nature to blind. Don’t let it blind you too often. Sometimes you will need to push it aside in order to see clearly.”–Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Driving along a familiar major state route, I noticed a car was in front of me, and observed that no one was behind me. My mind began to wander while we maintained the legal, steady-as-she goes speed limit.  I took in the sights along the familiar route, then back to the car in front of me.  I took in the blueness of the sky with no puffs of white, and went back to the car in front of me. I glanced at the steadily flowing river, and back to the car in front . . .Wait, the car was suddenly braking! It was only then I noticed the turn signal.  It was not turning at an expected later point, such as one of several roads that connect to the route, but instead, it was turning into a random location. I had to brake fairly hard, grateful no one was behind me.

What caused my inability to not see the obvious turn signal? In fact, what causes us to overlook seemingly obvious items. I think I’ve lost my phone, only to have my daughter point out that it was right in plain view.  Of course, the reverse also occurs, such as when my husband, or daughter, think they have misplaced a particular object. I go to the same places they have already looked, and I find it for them.

Photo by Mike B on Pexels.com

There are several theories/notions about why/how this happens.  Some of it is steeped in science, while some of it is more theoretically. Two, more scientifically studied reasons, include inattentional blindness and change blindness.  Based on my preliminary research, these phenomena are closely related because they are both failures of visual awareness. However, inattentional blindness is described as the inability to notice an unexpected, but fully visible, object because your focus is diverted to other items within your field of vision, such as when I was driving and did not notice the turn signal.  Whereas, change blindness is a surprising failure to notice significant visual changes. 

Thought leaders, conversely, might say that a failure to see an obvious object has more to do with a mental scotoma, or mental blind spot due to personal bias, beliefs, stress, or even pressure.  (As a point of reference, scotoma is actually a health condition of the eye in which there is a fully diminished or partially diminished area within one’s field of vision.)  Thus, in a similar vein, many of us, knowingly or unknowingly, have blind spots about ourselves, others, and/or the world around us.  Personally, I think we can fail to see something for any one of those reasons, it may just depend upon the situation. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This past weekend, for example, I was weeding an area in front of my house in which I am trying to fill in with one of my favorite flowering ground covers.  Stooped in the bright sunshine of the afternoon, I was weeding a bare section of soil, when I noticed a pair of roofing nails–remnants of a late fall roof replacement.  They had partially rusted and, quite frankly, looked like twigs. I removed them, and went back to work.  Low and behold, I noticed two more roofing nails, then one more, then three more, then two more, and so it went for the better part of an hour. My eyes were no longer blind to nails, aided by the clear, bright light and angle of the sun. 

How many times had I previously weeded this bed since the start of spring and never noticed the nails?  While I worked, my brain dumped other notions, such as how many times do I overlook my own flaws, but not those of others.  Likewise, how many times have I done the reverse, picking myself apart and quickly absolving others who may have the same so-called, “flaws.” As my field of vision became more agile in finding nails, my brain dump also grew larger.  

The collection of roofing nails grew as my vision became more clear.

I thought of the poem about a louse, a poem both my mom and dad would quote at different points of my youth.  How did it go?  Something about a woman feeling so self-pious as she sat in church with all of her privilege and status that she didn’t notice the louse crawling on her fancy bonnet.  There was a particular line my parents would especially quote with frequency–a turn of phrase such as–what a gift it would be if we could truly see ourselves as others see us.

Then, my mind meandered to the scriptural story of Jesus speaking in the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, when he warns hypocrites to remove the beam out of their own eye in order to clearly see before removing a speck from another’s eye.  As best I understand this section of Christ’ sermon, believers are warned to admit and address our own sins first, before attempting to pass judgment on others.  However, even then, as the book of Matthew continues, Christ did not want us to condemn another person for their flaws, but instead offer help/support and grace as they work through their own issues. 

The more nails I gathered, the more my mind expanded into the understanding that we, myself included, often do not see the full picture–not of ourselves, of others, or even on larger, broad-scale, societal issues. Without this full scope of understanding, we make snap-decisions, fall prey to false information/doctrine/beliefs, or worse yet, become apathetic.  It is all too easy to be lulled by the seas of a busy life–caught up in the minutia in order to get through the day/week/month. When this happens, our vision is blinded because our attention is distracted, our focus is narrow, and/or our scope of vision is limited. Thus, we may not realize how comfortable we’ve become with our illusions, our biases, our knowledge/understanding and even what we perceive as truth.

The point is that it is easy to elevate our views/positions/ beliefs and overlook our own issues.  It is also easy to overlook/ignore points of disagreement and/or so-called flaws with others for whom we may hold in esteem; and yet, have no trouble identifying “others”–however you define them–as being wrong, bad, or even, the enemy.  Left unchecked, the busyness of life can create a pernicious way to cloud, distract, and even blind our perceptions.  Therefore, it is worth the time to regularly pause from the distractions and noise of life, and allow the Universal Light to reveal to us the nails in our own life beliefs/actions that need to be removed.  They may be disguised as good-intentions, but once a light shines upon them, their sharp edges, like the nails in my flower bed, could hurt someone, including ourselves, or worse yet, those whom we love. 

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Prayer for Uvalde, Texas

“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.”–Aeschylus

Photo by Caleb Oquendo on Pexels.com

I walked through the strangely-quiet darkened hall, down the familiar stairwell, and exited under a leaden sky with light rain falling.  Students had left an hour or so earlier, and I was heading to a meeting regarding the next school year. Nonetheless, shouldn’t there be some magical feeling for the start of summer break?  Instead, all ranges of emotions churned within my gut. How could I feel celebratory when my heart was reeling from ANOTHER school shooting?  Meanwhile, the intensity of the rain increased . . .

Thinking back to the previous week’s events, I realize that powerful sentiments, including grief, were coming together like the confluence of several rivers vying for dominance as their waters merge.  35 years in education, and yet, all I could truly focus upon was the Uvalde community.  What hopes and dreams were savagely snatched forever–even from those who survived–while terror reigned supreme inside the school and confusion, disorganization, and unbelievable anguish surrounded the school?

What about the two Robb Elementary educators?  Between them, they had 40 years of teaching experience. Years of service to the community that were also brutally wrenched away.  They too had children, spouses, parents, and loved ones.  Their hopes and dreams were likewise vanquished.

Once more, a lone male–psychologically hurting–legally accessed weapons of war and played out his own private warfare on innocent victims.  While we can state the school was at fault for having a door open, as an educator, I know the reality of schools.  A door left open can happen (At the time of writing this, the report had not yet come out that, indeed, the teacher DID close the door, and the door’s lock malfunctioned).  However, an open door at a school, or any community building for that matter, should not be considered an implicit invitation to mortal combat.

I was teaching and pregnant with my daughter when the Columbine shooting occurred.  John, my husband, who is also an educator, and I sat in our modest house, silent tears streaming down our faces as we watched the news story unfold.  How could that happen?  Little did we know we were bearing witness to the start of what would become a terrifying trend in education. 23 years later, names of schools, nowhere near me geographically speaking, are as familiar as names of past students–Red Lake Senior High School, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Stoneman Douglas High School; and the list continues.  Countless schools with families and communities forever changed and affected.

Several years after Columbine, I was teaching Kindergarten, and it was the first time for the school to practice an “Active Shooter Response Drill.”  Given the fact that I had advance notice, I talked with my young students about the notion of “bad guys” and how the school had to practice what to do if a bad guy came to school– just like they practiced what to do in case of a fire.   

Per procedure, the coded announcement came over the intercom, and I quickly ran to lock my classroom door and instructed my students to hide and cover as we had previously practiced.  A well-meaning sheriff deputy repeatedly knocked on my classroom door stating things in an attempt to trick me to unlock the door.  One student began to softly cry, followed by another, and another as I crept from one student to another trying to allay their fears and reassure them that this was pretend.  Nonetheless, they were scared.

I share that memory to say, if those few moments of hiding in a darkened classroom evoked such a fear response in my former students, what terrors were experienced by those blameless children trapped in Robb Elementary School?  What conflicting emotions must the teachers and staff members have experienced as they tried to keep their students safe and calm, while thinking about their own families, and watching one of their very own Uvalde youth massacre beloved students and colleagues? 

Children are a sacred part of society, and the schools they attend are the heart of the community. When children and educators are in school, they should be active participants in learning, engagement, and educational problem-solving, rather than passive participants in a disturbed soul’s personal anger campaign. Parents, children, and educators should have the peace of mind that the school is valued, supported, and always protected by community leaders, policy makers, and societal structures, including local law enforcement 

I am sickened by the politicians, community leaders, and even some journalists, who use the Uvalde event as an opportunity to point fingers, grow their audience, and puff up themselves with haughty righteousness.  Their pandering, grandstanding, and virtue signaling are NOT solving the problem–which is multifaceted and requires multiple types of community interventions.  To them I say, get off your soap box, get into communities and listen–I mean really listen with both ears–and then, work for real solutions rather than sound bites.  Endeavor to genuinely serve your community, instead of posturing for cameras looking for the next crisis-opportunity for which you can preen and pose.

I end where I began this piece. Summer is starting, and schools have, or will soon be, dismissed for another academic year. Meanwhile, the blood of more children and more educators weaves and seeps into the soil and rubble of another school.  There will be no more summers for them.  No more new beginnings.

I once wrote about the importance of threading a needle when sewing. All the fibers of the thread must be concentrated and twisted together to go through the eye of the needle.  Like the fibers of thread, it is easy for one fiber to get distracted, and when that happens, the thread will not go through.  Once more, we, as a nation, are being asked to go through the eye of the needle.  This is an opportunity to bind the ties that connect us–schools, children, communities–and sew together the common ground on both sides of the aisle.  Can we avoid distractions, remain tightly focused, and come together in order to thread this needle?  The silenced victims of the Uvalde classrooms beg us to do that.

Photo by Robin McPherson on Pexels.com

The Path

“Every flood has its ebb.”–variation of an old expression

Photo by Wendelin Jacober on Pexels.com

The rains began in the dark of the night, like so many foreboding events.  At times, the light showers seemed harmless and a normal part of spring. Unfortunately, there were the dark underbelly periods too, with intermittent downpours spewing from inky, looming clouds determined to demonstrate their dominance.  Within the confines of the classroom in which I teach, instructional flow was periodically interrupted, as my students and I turned towards the wall of windows to stare with wide-eyed wonder, due to the showers thunderously pounding the roof above. Rain reverberated as if threatening to break through with the strength and precision of a military special operations force. 

Lunch came and went, then one by one, like a slow trickle of water, students began to be called for an early dismissal. The trickle turned into a steady stream of children leaving school as flood warnings resounded throughout the local area.  Rumors began to circulate among the staff that waters were rising rapidly. Young children, I was told, in one local day-care school were all being moved from their first floor classrooms to higher levels, and parts of town near and around my beloved park were completely submerged under water.  A state of emergency had been declared by the mayor’s office.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

As my school emptied, my mind drifted to those young day-care children trapped at school, but safely remaining on a higher floor until the waters subsided.  I was reminded of a nearly-forgotten event of my childhood.  While I do not recall my exact age/grade level, I know I was quite young.  At the time, the creek that ran beside the main road leading to the tiny subdivision on which I lived frequently flooded.  There was a day, quite similar to this past week’s event, when during the school day, the road was completely flooded, and all of the kids who lived along that bus route were unable to get home.

We were all taken to our elementary school’s tiny gymnasium.  I remember it was a bit loud and chaotic at first, and I felt very fearful, in the way only a young could, worried that we would be stuck at school all night.  I vaguely recollect a few adults with us, most likely the principal and a teacher or two.  Eventually, a few of the older students became too loud and raucous, and we were made to stop talking and asked to sit still.  For whatever reason, it is the image that is imprinted in my mind.  In kid logic, if the adult was angry, there was something out of control about the situation; therefore, I should be really afraid.  I could not quell the heat of fear rising within me, and I leaned my head back against the blue cushioned mat that hung against the wall closing my eyes in hopes of making it all go away.

Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

Eventually, of course, just as it happened a few days prior to writing this piece, the waters did subside, and I was able to be picked up by my dad, still in his suit from his day at work.  He looked tired, the growth shadow of a long day was lining his face.  Looking out of the car’s window as we traversed the wet roads home, I vaguely recall seeing debris–gravel, branches, leaves, and trash–all tumbled and messy, spot-lighted by the car’s headlights. It is more of the feeling that I recall rather than precise imagery, but in that moment I felt relief, fatigue, and the remnants of fear still gnawing around the edges of my gut.  What if it happened again?

And, of course, it did, and it does.

Looking at those recent images of Ritter Park and the entire area surrounding it, I am astounded and wonderstruck.  I understand the basic science of the connection between watersheds and weather events.  Nonetheless, it was an unimaginable event, one that is often described as “a once per generation event.”  Many of those homeowners/renters, I am sure, never dreamed of, much less experienced, flood damage.  It seemed unthinkable, and yet, it happened.  

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

The ebb and flow.  Today, as I write, the sunshine is luminously abundant, a light breeze is tossing about newly formed spring leaves, and the skies are a brilliant blue! Isn’t that life?  As it was written in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . .” 

Looking at those images of the Ritter Park area, I am reminded of the pedestrian path below the waters that cannot be seen.  Instead, the lens of the camera could only capture the murky brown waters filled with floating bits of flotsam that covered it over.  Bottom portions of vehicles, fire hydrants, mail boxes, park benches and so forth can be seen submerged in the rising waters with no visible way through.

Photo by Robin Ramos on Pexels.com

How often in life do those times occur?  Times filled with fear, wondering how much higher the waters of trouble will rise.  Moments spent wondering if the showers of bad fortune will ever stop?  Day upon horrible day, moment after nerve-wracking moment, fear, like a vice, squeezing your gut, and anxiety, like a noose, threatening to cut off your breath.  

Somehow, in due time, the clouds begin to shift.  Not quickly, it seems, but enough to allow a glimpse of hope for tomorrow.  The path is there.  You cannot see it, as I cannot see Ritter’s path in those on-line images, but you know it is there.  

Like the child I once was, flooded in at school, I had to bide my time, sit with my fear, and wait for the waters to recede. Sometimes, that is all we can do. In those dark moments, life requires that we tread water, and sit with our fear.  Our legs get tired and our bodies ache, but faith beckons us to stay afloat.  

Photo by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

It will happen.  It may take longer than ever dreamed, but the waters will recede, and the path will emerge, albeit still covered with the remains of the havoc that once was.  It takes work and effort to clean it up, piece by piece, part by part, and step by precious step, but eventually, you are free of the wreckage and strong enough to forge ahead. 

Dear Reader, if it looks dark now, if your path is hidden, if it is buried deep below the rising flood waters, keep treading, keep the faith.  The path ahead is still there–just temporarily covered over.  It’s not easy, it never is, but every flood has its ebb. One day, it may not be soon, but one day, the path will be revealed once more.  May you be reunited with its peace soon.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Aging with Serenity

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”–Serenity Prayer

Photo by Harshi Rateria on Pexels.com

After writing humorously about the aging process a few weeks ago, I ran across an article written by Paula Span, focusing on the research and work of Becca Levy, a psychologist, epidemiologist, and professor at the Yale School of Public Health. Part of Levy’s work specifically points to 7.5 years that can be added or subtracted from a person’s life based upon personal and societal attitudes towards aging.  Since then, my brain has picked up Levy’s thesis, as if it were an object of study, and has been manipulating it from all angles as I consider its premise with what I thought I knew and what I hope to understand/apply. 

And what do I know? I know that I definitely won’t be retiring during my 50s as I once believed. At one time, I harbored some resentment about this.  Then, we went through the pandemic, and I experienced the heat of transformation with millions of other people, like sand particles melting into glass.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It was during the pandemic that I slowly began to observe many of my attachments to “how things should be,” such as my retirement age, and I began to undergo a practice of  learning to say “yes” more often to things that weren’t, “how they should be.”  It was, and continues to be, a very imperfect practice.  Learning to accept AND surrender to the things that I cannot change is NOT my natural inclination.  

In addition to my belief about retirement age, nearly ten years ago–I battled low back pain due to three bulging discs and an extra vertebra.  Without belaboring the topic, the pain led me down a meandering path of chiropractic care, regular epidural steroid injections, and ultimately two 12-week rounds of physical therapy.  Both well-meaning doctors and physical therapists, told me that I should never participate in any form of high intensity exercise, including running again.  I accepted this theory because, after all, they were the professionals, and besides I was getting to “that age”–whatever that means.  

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Fortunately, one physical therapist disagreed, suggesting that I should strengthen the weak muscles that were causing imbalances that led to my injury in the first place.  Then, if I continued to work on maintaining that strength and listen to my body, he believed that I could gradually resume running and other forms of exercise I had been told to avoid. His advice later proved to be spot-on.

Therefore, as the pandemic continued, work changed, living conditions changed, and exercise changed as we said goodbye to gyms and group exercise.  Work meant sitting for hours. Low back, hip pain, depression, and sleep disruption escalated. I learned that I was not made to sit for long periods, and I began to realize that in-person work was more beneficial to my life than I realized. 

Photo by Peter Olexa on Pexels.com

Through trial and error during the pandemic, I began to resume various forms of exercise that I had once abandoned, including running, and I began to rethink my belief system about my own aging process.  I started approaching my life, and my physical body, with a bit more curiosity–making observations, asking questions, forming hypotheses, testing them, and making adjustments. This continues today.

The pandemic forced me to make peace with the fact that I will work longer than I had originally planned because it is still beneficial for me. Furthermore, I have embraced my need for movement; I cannot sit for hours, and even if I could, it is NOT good for me physically or mentally.  Additionally, I need interaction with others, even if I am an introvert at heart.  However, I still value and honor my need for downtime, introspection, reflection, and quiet. 

Span’s article, combined with the pandemic experience, inspires me to seek the courage in the coming years to continue to change what I can, but to also hone my ability to know when I can’t.  This is only possible through the wisdom that comes with life experience, aka, aging.  Aging is not a point for which to attach shame, negative stereotyping, or embarrassment.  Instead, the process of aging should celebrate one’s life experiences and provide us with opportunities to not only apply the knowledge gained from these experiences to our own lives, but to also use them for the benefit of those with whom we interact and/or mentor.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

To be certain, aging brings unavoidable changes in the physical body and in the way in which we think (and forget), but it is not necessarily a time for stopping, like much of our cultural cues teach us by celebrating youthful beauty, prowess, and achievement. In fact, after reading about Levy’s work, I realize there’s plenty of money to be made.  In fact, according to Span’s article, Dr. Levy and her colleagues estimate that “age discrimination, negative age stereotypes, and negative self-perceptions of aging lead to $63 billion in excess annual spending on common health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and injuries,” not to mention all of the money made from products promising to turn back the clock. 

One of the most compelling examples of psychological absorption and damage of cultural ageism in Span’s article occurred when Levy took her 70-something grandmother shopping in a Florida grocery store and her grandmother fell over a crate left in an aisle. The grandmother’s injury was superficial, but it did bleed profusely.  When the grandmother suggested to the store owner that crates should not be left in an aisle, the store owner replied that “old people fall all the time, and maybe they shouldn’t be walking around.”  After that point, Levy observed that her once lively grandmother began to ask others to do tasks for her that she once regularly completed.  It was as if her grandmother began to subconsciously view the grocery store incident as her cue that she was old and incapable of caring for herself.

Photo by Eduardo Soares on Pexels.com

Meanwhile, in Blue Zone parts of the world, geographical locations in which people live the longest and are the healthiest, centenarians are celebrated as if they were highly acclaimed celebrities.  If these parts of the world can encourage, foster, and honor a culture where aging is not only accepted, but highly valued, why can’t we?  

Maybe I cannot change the current culture, but I can change my own personal view on the maturing process.  Wrinkles capture the adventures in the sun as well as countless moments of smiling. Gray hair celebrates the continuation of our inner child wanting to roam free and wild, and body aches/pains are a reminder to care for the vessel God gave us. 

I now know that phrases such as, “that age,” reflect cultural and social programmed attitudes that marketers, business, and the healthcare industry prefer is an ingrained part of our vocabulary.  While not every business or healthcare provider is personally invested in this ageism, I no longer desire to accept those marketers’ money-making, psychological damaging propaganda. What about you?

Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

The Ceaseless Wonder and Amusement of Aging

“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”–George Bernard Shaw

Aging is a funny thing.  Only last week, I looked in the mirror at the end of a work day and thought I saw a streak of eyeliner running up the center of my brow bone toward an eyebrow–which seemed odd.  With a shrug, I thought, “Who knows?” as I tried to wipe it off.  Then, I just had to switch my gaze to the magnifying mirror, an addition whose assistance I seem to require on a daily basis. I should have realized–since this is not the first time it happened–what I thought was a makeup streak, turned out to be a new wrinkle.  Geesh!  Another serving of Fun-for-all Aging Humble Pie, whipped up by the Chef Life.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Heaven forbid, if I make comments about my age to my parents, they merely make jokes about it and offer encouraging comments, such as, “Just you wait,” or “You don’t know the half of it yet.”  Nonetheless, there are seemingly preternatural changes that are beginning to occur that give me pause.

For example, at work I am (along with my husband, John) in the top 5-10 oldest employees on staff; and in all honesty, we’re probably in the top five.  On the bright side, I am pretty sure it’s the first time in my life I can claim to have ever been ranked so highly! On the downside, I often pinch myself, wondering if I am in a dream state, when coworkers ask when/if I am close to retirement; or better yet, when they can have my job. It feels otherworldly to now be one of the teachers that is perceived as “old.” Of course, in my oh-so-ignorant early career years, I also thought I would be able to retire early in my 50s, and would already be working a not-so-serious retirement job. Ha! 

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

In addition to my recent elevation in work rankings, there are other insidious signs that I could be aging.  It seems my skin is now changing at an alarming rate as it thins, folds, hangs, and forms once unimaginable cavernous crevices and fanciful spots.  In fact, I am pretty sure I’ve spotted (pun-intended) a miniature Australian continent currently forming on one of my cheeks and Antarctica on the other! 

Then, there are body parts that are beginning to rearrange themselves in entertaining and unprecedented ways.  Who knew cellulite could be so shifty?  And, of course, the new found plot twists of balance, digestion, sleep, and the ever elusive recovery.  I mean, my goodness, aging is an amusement park of fun–no need to pay for the Tilt-a-whirl, Bumper cars, or Scrambler here–the aging body gratefully provides this amusement for free!  

Photo by Mariana Kurnyk on Pexels.com

In the midst of all this wholesome clean fun is a bit of good cheer! Since John is only a couple years older than me, he probably hasn’t noticed ANY of these so-called changes in me.  Right? After all, the changes in vision, as we age, is like walking through life in a perpetual tunnel of Funhouse mirrors.  I’m sure he’s never noticed my thinning, gray hair or any of the other deviant developments gifted to me by life.

Oh, and then there’s the shrinking height.  I can not begin to express the sheer amount of joy that GROWS within my heart, with each annual checkup, swelling my head to new proportions, as I am reminded that I have already scaled to my highest height of  4’11”, and I will never conquer anything taller. Instead, I have the good fortune of experiencing other parts of me that are now growing, like my ear lobes, nose, and jowls! Those are nasty rides of nonsense I’d rather put a stop to–the sooner the better! Sigh, I guess I am going to finally have to set aside runway model as potential retirement gig! 

Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

Another fun fact? Getting lucky has a new definition.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had the titillating experience of walking into a room only to wonder, “Why am I here?”  If I remember BEFORE leaving the room, I think, “Yeah, Baby, I just got lucky.”  If, however, I start walking back and remember mid-path; well, that’s at least making it to third base.  If I return all the way to my original starting point, but then remember, I’ve at least scored a single or a double. If it is the middle of the night, or the next day, before I remember, that is a definite strike-out since it probably means I’ve left the ice cream or the cheese in the car to melt into a gelatinous gooey heap of spillage that I now need to clean up. 

While I don’t seem to have yet acquired some of my acquaintances and friends’ talents, I am told that with age, they now possess an even greater ability to multitask.  One friend claims she can sneeze, pass gas, pee, and laugh all at the same time.  Meanwhile, another person states that, like George Burns, when they bend down to tie their shoes, they look around to see if there’s anything else they could do while they are down there.  In fact, I can recall my Papaw once telling me that he was living in a haunted house with my grandmother as he claimed there were lots of unexplained sounds and smells floating around the place!

Photo by Arianna Tavaglione on Pexels.com

Recently, one of my 6th grade students asked me if I ever tried to rewind movies on Netflix after I finished them.  Before I could answer, another student jumped in and asked if I ever had to step over dinosaur dung when I was a kid.  While they were on this downward spiral of frivolity, another student, inspired by their knowledge of the Holy Land, asked if the Dead Sea was only sick when I was their age.  Youth, along with its pernicious sense of humor, is indeed wasted on the young!

In the meantime, I’ll keep plucking those gray hairs sprouting in random places like spring onions in a flower bed.  I’ll continue to write-off forgetful moments to, “Sometimers,” and I’ll continue to be grateful that cellphones and social media were NOT things when I was coming of age.  In fact, I am pretty sure in bourbon or wine years, I haven’t even begun to reach perfection, but I’m leaning closer!

Photo by Los Muertos Crew on Pexels.com

 So good news, Dear Readers, if you’re reading this, the best is yet to come–no matter your age.  It’s like riding a roller coaster, as our age keeps climbing, so does our sense of humor and our sense of humility as we watch other things start sliding. Besides, I prefer to think I’ll never be “over the hill”; after all, I’ll forget where the dog-gone hill is, or I’ll be too tired to climb it!

Here’s to life! With age comes wisdom, so I am eagerly anticipating my rise to near-genius level! In the meantime, as once suggested by the great Will Rogers, if we could perhaps get Congress to take issue with aging, we could at least be guaranteed that the aging process would be slowed down for years to come! 

Photo by Gagan Cambow on Pexels.com

Sometimes We All Benefit From Unplugging

“Today, when nearly every question can be handled instantly by Siri, Google, or Alexa, we’re losing the habit of pausing to look inward, or to one another for answers.  But even Siri doesn’t know everything.  And Google can’t tell you why your son or daughter is feeling hopeless or excited, or why your significant other feels not so significant lately, or why you can’t shake chronic low-level anxiety that plagues you.”–Vironika Tugaleva

 My classroom now includes the integration of an Apple TV through which I connect a  computer or iPad in order to project content onto a whiteboard.  One day recently, it wasn’t working, and after completing a few troubleshooting steps, I was at a loss.  A co-worker suggested that I unplug the device for a short time, then plug it back in.  Which led me down a path of reflection . . .

It is amazing to think I incorporate the Apple TV with all of the other forms of technology in my classroom after beginning my career with little to no technology in the classroom, much less in my own life.

I find the technology I integrate into my classroom a point of marvel.  The most advanced technology that I used with my students during my early years of teaching in the late 1980s was a rolling chalkboard that was also magnetic!  Since then, the role of technology, not only in my classroom, but also in life in general, has remarkably transformed.  It reminds me of making a snowperson as a kid. 

Forming the largest part of the snowperson required concerted effort, and it was slow work. With each segment, however, the snowperson became easier to form, and the results came faster until everyone in the neighborhood had access to see and enjoy its newest member.  Eventually though, no matter how much more snow did or did not fall, the snowperson melted away into the soil, and the once novelty then became part of the neighborhood’s foundational ground without the kids and their families releasing it.

Photo by Balu00e1zs Benjamin on Pexels.com

In a similar, but much more complex fashion, technology became integral to humans.  First, its development was a slow, laborious process that required the endeavors of many. People would gather and marvel at the latest creation, until eventually those cow-spotted boxes became a common home delivery sighting. However, as information began to gather, momentum picked up, and soon the technological developments started evolving at an even more rapid pace until the technology melted and integrated into the very foundation of society, no longer a curiosity.

Information can be gathered in one or two keystrokes of a computer or handheld device.  Additionally, one can gather statistics, facts, figures, and so forth, at any time of the day or night.  As a general rule, this acquisition of material is neither good nor bad–it all comes down to the producer and user of information. Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing sea of pride developing among those who can amass large quantities of data, gathering facts in their head on a daily basis–as if the more data one can gather, the more important their opinion becomes. 

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

This has also led to a new mantra regarding disdain for one another’s feelings.  I have seen it crudely phrased on bumper stickers and yard flags/signs, and I’ve likewise overheard it stated slightly more civilly (although often still aggressively) in conversations.  In fact, I have even made similar statements. However, I do believe there is a danger in discounting feelings/emotions. 

I could make the argument that those who state that they dismiss feelings or emotions are still unwittingly attached to their own.  This is due to the fact that their pursuit of intellectual facts/data/statistics, on which they make their various stands, is motivated by the good feelings that accompany their accumulation of data.  In fact, according to the latest data, the use of technology–even in intellectual pursuits–is designed to create positive sensations driven by dopamine, those feel-good chemicals released by the brain.  This is the exact same chemical response that is the force behind both positive habits and negative addictions.  Therefore, to say a person’s feelings don’t matter is ironic, since at the most biological level, it is dopamine driving one’s attachment to gather facts, data, and statistics.

Photo by Vie Studio on Pexels.com

Now, before I am sent outcries of defensive outrage, let me continue to lay out my points in order to get to my thesis.  I absolutely value knowledge, and I enjoy listening, reading, and discussing valid research content.  In fact, without it, I would not have an education, nor would I have a job.  In fact, without these intellectual endeavors, society as a whole would not have made many of the significant advances that contribute to our well-being.  

Instead, I think that the danger resides in valuing data/statics/facts above all else, causing us to lose sight of the importance of unplugging and listening to that still, small voice that resides within each of us.  It is that voice–that level of consciousness–that allows us to discern, not only right from wrong, but also develops and fosters those less-intellectual, but critical pursuits, such as compassion, empathy, communication, adaptability, creativity, interpersonal skills, teamwork, collaboration, and so forth . . . .   Without these so-called soft-skills, humanity is not any different from the technology on which I write this piece.

Photo by Alena Koval on Pexels.com

At the time of writing, the Northern Hemisphere is in the early stages of spring.  The ground is softening, and soon, the soil will be prepared for cultivation.  Branches, rocks, and any other debris will need to be removed, the soil will require proper tilling, leveling, and fertilization in order for those tiny seeds to grow into a harvest of bountiful, nutrient dense food. Likewise, it is only by unplugging and pulling ourselves away from devices that we can prepare, fertilize, remove mental detritus, and grow a harvest of intra- and inter- personal skills–which starts when we take time to plant inner-seeds of faith in order to grow our relationship with our Creator.

Faith is not about intellectuality–although people certainly try to do this.  Instead, I believe faith requires conviction, and that conviction comes from the cultivation of one’s inner world–the heart center, the residence of, yes, emotions. Faith is not tangible, it cannot statistically be verified.  However, I argue that without faith, we cannot fully develop emotionally.  In fact, I would go so far as to state that without faith, we cannot understand, offer, and receive love; and without love, we are little more than a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” as one of my favorite Bible verses states. 

Photo by Inna Lesyk on Pexels.com

 As such, I strongly suspect that many of the wars waged around us, both at home and abroad, have as much to do with a lack of faith and development of all those so-called soft skills, as they do intellectual evaluation of facts, statistics, and data. Unfortunately, we may not be able to control conflict around us, but we do have a choice in how often we unplug, look within, and cultivate/enrich our own faith/heart.  It is through these unplugged pauses that our faith becomes more strongly rooted, increasing our trust in the belief that Divine Providence will provide for a path through–maybe not the way we had hoped, but a plan, nonetheless, for all things to work towards the higher good.

So pardon me if I do value unplugging from all that input, and stand in the center of my faith–the heart of my emotions. I believe that it is through regular bouts of unplugging–even for short periods–that my faith is renewed, my resolve is strengthened, and I am refreshed and once more ready to move forward in the data-driven world–just as the Apple TV in my classroom ultimately did. The difference, however, between the Apple TV and me, however, comes down to my faith–my emotional heart center.  I believe the same is true for humanity. 

Step into Faith: Mood follows action

“We often can’t see what God is doing in our lives, but God sees the whole picture and His plan for us clearly.”–Tony Dungy

Photo by Jonas Ferlin on Pexels.com

I sat staring, alternating between views of my snowy backyard, a March surprise from Mother Nature, and the white screen.  Minutes ticked by, but nothing happened.  Next, I began pursuing my favorite devotional sites.  Still, nothing there–at least nothing that inspired a writing idea.  Finally, I gave in and looked at my list of writing ideas–the list of ideas that have not yet come to fruition, but still hold potential.  All good candidates, but nothing was immediately striking my writer’s voice.

Typically, throughout the week, I will pause, and allow that still small voice to whisper an idea.  It sounds corny, to see it written, but it is true.  I’ve learned that by asking and trusting, an idea will ultimately arrive.  However, there are times when it seems that my alignment is off with the Ultimate Creator, the invisible hand that pens my stories.

Even now, when I reread those words above, I feel heat rising to my cheeks.  I can hear my inner-critic now reminding me that I am NOT an authority on faith, writing, or any combination of the two.  Simply put, I am one person who believes in God, the Divine Source of all creation and inspiration, but it doesn’t make me an expert on anything.  Therefore, who am I to type and share such bold statements?  All I know is I simply write to understand; and today, Divine Providence was slowly unveiling a lesson for me to learn–only I was not seeing that when I first sat down to write this piece.  

When working a jigsaw puzzle, I begin, like many, by first connecting the edge pieces to not only begin to see the shape of the ultimate goal, but also because it is typically an actionable and achievable first step. Putting together a puzzle can seem overwhelming when first looking at all of the mixed up pieces, especially if there are a large number of them and/or the pieces are tiny.  In fact, initially, it may feel downright impossible to put all of those pieces of the puzzle together to form any sort of image, much less match the image on the puzzle box. Nonetheless, by beginning, by starting with what you can do–the outside frame–piece by piece, your sense of possibility increases.

Likewise, life comes in stages.  Initially, it is a fairly linear process–one stage of development follows another.  However, eventually, often at multiple points throughout adulthood, you encounter an in-between stage–points in life that are not linearly progressive, but rather feel like holding spots.  Often, these holding patterns shift and evolve into new phases, but during the hold, life can feel uncertain and/or even stagnant. There are any variety of in-between stages, depending upon where you are in life and your unique life experiences.  

Conceivable stages could include an in-between stage of marriage and divorce or the aftermath that follows.  Another frequent holding pattern can sometimes occur in careers–the point at which you feel you are no longer upwardly moving or challenged.  Of course, there is the classic empty-nest syndrome–when you try to establish new routines/responsibilities and even renavigate your relationship(s) with your partner and adult-children.  Then, there can tragically be the in-between stage of long-term illness–either of self or care for another.  There are numerous other examples, but the point is this:  There are times in life where you can’t see the full picture–much less, predict the future.  The “next-step” is, quite frankly, not known by anyone other than God–and even that signal can seem crossed, busy, or even disconnected. 

Photo by Andres Ayrton on Pexels.com

These are often the moments that draw us closer to God through prayers for strength and/or answers; other situations can leave us feeling further removed from our faith due to doubt, fear, and uncertainty.  While I am no expert on faith or psychology, I can’t help but believe both responses are very human and very understandable.  What is the answer during these moments? This was my lesson to learn today as I wrote: take a step.  Find your so-called edge-pieces and start working bit-by-bit.

During the week prior to writing this piece, I was speaking with 8th grade students about a project for which they were working for my Reading Language Arts class.  Without going into too much detail, part of this project required that they choose four-plus pieces to write from four different categories of writing for which they were given a list.  They were looking overwhelmed by the project one day; therefore, in order to move them forward, I encouraged them to commit to only one piece of writing for the day.  

“Even if you don’t feel like it, pick what you perceive as an ‘easy’ piece and start.”

I knew, from my own recent 16-week training for a half-marathon, there were many days I, too, felt overwhelmed.  I was either paralyzed by the number of weeks still left on the calendar for training/conditioning, or I was not-feeling up to the run for the day, especially as that mileage increased.  However, the one thing I learned to be true from this round of training, is that mood follows action.  I may not “feel” like running, but if I simply begin without thinking–if I take one small actionable step–the simple act of starting, begins the momentum for continued action. Continued action leads to another training session checked off the plan, and one step closer to the goal. 

This is what I wanted those 8th graders to experience–the power of completing one small step.  Complete one piece of writing one day; then, come back to class the next time, and complete another piece.  One small success begets another small success, boosting confidence and the faith to tackle the next, more challenging step.  Like the large jigsaw puzzle, they didn’t have to see the whole picture in the beginning; their plans could be subject to change, but they had to take that first actionable step.  Then, step-by-step, the vision of their project could come into focus.

The writing of this piece, likewise, began with uncertainty–only the knowledge that I was supposed to write. I did not have a clear picture of how I would do it, or what nugget of understanding would be revealed in the end. I simply had to start typing; taking one small actionable step.  Piece by piece, the edges of the lesson formed first.  By faith, the rest began to gradually come together, until the entirety picture revealed itself to me. 

Dear Reader, like many of you, I, too, am (and have) experienced several versions of those “in-between” time periods of adulthood.  Without a clear picture of what the future holds, I am often unsure in which direction to step.  Therefore, let us continue to step into each day, one moment at a time, trusting that if we whisper and wait, while filling in the edge pieces, the Ultimate Creator will likewise continue to pen our story.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Shadowy Thoughts

“It is only through the shadows that one comes to know the light,”–St. Catherine of Siena

Sunshine filtered through diaphanous clouds strung across a canvas of azure.  Inhaling gratefully, the pit-pat-pit-pat of my footfall maintained its slowly-as-I-go pace, as I headed along Third Avenue towards the campus of Marshall University.  Temperatures were hovering in the low 40s when I left the confines of Ritter Park and were predicted to rapidly rise into the 70s once the wind shifted and sky cleared.  It was a glorious morning for a run (or, in my case, a slow trot); time for my mind to likewise roam free.

It was about 40 minutes into my run that first revealed the beginnings of a lesson.  Rays began shining so brilliantly as the light of the sun began breaking free from the cloud cover. I was reminded of summer morning sunlight, especially at the beach when . . .

. . . the air is still cool, but the warmth of the sun, reflecting off the oceans waters, whispers of fiery heat to come.  Ocean breezes playfully tousle the hair of beachcombers walking the shore lines; their shadows cast long, accompanying their journey along the sand.  Birds call from above, and they too cast shadows of flight as they dip and dive at their prey . . . .

Photo by Travis Rupert on Pexels.com

Passing through part of the campus of MU, silhouettes of tall multiple structures stretched long and lean as I ran up, over, and around their contours thinking of all the potential possibilities that would typically pass over this walk if it were a weekday.  I was reminded of my former self on another campus, in another time.  It seemed like a lifetime ago.  Pit-pat-pit-pat, my continued cadence reminded me time waits for no one; like the dark building profiles, those university years were shadows of my former self.

Mind wandering once more, it circled back to the sunlight and the way it played hide and seek with each shadow I encountered.  How miraculous the sunlight had seemed this past week–one of those rare, early March weeks, when you know, despite the early morning chill, spring is around every corner, nook, and cranny.  It is that time when the earth remains cold, but soft–wafting with scents of melted snow, recent cold rain, and potential growth sprouting signs through the surface. Meanwhile, spring birdsong abounded each morning throughout the week, as the mating season began with the hope that winter’s shadow is finally shaken.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Taking notice once more of my surroundings, I took in the expanse of St. Mary’s Hospital;  it’s shadow stretched towards the multitude of campus offshoots behind it.  How many visits have I made there for and/or with loved ones in the shadows of duress?  I began to name them in my head, one-by-one; and yet, my own daughter was born there–one of the most miraculous, brilliant days of life.  What a contradictory place, a hospital, filled with celebration, healing, and hope, but its shadows are filled with fear, illness, and stress.

Crossing over 29th Street, I moved back towards town along 5th avenue where the shadows flipped positions with my shift in direction. I caught a glimpse of my own shadow, appearing long and tall, cantering slowly alongside.  Do I really move like that because I know I am not that tall?  My head began to play games.  For the first time, my mind took notice of the leg fatigue and achiness, the swelling of my feet.  I have less than an hour, I remind the negative side of my brain, my own shadow-self.  Look how far you’ve come.  Think how proud you will feel knowing you did not quit. But I could quit.  I could walk the rest of the way.  I could even call my husband or daughter to come pick me up.  Why would you do that?  You can do this, mind over matter.  No sense believing your shadow, it’s only there because of the light. 

Wait, what? The shadow is there because of the light?

 I am not sure how it made sense, but there was something there, in that thought, in that moment.  Trying to grasp its meaning, its deeper lesson, my mind instead slipped back into the present moment as my feet made their way onto another side of MU campus.  People in colorful costumes were walking towards the campus’ Student Center.  Their colorfully adorned hair, swords, and/or light saber-sort of things, capes, and shields cast intricately shaped shadows that seemingly entered the building well before the actual person.  They must be headed to a comic-con celebration of the shadowy heroes of graphic design.

From 5th Avenue, I eventually made my way to 6th Ave, slowly edging closer to 8th Street for my final lap around Ritter Park as the sun continued to rise and the winds shifted in short, gusted outbursts.  Preparing to pass a presumably homeless gentleman who was walking with a grocery bag in one hand,  I voiced my approach that I would pass him on his left–not wanting to needlessly startle him. He turned to look at me.  His face was red with exposure, covered in a film of grime, his beard was in need of a shave, and his eyes were swollen, but within the center of each sparkled the hint of another life.

“Good morning, Sir.” 

He smiled a mostly toothless, friendly grin.  When he did not speak, I wished him a good day.  He raised a puffy pink hand, and shouted a cheer in my direction.  Within a split moment, his face seemed to fill with light, and for a fleeting instant, I saw the person/the child he once was.  Briefly choked with emotion, I wished desperately that I could somehow impart within him the same vision of potential that I saw within him, in the hopes he could; instead, step into the light and walk away from the shadow of addiction and/or mental illness.  Sadly, I could not, his fight was greater than I could imagine; so instead, I waved back to him, whispered a prayer of hope for his life, and continued on my way.

Returning to the welcoming, much softer path of the park, I completed my run through the dappled light of the Ritter Park loop.  Sections of the crushed limestone path were swathed in shade, and other parts were bathed in full-on sun. Newly established decorative, and highly symbolic, sunflowers dotted parts of the path, allegorical reminders of the shadows of hate and greed left unchecked on a global scale. Can the light of love and peace overcome this?  I can only pray and hope it does.

The sunlight had been a welcome sight, but it was bearing down nearly 30 degrees warmer than when I had first begun.  I was over-dressed and overheated. Nonetheless, I realized, as I walked uphill towards where I had parked, my sunlit run had brought both brightness and heat, cheer and defeat, mind over matter, and lessons of shadow-side of light. 

Photo by Elias Tigiser on Pexels.com

Life can indeed be filled with shadows–the darkness of depression, despair, hopelessness, sickness, and for some, even moments filled with greed, jealousy, hate, and numerous other forms of darkness I cannot begin to understand.  Of course, we cannot control the shadows of the world, but we can remind ourselves that where there is shadow, there can also be light.  Without the light, there is no shadow. It is a duality for which we must make peace.

In the meantime, it is up to each one of us, in those moments when we find ourselves dwelling in the shadows too long, to step out into the light.  We may not be able to do it alone; however, by relying on faith, and trusting in the Ultimate Creator of Light, we can, step-by-step, find the light once more.  Who knows?  Your light might be the light that leads another out of their own darkness.  

May your light shine brightly.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

The Power of Whitespace

Whitespace should not be considered merely “blank” space — it is the element of design that enables the objects on the page to exist.–The Segue Creative Team 

As a middle school Reading/Language Arts teacher for grades 6-8, I spend a good portion of my time teaching various writing techniques.  Currently, in my 7th grade classes, we are focused on writing various styles of poetry with the emphasis on exploring various elements of figurative language techniques and literary devices.  Of particular importance to writing poetry, I believe, is to draw the reader into an image/story/feeling in the way a good song has the power to  draw in the listener and attach a particular feeling/image to it. 

Part of the skill in writing a relatable poem is not only using specific words, figurative devices, and imagery, but also incorporating the power of white space.  In the same way my grandmother taught me that our eyes eat food before we taste it, a poem should likewise draw readers’ eyes into the arrangement of the piece first.  In order to do that, writers must learn to use the white space.

Photo by Du00f3 Castle on Pexels.com

Whitespace 

Creates

Balance and  Style

Although it is often called “negative” space, there is nothing negative about appropriate use of white space.  In fact, when duly used, white space increases readability–up to 25% according to some sources.  White space provides breathing room for the reader, a purposeful pause, or point of emphasis. It can create a sense of balance, harmony, and style.  The eye has time to “catch its breath” and focus on the meaning of each line, word, phrase.  A sense of play, intense emotion, or serious tone can also be emphasized and enhanced through the appropriate use of white space–adding power and emphasis to select words.  By giving students permission to incorporate white space, they are more focused on words that are specific and succinct.  This is an important and transferable skill when switching to more formal writing styles that require a clear, concise, and compelling writing style. 

Whitespace is THE fundamental building block of good design . . .  provides visual breathing room for the eye.–The Segue Creative Team

Photo by Robin Schreiner on Pexels.com

On a recent long Saturday morning run, it occurred to me that the notion of white space, as a mental construct, is underused and undervalued in our daily lives.  It is one of the things I most appreciate about my longer weekend runs is the fact that it gives me permission–and time–to let my mind wander.  Many, if not most, of my weekday runs are completed on a treadmill before I do a few strengthening exercises.  During these workouts, I typically wear headphones to listen to music, podcasts, or audible books–depending upon the workout and my mood/interest.  However, when I run outside, I rarely wear headphones; and thereby, I experience the freedom of mental whitespace.

Much of our daily life is consumed with some form of media content consumption.  From the time we get up and, quite often, until we go to bed, many of us are continually interacting and engaging with screens.  Emails, social media, work, news, even cooking, project-building, and other how-to content require some form of on-screen encounter. From content that is audible, to content that is visual, to an interplay of both, much of human interaction is now completed on-line.  As a result, our mind has become trained to repeatedly and frequently seek points of what I call distracted-focus.  Furthermore, it has never been easier to do this at any time, day or night.

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

As society’s utilization of technology changes, shifts, and evolves, our minds have been forced to adapt.  Our phones wake us up, and while I can never do this for fear of falling back to sleep, I am told that many people remain in bed for several minutes, and upwards to an hour, upon waking, scrolling through media content that happened during those hours devoted to sleep. While we drive our kids to school, they are busy with screens, and we are engaged in handsfree calling or texting.  Once at work, many of us, myself included, utilize multiple devices at once as our eyes and minds shift back and forth from screen to screen, and, depending upon your career, from person to person.  At day’s end, despite eye fatigue and even brain drain, our minds still desire to scroll through social media and news outlets as the brain, like a tired toddler, still craves even more stimulation to keep going.  In a sense, our minds have become the proverbial “Energizer bunny,” continually banging on the drums of our consciousness for more, more, more.

Whitespace not only creates harmony, balance, and helps to brand a design. . . .–The Segue Creative Team

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Personally, I need breathing space, and I honestly believe that most of us do.  Time away from screens, schedules, and scintillating images/demands.  Unplugging from the visual and auditory distractions of our devices, provides our brain with whitespace–the space to pause and breathe.  I liken it to opening the door and letting a child, or even a pet, go outside to run off steam at the end of the work/school day. When you unplug, it frees the mind to mentally roam or simply be still.  By unplugging, you begin to notice the sounds of nature or even household appliances.  Unplug, and you might see things through new eyes–eyes that are fully focused, rather than distracted.  Unplug, and your senses have permission to roam–noticing the way air caresses your face, the aromas of your surroundings, the full flavor of your coffee, or other favorite beverage, as it dances over your taste buds.  Unplug, and you can breathe deeply and luxuriously as if you have all of the time in the world. Even your ability to think creatively and/or problem-solve increases more when you unplug.

Photo by Asad Photo Maldives on Pexels.com

In the same way white space creates harmony and balance to the design of a web page, book, or even a 7th grade poem, creating “white space” moments in life, allows us to also feel more harmonious, balanced, and perhaps even, peaceful.  As a deep breath or sigh is gratifying to the lungs, and bring calmness to a tough moment, time unplugged offers the mind moments to rest, refresh, and recharge, providing you with more clarity and the ability to focus on what’s really important as well as give you permission to see the extraneous for the distractions they actually are. 

 It doesn’t matter if you take a break from screens inside the comfort of your own home, or outside in fresh air, unplugging and not-doing, is never a waste of time, or well, waste of space.  I especially enjoy unplugging when I am outside for a run, walk, or hike, but I also have found white space moments in the quietude of a car with all distractions turned off, including radio, or in the quiet moments of my home when others are still sleeping or momentarily out.  The ability to unplug may not occur every day, but white space of the mind, be it vacations, exercise, hobbies, or other down-time moments, judiciously scattered throughout the week and/or even month, offers innumerable benefits and is certainly worth prioritizing.  

In the same way white space creates harmony and balance to the design of a book or web site, creating "white space" moments in life, allows us to feel more harmonious, balanced, and perhaps even more peaceful.
Photo by Mabel Amber on Pexels.com

Celiac Disease is Real

Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.–Celiac Disease Foundation

Recently, I went to dinner at a popular local restaurant with a friend.  The wait staff person, whom I will call Sam, was friendly and appeared to listen as I politely explained that I had celiac disease and needed to eat gluten free. I further added that I had not previously eaten there, so Sam pointed out all of the gluten-free items on the menu, directing my attention to several items that might be of interest to me since I also added that I was a plant-based eater. 

Later, after our food had arrived, my friend and I were deep in conversation, when Sam returned to the table to tell me that the dish I had been served was not in fact gluten-free.

Photo by Ana Madeleine Uribe on Pexels.com

At least you only ate part of yours, unlike your friend here.

Wait, what?  First of all, not only was that response rude to my friend, but it was also insensitive to the realities of celiac disease.  Sam then offered an apology and launched into stories of a friends who have celiac disease, but my head would not stop buzzing with worry.  Sam then added a story of a sibling with food allergies who required an epi-pen with the final words, “at least you won’t die.”  

People with celiac disease have a 2x greater risk of developing coronary artery disease, and a 4x greater risk of developing small bowel cancers.–Celiac Disease Foundation

Later, a person, who I can only assume was either a kitchen or restaurant manager, arrived at our table.  I was told that normally there was an upcharge for gluten-free items and another upcharge for vegan cheese, but since I had been wrongly served, I would not be charged any additional fees.  There was no apology, hint of remorse, or even concern in this person’s words or voice.  Meanwhile, my mind kept wondering how I was going to get through the next work day.   

Photo by Kampus Production on Pexels.com

When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.–Celiac Disease Foundation

Afterwards, sharing my experience with my daughter, Maddie, she was enraged since she has worked in the restaurant industry for the past two school years.  She shared this story with her current kitchen manager as well as the rest of the staff with whom she works.  They all agreed that the restaurant’s response was inappropriate, and I should to do something, such as leave a bad review on Facebook, Yelp, or Trip Advisor.  Instead, I decided to try to increase awareness of celiac disease through writing. 

It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide.–Celiac Disease Foundation 

This is gluten

I am often faced with people, especially in the restaurant industry, who do not believe that celiac disease is serious, much less real.  Perhaps, this is because so many popular diet trends include avoiding gluten and/or because gluten-free items are now so widely available and seen as healthier options.  Often, those who are avoiding gluten for health/diet purposes will still drink beer or consume products with gluten when it suits their situation.  I understand that as someone who is mostly vegan, but will, on occasion, still splurge on cheese.  Unfortunately, this can leave the impression that those of us with celiac disease can do that too.  In fact, I have had family and friends say to me, “Can’t you just take a pill before you eat it?”  If only it were that easy for me.

Celiac disease requires consuming

Ingesting small amounts of gluten, like crumbs from a cutting board or toaster, can trigger small intestine damage.–Celiac Disease Foundation

It wasn’t until the mid-forties that I was diagnosed with celiac disease.  I had been experiencing severe abdominal pain and acid reflux, as well as bloating, cramps, and other, shall we say, digestive issues.  My doctor was treating me with a variety of prescription medications.  My life became a series of timers and pills, and nothing was helping.  After several months of no improvement, he ordered a colonoscopy and an endoscopy.  When the official hospital letter came in the mail informing me that the endoscopy revealed severe damage to my small intestine, suggestive of celiac disease, I was stunned. (It also revealed a hiatal hernia, but that’s a whole other topic!)  When a later blood test confirmed this diagnosis, my life was forever changed. 

Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.–Celiac Disease Foundation 

As my doctor and I talked, it was clear that I had suffered from this disease my entire life, but I had become so accustomed to the symptoms that I didn’t realize anything was wrong.  The entire diagnosis process was spread out over a few months.  Part of the protocol included strictly removing gluten from my diet for two weeks, and then seeing what happened when I re-introduced it to my diet.  Ugh! Talk about pain.  All the stomach pains/issues returned after one day of eating glutinous foods as well as a persistent headache that would not dull.  That was it!  I walked away from gluten products at that point and never looked back.  My life quality has completely changed for the better–including none of the prescriptions of the past.

I buy and order special gluten free products. This is one of my favorite gluten free pizza crusts brand!

Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet. People living gluten-free must avoid foods with wheat, rye and barley, such as bread and beer.-Celiac Disease Foundation 

Living with celiac disease is typically most challenging when dining out.  It is important that a kitchen staff understand that, no, I won’t die immediately from consuming gluten.  However, within hours of consuming gluten, side effects begin.  Furthermore, with each consumption of gluten–which can even be found in over-the-counter medications, vitamins, lipstick, and toothpaste–I am damaging my body, in particular, my small intestine.  The more gluten I eat, the more likely I am to develop other health issues, such as Type 1 diabetes, muscular dystrophy, anemia, epilepsy, migraines, osteoporosis, shortened stature, heart disease, early on-set dementia, and intestinal cancers.

Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medicines that contain gluten. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems.–Celiac Disease Foundation

In the end, I sincerely wish that all restaurants, local and elsewhere, would understand that celiac disease is real; it is not made up.  When I ask for gluten-free food at a restaurant, I will happily pay the upcharge for this choice.  Additionally, I will go out of my way to let staff know that I sincerely appreciate the extra steps taken to prepare my food.  I only ask that restaurants take my request seriously.  If a mistake is made, it is best to tell the customer as soon as possible and sincerely apologize. Mistakes can happen.  However, please don’t write it off as an “at least I won’t die” moment because it will take 24-48 hours for the gluten to work its way through my system–causing unnecessary discomfort, interrupted sleep, endless rest room visits, headache, and body aches–as if I have the flu.  Additionally, at the risk of sounding dramatic, consuming gluten potentially contributes to a premature life-ending, or at the very least, life-altering disease that may have otherwise been avoided.  While celiac disease does not define me, it is part of who I am–a valid part that should be respected and honored.

For more information regarding celiac disease or for those wondering if they, or a loved one, have celiac disease, please visit the Celiac Disease Foundation at celiac.org as well as talk to your health care provider. 

Another tasty brand of bread products.