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A New Dawn

The darkest hour is just before the dawn.~ Proverb

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“It’s been five years.”

It’s the anniversary of the end.

A total sum of nine years has passed since the line in the sand was drawn from together to separate; four years of “married but separated” and five years since the divorce.

“I know I had my issues, but I had good intentions.”

Perhaps it was damned to fail from the first day. Maybe the disintegration began the day we wed. I didn’t really pay attention. So many details lost, because I handpicked which ones to remember. Then one day “Happily Ever After” has our signatures on the last page of a divorce decree to mark “The End.”

“I’m sorry for that for you.”

It was an ugly ending. Rage. Despair. Lashing out at one another. Tears. Sleepless exhaustion. Fumbling through day-to-day decisions and demands while waging a war on the fragile soil of our egos, hearts, and spirits.

“We both fought for each other at different times. You tried early on and I didn’t see it. Then I tried and it was too late.”

The calm after the storm was the hardest. No longer was there the barrage of labor in the unraveling of our entwined lives. I felt like a prisoner to the ongoing interpretation of drama surrounding our small town separation.

“Our demons destroyed us.”

I was left with my own demons to sleep with at night. They came after my heart with a new vengeance and fresh ammunition. Echoes of hurtful words spewed from the past. Crumbled and soiled memories litter the destructive path the marriage teetered down.

“Everyone has them. We were never strong enough at the same time to fight them. We fought separate battles, and then each other in the end.”

The curious part of the years after is the effort it takes to forgive oneself.

“It took me a long time to get my head straight. But I did.”

And now, five years later, a very twisted sense of closure has occurred. For the first time in ten years, we had a compassionate conversation.

“I am happy for you. I am proud of you. I am sorry for how things turned out. I’m sorry for not being the man you needed when you needed me the most.”

Ten years of unsaid words finally voiced over the void.

“What destroyed us? I think it was the feeling we were neither one enough. It ate us up.”

Ten years ago I was searching for the parts that needed repairing and parts that needed to be let go. Ten years ago I started vetting who I really was deeper than who everyone thought I should be. I succumbed to the realization I would have to be enough for myself before I could be enough for anyone else. And then I hear this:

“You were always enough.”

I ended my search long before I heard these words. But hearing them? That was bittersweet closure. Perhaps the milestone is now, five years later. The quiet period at the end of a declaration I created for myself with an explanation point: You are enough!

“Just do this. Be the best you can be in who you are and for who you are with now. Find your joy. Don’t forget the lessons we learned, but live your life as the man I thought I married.”

I let go, and allowed the shells of memories fall from my fingertips and smiled at the rising sun on the dawn of my future.

“Until we have seen someone’s darkness we don’t really know them. Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness we don’t really know what love is.” ~Marianne Williamson

Mourning the Mustangs

“The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.” ~ American Indian Proverb

 

The brief stop in town to update supplies allowed me the opportunity to click on Facebook to see what my friends were up to. Immediately I was met with photos of drenched and pitiful faces of dogs as the articles flood my feed about people abandoning their animals, tethered to trees, to drown in Hurricane Irma. It took hours to vacate these images from my mind as I consciously focused on the tasks at hand which dictated the comforts of my upcoming time in the desert.

Now, it’s been days since I have evaporated from society. I can feel the tendrils of sadness and helplessness soften their hold on my heart. This compassion that has taken seed in my soul when I was a child continues to weep and mourn over the travesties being played out in humanity as long as I feed it. But updated news flashes and articles on my social media have dissipated to nonexistence as I live in the wild for a short time. No onslaught of  tragic stories can touch my spirit out here. Finally, I sense relief from the emotional roller coaster of politics and humanity stories. Now I can focus on becoming grounded and centered in nature and all the beauty the land has to offer.

After a full day of hiking and photography, we approach the entrance to a state park for one last experience before heading to camp. I chuckle to myself at the names of the various campgrounds and parks nearby. Horsethief Campground. Hamburger Hill. Superbowl Campground. They all seem benign and clever. But this state park is named “Dead Horse Point State Park.” I ponder aloud, “I wonder where they come up with these names? I want to know why it’s named Dead Horse!” I imagine a western story of cowboys and Indians coming together in a turf war. I create an imaginary hero that finds a herd of wild mustangs caught in the sight of coyotes and releases them from their entrapment on the end of the point to freedom and life.

We are handed our brochure and head to the point that promises breathtaking sights as the sun is sinking to horizon level in the distance. A breeze taunts my hair and prickles my skin as it plays hide and seek with the low peaks of the trees. I open the brochure to read about this park.

Suddenly my blood turns ice cold in my veins. Tears prickle my eyes. I am overwhelmed with horror as I read the origin of the name of this park. I am so shocked I read the pamphlet over again to digest the information about this recreational site. The legend of Dead Horse Point goes like this:

“According to one legend, the point was once used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa. Cowboys rounded up these horses, herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush, creating a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs. Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and for reasons unknown, left the others horse corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below.”

 

We tumble out of the car and I feel the strong pull of isolation take over me. I cannot fathom being in the company of vacationing families, honeymooners, or teetering children bouncing along the ledge with happiness and joy illuminating their way. How can they enjoy the grandeur of this land amongst the graves of thousands of wild mustangs? I sit on a rock ledge beneath the shade of a tree and attempt to gain composure of my emotions.

But I cannot. All I can hear is the scuffing of hooves on the dirt and whinnies of horses growing panicked as they look for an opening in their prison. All I feel is the dry heat ruthlessly sucking any moisture from all living things day after day as rain is only promised at two inches a year on this cracked soil. I feel the desperation of life leaking from the beautiful form of one wild horse after another. I see them slowly buckle beneath the exhaustion of hopelessness and dehydration. The other horses nudging the corpses in hopes they can get some movement. Eventually, the flies take over every open cavity of the animals and swarm to feast on the smell of dead flesh.

Silent tears trickle down my cheeks. I wonder as they drop on the soil if the spirit of these beasts can taste the salt of my sorrow. My chest heaves as I attempt to pull my mourning back into my heart. My head is filled with words I wish they could hear me utter to them across the void of this canyon land.
“I’m so sorry we did this to you. I am so sorry we think the resources of this earth are here for our entertainment and muse at your cost. I am sorry we are human and therefore destined to never understand.”

I wipe my face and we decide to move on to another part of the point. It is the breathtaking view of the Gooseneck Meander of the Colorado River. Famous for providing entertainment to thousands of rafters and kayakers, it is bittersweet to rest my eyes on it. How hypocritical I feel enjoying the beauty before my eyes as I am now aware of the nightmares that we created in this very spot!

As beautiful as it is at this point, I will never be able to revisit it again. As famous as it is for movie scenes and photographed sunsets, I will not set foot here again. Maybe this is shortsighted of me. Afterall, it isn’t the only place we have slaughtered animals in this world. Festival of the Dogs occur yearly in China. The controversial Dolphin drive hunting occurs in various other places around the world. In America, we have a continuous onslaught of information about abused and neglected animals at the hands of pet owners.

It seems we are only repeating history. We think the universe is here to serve us. What if it weren’t? What if we are supposed to be here to care for the universe?

When I was a child, I learned in the book of Genesis about God creating the earth. He then created man “in His image”. I wonder, how are we exemplifying a God of compassion?

Before we even get out of this Book of the Bible, God is so angry at the human race, he wipes them off of the earth with a great flood. Then, out of compassion, he places a rainbow in the sky as his promise to never destroy man again.

I am left with this thought:

Does God feel regret?

“The Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the Earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood in which unites one family. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” ~Chief Seattle, Duwamish tribe

 

The Simplicity of Being

“There is sanctuary in being alone with nature.” ~ Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Choosing to remove oneself from the everyday grind of daily human interaction can be a beautiful experience. Anyone who has gone hiking or camping can attest to this statement. In today’s culture of ongoing social connectivity, we become deaf and blind to the simpler means of existence. One in which we are left to only watch and listen to the world’s movement and our own breath’s cadence to it’s rotation.

Sitting on a rock plateau 9000 feet in elevation looking across the canyons that have been carved in the earth’s crust will put a little perspective into your own bubble of existence. Listeninguntitled-3273 to the wind, you are hearing the movement of air stream lazily through the atmosphere, providing a caress across the cheek of each animal in its path. All is so quiet you can hear the feathers of a crow slicing the air as it glides by you a mere twenty feet away. The sound is startling as there has never been this opportunity to be so close to the crow as it flies. Looking at a different angle to your right you realize you are so high up you are peaking through the tips of treetops that have topped off at 100 feet in height. Even more astounding is the idea that these trees have been growing here for more than 400 years. You are a speck of history passing by these trees’ life cycle.

It’s a whole new perspective to watch the sunrise in a majestic virgin land of grandeur such as this. Watching the sun glide into vision, there’s a realization that the term “sunrise” is not accurate at all. You are so still and quiet you can see the curvature of the earth’s horizon and take in the breathtaking moment in which you are actually the one moving towards the sun’s orange blaze, the sun is not rising to meet you. How did we turn into a race that has grown to think the sun and the planets revolve around us? We are actually just a part of the evolution occurring each day in this galaxy.

Nature, in its purest form, shows its ability to evolve and adjust to the conditions placed upon it without the scarring results of human touch. Moving through the lands from lush green mountains to harsh red desert clay, you can see that the plants and animals have very different methods of survival. We have chosen to adjust our environment to our comforts with the creation of luxury items; perhaps decreasing our ability to adjust to our surroundings like other species. A touch of a button provides instant gratification to us in temperature, light, and sound. Nature adapts to the conditions and carries on.

There are days when the wordless, timeless, spacious moments of meditation in this land of canyons and peaks are the perfect form of existence. There is an underlying respect to the author of these rock formations for allowing a temporary courtship between a fragile infantile and the wise spirit of the land. Your own mortality seems insignificant in comparison to the thousands of years of history that has led to this moment in this spot. Your life expectancy on this earth becomes comparable to the hiccup of a baby.

As humans, we have this tendency to think we can lord over this universe. We feel inclined to believe it is here to serve our wellbeing. We have been taught to climb on top of the evolutionary ladder and roar our value from this teetering perch.

However, it appears that the universe already has it figured out. We should pay attention and learn to ebb and flow with the cycle rather than make an attempt to alter it. Let’s ride the earth and appreciate the joy it has to offer.

“The earth has music for those who listen.” William Shakespeare

Color Surprise

*photos contained in this post credited to Christopher Limbrick. http://www.christopherthomaslimbrick.com

The Metamorphosis of Motherhood

As a mother, you spend your whole life working towards this enigmatic goal of your child arriving to independence, joy, and peace.

I had a brief love affair through the camera lens with a dragonfly. It was mesmerizing to watch the movements of this beautiful creature flutter and flit about over a mountain stream. After several takes, I captured the moment I had been waiting for: the instant the dragonfly spreads its wings to launch off of a blade of grass. I sat on my elbows and knees on the mossy damp ground relishing this accomplishment, but nostalgic at the ending of the bonding moment between us.

Upon my return home, I cataloged my special moment with the dragonfly away and prepared for my daughter’s arrival for a weekend visit. Excitement fueled my never-ending list of chores to get the house just right. I wanted her visit to be beautiful and perfect as it would be her first visit to a newly purchased house.

We generally plan to see each other about every 90-120 days and have managed this so far between careers, moves, and the long distance between Louisiana and Virginia. It is an opportunity to spend time together giggling, watching scary movies, eating good food and drinking fabulous wine. We usually have many conversations about life, and often fall asleep together as we squeeze every valuable minute out of our time together.

This visit was different.

For this visit, she brought her boyfriend. I have met him prior to this trip and was very relieved in the utilitarian idea there was someone she could call on for support and emergencies when she lives so far away from family. So naturally, I was excited to welcome this significant person into our home and get to know him better.

The dynamics of our visit were not the same. I missed the girl time we crammed into our past visits. I missed being silly, lounging in our pajamas, and sneaking into the kitchen for a midnight snack. All of the things we usually spoiled ourselves with were spun into a different experience.

I felt a state of conflict over this change.

My job as her comforter and my role of holding her hand has been taken over by the natural process of “boy meets girl”. She didn’t need me to bring her a cup of hot tea, he did. She didn’t need me to ask if her back hurt, he beat me to it.

What’s more, my little girl is now discussing retirement investments and managing wellness benefits, and…well…my little girl is suddenly an adult!

As we drove to the airport for their departing flight home, I could feel a bittersweet barrage of tears building behind my eyes. There were so many things left unsaid. There was little time to process the metamorphosis that has occurred in my little girl.

Today, in the emptiness of the house, I process all of these feelings swirling in my heart. I am relieved to see her happy and successful. I am glad she is with a man that demonstrates respect, tenderness, and patience. But I secretly crave more time with my little girl.

I think back to the drive to the airport when we shared our sentiments of how delightful the visit has been. I remember grasping her hand as the words tumbled out of me in a whisper, “I don’t like sharing you.” As an afterthought, I admitted further my realization how selfish this sounds. She looks at me with those wise blue eyes and says, “I know how you feel.”

We laugh. It wasn’t too long ago I had asked her permission to bring my new life-mate to visit her. I realize the dynamics must have felt the same for her. It must have been equally as conflicting for her.

But in my happiness, I didn’t notice it at the time.

Now I do.

The bed linens are laundered and put away. The kitchen is intact. The house is quiet. The dog wanders through searching for the energy of all the people that filled the rooms with laughter and joy.

I pull out my camera to process the photos taken not too long ago of my dragonfly. Out of curiosity, I begin to research this insect, as I want to know more about it.

The dragonfly is a symbol representing change in perspective of self and realization. The kind of change literature references is often centered on its source in mental and emotional maturity.

As a mother, you spend your whole life working towards this enigmatic goal of your child arriving to independence, joy, and peace. You invest in every conversation; dissect every decision, tirelessly working in a forward progression of growth and maturity. Then one day, you wake up and realize, it happened. You have accomplished your goal.

It may be true that this dragonfly was gently preparing me for the change I was about to experience. It may be accurate that my baby is all grown up and “adulting” her way through. But no matter how much change occurs, some things never do.

My mother’s heart will always want to be able to wipe her tears and hear of her successes. She may not need my lap or my hand to swish the hair out of her eyes.

But just in case, I’ll be ready. Maybe, just maybe, a mother’s role is never finished.

 

Love Beyond Borders

Perhaps there is a language which is not made of words and everything in the world understands it. ~Frances Hodgson Burnett

I remember the first time we met. I walked into her hospital room with a little trepidation about the pocketful of knowledge scoured from her chart regarding her medical history and descent.

I could see the veil of pain, discomfort, and weariness on her face. I could see the question marks stamped in her gaze to me. I was acutely aware of the fact this pain and weariness was not of a surgical or medical origin. There was a discerned understanding within me that haunted memories were carried in the folds of her heart and stamped impressions on her face.

Silently, I pulled the Ipad on wheels towards us to ring in my communication lifeline. A Facetime call was placed to the medical translation organization, which supplies translators of any language of the globe to us. We provide her medical number to begin our slow and awkward introduction to one another. Our initial conversation would begin with each of us speaking to the translator on the screen and who then restrung our words across the canyon of cultural differences and language barriers to one another.

Painstakingly I learn the juggle of talking in two to three sentences at once and then waiting for the translator to build our communication bridge in her Arabic language. I explain who I am, what my purpose is today, and ask of her physical pain and understanding of her surgical precautions we must work within today.

Slowly, we thread the ebb and flow of our broken dialogue through the needle hole of our virtually present translator to build a physical therapist/patient relationship on one single goal she desires most in her heart. She wants to walk again one day.

Each day, our treatment sessions were tediously worked through with the painful process of learning to trust each other while building her physical strength.

Our relationship grew more comfortable as we learned ways to communicate with one another based on prior treatment sessions, in addition to hand gestures, body language, and our eyes. We began to trust our own mode of communication with one another to a pivotal point of no longer needing the lifeline of a translator for every session.

One day, I decided to call up the translator for assistance in a conversation with my patient about her progress and how to prepare for discharge to her home environment. I was prepared to discuss home safety, find out more about support system in the home, and arrange for equipment. What started as a conversation about her future turned into a testimony of her past:

After saving for 25 years, her husband and she happily traveled from their village to the big city of Aleppo in her native country of Syria. They settled in for a future they had worked so hard to finally begin. Aleppo was the largest and most prosperous city in the country at the time.

Then, in an instant, her life crumbled around her. As the bombs ripped through the city, her new home and all they worked for disintegrated along with the streets and buildings. All the promises the city housed for these residents turned to rubble and dust. They found themselves running for their lives.

With nothing more than the clothes on their back, they followed the surge of empty handed and desperate Syrians across the borders to refugee camps.

In a tent city on the soil of Turkey, she began to put the pieces of the latest events together. Frantically she searched out hope of contacting her four grown children. Days were spent searching for answers. What will become of us? Where will we go now? No longer in her home country, yet not a citizen of the land she has found herself in, she is left with no more energy to process the horrors she just witnessed, or the horrors she must live through in this new reality.

Days bled into months and word reached the refugees that other countries are devising a plan to offer assistance out of the nameless, hopeless deluge of tents. Finally, her husband received word that he and his wife would receive travel graces to come to America. But, because of the vast number of people receiving assistance, there was no guarantee of when her grown children’s families would receive their own lottery ticket of exodus.

Alas, they found themselves in America, but not without a heavy price. It took many weeks to discover the rest of her family’s fate. All of her children are now searching out new beginnings in other countries including Germany, Iraq, and Turkey. Like seeds in the wind, her family will learn to root on the soil they landed on and start over again.

The journey from Aleppo, the nights of sleeping in a tent in Turkey, and the journey to America did not fare well on my new patient. By the time they arrived here, her osteoporotic hips had failed her and her husband was carrying her.

Now I sit in a therapy gym with nothing to offer for her story but my hand grasping hers and my steady and compassionate gaze for her to reflect her pain into.

Humbly, I drove home from work that day with her voice echoing her heartbroken story in Arabic through my soul.

She saw that day I could not fathom the horrors she experienced, I could not even utter the words “I’m sorry” and they equal the depth of sorrow she poured on my ears. My speechless trickle of a tear down my cheek became the salty trail between my heart and hers. Our few remaining days of her two-week stay had a different air surrounding them.

We built a fond attachment to one another. When I entered her room, a happy and bright smile crossed her face, almost making it to her eyes, which housed bottomless wells of life experiences I will never truly understand. We began to communicate in our own special ticks and sign language providing a strange scene to the others in the rehab gym as they watched us work together.

On my last day with this brave woman, I knew I would likely never see her again. We embraced. We reviewed our daily ritual of Arabic and English words we had learned in our broken conversations about weather, elephants, children, and tattoos.

She was babbling away as we hugged. I pay attention to her eyes in our usual way as we somehow learned the innate talent of having conversation with nothing more than ripples of emotion pouring out of our eyes.

I saw a fondness slightly deeper pooling over in her eyes. She smiled and grabbed my hand into both of hers and pulled me emphatically towards her heart. Then as clear as I’ve ever heard her speak an English word, she said, “Goodbye. I love you.”

My eyes misted. I felt a mother hen’s pride exchange between us, two mothers who know a different galaxy of struggle, hardship, devotion, and love. My tears were a bipolar mixture of maternal attachment and learned, professional detachment fighting one another.

I smiled, prepared for this moment. I knew I had to share my sentiments with her before I had even arrived to work that morning. I had a message waiting for her too. My message was going to be how proud I was of her progress. I was going to rave of her courage and hard work to walk, even if it was clumsily and only ten feet. Instead, tears streamed from those haunting eyes as I proudly responded with my new final message to her in her native language:

‘ahbak

أحبك

I love you

Reflecting On The Past

“A person often meets his destiny on a road he took to avoid it.” ~ Jean de La Fontaine

 

 

The last few months have been a time of reflection and meditation.

I have taken inventory of where I have been and lessons learned from it.

This is what I have learned.

IMG_4950

  1. Life is messy. Handle with flexibility.

You can create a list of goals and think you have it all figured out. But in the blink of an eye, you don’t.

The first time this happened was when I found out I was going to have a baby. My plans were aligned. My applications were in place for a Masters degree. I was sure my destiny was carefully road-mapped out. But the relationship I thought had come to an end brought me the surprise of motherhood when I least expected it.

As a result, I discarded the original dream of a Duke University degree and laid out a Plan B that would encompass the love and joy of a child. Finishing college with a child on my hip was no easy feat, but the results were more beautiful than I could have imagined. I would not trade this path for any other in the universe. She became my Plan A overnight and for that I am grateful.

Now, I am wrapping up a two-year plan that entailed stepping away from a career, which served me well for ten years. I thought I would retire from that line of work. However, I found it was not serving my health and well being any longer. But, I am thriving in my new calling. Ironically, I am utilizing the degree I attained 24 years ago when that bundle of joy became my world.

What is so interesting is I thought that “moving up” in my career would have brought me greater financial security and a higher sense of fulfillment. This change of plans is bringing me more joy than I imagined. Returning to my first career choice has opened my lifestyle to greater opportunities to experience love, joy, and peace.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life ahead of us.” ~Joseph Campbell

 

  1. Let go of your search for vindication and validation

Everyone has motivators in their life. Joy. Peace. Love. Success. Money. Children. For some, it is the search for validation. But the most crippling motivator could be vindication.

It can be debilitating, this hunger for validation or vindication. A thirst for vindication can become a prison. This hungry need to prove something can drastically alter your judgment.

You know your spouse is unfaithful, but you want to assuage your guilt of leaving the marriage by proving to them what you know. You don’t want to take the blame for destroying your family’s sand castle, so you wait for the moment you have the evidence. And you keep living in it and seeking the moment of validation so you can walk away with assurance. Months. Years. Opportunity lost to break free of this shifting confusion.

You have the gut instinct this relationship is not going to be healthy for you, but you want to understand why. Why are you attracted to them? What if you are wrong? Perhaps they are just in a bad space in their own life and need a chance to turn it around. You commit to seeing it through because before you realize it you have invested, and the threads of your own sanity are now sewn into the fabric of their dysfunction.

You search for the exit out of this amusement park. Slowly, your validation is anchored on this person willingly handing you the ticket of departure from their rollercoaster ride, a permission slip to blameless freedom.

Letting go of this motivator was the biggest relief I have experienced. Suddenly I could see clearly who I am instead of what I wanted to prove.

IMG_0597It took years, but the person I was desperately seeking vindication from was finally revealed for their true colors. It only happened when I stopped caring. It only came to fruition when my own opinion of myself was built on a foundation, which did not include the stones with their name engraved upon it.

“You can’t rip the skin from the snake. It will shed its skin when it’s ready.” ~Hari Dass Baba

  1. Life is fragile. Handle with mindfulness

A lack of mindfulness is best described as living in autopilot without a realization of what is actually happening around you. Washing the dishes while creating a grocery list, driving to work and not remembering the commute, or sitting in front of the television without an awareness of what is displayed on the screen are examples of performing activities mindlessly.

Living in this manner increases anxiety and depression. Learning to live mindfully means you pay attention to only the moment you are in without allowing your mind to wander like a stray puppy to all of the other parts of your life.

Living with mindfulness means you experience the current activity with no judgment surrounding it.

I used to spend my days multi-tasking all of the expectations that were thrown my way. As a result, I struggled with anxiety, depression, and increased forgetfulness.

Now, I attend to the task at hand with all of my heart and mind and then move on to the next.

When it is time to commute to work, I drive to work without creating a reaction to the condition of the commute.

When it is time to go to sleep, I close my eyes and go to sleep without a thought of tomorrow.

At first, I thought I would never be able to get everything accomplished living this way. But, I see am more productive with less anxiety. I enjoy each moment of the day with a new realization of how fortunate I am to be where I am today.

Be where you are now.IMG_4962

“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.” ~Walt Whitman

What About Me?

Everyone has a history. Nobody comes from a life free of struggle. Can we step back and listen?

As a nation, we look at the activity occurring at this time and get a very diabolical reaction. We hear many voices express a wide bandwidth of emotion – from joy and relief to panic and overwhelming sadness. There is a very clear line drawn in the sand in today’s environment attempting to divide us into distinct parties. You are with one and therefore against the other on many social platforms including religion, marriage, education, and socioeconomic status.

How did we get here? What has happened that we are now a nation that, on one hand, screams acceptance and liberty for all but, on the other, spits contemptuous words at someone who does not live their life on the same side of the invisible social fence?

The Generation Theory

We are a nation with four distinct generations making adult decisions. We should not be surprised that we have this melting pot of expectations for the ideal life. On one end of the spectrum, the Traditionalists are making decisions in the “golden years” of their life. On the other, the Millennials are beginning to impact the business atmosphere in the twilight of their adulthood. Mixed in the middle are the very different groups of Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers. This peculiar mix of standards has led to numerous workshops and studies on how to navigate the workplace environment.

Each generation has been and continues to be molded by the experiences and observations of the prior generation, creating a turn of events that have brought us here. As illustrated in this chart, no matter which generation you come from, you have a set of ideals on social acceptance and rules of engagement.

According to the Strauss-Howe generational theory,  history repeats itself about every 90 years in four, consecutive turnings known as “saeculums.” Each “turn” is associated with the generation that paves the way for the next and builds to a continuous turn of events. The four turnings look like this (with the suggested generation identified in each description):

  • High: An era in which both the availability of social order and the demand for social order are high. (Tradionalist)
  • Awakening: The availability of social order is high, but the demand for such order is low.  (Baby Boom)
  • Unraveling: The mood of this era is in many ways the opposite of a High. Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. (GenX)
  • Crisis: An era in which America’s institutional life is torn down and rebuilt from the ground up—always in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s very survival. Civic authority revives, cultural expression finds a community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group. (Millennial)

While this theory is highly argued and has received numerous reviews ranging from praise to criticism, we can probably agree with the words of David Kaiser that this is  “a provocative and immensely entertaining outline of American history.”

What’s Happening Today?

We are seeing the destruction of social relationships occur every day. Regardless of your generation, most can attest to having recently had some emotionally charged conversation about a current event, either globally, nationally, or locally.

We have become a society that has created personal identities for ourselves based on how we view everyone surrounding us. As a result, it seems we are continuously streaming our personal views of others’ private choices for the public to judge. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blog sites are just an example. In the midst of our global scrambling for validation, we may have created an environment that resonates in the words of Timothy Keller:

If we get our very identity, our sense of worth, from our political position, then politics is not really about politics, it is about us. Through our cause we are getting a self, our worth. That means we must despise and demonize the opposition. If we get our identity from our ethnicity or socioeconomic status, then we have to feel superior to those of other classes and races. If you are profoundly proud of being an open-minded, tolerant soul, you will be extremely indignant toward people you think are bigots. If you are a very moral person, you will feel very superior to people you think are licentious…

Somehow, the art of dialogue between two disagreeing parties has been lost. This brings to mind the Heineken commercial, labeled #openyourworld that so beautifully laid out this lost art-form and what happens when we find a way to restore it. The way Heineken brought two polar sets of beliefs together on common ground to have a conversation about who they are outside of the labels resulted in respectful friendships despite their differences.

If we are to survive this turbulent time in American history, perhaps the answer is to step back and observe how we got here to begin with. If we look at past generations and all that they fought for, we will see that each brought us to this moment. This moment is of realization that we are in fact a melting pot of choices in a country established on freedom and equality for all.

What About Me?

How can we walk out of our boxes of standards and come to understand that we are all screaming the same plea?

“What about me?” is the same message we all have to say.

From the forgotten senior lying in a nursing home to the Millennial hoping to find her true identity in her college dorm room.

From the Vietnam veteran who sacrificed for a confusing war to the single teenage mom hoping to make ends meet while finishing school.

From the young attorney working to make an impact to the groundskeeper providing care in the dairy barn.

We are all asking ourselves in this time, “What about me?”

Just Listen

If the Strauss-Howe theory is what we are experiencing in our nation today, then the theory suggests we may be in a crisis. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of the model, we can probably agree this is a time of unrest.

Can we survive a crisis? Would it change our destiny if we took off our labels and stopped screaming, “What about me?” to instead listen? What if we sit down with someone who defies our own political beliefs and ask the person to share who they are  beneath the label?

Everyone has a history. Nobody comes from a life free of struggle. If we can understand the language of each generation, can we respect the journey we are individually experiencing?

Perhaps we can walk out of our comfortable corners of life and pay attention to the gift of diversity as we are surrounded by people that all long for the same things: peace and joy.

Here’s the challenge: Let’s take off the labels. Let’s stop moving into the conversation with the need to justify yourself.

Let’s listen.

We may find you like your neighbor, despite his sign in the yard.

We may discover a friend, regardless of her marital status.

We may learn compassion for the heartaches experienced daily by the person who is “different.”

“Don’t judge me on the chapter you walked in on” ~ author unknown