What Is (Noticing Respect)

It’s a chilly day in June, Sunday afternoon, drizzling, and I am going grocery shopping. My sister and I dislike shopping in the rain—something about getting ourselves and our purchases wet, I suppose. 

So, I start out slightly annoyed, but remind myself, as I swing my backpack over my shoulder, walk away from my bright yellow Kia Soul, and pop up my vibrant lime umbrella: This is what is. Or, as my stepdaughter would say: It is what it isno point in wishing for something else or resisting it. Open to it.

The first cart I extract from the queue makes a thunk, thunk, thunking sound as I roll it toward the produce section. Nuts to this! I turn around and take it back to the entrance. As I approach the line of empty carts, a man pulls up behind me and offers, “This one is quieter; take this.”  I say he’s lucky, and the next one I choose will be quieter too. It is, and we laugh.

I park my cart out of the way in the produce section and walk in all directions, list in hand, picking up the things I need and crossing them off one by one. I’ve discovered that if I touch a moist vegetable like a cucumber before I open one of the plastic bags to drop it in, my damp fingers will make it easier to open the bag. I’ve also remembered that I have hand sanitizer in my purse and could use it to moisten my fingers. Pre-COVID, I used to lick them. Yuck! Now I have more respect for germs and other people.

Near the gourmet cheese section, I notice a display of Effie’s Oatcakes, which I haven’t been able to find for months. I’m overjoyed and snatch up two packages. I want to buy more, but they’re expensive, and I don’t want to be a hoarder. Others might like them too.

As I pull out of produce and into the grocery aisles, I notice a family shopping together—a man in a motorized wheelchair, a tall blond boy, and two or three younger girls—no mother in sight. One of the girls is pushing their cart, and the others are all over the place, pointing to things and asking if they can get them. I’m trying to get raspberry jam, and a surge of impatience rises in me. 

The man in the wheelchair says, “Sorry, ma’am. I try to keep them out of others’ way. Thank goodness their older brother is here to help.” 

“No worries,” I smile, feeling my impatience ebb away. One of the little girls moves aside, and I slip the jam into my cart. I meet them again in practically every aisle. They are cheerful, patient, and polite to one another and the shoppers around them.

Halfway through my shop, I still have not found the sun-dried tomatoes I am looking for, so I stop a name-tagged employee and ask if he might know where they would be. He pauses, stares into space, and goes inside himself. Slowly he says as if the words are arising from somewhere deep within, “If you are looking for the ones in the jar, they’d be with the pasta sauce.” And then, from deeper within, “The packaged ones are on an end display near the garlic in produce.”  I am impressed. “Okay, thanks. I’ll look in both places.” Again, I park the cart out of traffic and backtrack. Sure enough, they are exactly where he said they would be, and I score the last package in the store.

When I get to the checkout, every open checker is backed up. So, I choose the shortest line and settle in for the wait, noticing an older woman in front of me. When it’s her turn to unload, I see that every single item in her cart is store-brand: cereal, milk, crackers, bread, the whole lot. I wonder why. Prices are dramatically higher these days; is she trying to economize?

When it’s my turn to check out, I have a little tussle with the bagger. He wants to put my toilet paper and paper towels in the cart first. A seasoned shopper, I know those lighter items belong on top of the full bags once they are wedged tightly into the small cart. (I insist on using the smaller one because I am an older woman and find the large ones unwieldy.) He protests that he needs space to pack, and I temporarily move the paper products to the floor. So, he acquiesces, and I achieve my desired arrangement. Near the end, he holds up a loaf of brioche that slipped out of its wrapper during the checkout. 

“Sorry,” he says, “it slipped right out of the bag. I’ll get you another one. “Oh!” I look around to see a checkout area inundated with people and humming with activity. It’s a busy time for him. “Do you want me to do it?” “No, it’s not a problem. I’ll be right back.”  I park my cart and put my wallet in my backpack while I wait. 

Behind me is a father with his gawky nine-ish-year-old daughter in the checkout line. She wants a helium balloon as a treat, and he keeps showing her one option after another. She whines, “No, not that one! No, not that one!”  Finally, he says, “You’re getting this one!” and hands it to the checker. The girl is still whining.

In a few moments, my bagger returns, triumphantly bearing a fresh loaf. I thank him and turn my heavy cart toward the exit. In front of me is a short, stocky woman pushing a bigger, equally overflowing cart. She’s shuffling slowly toward the sliding doors, and again, a surge of impatience rises in my chest.

I pause and take a breath as I wait for her to get up some steam. People of all sizes and shapes, dressed stylishly and slovenly, pushing carts piled high or carrying single bags, mill around me. Each of us has some large or small impediment, some secret or obvious affliction, blemish, or limitation. Yet, here we are, going about our lives on a rainy Sunday afternoon. This is what is, I remind myself. Open to it.

As I emerge into the rain, the nine-year-old is skipping behind her dad, happily gripping the string on her bright red balloon. It floats above her head amid the raindrops and proclaims, “Best Day Ever!”

~ ~ ~ ~

Afterthought: My perspective is unquestionably western, white, and middle-class. When I finish writing the above, I wonder what is for Ukrainians amid war. What is for Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China, undergoing forced sterilization and labor, or for black parents in American neighborhoods afraid of gang and police violence? What is for survivors of climate disasters that destroy their homes and livelihoods or for children trapped in a schoolroom with an active shooter?  

How does a person engage, cope, deal with, or enter into reality, however benign or horrific? Can it possibly be the same interior process of pausing, breathing, noticing, and opening that I experienced at the grocery store? Can we practice today for the ultimate challenge that may come to each of us one day soon? I leave you and myself with that question.

Respect In Extremis

In Extremis definition: at the point of death, at death’s door, breathing one’s last, not long for this world.

When I launched this series in January, I said I wanted to notice “simple, modest, authentic examples of respect among people I interact with daily.” Here’s what I have been noticing.

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I stand outside the closed door, leaning against the opposite wall, halfway down the corridor in a skilled nursing facility. Soft light, quiet female voices, and the occasional deep moan escape into the darkened hallway from behind the door. It is midnight; a passing nurse pauses before me and raises a questioning eyebrow. 

“I’m a hospice volunteer waiting to sit with, uh, keep vigil with Mr. X.”

 “They’re changing him, giving him his meds, and making him more comfortable.” 

I nod. “I’ll wait here ’til they’re finished.” Nurses handling one’s naked body, even at the point of death when we imagine inhibitions have dissolved, is one thing. Having one’s wasted body exposed to a perfect stranger, whether or not you are aware of her presence, is another. I assume modesty does not dissolve at the end of life and do not intrude until Mr. X is dry, clean, settled, and covered up to his chest with a light sheet and warm cotton blanket.

When I step into the room, the remaining nurse gently touches the unconscious man’s shoulder.

“Does that feel better, Sir? I will give you a little more medicine to help you breathe more easily. I’ll just put a couple of drops inside your cheek. That’s it.” She positions the dropper inside his gaping mouth and slowly rubs his throat below his jaw. “Good, now swallow if you can.” He does.  

Before leaving the room, she fills me in on what she knows about her dying patient—his former profession, family members who kept vigil earlier, and his interests. Then, she points to various objects in the room—the essential things his wife wants him to have near at the end: Classical CDs, a small CD player, a book of poetry, and photos. “I’ll be back to check on you in an hour, Sir,” she whispers close to his ear before gliding through the half-closed door. 

The room is dark, the dim light from the adjoining lavatory casting shadows around the bed. I put some Bach in the player, turn the volume low, place a straight-backed chair next to the bed, collect the book of poetry, and sit. I touch Sir’s lower arm through the sheet and introduce myself, giving my first name and saying I will be sitting with him for a few hours. His breathing does not change as I touch him or speak. He is deep in and far along on the journey to the end of his physical life. I quietly read poem after poem, pause for a few minutes of silence between them, and watch Sir breathe. Soon his breath becomes ragged and uneven; it occasionally stops for up to thirty seconds and then begins again, shallow and irregular.

Over the next few hours, the kind nurse comes and goes several times, always speaking softly and respectfully to Sir, touching him gently, and telling him in advance about every act of care she will perform. No callousness, no surprises, no assuming he is no longer entirely there. I watch her ministrations with awe, a tear coming to the corner of my eye at witnessing such tenderness.

######

My friend is slumped in her hospital bed, several floors up in a massive building on Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess campus. She is declining rapidly. The plan is to release her home to hospice care the following day. Today, she shares a room with a mystery woman behind a drawn curtain. During my less than an hour stay, nurses come and go from the room every few minutes. 

My friend is on a breathing machine called a BIPAP, a form of non-invasive ventilation therapy. She can watch its monitor, see the oxygen level in her bloodstream, turn it off when it reaches the desired level, and remove the oxygen mask from her face. But a nurse must come to turn it back on again and reposition the mask to seal it around her mouth and nose. This procedure happens four or five times while I am there. The nurse’s calm composure, concerned smile, and respectful tone astonish me.

The patient behind the curtain is worried that she has not received the proper dosage of her medication. Another nurse repeatedly and patiently explains the doctor’s orders, the times she was medicated, and when she is next due. Finally, after about 20 minutes, the patient thanks her and apologizes for being such a nuisance. The nurse responds, “Not at all; this is important. You should always question us if you feel something is amiss.”

While the BIPAP breathes for my friend, she closes her eyes and rests. She removes the mask when she can breathe on her own, and we talk about her difficult life, sadness, fear of pain, and death. She praises her husband for the care he has given her over the last several years. We say we love each other and are grateful for our friendship. We hold hands in silence. When her eyes are closed, I gaze at her—the whole picture of her crumpled body amid bunched-up sheets, her swollen hands, and her weary face. I think, someday, this will be me.

The nurse returns and gently repositions my friend’s oxygen mask, punches buttons, and the BIPAP whirrs again. Then this guardian of my friend’s humanity glides back into the hallway and on to answer the next call bell—respect in motion.

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For those who die after a long decline in health, the dissolution of respectableness can be one of the most challenging aspects of the journey. Gradually we lose many of the attributes that once earned us respect, approval, and acceptance. As the looks wither, the brain slows and dims, and control of bodily functions dissolves, power over external forces diminishes. We are no longer the sisters, mothers, professionals, neighbors, philanthropists, or activists we once were; no longer the persons others, and we ourselves, considered worthy of respect. In extremis, we will rely on pure, unearned, free respect. Will it be offered? Can we give it now, in anticipation?

Respect Amid Conflict

This is not about Russia and Ukraine. Or is it? You decide.

I find myself in the middle of a conflict. A group I joined several years ago, a haven of peacefulness and mutual support, has encountered a situation that has created disagreement, discomfort, and discord among its members. I’m not going to identify this group or describe the conflict in detail. Still, I will say that the situation developed gradually, in response to the conditions of COVID, without any malintent on the part of anyone.

As with most conflicts, some members are on either end of the spectrum of opinion, and others cluster near the middle. Possibly there are some able and willing to change their behavior to accommodate others, and some unwilling or unable to do so. Some identify their needs as vital and urgent, and others, without strong feelings, are willing to go along with a range of possible outcomes.

The group has a tradition of consensual decision-making. The decision we make will determine the survival of the group and its future incarnation. So, with the best of intentions on everyone’s part, we have entered into a careful, measured process. Our approach involves the honest but gentle expression of feelings and attitudes, listening carefully to each member’s views, trying to understand all perspectives, and seeking a consensus about moving forward. We are encouraged to speak truthfully, listen compassionately, and keep an open mind and heart—hallmarks and essential characteristics of respect.

As I’ve reflected on the conflict, my reaction to it, and the thoughts and feelings of my fellow group members, two dimensions crucial to the consensus-seeking process have stood out for me. First is the vital importance of digging deep inside my own heart to recognize my motivations. Depending on what I discover, this recognition might be comfortable or not, but I owe it to myself and the group out of respect for us all. Second, understanding others. A group member so aptly expressed this as walking in the other’s shoes.

 As I’ve listened to group members describe their experience and express their feelings, I’ve “felt their pain,” so to speak. And, understanding their discomfort, even suffering, I see them as worthy of respect. Therefore, I wish that I might do whatever is possible to ease their distress without abandoning my essential needs. A sense of flexibility and generosity has arisen from trying to see the situation from the perspective of others.

However, by relentless examination of my motivations, I’ve discovered that, while there are some compromises I am happy to make, I draw the line at one accommodation, which I cannot adopt for my well-being. Yet, there is an enormous amount of fertile space between my one need and the needs of others.

I don’t know whether we will reach a consensus or what the outcome of the decision-making process will be. I am trying to stay in it, moment by moment, without predicting or prejudging, and with as much respect for myself and the other group members as I can muster. I am trying to let go of the less important, my need to be understood, and the ridiculous notion that my viewpoint is the complete one. I’m trying to embrace the idea that neither the current situation nor its outcome is static, that everything and everyone are changing all the time.

So, I re-iterate, this short reflection on respect amid conflict is not remotely related to the situation between Ukraine and Russia. Right? The aggression, violence, and impacts are wildly disproportionate in the two circumstances. But I wonder if there is any predicament, however grave, that cannot benefit from sincere self-examination and the attempt to understand the perspective of others—respect.

Just Like Me – Respecting Difficult People

In their 2018 book Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying, Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush introduce a practice geared to generate understanding, respect, and compassion for others. It’s called Just Like Me. While it can be used with friends, acquaintances, or neutral persons, I believe it is particularly beneficial for identifying with those we think are radically different from us and for whom we find it difficult to feel sympathy.

Calling to mind a person we dislike, disagree with, hate, or hold in contempt, we are encouraged to repeat the following phrases: This person

… has a body and a mind, just like me.

… has feelings, emotions, and thoughts, just like me.

… has experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me.

… has at some time been sad, disappointed, angry, or hurt, just like me.

… has felt unworthy or inadequate, just like me.

… worries and is frightened sometimes, just like me.

… will die, just like me.

… has longed for friendship, just like me.

… is learning about life, just like me.

… wants to be caring and kind to others, just like me.

… wants to be content with what life has given them, just like me.

… wishes to be free from pain and suffering, just like me.

… wishes to be safe and healthy, just like me.

… wishes to be happy, just like me.

… wishes to be loved, just like me.

I first encountered this practice on a retreat during 2020. I cannot now recall whether the retreat came before or shortly after the US Presidential election, but when the facilitator asked us to call to mind a difficult person, Donald Trump popped into my head immediately. Donald Trump is nothing like me; I protested internally! I quickly searched for another, less challenging person, but I could not quickly come up with anyone. So, I closed my eyes, called up a mental image of President Trump, and began repeating the phrases silently after the facilitator. I encourage you to go back and read them now with Trump or any challenging person in mind.

I was astounded by how many times I could say with sincerity that Mr. Trump was “just like me!”  I must admit I had some difficulty with “has felt unworthy or inadequate,” “has longed for friendship,” “is learning about life,” “wants to be caring and kind to others,” and “wants to be content with what life has given them.” However, I could embrace enough statements for the exercise to reveal our likeness and soften my heart slightly. Perhaps removing the word “just” would make the practice even more palatable.

Next comes the even more challenging pursuit of wishing the difficult person well, using phrases including:

I wish this person to be free from pain and suffering.

I wish this person to be peaceful and happy.

I wish this person to be loved because this person is a fellow human being, just like me.

The point is to consider respecting the other, not for what they have said or done, but because I acknowledge their humanness—their actions and words may have arisen from very human desires, fears, suffering, and losses, as do mine. In this practice, respect does not equate with approval, praise, agreement, or even tolerance but, instead, involves understanding and empathy. Therefore, treating the difficult person with respect may entail giving them the benefit of the doubt and offering compassion rather than mockery, rebuke, denunciation, or bitter criticism.

“And what would such respect look like concerning Mr. Trump?” I ask myself. Perhaps it would involve refraining from posting unflattering pictures of him on Facebook or liking jokes at his expense on social media. Maybe it would rule out repeating plausible but unsubstantiated stories about his actions or words or stoking fires of anger and hatred against him. Such restraint would mean forgoing delicious opportunities for cleverness and self-righteousness. 

On the positive side, it means offering genuine good wishes for healing, clarity, and humility, hoping that his heart will open with understanding and compassion, just as I hope that mine will open. I am convinced that sending positive energy in his direction cannot do the slightest harm.

Does all of this sound pollyannaish? Then take Trump out of the equation and substitute your problematic next-door neighbor, the family member who disrupts every holiday gathering, the boss who criticizes everything you do, or the friend who breaks your confidence. Even the dog who won’t stop barking! How can a dog be just like me? Think danger, fear, boredom, confusion, pain, past trauma, and family heritage.

Religious and secular platitudes about this “just like me” concept include The Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Buddhist idea of interbeing and interdependence (no left, no right, no up, no down, no you, no me) also captures the notion. The once-popular song Walk A Mile In My Shoes suggests how we gain respect for those we find difficult or different. (I’d encourage you to listen to this cool old music video.)

The bottom line—to respect those who do not seem to deserve our respect, we must see what we have in common with them. Yes, we are different, but what essential qualities unite us? And how can we act respectfully while disagreeing, resisting, and taking a stand against our opponents?

Building Trust with Respect

One of the people I have come to respect deeply over the last two years is Dr. Nirav Shah, head of Maine’s CDC (Centers for Disease Control.)

Almost weekly, since March 2020, he has held a press briefing on Maine Public Radio, taking questions off the cuff from media journalists in Maine in an attempt to keep the public informed about COVID. Frequently, Maine’s governor, Janet Mills, and its Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Jane Lambrew, have joined Dr. Shah on these broadcasts. Together they have answered questions, explained CDC guidelines and recommendations, and encouraged Maine’s citizens to do everything possible to stay safe during the COVID pandemic.

I have been impressed time and again by Dr. Shah’s communication skills and his command of COVID scientific findings and statistics. In my mind, he is the consummate communicator. He speaks lucidly, intelligently, respectfully, and empathetically. I have only once or twice heard him ruffled by not having information at his fingertips. Throughout the last nearly two years, he has never criticized or showed anger or frustration with those who refuse to follow mandates and guidelines, deny the seriousness of the pandemic, or continue to resist vaccination. He has the proverbial “patience of Job.”

On January 3, he demonstrated his genuine care, concern, and respect for the people of Maine by participating in a Maine Public Radio Broadcast—Maine Calling, hosted by Jennifer Rooks. (Maine CDC director Nirav Shah addresses questions about the pandemic, particularly about vaccine hesitancy) His purpose for this call-in program was to open a dialogue with those not vaccinated against COVID; his stated goal was to build trust. When I began listening to the broadcast, I was nervous that none of those opposed to vaccinations would call in, the ultimate slap in the face to trust-building. However, callers, emailers, and tweeters engaged with Dr. Shah for nearly an hour. Because he entered into an authentic dialogue with each one, asking genuinely curious questions about their views, assumptions, and situations, relatively few callers got on the air. Some were angry, afraid, and belligerent; others were open and curious.

While he acknowledged and lamented that vaccinations had become politicized, he avoided political debate or criticizing others who engage in such discussion. Instead, he stayed with the “facts”—the statistics, the scientific models, and studies. One could hear the sincere emotion in his voice as he spoke about Mainers who had died of COVID. He listened, expressed understanding, acknowledged agreement where he could. Though he didn’t say these words, I could imagine him thinking, “I can’t do anything to change the politics, nor can I force anyone to follow CDC guidance. All I can do is build trust and try to persuade.”

As the pandemic has unfolded, scientific information and best-practice recommendations have changed and developed repeatedly. As a result, early guidance was superseded by the findings of further studies. Dr. Shah acknowledged that the evolving nature of the scientific understanding of COVID has led to confusion and fed into mistrust of public officials and their recommendations. This broadcast, he said, was one attempt to rebuild trust. It was worth the try.

Such a genuine, careful, skilled effort at trust-building could only come from one who respects his fellow Mainers. Dr. Shah demonstrates that he believes each of us wants to do the right thing. Therefore, he is willing to invest the time to understand the convictions of others and is hopeful that offering his best knowledge and sincere concern will make a difference.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast at the link above. Some have heard me say that I wish Nirav Shah would run for President of the United States. I am saying that I want all politicians and public servants to demonstrate the respect that he does for the people they serve.

Noticing Respect: Intro to a new series of posts

In 2022, I want to offer twelve vignettes, one for each month, that illustrate dimensions of respect. These profiles will emerge from persons, encounters, activities, or events that I have noticed during the month. I intend to attend to respect in as broad a swath of experience as possible, so I’m asking myself to see it from new and varied angles.

Professor Harry Lewis of Harvard University, a man whom I respect and from whom I, in turn, have experienced kindness and respect, suggested the title for my blog, With All Due Respect, five years ago. Shortly after I launched, Harry and I had a brief conversation about what the word “due” means concerning respect, whether everyone is due or deserves respect. The noun “due” is defined as a person’s right, something owed. To deserve something is to earn or merit it.

In an early post, Harry and I exchanged comments about respect as a response to human dignity. Since then, those who believe dignity is inherent in all humans have been sorely challenged by events at home in America and abroad. Wars and withdrawal from wars, unprecedented political polarization, hatemongering, challenges to the rule of law, repeated assaults on democracy, and incidents of police brutality have strained our impulses toward respect. A pandemic that heightens our awareness of inequality and unfairness and pits the individual’s rights against the common good has sapped our good intentions about respectfulness. Undeniable and devastating examples of climate change coupled with intransigent denial of climate science’s findings make us impatient with the deniers. A plethora of incredible conspiracy theories has stymied our intent to treat those who espouse them with regard. As a result, it has become harder and harder to offer respect to those whose attitudes and behaviors differ so dramatically and consequentially from our own—to see these others as due or deserving of respectful courtesy.

 Is there such a thing as unconditional respect? Is it possible to respect someone doing demonstrable harm to people, creatures, and the earth you love? And is treating someone respectfully fundamentally different from respecting him, her, or it?

Because I don’t have answers for these questions, I am thrown back to noticing simple, modest, authentic examples of respect among people I interact with daily. This series of posts will explore instances and characteristics of respect that I see around me. I invite you to offer reflections on occasions of respect you are observing in your surroundings. I hope that by doing so, we will water the seeds of respect in our hearts, our thoughts, and our actions.

Final Burst! 2021 Wrap-up

Near the beginning of 2021, I began a series of articles under the theme of “Brief Bursts.” My goal was to be less wordy—to say things as briefly and directly as possible—and therefore post more frequently. Unfortunately, as you can see from the shortlist of articles under this sub-heading AND the length of several, I did not accomplish either goal.

In the previous twelve months, many of my posts have appeared under comments to the first article, “Deep Listening.” There, I’ve engaged in an enlightening conversation with my conservative friend Ryan about a wide range of topics, including politics, leadership, and, recently, attitudes toward vaccinations and COVID.  I encourage you to read these comments if your interest is piqued by an exchange between a bleeding-heart Democrat (me) and a conservative Republican (Ryan.) It is not a coincidence that this conversation appears in a blog about respect.

Where With All Due Respect is headed in 2022 is still a mystery. I’m currently preoccupied with writing my first novel and find myself wanting to dedicate most of my creative and wordsmithing time and energy to that. Approaching the sixth anniversary of my retirement, I see the rhythms of my daily life coalescing more and more around the act of writing—my way of being in the world, my orientation toward life.  Whenever I put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard—journaling in the early morning hours, email during the day, scant hours writing fiction, essays, and the occasional poem, or short phrases jotted in my “brain-dump” notebook just before sleep—choosing the precise word is a passion bordering on obsession.

Yesterday, the best-selling writer Joan Didion died at the age of eighty-seven. An NPR report (Joan Didion has died at 87: NPR) declared that

Didion spoke about the act of writing more astutely than pretty much anybody else. “I write entirely to find out what is on my mind, what I’m thinking,” she said.

“The writing itself was a path to understanding and clarification. Her definition of a writer was ‘a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper.’ She said that in a 1976 speech at her alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley.”

For me, those passionate hours are spent arranging and re-arranging words on a computer screen. And a total of ­­­­ 39 journals over 50 years betrays my compulsion for writing as inner exploration.

Thank you to those who read With All Due Respect and offer your comments and encouragement.  Thank you to fellow bloggers who inspire me, including three with different styles and perspectives: Carolyn, Rick, and Joan. I’m grateful to my two writers’ groups: the spiritual writers (Al, Ann, Carol, Hugh, Nancy, Paige, Rick, and Sarah) and the group from my retirement community (Deanna, Fayal, Marcia, Mark, Nan, Phyllis, and Terry).  They have patiently read and critiqued my monthly submissions for over three years, and I’ve become a better writer with their kind guidance. Finally, though it may seem odd, I want to put in a plug for Grammarly, the editing app that I use daily for everything from email to chapters in my book. It’s improved my grammar tremendously and saved me from some dreadful faux pas.

Writing is what I most love to do. Paradoxically, the tragic circumstances of the pandemic have provided more opportunity to do it than my busy nature would have eked out on its own. So, whatever becomes of With All Due Respect in 2021, I will enjoy every minute of it.

Year-End, My One Word – Rest

As the year winds down for those doing One Word practice, many of us have turned our attention to discovering or choosing a new word for 2021.  Because Carolyn, whose blog has guided my practice this year, has been hosting a lively and inspiring conversation about selecting new words, it’s been tempting to let rest fade away quietly in December.  But I am a dutiful sort, and I know I owe rest a debt of gratitude and a summation of its impact on my life this past year.

It’s taken me nearly six years of retirement to settle into a slower, more mindful, less frantic pace of life.  Old habits die hard—the tendency to say yes and get involved before really thinking, in particular. But 2021 has offered me more open space and more free time, and the word rest has lent focus for settling into a new mode of living. 

These days, in both winter and summer, I routinely wake up at around four a.m. and, unable to go back to sleep, get up and begin my day while it is still dark and silent.  I’ve watched and photographed many glorious dawns, sat completely still in my cozy den with my dog beside me and a cat on my lap, just breathing and listening to the silence. So, each day begins gently and quietly. 

There is always at least one long, slow-paced walk early in the day, amid the beauty of green summer foliage or among stark bare winter branches.  I delight in the dog’s excited sniffing, in watching the trees sway, or searching for wildflowers. I try to get outside my head on these walks and observe what is happening around me. Just watch and listen.

After that, work—connecting, communicating, planning, writing, gardening, cleaning, errands, appointments.  Following the teaching of the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, I try to do each task mindfully. Of course, it’s going to take many more years of practice to be as aware and attentive as I aspire to be, but I’ve noticed tiny incremental improvements over the last six years, and that gives me hope.

For instance, I now sit down to eat meals most days, departing from my previous practice of grabbing bites between tasks or standing at the kitchen counter and spooning food into my mouth, often coughing after swallowing each mouthful. In summer, I may eat breakfast and lunch in the garden; a pair of clippers and a watering can close at hand so that I can roam from bush to flower, watering, and pruning as needed. When I first sit down at dinner time,  I pause and become fully present in the room, at the table, to the person(s) across from me and the food before me.  I give thanks and smell the delicious odors.  I try to put my fork down after each bite and concentrate on chewing and swallowing.  I still eat more quickly than anyone else at the table, but slightly more slowly than I used to do.

Swimming has gotten slower, and I spend more time luxuriating in the hot tub and the sauna after my swim.  I often take short naps, sometimes only 20 minutes, but they are deliciously relaxing and bring balance. Though I’ve not read nearly as many books as I would like, I’ve read more than in past years. 

These settling changes have come about gradually and naturally, but my mental and spiritual exploration of the word rest has influenced and provided new motivation for them. Using resources provided by Carolyn, monthly check-ins have enabled me to probe the meaning of rest for myself and the world around me.  Definitions, synonyms, word associations, visual images, sounds, and watching others have opened new doorways to understanding.  

For instance, I spent significant time contemplating balance, juxtaposing effort and rest using this image.  I would not know what rest is without exerting effort, and vice versa.

The Roots and Fruits image of a tree with many branches helped me hold all my discoveries about rest together, organically and systemically.

The Foundation and Building Blocks diagram teased out basic concepts intrinsic to my experience of rest.

Living with rest for the last year, reflecting on its meaning, has been not so much an attempt to change as an experience of noticing—observing the gradual transformation happening within me. With intention and practice, with patience, acceptance of failure, and beginning again, I’ve come to a more restful way of being.  Watching the process brings joy. Discerning progress, however small, gives hope.

I still have a long way to go.  My habits are tenacious.  But I am not leaving rest behind.  Indeed, I’ve chosen next year’s word(s) to take me further along the path to accepting, letting go, and resting.

Links to my previous posts on rest in 2021.

One Word – With All Due Respect

REST – My One Word – Mid-Year Check-In – With All Due Respect

Privilege

As I turn from sneaking a peek through the windows of the modest cottage under renovation, I notice a slight, older woman standing on the front balcony of the McMansion next door.  She calls out to me, and I approach to exchange what I hope will be just a few polite words.

“You’ve been looking at my niece’s cottage,” she says. “What do you think of the renovations?”

I feel a tinge of anxiety that my curiosity may be considered prying or even trespassing. “The place is exquisite!” I exclaim.  The small building, nestled among others of similar size and rectangularity in this seaside condo community, has been transformed since my last visit.  The new owner has covered the exterior with natural cedar shingles, and flower boxes with fresh fall plants hang beneath the windows on either side of the front door. Inside, though curtains restrict my view, I see walls covered with light pine paneling, a kitchen completely modernized, and a new, polished wood floor.  Artisan carpenters have been there most of the day, working on the finishing touches.

The woman says her niece plans to use it for family and friends, but not rent to strangers, to ward off, I suspect, any interest I might have in leasing it. I tell her that I am staying in the tiny cottage nearest the bluff, and she relaxes a little and indicates that she knows the owners. We agree that this seaside cluster of homes is a quiet, perfect getaway spot.  I exude enthusiasm.

She seems frail and a bit shaky, so I am surprised when she asks if I would like to see the inside of her home. It is enormous like the newer units on the property—a three-storied, light-grey clapboard mansion with balconies facing the ocean on the first and second floors.  Still, when I hesitantly accept her invitation, I am not prepared for what awaits inside the front door.  I have not brought a mask, and I wonder if she has a COVID vaccination, but I follow her inside.

The place looks like the prize home in an HGTV contest.  The interior design is perfection indeed. She has impeccable taste—not an object is out of place, lush furnishings and fine art abound, kitchen counters are clear of clutter between top-line appliances. We tour the living room and bedrooms. The beds are piled high with expensive duvets and designer cushions. Except for a book, open on the living room coffee table, it looks like no one lives there—like they’ve staged it for an open house. 

I rave about her taste, the beauty of the furnishings, the view from the abundant windows.  She leads me upstairs to the second and third floors, moving one step at a time, her slowness due, she says, to a recent back injury. As we amble through the house, I ooh and ah at every turn.  She tells me that she and her husband built it a few years ago as a retirement home for her daughter and son-in-law.  Then, suddenly, her daughter died of a massive stroke in her late fifties.  At that very instant, I turn and notice a carved plaque above the slider windows to the second-floor balcony. “Jenny’s Happy Place,” it reads. “Your daughter was Jenny?” I ask quietly.

“Yes.” Almost apologetically, she tells me that her son-in-law still comes to stay with them on weekends sometimes.  I express my condolences and acknowledge that losing a daughter is very hard.  She nods.

We chat for a bit longer, and I start looking for a way to ease myself out of the house politely.  We find a transition topic in our appreciation of the view and the quiet seclusion of the location.  They come to stay just about every weekend throughout the year.  She talks about the other homeowners warmly as I head down the front steps and say goodbye.  The woman has told me her name, but I have already forgotten it.

I stroll back to my weathered and worn one-room cottage on the brink of the eroding cliff at the beachside, keenly aware of the dramatic difference between the two abodes. Although a part of me would like to live the princess life inside the castle I have just toured, another part of me feels relief as I open the paint-chipped front door to my tiny rental.  Most of me aches, though, for the slight, shaken, affluent woman who has lost her daughter and the future she had planned for her family.    

When I awake at 12:55 a.m. the following day, waves are crashing on the beach at high tide. I step outside on my little porch.  The air is warm for October, and the sky is clear. Unnumbered stars glow brightly in the blackness directly above and weakly through the light-polluted haze closer to the horizon.  I haven’t seen stars in a very long time, and I marvel that I can still identify the Little Dipper. Except for the breaking waves, a hush surrounds me.  I turn to look at the neighborhood’s dark buildings.  A dim light shines through a first-floor window of Jenny’s Happy Place.

Altered names and details protect the subject’s privacy.

Wake up!

In general, I have steered away from political topics in this blog, believing that there are plenty of better-informed commentators, a plethora of varied opinions out there, and adding my voice would bring little gain. But I woke up this morning needing to make a gesture of solidarity with the women and girls of Afghanistan. I am painfully aware that this is nothing more than a gesture.

Today, my first contact with the media informed me that Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, had fallen to the Taliban over the weekend and that the elected president had fled the country. I heard this at about 8:50 a.m. while working out in my retirement community’s fitness room, wearing yoga tights and a short-sleeved tee-shirt, earbuds connected by Bluetooth to my iPhone. The BBC interviewed an Afghan women’s education activist about the Taliban’s takeover, asking her if she feared for her life.  From hiding, her response was not alarmist. On the contrary, she was trying to keep an open mind but spoke about her worry for women university students and those working outside the home. The dramatic contrast in our circumstances could not have been more apparent.

The situation in Afghanistan is complicated and hard to understand.  The history of the country and the Taliban’s role there is murky and confusing.  I’ve gained superficial knowledge from news reports on NPR and Khaled Hosseini’s novels Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Both sources demonstrate the Taliban’s inhumane actions toward women and children—at least from my perspective. Likewise, the United States’ relationship to Afghanistan, its military and political activities in the country, its withdrawal of forces, and the effects of its influence are widely debated. I know two American veterans who have served there. One lives with PTSD, and the other has severe physical injuries. I wonder what they were thinking this morning about the Afghans they have known and the suffering they have seen.

I can do nothing practical to affect the situation in Afghanistan. Yet, my heart is filled with sadness and fear today for the approximately 14 million females living there, half the country’s population. Like women and children worldwide, they are disproportionately harmed by war, persecution, and violence. Taliban rule will profoundly and adversely affect their lives.

I am immensely grateful for the privileges I currently experience and conscious of how fragile these advantages, protections, and freedoms are everywhere. My respect and compassion for Afghan women—what they have suffered, fought for, and again lost—makes me want to scream, “Wake up!”

No nation, no ethnic group, no gender is exempt from the possibility of war, enslavement, physical and mental abuse, environmental disaster, or disease. The last seventeen months of global pandemic and accelerating natural disasters worldwide have made this dramatically clear.  When my sister in Afghanistan suffers, I suffer.  My fate is linked to hers, inextricably.

Wake up!  Violence, discrimination, prejudice, and hatred are universal. See them for what they are and where they are in your life, in your presently sheltered and relatively safe little corner of the world. Relinquish complacency and self-delusion. Wake up, pay attention, be alert!