A cow connection.

Each fall brought a two week vacation from school, just two weeks into the school year, to accommodate farming families and Maine’s “potato pickin’” season.

The teachers hated it. The kids without hard-labor duties loved it. I especially loved it because it meant Dad and I would travel to another farming community: his childhood home in South Dakota.

I would spend the majority of my days on the family farm singing to Uncle Monte’s sheep the years he had them, feeding them fistfuls of grass and petting any who came close enough. I chased the geese and the old Tom turkey through the brush and trees until I cornered the geese and they turned on me, hissing, wings threateningly raised. When I could locate it, I ate plums off a small tree hidden along the perimeter of a wooded stretch. I never found an arrowhead, probably because Uncle Tim had scoured the property for years, but I always kept my eyes glued to the ground, searching. I helped Grammie collect the eggs and had free reign of her garden, collecting all the cucumbers my tee shirt could hold and munching on as many as I pleased.

The cats, who were never allowed inside and most of which were feral, were fed greasy scraps in a dented, dingy pan. I always had an annual favorite I attempted to tame.

Photo taken by a very young Sara, likely age 7 or 8.

The cool mornings I was up early enough, I padded along after my rail-thin Grampie with his characteristically bagging jeans and helped spread the grain in the troughs for the cows. Then we’d return, wash up in the big sink by the front door, enjoy Grammie’s big breakfast and linger over family devotions.

I loved the soft-nosed calves the best. I was only partially conflicted as I watched and tried to help when it was time to separate them from their lowing mothers, fascinated by the gruesome process of castrating the males. I sat high atop the metal gates when there was no corralling to do, watching my uncles, Dad & Gramp deftly maneuver the bucking calves. Their heads would be quickly locked into place, back legs pinned manually, and one of the men would deftly work the clippers. The cats mewed and waited safely out of the reach of stomping hooves to be tossed the swiftly removed testicles from each stunned victim.

For the sensitive, animal-loving child I was, I took such events as necessities of farm life. In retrospect, the cattle on the family farm had it good by today’s standards. They weren’t overly cramped, had plenty of space to roam, and were rotated among different fenced areas. They had so much open pasture, it sometimes took dusty pickup rides across the property to find expectant mothers who sought privacy to deliver. The young were kept by their sides for as long as was practicable.

Northern Maine schools eventually did away with the two week break, moving our annual trip. I had to share the magical trips to the farm with my stepbrother. This brought new adventures, however. We tinkered with an ancient dirt bike and got to take turns puttering around on it. I had someone with whom to jump from sweet-smelling haystack to haystack as the setting sun filled the sky with vibrant colors. Grammie, having never learned how to swim until much later, fretted a little less when she took us to the town pool. There was never a bad day, and leaving was always bittersweet.

The house Mom and I shared in Maine was tucked into some trees a short walk from Main Street, and bordered the field owned by town icon Irene Bradford. She still owned cows when I was in elementary school, though they weren’t usually on the side of the field by us. One leisurely summer day, I was home alone watching cartoons when I looked out the living room window only to see cows pouring into our yard. I quickly called my Mom at work, grabbed a broom from the coat closet to extend my reach, and ran out to see what could be done.

I was ten or eleven at the time, but knew the little stretch of woods by our yard and stretching back along Bradford’s field. I used all my best South Dakota farm tactics, mimicking Uncle Mark’s “Hey!” and the “sssshhhhHHT!” the cows seem to hate, raising my arms and charging most menacingly when when they moved a direction I didn’t want. I kept steering the small, confused herd in the general direction of the field and away from the broader expanse of woods until somehow, I found us in the broad expanse of tall grasses and out of the trees. We never encountered a rear fence, but the drama was resolved by the time my worried Mom found me making my way back home.

Irene insisted on giving me $20 for my help, which I found impossibly embarrassing. I took the money to the clothing store with its side custom tee shirt business in town, and picked out a screen with two kittens and the word “PRECIOUS” scripted across the top. I had just enough to buy the letters “IRENE” for the back (possibly because it was my Aunt Amber’s shop.) Irene then bought me a matching tee with “SARA” pressed on the back.

I was a shy kid, which only marginally improved by middle and high school. Our church went caroling around town each Christmas season, and Irene’s was a favorite stop near the end of our trip. Her cast iron stove was always cranking out enough heat to thaw our fingers and melt the snow on our jackets and hats, and there was cocoa and Irene’s indomitable presence. A couple of the years, she relayed the story of the great cow rescue and our tee shirt exchange to the array of my peers, adults and children. Mortified, I tried to disappear behind my cocoa, but was pleased the great woman remained proud of my adventure with her cows.

There haven’t been cows in Bradford field for many years, but gratefully her house has been designated as historic and converted into a bed and breakfast. It would be too painful to see it withering or worse, gone, like so many favorite buildings from home.

Many have warm stories of Irene, of her unconventional life; some with spooky haunting stories of her home. She had a way of touching people in unforgettable ways. Whenever I visit my hometown and see that glorious house with its big red bard or the stretch of her overgrown field, I think of how my two worlds connected on an otherwise ordinary summer day and how special that magnanimous woman made this shy, out-of-place girl feel.

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Walking on flowers

I walked over so many flowers today. Not on purpose or anything. I didn’t even realize it until my walk was almost over.

I’d been too busy seeing everything else, pausing to take in the feel of a charmed empty lot with three of the big flowering trees delicately dropping petals.

Two weeks ago I walked almost the same route. The little tree that had been catnip to a love-crazed butterfly has since been pruned, and no flitting yellow friends were visiting it today.

I love the corner fruit stand. It seems to be expanding. Today there was a simple display outside offering bright mangoes, pineapples, watermelons, and – an oddity – two large squashes that resembled fairytale pumpkins.  Once I bought some fresh cut fruit from the old couple inside, and they sprinkled on Pico De Gallo. My mouth watered at the thought, but I pressed on today.

Last time I went to this farmers market, I was excited to discover a free Zumba class a couple blocks away in a weathered church facility. I noted a time I might be able to make: 9:30 on Saturdays, and made a mental note to try it sometime. Today there was a posted note, and in my lacking Spanish ability it seems there won’t be any Zumba until after July 16. Good thing I forgot this morning.

My tummy rumbled, and I noted my late breakfast options. Vegan delights, savory bacon-wrapped hot dogs (I quickened my pace), crepes… A few people were gathered around a cheese vendor. I turned off my iPod and asked for an option that would go with a salad I’ll make later.

Oh, cheese. Lovely, lovely cheese. I asked the couple if I could stay with them and taste their samples all day. I finally selected a creamy, crumble-able goat variety. All the way from France, and it was $5.30.

I knew there were leafy greens for sale in the back corner, so headed there and asked for a “huge salad” amount. She carefully selected more than I expected and charged me three dollars. I decided to add some lemon basil ($2 more) and she threw in a few slender greens, saying they were garlic chives and I should chop them in, too. I kind of want to adopt her as a San Diego great aunt.

I decided against food an instead opted for a large glass of fresh squeezed juice. Orange, lemon, strawberry, with decorative cut strawberries in the bottom. It was more than I hoped, $5, but I had adored the little girl selling it on my last trip and I always feel bad for the booths that receive less attention. “That’s my daughter. She’ll be here with me next week.”

I went to visit my other favorite little girl at the market. Brown eyes, long tangly black hair. She always finds me a couple of her Papa’s green eggs if I ask. Two dozen today. I’m going camping next weekend and in charge of group breakfast Saturday morning. “Papa” gave me a dollar discount.

The sun peeked out as I slowly wandered away from the market. A few streets over, I followed a woman walking her pet pig. Penelope’s large nose was even more curious than that of her little dog friend walking beside her. I think she was smelling the flowers on the sidewalk.

I stopped watching smiling Penelope and noticed a rooftop produce garden. I was almost as fascinated by the old building and its peeling siding as the charming garden atop it. It could belong in Maine, except that where I’m from people have enough land for gardens and flat roofs don’t work in the winter. Imagine shoveling your roof after every big storm.

But that’s a silly thought for San Diego.

I wandered back past the butterfly tree, and noticed I’m taller than it now. I suppose it needed the pruning. Thank goodness it’s not because I’ve grown.

I stopped for a moment to read the scrolling prose, three or four stories up near the roof of an apartment building. I can only read a few words at a time, and I always want to rush it and feel a little desperate that I’ll miss some earth-shattering gem of wisdom.

Someday I’ll take a chair, no matter how conspicuous, and sit and read the free-flowing musings to my heart’s content. Today’s was about the invisible poor, the respect shown by extending trust and responsibility, and the joy of deadlines.

I kept walking, final block, and finally really noticed how many lovely little flower petals were decorating the ground. They didn’t seem to mind that some of them were being trampled. They seemed happy to have lived, treetop, smiling at the sun, then drifting lightly to their resting place, having fulfilled their brief purpose.

A shirtless, diapered little girl stood on the back of her bone-straight, silver-haired grandmother’s parked truck. I smiled and was warmly received. I stopped short after having walked by the two, daring interrupt their little world.

“May I let her smell this lemon basil?” (Gosh, I’m so crazy right now. Sara, you don’t give food to strangers’ kids!)

She smiled affirmatively, so I held out the little leaf and said, “Sniff it!” The grubby little girl, all smiles and trust and play made a sniffing noise. “Want to hold it?” She took it and sniffed and giggled.

“You can eat it,” came the voice behind me. The little girl looked confused, so I broke off a tiny piece and ate it, and gave it back. She nibbled a piece and grinned her impossibly cute grin. The lady and I thanked each other.

I had to leave while I was ahead and before I could do anything else unpredictable and potentially embarrassing, like show them the little flowers all over the sidewalk for the sheer joy of watching the baby walk on them with her pudgy little naked feet.

Maybe they’re still out there…

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Perfect World Legislating

It seems the bulk of the Republican Party elected officials, and those who vote for them, aim to legislate for a perfect world. Or, rather, some vision of a 1950’s white picket fence perfect world, where there was no unwedded sex (without aspirin-between-knees), unintended pregnancies involved mysteriously shipping young ladies off for months at a time and a clouded future for the girls (though not their mates), where women went to college to learn to be better housewives, “happy” “faithful” marriages lasted forever and (white) children played harmoniously in safe small towns with penny candy and soda counters.

People with such rosy glasses think there needn’t be “special” opportunities made for people who aren’t born fortunate enough, or who didn’t choose to properly fit into this version of America. Who didn’t do well enough in school or have an entrepreneurial streak a great, marketable idea, and seed money. Who didn’t find, woo, and marry their lifelong (straight) partner straight out of high school or college. Who weren’t born rich, silver spoon filled with hand-pressed organics, attachment/or detachment/or whatever’s en vogue parenting-raised. Head down, hard work isn’t the solution in a vacuum.

Let’s not forget that, even in black-and-white Hollywood, pristine America didn’t exist. Greedy monopoly interests would’ve created Pottersville if not for George Bailey and his angel, and they hadn’t even figured out how to properly lobby for special exemptions yet. Pre-WWII, copyright 1940, The Unknown Citizen was plodding through the course of his life. It wasn’t exactly utopia.

There has never been a perfect America, and to punish those who don’t fit within the four corners of a bygone Instamatic picture doesn’t advance our country forward. Neither can legislating such narrow idealism cram us, ill-fitted, into the past. Besides, why should we want to go back to Bible-based justifications for racism?

There is no culture war, no class war – only a struggle to adapt to a changing world and attempts to makes sense of diverse identity, to carve out the parts that are “us” and learn how to properly relate to “them.”  To move past the fear of differences and change. America is still a great idea, with some great thinkers and capacity for deep compassion and hard work.

“One Nation Under God” would be fine by me (though not everyone), but the broader assumptions have come to hint at a Christian version of Sharia law and blessings exhibited by success based upon capitalism. If the poor are poor, it’s their fault for not following God. If the sick are dying, they’ve probably done something to deserve it.

Modern American Christians take liberties with Biblical applications and misrepresent God’s loving intention toward people. Jesus died to wipe away legalism and striving for perfection. Jesus did not teach that Christians should overthrow earthly governments and impose Jesus’ commandments on unbelievers (to love the Lord your God…. and your neighbor as yourself… the greatest of these is Love.)

If “One Nation Under God” was defined by God’s terms – including exhibiting acknowledgment and appreciation of God’s self in every type of human, I think we’d be a more harmonious, successful America.

Soberingly, news outlets and scholars are pondering data indicating the U.S. isn’t Number One. It’s a kick-in-the-gut wakeup call, or it should be. What do we do about it?

It’s okay to be angry that the Constitution and Schoolhouse Rock and All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and the Golden Rule “sold” us a false bill of goods. Unbridled, lobbyist-aided capitalism and Potter-esque greed are to blame – not the ideals that give us a sense of fairness in the first place. We need a strong right and left and lots of vocal in-betweens to respectfully hash it out, sing in harmony, then lead.

Divided we fall. There’s enough remaining to fight for – less in a warring sense and more the internal, soulish battlefields – to find our common ground. To see the humanity and love and values of others around us. To see beauty in the various ways we find family and lasting friendship now.

We can’t waste time attempting to legislate an ideal that’s never existed, and there are plenty of logs to work on instead of bullying the rest of America into a version of Christianity uncomfortably similar to Sharia law. Let’s forge a reality-based, compassionate land of opportunity in America regardless of faith or lack thereof. Compassion is not limited to those who put on the mantle of Christianity – thank God – and patriotism means more than red-white-and-blue, men-died-for-freedom rallying cries.

As a Christian, it’s more than “tolerance” in name only. It’s a celebration of every person who comes into my life. What I learn from them. How I see God in them. How I watch courage and loyalty and compassion and integrity play out in the choices of regular people, and beautiful personalities emerge even if they haven’t professed faith in God and aren’t on my brand-of-Christianity team. (Do I have to pick just one team?!)

There is no perfect Christ figure running for office, so I must remain involved and hold elected officials accountable.

I will vote for those who advance freedom, equality, and opportunity for all, who see the imperfect world for what it is, and plan to create realistic solutions. They promote policies to help the poor and sick without asking whether those recipients of compassionate aid are deserving enough to be fed and healed.

I think it’s what Jesus would do.

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A higher calling.

Are you waiting on pins and needles to hear about the ruling on healthcare reform – “Obamacare?”

Are you ready to stick it to Obama, relish some justification for your vitriol and hatred of your President?

What exactly are you celebrating?

What ill motive could you ascribe to this man for risking his neck, his political career, for Americans in need?

Are you so blinded by hate that you cannot – or you refuse to – see the political gamesmanship that has twisted these reforms into something sold as “bad” or taking from “hardworking people” to give to slackers?

HCR was an imperfect solution, even before it was hijacked by Congress shenanigans. But its intent made sense: we all die sometime, people have healthcare emergencies, some families are bankrupted by such emergencies. The public bears an unfair burden. All people should have health insurance.

Elected leaders have decided to make Obama fail at any cost, and then hang that failure around his neck. This is nothing to celebrate.

For my Christian friends: what is going on in your hearts and souls that makes you think it’s blessed of God to flout authority? Tirades feel good, standing on a pulpit and spewing anger because the world is imperfect and people are wrong sometimes is gratifying, I’m sure. But what of the Biblical mandates to respect governing authorities? Shame on you for thinking Brietbart-esque expressions of abject disregard for the office of President are godly or acceptable.

Even at times of great sadness and anger under the leadership of President Bush, I wouldn’t have ventured to say some of the things I’ve heard and read from supposed followers of Christ.

What are you modeling for your children, who you expect to respect you?

It’s not just the flagrant disrespect, bitterness, and anger they hear you voicing. It’s not just the rushing to further divide our country and build an us/them mentality. It’s fear.

The higher calling is love, and perfect love drives out fear.

How much time are you spending teaching love and compassion (by modeling), *especially* if you believe the “other side”  is wrong? How hard has your heart become to your fellow Americans?

It’s not just an America for Christians. Be wise and aware of contradictory, heavily politicized messages, but soften your hearts.

I’m working on this daily, and I challenge you to do the same. Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s Supreme Court ruling.

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Conservative silencing.

Surrounded by progressives, my strong female voice and feminine perspective is welcome. With conservatives (even when I was one), I feel constricted & silenced. Why?

It’s about conformity. Progressives tend to expect differing opinions and perspectives, and work for comprehensive policies to include a diverse society. Some dissonance is respected. It’s not a blanket acceptance – especially if opinions vary from staunch liberal political ideology, but dialogue – even heated dialogue – is welcome. It brings refinement.

In conservative environments, conformity is necessary. Tightness grips my chest for fear I’ll say something ‘wrong’ and be severely criticized – not based upon my ability to articulate my opinions or nuanced arguments, but because ‘wrong’ to conservatives is morally wrong in their opinions and subculture. Dissenting means I’m not Christian enough, or American enough, even if I am capable of giving every reason why faith instructs my views and the same soldiers died for MY freedoms as theirs.

It’s disrespectful to silence anyone, and it’s fundamentally Un-American. The Bible says to “question every spirit,” and my parents told me to listen to my heart and research the Bible if I felt even a respected preacher’s sermon was biblically off-base.

The more knee-jerk, abrasive, judgmental, uncomfortable pushback I receive – from *anyone* – conservative or liberal, the more I’m inwardly reaffirmed that questioning, dialogue, exploring grey-area arguments is absolutely necessary. It’s painful, I recognize their motives are rooted in fear or past hurt of their own, but after a lifetime of being falsely judged I’m more willing than ever to wade into the churning waters of discomfort. I’ll continually strive to be respectful, but I won’t be silenced by attempts of others to control my inward self or outward expression.

I only hope that by setting an example, it paves the way for others who aren’t as willing to outwardly express what they inwardly feel.

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A voice cherishing nature.

I know a man who many think of as crotchety, unreasonable, rather strange and generally grumpy. He bemoans what he feels is a “dead” culture, lacking in ‘sentient beings;’ a bloated culture that is growing unsustainably, much like the Roman Empire just before its collapse. He sees in our broader culture people who have lost their sense of community, whose lives lack meaning, direction, and connection to the land. In an attempt to feel *something,* a culture that bulldozes over wild nature to build and accumulate supposed monuments of greatness accented by limited manicured lawns.

He is a well-read scholar of ancient philosophers – the usual sort, and then some. His conversations often branch off into the meanings of words, the pictures and deeper relevance of language and music. He’s a philosopher of nature and a fierce advocate for its rewards. He is an artist in his own right, but my favorite thing about him is how he cherishes the smallest creatures with honor, care and tenderness.

I believe God has given us each a spark of the Divine, and among its purposes it provides us awareness of injustice. When used properly the resultant anger can inspire actions to effectively right wrongs.

The great love of this man for helpless, orphaned rats, an injured wild turkey for which he built a treetop roost until it healed and rejoined its family, the ancient-soul bull that was going to be put down… he has rescued countless such animals and tenderly cared for them.

Like Seuss’ Lorax, when he is speaking truth to power he is speaking for the smallest flora and fauna that otherwise have no voice. He is speaking, too often as a lone voice, trying to protect us from a future humanity impaired for lack of such natural resources.

When he advocates for a safe, walkable, sophisticated, transit-connected, vibrant community to replace planned sprawl development, he is thinking of the wild rabbits and birds for which he scatters seed. Perhaps he’s remembering the mountain lion he once locked eyes with, or even the rattle snake he spared but which later struck his foot and nearly ended his life. He honors them all.

His passion is infectious, children love him, and he is happiest when sharing the mysteries of nature with others. Even when it’s personally uncomfortable, his advocacy is sustained and renewed by the burden he feels to protect the habitat and animal life for children in the future.

The man alone is often denigrated, dismissed and laughed off by the leaders he addresses, who have no desire to be held accountable. However, he is a powerful source of inspiration and has built up an effective team of activists. He has sought out economists, internationally renowned planners, an acclaimed legal team, and he is following models of success demonstrated in other parts of the country and world for true balanced growth to protect the natural resources he holds so dear.

He is teaching me, my daughters, and our friends, and there are many more like us whose lives he has touched.

The voice of the lonely, philosopher-nature man isn’t so lonely.

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Open letter to my friend.

I went on a journey tonight. Lots of reflection, flooding music and memories, mirrors of intense struggles and hard-won victories.

Other women have sung to me over the years, pushing through sorrow to strength and sharing their wisdom, as if just for me.

Songs of resolve (no more drama!), anger (sorry doesn’t cut it!), forgiveness (let’s shake free this gravity of resentment), songs offering freedom on the other side of grief (when one door is closed, don’t you know another is open?). Celebrating independence (the woman I’ve become) and a hoping-against-hope future (love will come to you).

I sealed these soul-salves in my mind and spirit during critical days and weeks, holding onto them as I moved through exhausting routines. As my desperate prayers, I leaned on the lyrics and melodies and took solace in the fact that others had been through dark times and survived.

I also drew from such writers as Maya Angelou and Iyanla Vanzant ~ powerful, soulful women who have weathered personal traumas more sizable than my own. I set my chin, grieved the loss of innocence and the dream I wanted for my daughters, grappled with life and gave myself no option but to survive.

The resolve to take whatever life was going to toss at me kept me in an ever-ready state, adrenaline pumping. I felt strong, capable, proud. The anger was a necessary gift, and easier to face than dangerous, potentially debilitating grief.

In some ways worse than the sometimes overwhelming sadness, anger, and exhausting readiness were the periods of… numbness. Empty. Flat. No end in sight. How long could I keep it up? I had only the slightest image of being happy and settled with my successful teenage children, years into the future from that point, but had no idea how to get there.

I just realized: right now is what I was seeing, craving, and stumbling toward.

You’re rebuilding yourself ground-up, Sister. You’re all about integrity; you’re in the process of growing benefits that you and those whose lives you touch will reap. In the meantime, you can enjoy unsurpassed exhilaration as hard work and diligence bring small and large successes. The tastes of joy and hope will propel you forward.

It took years for me to get to a gentler place and I’ve by no means arrived, but over time it became safer. I feel cushioned by love all around me. My precious girls are just fine, and I’ve helped make that happen.

None of us can make it all alone (why would we want to?), and different people and messages resonate at various junctures. Let them.

The important things: it’s all incremental growth. It’s all choosing, making the most with the energy each day brings, and being gentle with yourself through temporary setbacks. Savor the joys (I know, you already do. They’re life itself!), allow yourself space *not* to handle everything perfectly, learn and laugh as much as possible, reach out before it gets desperate, and give whenever you have abundance.

You’ve got this. And you’re in good company.

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Compassion wells up unexpectedly, often with eyes meeting eyes.

The light turns red and lands my car next to the woman holding a cardboard shoebox top, “Anything Helps” scrawled in black. Handing her the muffins I’d planned to give my boyfriend, my eyes meet hers. It’s intentional: I want to see her, show her I see her, be present with her in our brief but personal interaction.

I don’t expect our eyes to simultaneously fill with tears.

“I came here today hoping for some encouragement,” she says, and begins to recite a portion of Psalm 23.

“… He leads me beside the still waters, he restoreth my soul…”

The light changes, I blow her a kiss, and she continues…

“… yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow…”

And that’s it.

It happens in restaurants. A well-to-do couple enjoys a homey breakfast at a local diner, charmingly interacts with the young woman waiting on them. Amidst all her goings-and-comings, one of them locks eyes with her in a disarming moment.

She is a real person, but a caricature of every noble, tragic, hardworking waitress, full of the struggle and pain of trying to take care of her family or improve her situation on a waitress’ wages and tips.

The couple is moved enough to give her a generous tip, endorsing her efforts in serving them, and hoping she “makes it.”

What have we accomplished, the charitable couple and I? We’ve seen others in similar situations, from our somewhat more comfortable circumstances. But what did it do, measurably, over time, to make any real difference for the respectable strangers we’ve met?


In the grand scheme of their lives, we’ve done nothing.

They’ve appreciated our very human outflow of charitable expression, of course. In some stretches of life the kindness of a stranger is all that matters. However, what they need is for basic sustenance needs to be met regularly, not to sit and wait for the next kind stranger to come along.

This is not a “give a man a fish” analogy. Or perhaps it is, in modern American terms.

We fund education, in varying levels of quality nationwide. But this is less and less the “Nation of Opportunity” we learned of in fourth grade. There are charts and statistics that paint a picture of the increasing divide between the extremely rich, the sinking middle class, and those living below the poverty line.

Part of what motivates us to dispense situational charity is how easy it’s become to assume that people who struggle are somehow lesser human beings. When we find ourselves interacting with someone very different and we are suddenly struck by their seeming unique nobility, we’re a little awe-struck. When we’re in a position to help, many of us do.

It’s a good quality – there’s a reason why it feels good to help others… but it’s not enough to replace improvements to the system with one-off, sudden expressions of charity.

Some think paying taxes to benefit social programs is forced charity, and they find it revolting. They’d prefer to personally approve of each recipient rather than entrust their hard-earned dollars to faceless government entities. They don’t trust hard-to-understand benefits criteria to analyze and dispense to faceless members of a “needy” class.

Some condemn unions as distasteful and greedy, forcing inflated health and pay benefits for the member workers beyond what they “deserve.” They pity the plight of the employers who are simply engaged in good old-fashioned bottom line competition.

But these perspectives miss the broader realities of how our needs and motivations intersect, instead providing fertile ground for more rigid class divisions and, ultimately, community-destroying policies.

Employers, fully indoctrinated in American capitalistic values, are motivated by increasing profits regardless of the state of the economy. Rather than shifting to a business approach that seeks to maintain a steady, healthy income, they begin to eat away at the livelihoods of their dispensable, impersonal workforces.

Without advocates, workers who are subject to the same challenging economy, rising gas and food prices, are forced to choose between decreased benefits and wages, or unemployment.

This does not bode well for our communities. So many work tirelessly only to live paycheck to paycheck. We cannot achieve better society, affording our individuals the freedom to flourish. When a growing number of individuals are stuck at the lowest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with basic physiological and safety needs threatened, the construct of our society is threatened.

We cannot assume that anyone who is not a high wage-earner is lazy, or deserves to scrape by and eke out an existence. We cannot rely upon situational compassion and charity to “fix” our society, which is currently on a downward trajectory.

If major grocery chain workers left with only the option to strike tomorrow, spend some time thinking about how these people have benefitted your life. Imagine how much worse your community would be without the fairly negotiated wages gained through collective bargaining.

Employers are driven by inflated ideals of capitalism – a fine concept in and of itself, but the hallmark of self-serving, ever-increasing greed in current practice.

The limited balance provided by many functional unions is necessary to keep people and families afloat. It’s more important to support their efforts in these uncertain times than ever before to ensure a steadily improving economy.

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The gods must be angry.

Loneliness. It creeps up in little moments of insecurity, maybe after a couple nights of insomnia, after drinking ill-timed wine, in crowded places or quiet living rooms.

It’s sneaky, finding ways to slip around my defensive arguments of: “But my life is so blessed; I’m so fortunate!”

When it settles in, it finds all kinds of ways to justify its presence.

Fact: I’m alone.

There must be some reason I’m alone, because I’d prefer not to be. I’d choose not to be if I could, but I cannot.

I must be alone because I deserve it.

I’m so flawed I’ve failed at two marriages and an additional tentative but genuine attempt or two in between.

Loneliness nods at me: Yup. See? I belong here.

It’s no further evolved than when primitive peoples, upon hearing thunder, deduced that the gods were angry. The fears were then justified, as was the conclusion that maybe someone should be punished before things worsened.

When I’ve begun to accept I’ve lost the latest illogical war with Loneliness, Guilt sidles up, reminding me that I should be happy. Others in “my situation” have it worse, after all. At least I’ve significantly grown through experience, built a friendly co-parenting relationship my girls’ dad and stepmom; I have a rewarding job with phenomenally amazing people. My family is supportive. I only worry a little about feeding my kids and keeping shoes on their feet. I’ve even managed to cultivate a budding relationship with endless potential but no stressed, unseasonal rush to get there. I should be happy.

I have no right to complain, and if I insist upon feeling lonely it’s my own fault.

I suppose some of this tear-spilling silliness is rooted in convoluted childhood messages of God’s judgment and grace. I accepted as fact the paradoxical and impossible dual messages of spiritual forgiveness of imperfection and church communities’ human expectations of perfection.

When bad things happened to church families, folks prayed for them… but thought there might be some hidden sin which provoked God’s punishment. Quiet head-shaking and renewed efforts to follow the code ensued. Looking over our shoulders for lurking wrath was even worse than the suspicious: “You better watch out, you better not cry…” for kids around Christmastime. Like God, Santa is all-knowing and only brings toys for good little girls and boys.

I guess it’s time for a little more growing up. There is no Santa, the gods are not angry, and Grace is the same thing as being continually, pervasively wrapped in love… a love that sees only beauty, no matter what.

Loneliness is okay sometimes. Instead of accepting it as a foreboding Eeyore-esque cloud, I can appreciate its occasional reminders that people are important. Connections to my family, friends, and strangers at the market are worth the investments of time and growth.

Reflection is essential to my well-being and ability to extend love to others. Time alone with myself is critical to best loving others.

Thanks, Loneliness, for reminding me how much I treasure my loved ones, and how best to do so. You’re not so bad when I know your tricks.

Thank you, Grace, for gently calling out my best, re-directing my assumptions about Loneliness, and for dousing Guilt’s lies with brighter truth.

Peace, gratitude, and happiness radiate from within. Take that, logical fallacies!

I’m going to bask a bit in this most nourishing, love-filled space.

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Safe haven.

It’s important to feel safe – to have a haven in life.

My physical haven is our cabin in Maine. My grandfather built it of lumber from the family farm’s barn long before my birth. I grew up spending summers running along the shore of the lake, through the woods and along the dirt road, catching snakes and frogs and picking raspberries and flowers.

My Grampie told me the frogs were calling “Sara, Sara” each evening, and I’d listen for them together with the sounds of the water lapping the shore and the loons calling across the lake to one another. Warm, soft earth, cool water, clean air. A free child. Safe.

We come back to camp each summer for as long as is manageable, and my young daughters literally walk in my footsteps – running the paths I did as a child, looking up at the same stars and eating s’mores by the bonfire, and reading by the warmth of the old wood stove on cooler nights and rainy days. I get to share my favorite place, safety, and freedom with my girls and see clarity reflected back in their peaceful, dancing eyes. I breathe.

Each summer represents a return to self; the space for reflection gives me life benchmarks. Some years the picture has been sobering – the distance between my free, childlike self and “real life” self has been too great. Those years I return from vacation in Maine a little more healed and open, but determined to find a connection to nature and internal haven to hold me until the following summer’s visit.

This year has been simpler and more joyful than some others. It always takes a few days to allow “real life” to melt away and allow my haven to work its magic on me. The wrinkles between my brows are now smooth; tensions have washed off with each lake swim. I joke and laugh with my Mom and daughters with ease. It’s more than vacation – we’re living in our place of safety and restoration.

It’s not without sadness, nor an escape from the realities of the world. I feel the struggles of family and loved ones here, and see the results of survival and hope in my sweet little hometown after another harsh winter (and there’s always another winter just around the corner of impending fall). I receive glimpses of world news, work and people I love from my real life, and I know I’ll be ready to roll up my sleeves upon my return. However, my view of all these is wrapped in love, from my place of safety and well-being. Just like it probably always should be…

I already can’t wait for next summer. I can’t wait to show my next year’s self how much closer to free I’ll be upon arrival. The new home I’m returning to is a haven in its own right, and I’m fortunate to have nothing but ever-growing love for my work family. My girls are excited to start their school year, and I have new ideas for ways we will connect with Southern California’s bountiful nature.

I’m going to look into people’s eyes more, this year. I’m going to swim in the ocean and worry less. I’m going to remember who I’m supposed to be, wise child that I was, and live accordingly and with great love. I’m going to advocate, unwavering, for good and noble causes, as did my young self.

A haven is a good place to gain strength, then go out and fill the world with greater love and integrity.

I’m going to be so proud of me next year.

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