We Teach

It was a day like any other. Except that it wasn’t. I had the radio on while I was getting ready for work. Just like I always did. What I heard that morning compelled me to turn on the television. Something I never did.
American planes, carrying American passengers, over American cities were turned into bombs by foreign agents. I saw the footage. I heard the soundbites. I couldn’t comprehend.
I walked to my office just like I did every morning. My assistant had her desk in the reception area. She liked being in the center of action; I obliged by letting her sit right at the entrance to the office. On this day, she found a small TV and set it up on the reception counter. I said nothing. She needed other co-workers to gather near her. I couldn’t handle one more sound bite. Not one more image.
I went to directly to my office. I had no words. After a while, I went down one floor to visit with some of my employees. Personnel staff, accountants and finance analysts, IT workers, payroll processors… they pulled their chairs from offices and cubicles and we sat in a circle. They talked and I listened. When it seemed they were ready, each went back to their desk to attempt whatever work they might get done that day.
I went back upstairs to my office. I called other employees who were stationed in satellite offices around the city. Small offices staffed with one or two employees. Most of them were alone. I listened to whomever wanted to come to the phone that morning. I heard fear and confusion mixed with relief and appreciation. They were glad I called. I was glad I listened.
After a short while, I went up the street to City Hall. There, a small cadre of customer service reps were pretending to work the citywide service desk. Usually, the service counter was busy with citizens who needed a problem solved or a complaint heard. Not today. Usually, the phones were a constant jangle of ringing bells as people called to find out where or how they could be heard, and by whom. Not today. If someone walked in demanding to see the Mayor, it was my staff they talked with first. Not today. All was quiet. All was still. No one came. No one called. We gathered our chairs around and they talked. I listened. I still had no words.
Finally, the very long work day ended. For once, I didn’t stay late. On my walk home, I stopped to buy a newspaper, just like I always did. The man who sold me my evening newspaper wore clothes that might have come to him third hand. He had very bad teeth and very kind eyes. He did honest work by selling the daily newspaper. He bought them in the morning at a slight discount and re-sold them in the afternoon at the newsstand price.
For some reason, I was ready to talk. To a stranger. I looked into his deep brown eyes and I spoke my thoughts out loud, “I don’t know what to do.” I told him. He looked back at me, and very steadily he replied, “We teach. We teach.”
I don’t know if he meant we teach third graders to be inclusive. Or, maybe he meant we should re-introduce the humanities into our high school and college curriculum. Perhaps he meant we should run yet another diversity training program. It didn’t matter because in that minute, based on two words uttered twice, I know I became a better person. My way of teaching would simply become the way I would show up from that day forward.
Teaching does not have to be defined as one person, one expert, standing in the center of the room. Teaching can be demonstrated by the way we behave. What we model. Who we are and what we value. Or share. Or say. Or do.
On that day, in that moment, I became a better listener, a more thoughtful influencer. Kinder. More patient. More tolerant. Thanks to a man who took time to hear me. A man who let me struggle to speak. And answered me when I did. My street corner philosopher.
Since that September day in 2001, the way I show up is the way I teach. Because what we say and what we do is what we teach. How we say it. How we do it. That is what and how we teach.
I ask you to please notice the way you show up. In your neighborhood. In your workplace. With your kids or grandkids. At your bowling league or at the grocery store. At home or away from home. What are you teaching?
Let the way you show up. Let who you are. Be what you teach. Because, every day in every way, you and I – we teach. We teach.

Linger Love Listen

A friend’s mom is moving toward her next journey of the soul, and I find myself watching her process and her progress.  It occurs to me that in the busy-ness of our days, we often don’t take time to luxuriate in the living.  Yet, when death is on the horizon, I find myself wanting to linger, to love, to listen…  longer than usual.

I don’t know my friend’s mom.  And yet, no matter how busy I am from day to day to day, I watch for his updates about her journey.  I find myself feeling as though I am the one on guard.  I take time to notice her dying.  I don’t take that time with the living.

And somehow, I want to do this.  I want to linger in her lingering.  I seek to find a deeper sweetness in his sadness.  I find myself listening longer, with more patience and more clarity.  She, a stranger, gives me this awareness and understanding of life and death and life.

I wonder why that is. Why we don’t take time to slow down in the living process, but we do take time and we do slow down in the dying process.  Even when it is someone else’s process. 

Perhaps this is her legacy – even to me, a stranger.  A lesson to remind me to linger, to love, to listen… while I am living. 

The Story of Pal and Julia

My work in elder advocacy requires a business head and a social worker’s heart.  This is the story of my first client and his sweetheart Julia.

Each time I enter his apartment, I catch a whiff of old man and old shoes.  He has kept every train ticket, bank statement and restaurant receipt since his early working days.  He doesn’t like to waste the back of an envelope so he keeps those, too.  He might run out of scratch paper.   Don’t you know?

He can be rather persnickety this retired mechanical engineer.  Back in the old days when everything was done by hand, in ink, immediate perfection was required. Today, he demands the same of me. I must only open envelopes with his father’s special knife.  A perfect slice.  All papers must be lined up, but he doesn’t let me staple them.  Holes you know.

He is a math whiz, a keen thinker, loves research, and at age 91, certain he is going to live forever.

His apartment is filled with cans and bottles gathered from everyone else who lives in his retirement building.  Sometimes he lets me take the bottles to my own recycle bin.  But the cans remain.  He can get money for those, you know.

He hired me because he thinks I am a professional organizer and he wants his things put in order.  We are in year six with the organizing all ready.  He keeps changing the system; I keep obliging.  As long as we don’t finish, he won’t die.

We have crossed several bridges together.  After living in his retirement community for a few years, he decided to sell his house across town.  We interviewed agents.  Lots of them.  Eventually he signed a contract.  With someone I had not met before. That was his right.  Later, he had me write the letter of complaint about her lack of professional conduct.

I go to the doctor with him these days.  We are now on doctor number four.  Doctors are stupid and his ailments are not age related and he will decide what medications to take!  Don’t I know his current doctor is a horse’s ass?  But, he goes anyway.

We go shoe shopping, clothes shopping, gadget shopping. He loves on line shopping but needs my help.  He gets mad at the computer screen for being too bright.  It hurts his nearly blind eyes.  Microsoft should fix that, don’t you know?

He needs help at home, and has fired every caregiver I helped him hire.  They stole things like his battery tester and the old picture frame he meant to use for the photograph of his sweetheart. He has piles of cash laying around his apartment.  But the caregivers took his underwear.

He introduced me to his sweetheart.  An older woman who lives on another floor.  She calls him Pal.  He calls her Julia.  He delivers coffee and a roll to her every morning.  Schedules her hair appointments.  Helps her remember what day it is.  He says he can’t take care of himself because he is too busy taking care of her.

One of her daughters doesn’t like him.  She even barked at me saying he is not to get involved with her mother.  I told her she should know they are old enough to make their own decisions.

He found her on the floor one day.  Crushed between bed and wall.  It pained him to call for help.  Julia went to the hospital.  He wasn’t allowed to visit.  He isn’t family, you know.

She moved to a rehab facility right across the street.   He walks over to see her every day.

He fusses, directs the nurses and staff, worries about her. Has dinner with her every evening.  He encourages her to go to the dining room and stays to eat in her room when she doesn’t feel up to it.

Hers is a room like any other. Metal bed.  Formica table on casters.  The pretense of a guest chair so uncomfortable it makes your eyes hurt, never mind your back.  The overhead light is broken.   Her unmade bed is littered with used tissues.  Olympia’s newest health and rehab center.  Beautiful public hallways.  Crappy private rooms.  You know…

They are sitting side by side when I arrive.  Holding hands.  Julia is fighting to keep her eyes open.  Her Pal is crying.  I reach out and take his other hand.  Soon enough, we’ll cross another bridge together.  He who believes he will live forever knows that she whom he loves is dying.  Don’t I know.


The Gift

A young boy in Africa gave his teacher a Christmas gift. It was a beautiful seashell. “Where did you get this?” she asked. The child told her that such shells are found only on a certain faraway beach. The teacher was deeply touched, because she knew that the boy had walked many miles to find the shell. “You shouldn’t have traveled so far just to find a gift for me,” she said. The boy smiled and replied, “The long walk is part of the gift.”    Credit Unknown


“The long walk is part of the gift” is a lesson I was taught by my parents.  Effort.  Energy.  Intention.  Integrity.

Hillary Clinton, was taught the dignity of hard work by her parents.  Hard work and public service became her long walk. Hillary came of age in a time of great social unrest and chose the long walk.  She started her long walk by engaging in civil rights, women’s rights, human rights.  She still reminds us to pay attention to those causes.

Public service is a gift.  It is not for heroes.  It is not for recognition.  It is not for applause.  It is not for money.  Public service is for the common good.  For the heart.  For the soul.  For the conscience.  For justice.  For joy.

If you cannot serve with joy, then this is not your gift to receive. This is not your long walk.  Do not even try.

Hillary Clinton founded, established, initiated, strengthened numerous social causes for the greater good. In the name of the people.  In the name of democracy.  In the name of the United States of America.  Year after year after year.

Hillary Clinton has proven her success both locally and globally.  Most of us hardly know all she has done as a public servant, while she was also a working mom and supportive wife. Hillary does not ask to be recognized for her years of public service. She does ask for the honor and the dignity of being able to continue her long walk.

The long walk is Hillary’s gift to us.  We should receive it in gratitude.






What For?

I have grown weary of listening to people talk about what they are against.  That goes for all of us, not just the politicians.  It is time to talk about what we are for.

I am for inclusion.  I am for a living wage. I am for dignity.  I am for kindness.  I am for respect.  I am for being a good listener – the other half of respectful communication.  I am for sharing.  I am for being a good neighbor.  I am for gun control measures and for your right to own a gun if you want one.  I am for the UN.  I am for the right to choose.  I am for equal pay for all people. I am for equal rights for all people.  I am for the Affordable Care Act.  I am for campaign finance reform.  I am for bankruptcy reform.  I am for a federal minimum wage.  I am for negotiation and dialogue.  I am for peace.  I am for accepting that climate change is real and for mitigation of the effects of climate change.  I am for clean energy.  I am for comprehensive immigration reform legislation with a path to full and equal citizenship.  I am for using the bathroom relating to your gender identity.

I am for Hillary Clinton because I am for Hillary Clinton, not because I am against someone else. This is not new.  I have been for Hillary Clinton since 1993 whether she was wife, mother, First Lady, Senator, Secretary, candidate, presumptive nominee.  I am for Hillary because she is for what I am for.

I ask all of you to examine what you are for. Be for someone and something.  And know what that is.  Know your facts.  Know your figures.  Know your truth.  Know what you are for.  Be for that.

Let’s stop shouting about what we are against.  Being against isn’t working for us.