No Going Back

Last week I was reminded of a lesson which I learned a long time ago. We decided to take a trip back to our home state. Our trip began by returning to the community which we left when we moved to Texas. We had a wonderful car ride through four states and both dogs did very well in the car. In fact, the trip was a pleasant one all around. We were able to see friends and family. We were also able to see the damage that an August storm had done to our former community. However, as wonderful as our time there was, we both clearly felt that moving back is not what we wanted.

Once you have left a place, moving back to that place is seldom possible. Visits are nice and nostalgic but you cannot pick up where you left off when you moved away. A person’s life and the lives of those who you knew in whatever community you left move forward in different ways. You adapt and change. Nothing from before stays on hold. It is truly never the same again. When you are living there, this change happens each and every day but goes unnoticed because it is just part of life. After being gone from the community for a period of time, the change is noticeable and creates a much different dynamic for relationships within the community.

I first learned this lesson between my freshman and sophomore year of college. I had lived in my home community for eighteen years. Going to college meant going to a larger community approximately a hundred miles away. I came home for weekends and breaks but when I returned the following summer, I found that while my closest friends remained, they had moved on with life. I also discovered that I had changed some while I was away at college. The hometown was never the same because I had experienced something significantly different.

Like many others, I have experienced this truth over and over in my life. During a time of reminiscing, it is easy to desire to return to what we have experienced before. Thoughts of going back to a place which is filled with memories might enter a person’s mind. However, when you return to that place, you find that it is not the same. In fact, it can never be the same again.

I am grateful for our trip back. I have missed the family and friends we left behind. I enjoyed seeing people even more than the places where we used to go. However, I was glad to come back home. I cherish the life we have created in our new home. This is now home and going back to what we had before is no longer an option.

Unrest

As I sit and watch the events unfold in my own community and throughout the nation, I feel a loss of words. I realize that being a white male of European descent places me so outside the bounds of understanding that I am not even sure I have any right to share thoughts on the protests which are occurring. There is no way I can ever understand what it is to live as a black or brown individual. I do not experience life as a racial minority. The closest which I can ever come to any type of understanding is my life as an oppressed person due to my sexuality but that is not an equal comparison since my sexuality is only visible to whom I choose to make it visible. Yet, I have a nagging feeling that I need to say something about the surrounding unrest.

Let me first apologize for my ignorance. I am aware that I have not taken the time or made the effort to truly understand the daily struggles of a black or brown individual. I have no comprehension of the level of fear, hurt, and frustration which appears on the faces and in the words of those who are now visibly protesting. Like many people, if I am not directly affected by actions or events, I often only pay attention in passing. This ignorance is likely part of the problem being played out in the lives of my black and brown neighbors and community members.

As I watch some protesters being interviewed on television, one message that has struck a chord with me is the request that someone listens to them. Some of them have indicated that the reason they are participating in protests is an attempt to get someone to finally listen. I thought to myself that this plays directly into my ignorance. As I confessed above, I have not taken time to attempt to understand their struggles. I have not sat down with any person of this racial background and listened to them. I am one of those who the protesters are trying to wake up to their need to be heard.

My community, like others, has instituted a curfew for a few nights. This seems amazing in a community of over 900,000 people but the authorities have claimed the need for it because of the repeated nights when peaceful protests have turned into acts of violence by a small few once the sun has gone down. It is vital to realize that it is a small group of individuals who transition from peaceful (and necessary) protest to violent and illegal actions. Too many times this distinction is not made and general assumptions and opinions are formed about all of those trying to effect positive change through peaceful protest. When this happens, it proves the concern of racial minorities that the tendency of the majority is to use a broad brushstroke when forming opinions of individuals. An example would be the tendency to assume the color of a person’s skin automatically means they participate in illegal activities.

I have experienced joy when I have seen news reports of protesters, law enforcement, and elected leaders taking a knee together. While this does not diminish the real level of the problem facing our communities, it does acknowledge that only by working together and listening to one another are we ever going to make meaningful change. This cannot be just an act during this time of unrest but must go into deep discussions within our homes, our communities, and our nation. Racism is taught, not natural by birth. We need to sit down with one another in our homes and discuss why making assumptions about someone because of their skin color, or acting in a demeaning way toward someone of a different color is wrong. We need to listen to one another, learn from one another, find ways to support and encourage one another. We need to stop waiting for someone else to make a change and start making the change ourselves. Let us not move forward with life as it was prior to this unrest. Let us learn from what we are hearing and choose to take the time to change the way we are living.

The truth is that change is not going to be implemented by the political and social structures we have in place unless we, individual citizens, neighbors, coworkers, friends and humans require the change. As we seek protection for ourselves and our emergency responders, let us also seek protection for those whose voices have gone unheard for so very long. As a Christian, I am confident that this is what God’s love expects and demands. If you are a believer, remember these words found in the Bible…. “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17, NIV)

Fighting For Change

One of my favorite musicals is Hairspray. I came upon this musical rather late. I never seemed to have much interest in seeing the musical until a couple of years ago when I saw it in movie form with John Travolta playing the role which originally was played by Harvey Fierstein, Edna Turnblad. Once I saw this, I fell in love with it. I believe the message is what really resonated with me even though the acting and singing is phenomenal.

If you have not seen the musical or may be a late comer to it like myself, the musical is set in 1962 among the start of the civil rights movement in our nation. With a setting of Baltimore, Maryland, we are taken to the place where a white overweight female with a love to dance fights for her opportunity to share her passion while at the same time the black community is fighting for an opportunity to live without segregation and discrimination. This battle plays out on a local television stage which is the home to the Corney Collins Show, an after-school music and dance show targeting the teenage population in Baltimore.

This musical is about fighting for change. A change in how people are perceived whether due to the color of their skin or the size of their body. The message is clear that a person’s physical appearance should never define their abilities or their right to live out their life based on the passions, skills, and dreams which they carry.

It takes a lot of courage to fight for change. There are sacrifices which often must be made. Risks must be taken. Yet without any of this, change will not occur. The system likes status quo. Almost every person likes status quo when they are in a comfortable place. Only through the committed efforts of individuals can change really happen. History is filled with stories which support this.

We currently are living in a time when our nation is divided. Loud extremes are the ones being heard. Those who are in the middle sit by and watch these extremes fight at levels beyond normal rationale. Each side lies and misrepresents the other side. Civil dialogue is drowned out by shouts of hatred. Many wish for a change which will tone down the rhetoric and encourage compromise. Yet, this is not going to happen unless individuals have the courage to fight for change.

What change do you want to happen? Are you willing to fight for that change? How are you going to fight for change?

Risking It

When I was younger, I tended to not follow the trend of my peers. People in their teens and twenties tend to view themselves as indestructible and will often do some pretty dangerous stuff. I was the opposite most of the time. I would be very calculated before making a decision to do something. I can only think of a handful of occasions when I would let someone talk me into doing something which I viewed as risky. Planning out my actions was my normal mode of operation and within my plan was an understanding of the level of risk which I would assume.

Over time this would change in small increments. As I observed others, I came to realize that only by taking managed risks could I grow and improve my status in life. Becoming a leader in many organizations and in my career helped me to see that risk is necessary if growth and positive change are going to occur. If you are not growing then you are actually taking steps backwards do to your inactivity.

It has become clear to me that risk is necessary in life. Granted, the risk should be measured for sure. There is a huge difference between risks which are thought through and just going full speed into a risky situation. Humans are designed for self survival. Our bodies and minds alert us to risk in an effort to protect and preserve ourselves. However, taking risks and accepting the possibility of failure are vital if you are going to move forward in life.

Unfortunately, many people choose to stay in the comfortable. They like the feeling of knowing what is coming their way. They view risk as a dangerous step. Often though they are one of the first to complain that they do not enjoy life and feel they have been slighted in some way.

When my husband and I decided to move to Texas so that he could accept a new position, I was very concerned about the risk we were taking. Both of us had spent a majority of our lives in Iowa, in fact, he had always lived in Iowa. We knew only a handful of people in Texas and had no family connections here. What would I do for employment? Where could we afford to live? How could we financially manage through such a huge transition? What about our children? All these questions made the level of risk seem very high for me. I resisted for quite some time. Then events in our lives seemed to indicate to me that it was time to take a risk. This would give us a chance to start fresh and since we were newly married we could now begin to form the life both of us desired without some ghosts of our past.

I will tell you that this risk has been very positive. We have come to love our new city and are beginning to search out our forever home. Our relationship has benefited and I feel re-energized. I have launched in a new direction with my writing. Taking the risk was necessary.

What might you need to risk? What is holding you back? If you take the risk, what could be the positive outcome?

Acceptance

The desire to be accepted is something which I think we all share. The level of the desire may be different but each person seems to want someone and/or someplace which seems accepting of who we are. Each of us can relate to the theme song from the 80s sitcom, Cheers. We want a place where “everyone knows our name.”

One of the struggles that I have had is accepting myself. I am a person who can always find areas where I can improve. Pointing out the weaknesses and imperfections which I have is easy for me. This is a double-edged sword. Being self-aware and having the ability to see areas of improvement has helped me to grow. In some situations, I have aggressively worked on making necessary changes which have led to positive steps forward. Yet, there are some areas where I am not able to change; areas which are truly beyond my control or ability.

I think that improving self-acceptance begins with understanding the reason(s) I am not able to accept part(s) of me. As mentioned above, this understanding can lead to naming areas where I am able to make improvements. Other times this understanding can show me that my struggle with accepting myself is driven by reasons which I self-impose. I may see another person and wish I was more like them. I even convince myself that since I am not like them, I am not worthy or acceptable. Envy can play a role in my battle as well. I want what someone else has. I convince myself that if I were only better, I could have it as well.

I continually have to remind myself that some parts of my life I can change while other parts are not within my abilities to change. I cannot change the look of my face or basic structure of my body but I can change my weight or the way I take care of my physical presence. I cannot change financial and employment decisions of the past but I can adopt different financial management approaches and the type of employment which I seek. One part of my life which I tried hard to change but was unchangeable because it is how I was created is my sexual orientation.

Throughout a large part of my life, I hated who I was because of who I was attracted to in life. I tried to “fix” myself. I ignored my feelings and emotions which led me to look at males romantically. For me, it was not acceptable to be gay. I tried to convince myself that there was no reason I could not be romantic with a female, fall in love with a female, and live a “normal” life. The surrounding culture told me that this was the right thing to do and that falling in love and creating a family with a male was physically impossible as well as socially unacceptable. My hatred for myself because of all that I was burning inside grew larger and larger. I dated different women and truly enjoyed my time with them. At some level, I fell in love with a few of them and actually married one of those who I had fallen in love with. Because of that, I now have two amazing sons who I love very much and who have enriched my life in ways I can never fully describe.

Barriers finally began to break down as I grew older. Through some helpful therapy and conversations, I was starting to realize that being a gay man was not something horrid. I realized that it did not go against my belief in God. My sexual orientation is a part of me but not the whole of me. It is a part of me that is not evil or sick or wrong, but how my loving God created me to be. As barriers in society lessened and as I began to have a much different perspective on my sexuality, I was able to start accepting that part of myself. In that acceptance I moved to honesty. This required me to tell some important people in my life the truth and to adjust some important aspects of how I was living my life.

My first step was being honest with my wife and children. This was a difficult and painful step. Grief seemed overwhelming. Admitting I was being unfair to them and myself caused feelings of betrayal. While none of this was easy in any way, it did allow for a moving ahead in life. Working through all the emotions took time. I consider my former wife as a friend. She is someone who I will always care about and have concern for because she was such an important part of my life and as I said, I had fallen in love with her.

My next step was to change where I lived and where I worked. These were not easy changes either. Yet I was fortunate to have found a man who would help me through each of these steps and support me unquestionably. He was there through all my emotions, doubts, and fears. Together we found a faith community that accepted us and did not judge who we are or where we had come from. This faith community helped me to heal and more importantly, helped me to truly accept this part of who I am. Amazingly, this would also be the place where I found employment. I was able to use my gifts to support this community and to continue on my journey of growth.

All this has led me to fully accept and embrace this part my being. I am not at the point of fully accepting myself but this is a large part of me which affected self-perception. Having the ability to accept that I am a gay man has lessened some of my other acceptance issues.

How do you do with accepting yourself? What are the reasons leading you to not accept portions of yourself? Which reasons contain elements that you can change and which ones are not within your ability to change?

If we have the desire to be accepted by others and in various settings, we have to work on accepting ourselves.

Sound Impact

Do you prefer a quiet place or one with some level of noise?

I have discovered that over time my response to that question has become less than simple. When I was younger, it did not matter the level of noise surrounding me at any given point without regard to what I may be doing. This is no longer the case. I have also noticed that the answer to this question is different for almost every person.

If I am reading, I need to have relative quiet. A lot depends upon the material which I may be reading but a general rule of thumb for me is that I comprehend and retain much better if the setting is quiet while I am reading. Part of this also includes the activity which may be around me while I read. I can become distracted from my reading if individuals or vehicles are moving around me.

When I am writing or working on a project which requires me to work with words or data, I also need a quieter setting. Again, it is a concentration issue for me. Finding the right words, analyzing information, or planning are tasks which require me to concentrate. Noise and activity are a hindrance to me in these areas.

Tasks which are repetitive or more physical in nature need a different sound setting for me. I prefer to have music, a television on, or some other set of sounds in the background. Also, I usually desire some level of noise when I am trying to go to sleep. If it is too quiet when I am trying to drift into sleep, my mind tends to engage and all the thoughts make it difficult for me. These are situations where I find noise to be a good thing.

My observations are that the manner in which I respond to noise has changed over time. I wonder about you. Do you prefer quiet settings? If so, what are you doing which makes quiet a better choice for you? Have you noticed your responses changing as you grow older? How do you adapt?