Category Archives: Uncategorized

On Appreciation and Gratitude

The more I ponder and focus on the subject of gratitude, the more aware I am of the complexity of articulating its meaning. Some days, it’s as simple as saying, “Thank you,” to a young woman bagger at the super market who asked, “Shall I pack your bags not too heavy, ma’am?”

She initiated the perfect question seconds before my usual instructions.  I thanked her profusely as she set the bags in my cart. In the parking lot, as I hoisted the four bags into my car without strain, I further appreciated how well she had balanced the weighty apples, potatoes and squashes with the kale and rainbow chard selections. Whereas I was thankful in the moment, the effects of her careful effort deepened my appreciation and had a lasting effect.

In this season between Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Christmas, much is written about gratitude and “giving” to show appreciation. We are bombarded by requests from charities and organizations. Budgets are reviewed. Lists of relatives and friends, people we love and care about, organizations, which focus on attending to issues and causes important to us, are made.  Every person or organization we choose to acknowledge, in some way, makes a difference in our lives.

Is not the act of making a gift list the same as making a gratitude list with a specific intention?

I enjoy list-making for the opportunity to review and reflect on people in my life who, in my mother’s words, “make my life easier.”

My mailbox is situated up the driveway by the side entrance. It requires the mail carrier to walk from the street to the mailbox every day, through every season. During warm months, I’m often in the garden and can greet him and sometimes, chat. In this season of chill, I see him little but will enjoy selecting a special card, writing a note of appreciation, and adding a gift to leave in the mailbox.

Appreciation, the practice of gratitude, takes time and effort. The person who best exemplifies this in my life is my daughter, Beth. Joined by her daughter, she has the ritual of making home made chocolate fudge and pretzels covered with chocolate and colorful sprinkles. The ritual began years ago as a way to raise funds for a school charity and since, has grown into a way to show appreciation for colleagues, friends and family. Her Dad is on the list. She makes him special turtles with caramel. I order fudge and pretzels, festive packages for special friends.

I plan to start my appreciation/gift-giving list tonight, at the onset of Chanukah. As I light candles on the eight nights, I am grateful for my home, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my neighbors, my many helpers, my news outlets, the flow of information, my opportunity to be engaged and give back to all who help make my life better and safer.

 

 

Fall Leaves & Mourning

Photo taken from the back patio window

There is something about fall with its bold colors, each leaf distinct, the explosion of red, orange, yellow pigments in artistic play, a cacophony of hues.

I am especially grateful for the turning of leaves this November,2018. Days before the midterm, I am fraught with anticipation and anxiety. Will there be a falling?

The cleansing sweep of leaves represents change, the falling away of what has been in preparation for what is to become. I am grateful for the wisdom of Mother Nature’s seasons.

To thrive, trees must rest. To rest, trees must give up their leaves, strip down, be prepared for the weight  of cold and the blanket of snow which will bed, protect and ultimately melt moisture into the roots and provide nourishment for spring’s resurgence and growth.

During my fall childhood, as I walked the mile route to and from school, I scanned the sidewalk for “special” leaves— the perfectly pointed fiery red maples, the curved yellow oaks, the russet chestnuts. Upon arriving home, I slid each leaf in between the pages of Mom’s discarded Woman’s Day magazines. At season’s end, the magazines bulging with stems peeking out, I tucked them away in my room under a heavy book.

Often, as it happens in childhood, I moved on to my next project, forgetting the beauty left behind until spring or even the start of the next fall, when I would begin again. All these years later, still drawn to the search for “special leaves” such as the floating oak leaf caught in the spider’s web framed in the patio glass door, shown in the picture above.

A week has passed since the awful human carnage of faithful Jews, several near my own age, at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill. Raised in an Orthodox Jewish community, daughter of a first generation Yankee father and Lithuanian immigrant mother, I watched television images of congregants in mourning and men in black hoisting caskets of their beloved ones. I read about and listened to  stories of the deceased—men and women in the throes of their lives including a married couple wed in 1954 at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the same year as Marv and I were wed.

As my heart wept for the fallen,

I gazed upward

to the bold red/orange/yellow

leaves in change,

leaves in color, leaves falling.

 

Each precious one

soon to transform

into paper thinness

likes bones to dust,

eleven spirits in flight.

May the beauty of fallen leaves bring comfort to those who mourn.

Finding Calm & Compassion

Junior Blue Jay
McCauley Library
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

My home, located across from the Charles River, surrounded by trees, is a choice nesting site for birds.

Yesterday, as I finished whisking off the frayed bed sheet I’d thrown over my lemon tree to prevent freezing, I took note of a tiny grey bird tucked into the corner of the top step. Its stillness compelled me to pause and take note.

Still and barely breathing, the flutter of feathers at the edges, she was clearly alive. I surmised she was a fledging Blue Jay from the truncated tail, striped blue/black, just the beginning of a familiar tail.

Imagine what that first effort of fluttering one’s wings and leaving the nest must feel like. How many poems and stories have transformed this common experience in metaphoric language to describe separation and gaining mastery?

Often, in the spring, fledgling robins hit the windows along the front of the house. In their efforts to fly, I hear the “thwack” on the glass and run to the garden to see if a bird has fallen. There were one or two who were quite stunned but in time, regained their wits to try again.

I worried about this young one. She seemed sturdy and well fed, her coat soft and thick, her breath steady. Would she muster the energy to fly again? And if not, if she stayed through dark, what would I do?

In the moment, there was nothing to do. By dusk, just as silently as she had come, she left, leaving no trace except in memory, where she nested still.

What was it about the presence of that gentle, calm creature on the back step? As I recall her image, I breath slowly and more deeply.  Given the horrifying story of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi this past week, the fledgling Jay’s calm was a gift.

Like so many of my friends and family, I struggle with reactivity to the day’s events— they pile up, build into crescendos of anxiety. The fact that she landed on the step in the window of time when I stepped out was fortuitous.

I was drawn to her soft presence. Softness— and by extension, compassion, being the operative word for what has been missing in the day-to-day world in our October, 2018, headlines. Be it compassion for the children in “temporary” detention centers longing for family or the caravan of refugees with visions of America “The Beautiful,” this tiny creature embodied both the freedom to fly and the risk of vulnerability.

When I decided to write this week’s blog on the encounter, I wondered why I hadn’t taken a picture of the bird and had to resort to the internet for a likeness?  Upon reflection, I worried that my attempt to get “the perfect shot” might startle her.

I am grateful I had the presence of mind to step away and provide safety. In so doing, I was able  to gain perspective, as well as to write and share the meaning of the experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth Telling: Part Two

Christine Blaisey Ford taking oath
Thanks to Win McNamee/Pool

Is it because I am a woman, a therapist with a trained ear, who has listened to countless women with similar stories, that I believe Dr. Christine Blaisey Ford’s story?

There are so many ways in which Dr. Ford’s narrative felt compelling and believable. As television cameras rolled, her voice shaking with anxiety, I again bore witness to a sexual abuse survivor willing to walk through the trauma of truth telling—this time, to a national audience. I took note of how she paced the telling of painful details, and her deliberate effort to be even-handed in her story as she declared only what, as a highly trained psychologist and woman under sexual siege, could she ascertain.

The day we awaited the release of the FBI report to the Senate, I tuned into Rachel Martin’s NPR interview with Missy Bigelow Carr, a long-term friend of Judge Kavanaugh. She did not believe Dr. Ford’s account and could not consider any part of it as true.

  • At one point, after Ms. Carr asserted, there’s a lot of holes in the stories of Ford,Ms. Martin observed, it is common to have holes in one’s memory, that you can’t recount, necessarily, the address where it (the assault) happened.
  • Well, that there’s holes are one thing. But lies are other things.  I mean…fear of flying not true. The second door on the house —again, the data, the history shows that this—the second door was put on four years before the therapy session that apparently was about this incident.

Dr. Ford did state that she had a fear of flying and yet, acknowledged that she did fly. I understood that although the fear of flying limited her options, that in special circumstances such as trips across the country to visit her parents, work commitments, and testifying to Congress, she found a way to cope.

At one point in my life, when my children were young teens, I developed an intense fear of flying. For days before a necessary professional trip, I practiced specific coping imagery. On the day of the flight, I sat in an aisle seat to assure my mobility and during the trip, I often closed my eyes to envision safe landing and walking onto firm ground. Like Dr. Ford, I understood the power of specific strategies for coping.

Making no sense to her architect or her husband, Dr. Ford insisted on a second door years before her secret propelled the couple into therapy. The need for protection was so strong that even the embarrassment of double front doors for all to see did not prevent her from such an unusual and unaesthetic decision. The extra door meant safety and safety was all.

There is no turning back from the disregarding, vitriolic Senate Supreme Court election we have lived through this past week. Just as Dr. Ford feared, she was deemed a woman who “ruined a good man’s reputation.” She needed more than two front doors to keep her safe from President Trump’s egregious, inflammatory words in which he mocked her testimony to a cheering and raucous crowd in Mississippi. I was appalled and disgusted by his careless and hurtful rhetoric.

  • After all this, for what am I grateful? I am grateful to find the words for this blog.
  • I am grateful for Dr. Ford’s courage to stand before so many and lead the way for other silent survivors to step forth and participate in a dialogue about sexual abuse that is long overdue.
  • I am grateful to add my name to the many women and men who believe Dr. Ford’s truth and stand by her. May she stay safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Real-Life Storytelling in Film

Grace Lee, Film Director                Ann Hornaday, Film Critic

We’ve just returned from a week of learning about voice and ownership in film, Marv’s and my fifth season at The Chautauqua Institute with Road Scholar. As a writer, I am drawn to topics that edify and explicate literary aspects of the creative process. What better way to understand process than to listen to an astute interviewer dig into the background, motivation and story of the birth of a film.

Day five, Ann Hornaday, film critic for the Washington Post interviewed Grace Lee on what prompted her to begin her film career with “The Grace Lee Project,” in which she interviewed women named “Grace Lee” from all over the country. As an Asian American who grew up in Missouri, she was the only person she knew with her first name, but upon moving to New York and California, she realized there were many women with her full name. Likening the name “Grace Lee” to the “Jane Smith of Asian-American names,” the germ of her project was born and she set out to interview Grace Lees all over the country.

When I started asking other people about the Grace Lees they once knew, they were always stereotypically perfect, over-achieving Asian Americans. They went to Harvard at age 15, were excellent violin players…devout Christians, and I was none of those things. (Chautauqua Daily)

During the making of this 2005 film, she met Grace Lee Boggs, an Octogenerian Chinese-American woman who lived and worked as an activist-writer in a predominantly African American community in Detroit. A decade later, Lee returned to Boggs at age ninety to make a film titled “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.”

As a writer of memoir, as a clinician who savors story, the film clips and discussion of how Grace Lee and her camera crew followed Boggs about on her daily encounters mesmerized me. Earlier in the week, listening to Ken Burns and his two writer colleagues, I learned the value and importance of weaving “stills” and back footage into the story line.

I attended Wayne University in Detroit in 1953, just at the time whites were fleeing to the suburbs as African Americans were moving into  neighborhoods. As a sociology major, I went from door to door, interviewing whites and African Americans about their neighborhood concerns. Wariness of the “other” was everywhere. I was on the fringe, unaware of Bogg’s world, encased in an academic bubble.

Lee, who had taken on the Grace Lee film as a way to research the stereotypical Asian-American as “passive,” commented how she had studied social history and the civil rights movement in college but also had never heard of Boggs. She zoomed into Boggs life, thereby transporting me to a time before the women’s movement, before Betty Friedan’s book, to Boggs’ 70 years of living in and advocating for the African American community.

After a week of film clips and discussions from film directors and writers, I am appreciative and grateful for the special visual and auditory qualities of documentary film story telling. I wish I had known about Grace Lee Boggs when I was a student at Wayne; she was such an inspirational woman. Thanks, to Grace Lee.

 

 

 

Why Gratitude?

Marv pondering in the garden

People are skeptical about gratitude; I can’t blame them. It’s not easy to tune into or away from events in this uneasy, the sky is falling,-wait-is-it-real-or-fake-news-time, in our country’s life.

I’m often asked, What is there to be grateful for? I understand. We are all anxious these days. Anxiety can cloud vision, focus, and point of view. I need not remind you who is president, who fawned over Putin, as we learn day by day how much of our way of life is being threatened.

Nonetheless, I believe, with focus, we can train ourselves to pause, take a breath and consider that which is in reach and palliative within our own small orbit. If you have read my blog on the benefits of time in nature, you know that by a daily practice in which I attend to a houseplant or walk out into my garden and pause, I am able to move into a state of appreciation for the color or shape or smell of what is before me.

The key is embracing possibility—that in the course of one’s daily activities, there are limitless options to notice and feel appreciation and gratitude. For me, the benefit of pausing and slowing my pace are immediate. I can feel my mood shift and for no other reason then to experience calm, I am grateful.

Take yesterday, at the grocery store. The temperature was 90. The air, humid. Late in the day, I was not in the mood to shop. But first thing, in the produce department, I was greeted by a gracious man I have endlessly seen unloading greens and propping them up for display. “Hello,” he greeted, with his wide smile. My smile in response was instant.

Before I knew it, I was caught by a loud conversation between a young boy sitting in a grocery carriage with his mom. He was talking vegetable talk— “yellow tomatoes, yum,” as his mother leaned over the display of tiny fresh fruits, filling a box to the brim and handing her boy one after another as a snack. The scene was intimate and sweet; it filled my heart. I was grateful to bear witness.

Near the finish, as I came up the aisle, an elderly man in a wheel chair turned the corner. Had I continued, we would have collided. He paused. I moved back and tucked myself into a cheese corner to let him pass. We made eye contact; he nodded with appreciation. “You have the right of way,” I quipped with a grin. I noted another special moment.

Can we be “in the moment” all the time? Maybe not, but we can take note of a moment some of the time. If we pay attention, scan and focus upon what intrigues, engages, inspires, delights, stimulates, stirs—you name it—one can gather gratitude and appreciation in small ways throughout the day.

Every minute, we have choices in how we approach our lives. Each experience is ours, to take in. The minutes, the immediate connections to others and the environment, add up. I hope you will seek gratitude in some way every day.

 

 

 

Mental Health and Mother Nature’s Nurture

Monarch Butterfly
on Asclepias tuberosa

The past three mornings, I’ve flown into my garden after checking the news in the aftermath of Trump’s worrisome press conference with Putin. Sharp pruners in hand, I tackled the wild, over-grown forsythia shrub at the driveway entrance. Branches, thin and flexible, stretching to the sun, had bent and curled between and betwixt one another in pursuit of the sun.

The first day, I followed each branch to its rooted undergrowth. Bending and reaching, I cut each one at its source. After an hour and a half, my back signaling “enough,” I turned to the lilies, always in need of tidying. Uplifted by the sight of yellow, vivid red, crème, and fuscia flowering, I plucked yesterday’s wet and drooping blossoms, filling half a bucket. Creating order is good for one’s mental outlook.

On day two, I began to shape the shrub. I targeted meandering, spiking branches and snipped at the nods between two leaves to encourage a soft, wavy pattern. As I moved up and down, over and around, I shaped and re-shaped the dancing tendrils. The focus on the task at hand, somewhat challenging, lifted my spirit.

On the third day, I was contented with the tamed, undulating shape and tended to the few dry, dead clusters at the base. At the last, I stepped back and scanned each side. Pruning is art. My vision complete, I sighed in gratitude.

When the world is wild with anxiety and worry, when I cannot stop checking the news, the garden calls. It is enough to set a goal, even a mindful walk and to proceed. The esthetics of the space— the variety of species, the coloration of purple and red astilbe, white, rose and yellow zahara zinnias, the dogwood, and the mooga pine and peach azalea shrubs—offer variety and delight. Our minds and bodies entrain (tune with) the shift in pace and rhythm.

Now that the frogs have returned, their heads peer out above the water’s edge along the rocks of the little pond. I missed them terribly in late spring; for over the years, I had come to rely on their presence as the garden awakened. But nature can be unpredictable. Last year, across the driveway from the forsythia, an Asclepius (butterfly weed) carried by a bird, no doubt, appeared. I wanted to pluck it from the bed of lilies and zinnias but Crystal, my gardening helper, cautioned me. It could attract butterflies.

Late yesterday, in my car, stopped for traffic at the driveway’s entry, I glanced to my left and there, perched on the edge of the Asciepius, was a monarch butterfly. It hovered, flew and set down again. I grabbed my iPhone and stepped out of the car.  In seconds, a shimmering green hummingbird darted below the butterfly and in a flash, sped away. The butterfly lingered on, flitting to and fro, setting down once more as if she knew how much I wanted to capture her spread winged. I’m grateful to share my picture; I’m grateful to Mother Nature for nurture.

 

 

 

Marv’s 90th Birthday Celebration

                                                        Marv @ 90
                                                     Photo by Craig J.

I’m now married to a 90 old. It’s much the same as being married to an 89 year old or an 85 year old. I can testify to the belief that aging is as much a state of mind as it is a reflection of the body’s progression over time.

I’m grateful to have chosen a life partner who “thinks young.” By “young,” I mean curious. An intellectual at heart, Marv spends large swarths of time delving into political matters, both current and historical. He’s a life long learner, having attended Harvard’s Learning in Retirement Program for 12 years where he facilitated several classes on several subjects. He now is a valued member of LLIAC, an independent life learning in retirement community where he is well known for his in depth classes on Hamilton, Lincoln, Washington, Truman and upcoming Eleanor and Franklin.

“Young is as young does,” they say. Marv has a daily exercise regime begun when our son, Craig, and his wife, Melinda, exercise buffs, informed him on the importance of frequent exercise on the effects of aging. The elliptical machine and recumbent bicycle are his go-to contraptions as he watches the latest recording of Stephen Colbert or events of interest.

Marv is still a practicing psychologist. Unlike all of his colleagues, he has resisted “retirement.” He enjoys the challenge of addressing complex situations.  Clients still call arrive for appointments in the private office we constructed when we bought our home 15 years ago. At times, he rues on the fact that his referral base has dried up. But he resists thinking “old” and is grateful for his client’s trust. Before each session, he checks his notes and prepares. Discipline carries him far.

At our family and friends celebration two Saturdays ago, where we roasted and toasted this special birthday, I presented these Little Known Facts about Marv:

  • Once upon a time, Marv had a huge mop of curly hair that almost covered his upper forehead.
  • Dressed in a white suit and white shoes, Marv gave his Bar Mitzvah speech in Hebrew and English
  • As a pre-teen, he made an appointment to talk with the mayor of Detroit about his concern that high school students were not being taught to think. His appointment was canceled due to the outbreak of race riots.
  • As a psychologist, he was one of the very first to embrace family therapy. Courtesy of McLain Hospital, he toured the US to visit with the forerunners—eventually to open a private clinic where challenging families were treated in a residential program.
  • Marv has had a life long hobby of photography. He has collected, scanned and categorized 18,000 pictures chronicling the family clan for decades as well as photos of nature and oddities that appeal to Marv’s aesthetic.
  • He has five published books to his credit.
  • Early on, I adopted the nickname, “Marvelous Marvin” because he was such a “smarty pants” in our younger days. I’m grateful to report that he has mellowed into tender wisdom, which is a wonderful trait in a lifelong partner.

It was not easy to roast this reasoned, reasonable, calm (most of the time except when he loses his cool at yapping dogs (poor little Moxie) and Trump, on air, yapping his latest greatest.

I’m grateful to post this milestone blog in honor of Marv Snider. Onward!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAKING TIME OUT

Selfie
6-18-18

Taking time out for some memorable and fun family events. Grateful for the summer Solstice, warm weather, flowering trees and plants, family and friends. See you in July!

 

On Leadership & Compassion for Others

Ervin Staub, PhD

Sometimes, the universe offers a remedy in unexpected ways. I’ve been upset and troubled by the Trump administration’s policy to allow border agents to forcibly separate children from their parents. All my mental health training in the need for a secure, safe and trustworthy environment in raising children opposes this unconscionable policy. But what to do; how to make a difference?

As luck would have it, I’ve been on a mission to collect ceu credits. The timing was perfect to listen to Ervin Staub, Ph.D, Professor of Psychology Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, and Founding Director of its PhD concentration in the Psychology of Peace and Violence. His topic: The Leader & The Led: How the Nature of the Leader Affects Organizations and Societies.

Citing years of extensive hands on research about German Nazism, Rwanda, prison life and bullying, he contrasted destructive and constructive leadership, followed by his insights on what people like myself can do to make a difference.

Neither the vast audience nor I were surprised to learn that Trump’s path fits many elements of destructive leadership.  “Leaders are only leaders if they can attract followers,” Staub began. Underscoring the word “vision,” which, to my mind is the difference that makes a difference, he framed how destructive visions are born in response to difficult situations in society. They arise  in the ferment of decline, political chaos, societal change and ongoing conflict.

Staub stated that because addressing the real problems are difficult and/or leaders choose not to address such issues (the poor track record of Congress re: healthcare, dreamers, immigration), a destructive leader elevates himself over others by claiming that one’s own group is not responsible for the problems. Trump blames others—Democrats, Obama, Jeff Sessions, NAFTA, you name it—and with it, succeeds in cohering his group.

The self-serving elite join in while bystanders, at the risk of complicity, do nothing,he said.

He warned about the harmful practice particulars of destructive leadership—the call for loyalty, the thrust towards patriotism, the use of rejection or punishing behaviors—to encourage compliance rather than concern for all.

Destructive leadership is where we are today in the matter of refugees and border security. I, for one, cannot be a quiet bystander when, as a mental health professional, I know that without careful assessment and placement, monitoring and follow up, wrenching children from the security of family can only result in damaging effects over their lifetime.

Staub left us with the following question: How can I be an active, effective bystander who contributes to constructive change? In what domain will I act, what will I do to influence leaders, followers, the social world around me?

For myself, I write to engage with the intent of distilling and offering constructive information. I reach out to my representatives re: critical issues, support multiple causes, and for the future, I plan to explore Staub’s interview titled Bystandership—One Can Make a Difference—published in his book, The Roots of Goodness and Resistance to Evil.