Linger a little longer

Linger

“Mmhmm I want to linger.
Mmhmm a little longer.
Mmhmm a little longer here with you.
Mmhmm and as the years go by, mmhmm I’ll think of you and sigh.
Mmhmm this is goodnight and not goodbye.”

Camp songs have a way of seeping into your skin like expensive hand cream, soaking your skin and helping you to realize that you are long overdue for that kind of nourishment. How we miss these things sometimes…

Linger” is like that for me. Sure there are funnier songs, goofier cheers, handmotions (don’t forget the handmotions, they often bring the whole song together) but Linger…like Wicked, Harry Potter, The Prince of Tides movie and good conversation tends to speak to my soul at the cellular level.

It is a song of appreciation.
A song of longing (in the sense of This is Not Enough time)
A song of presence. You were here with me and you will continue to be with me regardless of where we are.

That’s good time spent. The time spent sighing as I think back to warmth, openness and hilarity. I want those moments to linger too.

Lessons from a Camp Counselor

Lake Crescent

Do you need a life boost?  Want to giggle more?  Want to catch yourself smiling?  Below is a list of my top 10 lessons on how to be happier from a seasoned camp counselor.  

Why should you listen to a camp counselor?  Because if you have ever been to camp or around camp people you would know that we are another breed.  Everything we do is heightened.  Bigger laughs.  Longer hugs.  Deeper tears.  Monumentally silly.

Camp people won’t bullshit you.  Camp is a short time in the summer.  We work on a deadline.  None of this Take As Many Years As You Need nonsense.  Honey, when we  go to camp, we go big.  It is why, after a summer of intense experiences, we are often tongue-tied when people ask us how it was.

“How was my life changing time???” We think.

“Um…amazing” is usually all we can come up with.  There are rarely adequate words.

So whether you miss your camp days or are new to this and just want to find out what the fuss is about….this is my gift to you.

10.  Pay attention.

The other day I was driving to the ferry after hiking in the rainforest.  I stopped in Port Gamble (a quaint, if not a bit too Stepford for my tastes, town) to stop at this general store I like.  Instead, there was a thriving public garden with many Dahlias throughout it.  I got out my camera (see the photos) and my macro lens and went at it.  Never even went in the store.

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9.  Be silly. 

At camp we have a Prop Shed.  This is the shed back behind the stage at campfire.  It is filled with the most outstanding combinations of old dresses, funny hats, orange life vests, and oversized men’s blazers.  There is a dark green terry cloth bathrobe.  There is a football helmet.  I’m just getting started.  We argue over who gets to get the most outrageous outfit.  The goofier the better.

One of the dangers of becoming an adult is you forget this side of yourself.  You forget that pink feather boas (yes, I have one) can be fun.  You forget that sometimes wearing goggles and a Marilyn Monroe wig with swim flippers on your feet is the best way to not take yourself seriously.

8.  Sing.  Camp folk excel at this.  We know songs with great titles like  Albert the Camel. We Come From the Mountains and Chicken.  We know actions to songs, when to sway and when to clap.  We know that there are sometimes dirty versions of clean songs.  We embrace it all.  If you are not a camp person you may think all we do is sing Kumbaya.

We do sing it, but we also know the hand motions and all the verses.  BOOM.

7.  If you see something amazing in someone, say it.   Before your Grown-Up Self gets all I don’t do that  on me, hear me out.  People NEED this.  People don’t see the good in themselves nearly as easily as they see the bad.  They need you to point it out.  They may not be ready to believe you, but you should still say it.  You planted the seed.  And then maybe one day they start to think, “Maybe so-and-so is right….”

6.  Be ready for Burrito Night.  The dining hall kitchen has a schedule.  Burrito night is going to happen every Tuesday.   You’re sick of them.  It is fine.  Life goes on.  Be glad you have something to eat.  But stay away from the cheese.  Camp cheese gives you gas.

5.  Ask questions. Get tremendously curious about other people’s lives.  You will be surprised what people will tell you when you ask.  Here are some good starters.

Tell me your life story.

What do you do for fun?

What’s something you wouldn’t normally tell me?

If you were a medication, what would your side effects be?

HINT:  You will need to really listen for these to work.  They will lead to other questions.

4.  Show up.

When people are going through the darkness, show up.  Say, “I’m not going anywhere.” Then mean it.  If they want to talk, show them you can handle it (you can handle it by the way.)

3.  Stop wasting time acting like you think you’re supposed to act and just ACT LIKE YOURSELF.  If your next thought is, But I don’t know who that is...get busy figuring that out.

2.  Geek out about something.  Be shameless about it.  Think of those people who are obsessed with Star Trek.  The general public mocks them.  I admire them.  Be into what you’re into.  If something rev’s your engine, who cares what anyone thinks.  Fear usually sits in the space between “normal” and where you are terrified to go for it and just shamelessly be obsessed with something.

Geek out suggestions- TV shows, the history of basket weaving, Val Kilmer movies, the scientific names of plants, kitchen gadgets and my personal favorite…Broadway musicals.

1.  Love more generously.  Let the people you love know it.  This is too important a matter to leave it to chance, to hope that they will pick up on it.  Be generous with this. I have had camp friends run toward me as we bashed together in a great big hug followed by a sincere, “Love you.”  It is the greatest thing to hear and I am grateful they were courageous enough to say it.

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Yes, I quoted Oprah. So sue me. A tree lover’s guide to cancer and the woods.

What I know for sure regarding grief and nature.

Yes, I did it. I quoted Oprah. I’m not proud of it but the line came to me and I’m going to own it.

This weekend I was reminded of a few things I know for sure.   I escaped this weekend. Broke the chains of laundry. Tore off the shackles of dishes and vacuuming. Late on Friday night—in a moment of spontaneous decision-making—I hopped online, booked a hotel room and packed a bag. Then, like a kid who’s just gotten away with something, I smiled, crawled into bed and set my alarm to make an early ferry.

I had to.

Maybe it was the residue of the previous weekend.   I’d spent the evening with a 25-year old friend who is knee-deep in the trenches of pancreatic cancer. Not good.

Not just not good. Bad.

I am so tired of cancer. I am tired of its systematic and relentless pursuit of people I love. I resent the way it takes who it wants regardless of circumstance, character or age. So you can appreciate why I didn’t give a damn about my dishes or the fact that there are three Amazon Prime boxes sitting in my living room with their contents strewn about. All of this warranted ACTION on my part.

Get the hell out of town. Run for the woods. Head to the Hoh Rain Forest.

It needed to be a little inconvenient. The ferry ride, the 3+ hour drive. You see, the inconvenience underlined the significance of leaving. I needed to be away, tucked beneath Sitka Spruce and Douglas Firs well over 200 feet. Moss blankets everything from boulders to every inch of branches that reach out like fuzzy fingers. I needed the serenade of the Hoh River, its conversation, a loud party full of light chitchat. I longed for the solitude of a trail where I go at my pace and stop when I want to take pictures (even if I already stopped a minute ago.) I want the freedom to jump when thunder booms above me and to leave my hood down when the downpour comes. I want to take the untouched side trail—the soggy ferns soaking my shorts as my thighs pushed them back with each step—up to the waterfall to get a better photo and to stand there and close my eyes.

Normally, whenever I return to the trailhead, to the comfort of my car and whatever snacks I’ve left behind, there is a sense of pride. An I did it. This time I felt that, but it was different. Something about the forest opens me.

I text a video of the waterfall to my 25 year old friend.

Me: I sent you a waterfall. Early birthday present.

My friend: Thank you!!!!!!!

Me: I mentally took you on the hike. I hope you aren’t sore.

My friend: It was like I was physically there!! My legs are killing me! How many miles was that again?

Me: Just shy of 6. I have to tell you, you weren’t very helpful when we found ourselves on the trail with a big elk about 30 ft. ahead and another one about 30 ft. behind (with their family peering in from the bushes.) Otherwise, you were a trooper.

My friend: Oh my gosh!!! I bet I was useless. “Oh look, large and dangerous mammals. LET’S PLAY WITH THEM!!!”

Me: I thought when I had to tell you to stop trying to pet them was the real low point.

My friend: That was the low point. Even their antlers are furry!

Somewhere during the texting conversation the tears started. Tears of loss, of pent up energy, of fatigue. These were tears of relief. Relief that we could still play. Relief that we could pretend we had hiked and faced down some elk together. Tears that sometimes the best way to connect is to talk about what you wish you did rather than what you have to do.

Hoh waterfall Hoh River

Open Your Soul and See What Happens

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When I suggested our college-age YMCA cabin group do the activity “I’m from a place” I knew I was suggesting they open their souls to each other and trust that the group would support them.  That was how “I’m from a place” worked.  In this activity, the group stands up and spreads around the room—our room being about 15×15—and the group is quiet.  Then one person steps to the side and says, “I’m from a place….” And fills in the rest of the sentence for them.  It doesn’t have to be detailed, it can even be general, but it should be personal.

Things like…

I’m from a place where my parents don’t understand what is important to me.

Or

I’m from a place where I’m not sure where to go with my life right now.

Or

I’m from a place where it is hard to tell who my real friends are. 

Or

I’m from a place where I feel loved and supported most of the time.

Since these are college-age participants, their comments often are about finding their place in the world, what kind of decisions to make etc.  And, when someone in the group steps to the side and says their statement, then everyone who identifies or connects with that statement comes to stand near them and put their hand on their shoulder (or on the shoulder of someone who already has their hand on that person.)  Then, once everyone who has moved is done and there is a few moments of support, the next person steps to the side and says their “I’m from a place…”

This goes on for maybe 30 minutes with a group of 12.  Usually everyone goes about 2, maybe 3 times.  It is quiet.  It is thoughtful.  It is supportive.  It is intense.

And the feeling in the room as people quietly say something that is true for them, is powerful.

As the facilitator of the activity, I usually go first.  It sets the tone and gives them an idea of how it works.  It also gives the permission so to speak, to go to the place where they share the thing they struggle to say.  I don’t do this with all groups.  Not all groups get to the place where this activity is the right choice for them.  This is also one of those activities where I ask the group if they are interested in doing an something that really puts it out there. I tell them, “This is a beautiful activity and it is powerful, but if you aren’t in the mood and want to keep it light, are feeling distracted etc., it is totally cool to do something different.”

This particular group was on board.

So we started.  Simple.  Deep.  Honest.  Even when their I come from… was vague, it always hinted enough that individuals could interpret it as they wished.

Such as, “I come from a place where I’m really struggling right now.”

We don’t know why or how that person is struggling.  We don’t know if we are struggling in the same way.  But the reality is that it doesn’t matter.  If you are struggling and I am struggling, then we come from the same place.

We got the activity started and before you know it people gathered around, hands on shoulders, a hand or two on backs and other people standing nearby.  In a few moments, the whole group was connected.  Silent, but connected.

After a few moments—which we called “Giving the sharing its time” someone new stepped away.  And on it went from there.

My anxiety climbed after about 10 minutes when I thought about sharing my “I come from…” with the group.  I wanted to be able to say how what had made this last year so painful—so heartbreaking—but couldn’t find the words.  Everything seemed inadequate, or too specific.  I wanted to speak a truth for me—one that captured the profound loss without saying the details.

Also, as the leader of the group, I didn’t want it to be about me too much. I could be a part of the group to a certain extent, but not so much that the spotlight stayed on me.  The only people who had a sense of what my last year had been like were my co-leader and one of the participants who I had know for 4 years.  As I scrolled through possible phrases, they all seemed to miss what I was trying to say.

I come from a place of deep hurt.

I come from a place where this last year I feel like I no longer remember who I am.

I come from a place of deep, deep anger at the events that have happened.

None of them worked.

When I finally knew what to say I almost panicked at the thought of speaking such pain aloud.  To say this in a group of strangers would be one thing, but 2 of the people (my co-leader and “R”—the participant) would know what I meant.

I stood to the side and said, “I come from a place where I have lost one of the most important things in my life this year.”

Gradually, one by one, they came over to me.  The comforting pressure and warmth of hands rested on my shoulders.  Gathering friends—strangers only 2 days ago—moved beside me and behind me.  Then R walked in front of me and faced me.  She went against the norm of the activity, stood a foot away from me—closer than you stand if you are going to have a conversation, more like a hug—and she looked up at me until she had my eyes.   Reaching out, she took both of my hands—another unchartered territory in the activity—and she held both my hands.

She knew what I was referring to when I said I had lost significant things and people.  She knew exactly.  Standing behind me, or next to someone else was not enough.  R knew the pain I was referring to.  She had seen it play out.  Even though she was 16 years younger than I was (a 19 to my 35,) she stood with me in that moment.  I was unaware of the others once she did that.

Rarely have I felt so exposed, so vulnerable and so supported at the same time.

She didn’t say anything.  She just smiled at me and squeezed my hands.

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The Elusive Goodbye

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The hospice room is large—the bed, its center—but it is empty.  Where are you?

In your room, perpendicular to the bed, and there’s a chair where your awkward body sits, slumps really.  You’re propped up like you’re feeling fine—that’s what healthy people do, they sit—but instead of attentive and alert, you are a rag doll.  Your head flopped useless to the side, your mop of brown hair piled on top of your head like this is normal.  Your bloated stomach from the swelling and the tumor looks wrong on you.  This is not how cute, college girls of 23 look.  You do not belong in this place with old bodies, bald heads and loose skin on bones like lace.  This place, where death hangs on the walls like yellowed paint.

 

Best Communication Tool Ever

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If you want to know one of the gold standard phrases for effective communication with another human being, say this outloud.   NOW.

“Do you want me to listen, or do you want me to comment?”

Did you exhale right then as you heard it in your own mind?  Were you hit with a wave of peace at the thought?  Did you think of a list of people you would like to hear this from in your real world?  Family members?  Friends? Spouses?  Co-workers? Parents?  Keep going, the list is long.  The idea that we could decide how people respond to our sharings is powerful.  The idea that we can request listening only as an option is unheard of.   Too often someone gives their own commentary on our sharings when we aren’t looking for that.

Denny McLoughlin coined the phrase “Do you want me to listen or do you want me to comment?” and I’ve eaten it whole.  It also works great with teenagers if you curious.  Teenagers love it.   The teens I’ve taught this to plead with me, “Will you teach that to my parents?”

There have been a number of times, at the camp I worked at, when a teen shared something personal and heartfelt with me.  I responded with “Do you want me to listen or comment?”

The teen would say, “Listen.”

And I would listen. I would usually have things to say, but I would bite my tongue and try to enjoy the fact that the only thing I had to do right then was Listen.  Not come up with something brilliant, I only had to hear them.

Then, after listening, nodding and soaking up what they said, they almost always said, “Ok, you can comment now.”

It is empowering to control who gets to comment on your life.  And when they do comment, it is because we invited them in, rather than finding out they had broken down the door.

This line tends to go hand in hand with another one of Denny’s teachings.

“Any unasked for advice is criticism.”

Sit with that for a second—Any unasked for advice is criticism—and think of the number of times someone has suggested what you should do, or how you should feel, or how you need to  react to some situation.  Did you want to punch them?  Did you find yourself suddenly annoyed?  Was it maybe because their comments felt like they were saying, “You aren’t doing this right.”?

This happens a lot in the health world.  If you have a disease, people have opinions.

And suggestions.

And comments.

And tips.

Some of my personal favorites are “Have you ever thought of seeing a specialist about this?” 

I also remember repeatedly being told, “Have you talked to a naturopath?”

Other times their opinions came in the form of how to handle what was happening, “You know you just need to stay positive.” 

All of these types of comments, these comments that were not requested, are intended to help.  They are intended to show me how much they care and want to be supportive.  But the reality is they often have the opposite effect.

Of course I have thought of seeing a specialist.  I AM seeing a specialist.  I am seeing multiple specialists.  I’ve got a whole team of special people. I’m up to my neck in specialists.  (If you worry a disease will affect your ability to be sarcastic, I am here to reassure you, it will not.)

No, I have not seen a naturopath.  I have nothing against them, but I’m already pretty overwhelmed by all the other stuff this disease entails. 

And lastly,  I’m don’t always feel positive.  Maybe I’m not supposed to always feel positive.  When you suggest that I should be positive, and I don’t feel like it—when I am sick and tired of being sick and tired—you indirectly suggest that I am not handling this the “right” way. 

Unasked for advice is criticism.  Even unintended.  It is why we bristle when we hear it.  It is why our eyebrows knit together, why we take a deep breath, why we bite our tongue.

Instead, here are some comments I find immensely more helpful.  Feel free to steal them.

“Sounds like a lot to manage.  Can I bring you chocolate?”

“Any awesomely weird side-effects from the drugs you want to talk about?” 

“If you ever want to bitch about this, feel free to call.  I’m all ears.” 

 

Now that’s the kind of comment I want to hear.

 

 

 

 

Who do you hate (and love?)

This New York Times’ article caught my attention this evening.  A good question indeed and I read on.  I love a deep question and I was already knee-deep in a pit of pondering about this one.

Who do I hate (and love?)

Then, ½ a second later, I realized it was an article about March Madness—which lost me and my oh-so-attentive interest—but not before I’d read the opening, which asked…

Which teams do you delight in their losses and which team’s wins fill you with happiness?

But I needed my version of that idea.  When I think of the people I love, who do I love and whom do I hate? not love?

Who did I delight in their joys and who failures did I enjoy not mind as much?

This is tough to be honest about.  Imagehttp://www.findyourtattoo.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Love-and-Hate-Tattoo.jpg

I don’t think I have people I hate, not love—and we’re talking about people I actually know here, not just historical people or people in the news.  I mean we can all get behind hating say, Hitler, right?—there are people  who I don’t always love when they have everything go their way.  The group is small, but it is there.

How does one get into such an esteemed club, you may wonder?

a)    take take take and never or rarely return energy given by others

b)   make everything always about them

c)    treat people I love badly

d)   treat people I love—including me—badly.

e)    Any combination of the above choices.

Now to be clear, it isn’t that I want anything bad to happen—most of the time—but sometimes, it is nice to watch them struggle a little or a lot.  Usually I don’t mind this because it feels like a karma is coming back to bite them in the butt a little.  A little karmic retribution.  Buddhists sometimes refer to this as paying your karmic debt.

For example, I often hope that they will have someone do to them what they did to me—whatever that is—so that they can find out how much it sucks.  So they can have that moment—the moment of enlightenment when they think, “MY GOSH I CAN’T BELIEVE I WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR CAUSING THIS AMOUNT OF PAIN.”

Then there might be groveling on their part.  Humble, gracious benevolence on my part.  Aren’t you lucky I’m nice enough to allow you to be forgiven on my part?

Weirdly it never really works out like this.

Usually, the person who has to deal, is me.  The person who needs to move on is me.  No karmic thunder bolts.  No Ah-ha! moments.   No retribution.  In fact, often my vice-like grip on the reality of being hurt or wronged is the cause of even more suffering on my part.

This is suffering that comes from wanting something to be something other than what it actually is.

Which is why I’m so grateful for the other part of this article?  Who do you love?

That group is bigger.  Robust.  Entertaining.  Compassionate.  Intelligent.  Talented.  Thoughtful.  Intuitive.  Insightful.  Warm.  This group is the “A  game” of the people I love group.  If they were in March Madness, these people would be “top seeds”—whatever that means—it would mean they knew what they were doing.  It would mean if you fill in brackets to win the pool at work, your money should be on these people.

So who exactly do I love?

Here’s a basic checklist.  You might find it helpful.

  • People who show up—really show up—when things are ugly or hard.
  • People who, when they tease me, I feel loved and known.
  • People who will share their dinner and—dare I say it?—dessert with me.
  • People with passion.  I don’t even know if I care what your passion is anymore.  But have some passion.  Star Trek, geology, photography, writing, working with people, music, whatever.  Please geek out about something.
  • People who answer questions I ask because they know that—no matter how scary it is—it is better to have people know who you really are.
  • People who like Coke Slurpees.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it—like a good house—has good bones.  It is a good place to start.  It makes me grateful that my who do you love list is pages and pages longer than the hate list.  That gives me hope.

What is on your checklist?