real love endures

So, I was texting, late at night. I got condolences from my third-favorite ex boyfriend,  who had seen my tweet about a family elder’s passing on. By mutual agreement, third-favorite ex-boyfriend and I have friendzoned each other. He is a part of my tribe; some people just are. They become a part of our story, our heart, and whatever wacky things happen just don’t matter as much as the good stuff. Like a condolence text that turned into a conversation about some idiot that I am literally never talking to again, and perked me up greatly.

“And you still hang out with ME,” third-favorite ex-boyfriend observed, cannily, of the idiot in question. “What in the HELL did he do?!”

Third-favorite ex-boyfriend has a way with words. He is dreadfully, brilliantly funny in the very worst and best ways. I adore him for it. He has a way of snapping me out of my funks and making me laugh and live in the present moment. And he was the first man to cheer me after I pretty much got dumped right before the actual altar.

This week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the past, about the ghosts in my head. 

“You love that dead man more than me,” my altar-dumping ex-fiancé informed me at the beginning of the end of our relationship, when I fell into a deep depression upon the death of another of my tribe, whom I loved dearly, with all my heart. How could anyone not love a man who was one with nature, who knew every rock and tree and spider and violet in the woods, who trekked through raging snowstorms to save egomaniac tourist hikers from themselves whenever he got a call from the forest service. He was a man who always showed up, loved, and cared. He died too young when cancer ate him up. I did love that dead man more than my ex-fiancé, and another dead man, too—one he didn’t know about, my very first crush, whom I knew all my life, and dated, and who died in college. 

Only the good die young. I suppose this means my ex-fiancé and Keith Richards will inherit the earth some day, along with the cockroaches, long after the zombie apocalypse. I’m sure they’ll have a great time singing together and blathering on about all the fun times they had when the world was still lit by electric lights and humanity. But I’m being a bitch now, and I digress.

This is the third anniversary of the week I would have been married. But the ex-fiancé called off the wedding and said that he couldn’t say for certain he would ever marry me. So I took my toys and left, so to speak, and expressed upon facebook my wish that he would get hit by a bus. (That was not appropriate. I see that now; it was the wounded pride and the copious French wine talking…)

But I never acknowledged the pain he said he felt upon what (for him, anyway) appeared to be my surprise exit. I see that now. And I acknowledge and release it, the last link to that relationship, that relationship in which I did enjoy many moments, in which I did grow.

So I’m sober now. And it’s also, more importantly, the first anniversary of my godbrother’s death. The timing contorted my feelings. Enmeshed in the strangeness, the emotional discomfort of both anniversaries, I was confusing the grief over my godbrother’s dying too young with the memory of the loss of the marriage and the life I once thought I wanted.

I haven’t wanted that life with the ex-fiancé since I got sober. Many merlot-soaked moons ago, all I wanted was to be rescued from the academic gulag, and the ex-fiancé seemed like the perfect fairy-tale pumpkin coach out, across the ocean, into my old home, the music business. But he wasn’t a fairy-tale hero; he was just a guy with strengths and flaws, like anyone else. 

It turned out, I had to save myself—or really, let God do it, which is sort of the same thing, but better.

So, now I can’t remember the exact date of the cancelled wedding. I do remember that my fabulous former girlfriend purposefully helped me turn that dark anniversary into a new experience: a river-tubing trip through the North Carolina mountains. So that date was reborn, and she helped me heal. 

But I am going to put flowers on my godbrother’s grave this week. And I will carry my godbrother with me, the memory in my heart, always. He wouldn’t want me to weep for him, but to celebrate his life, the glorious moments, the lakeside laughs. His effervescent smile.

And so I remember: all love that is true endures—whether it is for family, or friends, or a favorite tree, or even my third-favorite ex-boyfriend. We carry the real love of our tribe in our hearts forever, no matter how long or short the duration, never mind whether it was familial, platonic, or amorous. 

“I carry your heart with me. I carry it in my heart.” – E. E. Cummings

A Handbook for Processing Cultural and Personal Trauma

Many people are emotionally reeling right now. In addition to the turmoil in the world, we all have our own stuff. My great-uncle passed away this weekend, and I loved him dearly. He was a hero of the Korean War, beloved by all, full of laughter and light and stories—and love. All he had seen, all he had experienced, made him more loving, more empathetic, and more compassionate. He cared deeply for all life. With my emotional red alert raised already by the refugee crisis, my uncle’s death was harder to process. This is normal; we’ve all got our “stuff.” And in times like these, what might have felt like ordinary obstacles can become full-on roadblocks, and traumas seemingly insurmountable.

Seeing refugee children torn from their parents’ arms and placed in cages and tent cities is terrifying. Perhaps it is even more frightening seeing people we know (or thought we knew) supporting this horrific violation of human rights.

When I taught the Holocaust, my students would ask me, “How could this happen?” There is no simple answer. Indifference, fear, hatred, and bigotry are the big ones. But the choice to be a bystander is in itself a choice. Do you look, and face the darkness, or do you turn away, barbecue something on the grill, change the tv channel? Do you believe the propaganda, because it’s easier than facing the darkness and then having to make the choice about actually doing something about it? Or do you find a way to stay kind, to stay aware, to stay good, and somehow remain sane despite all the madness around you?

These are hard questions. And I’ve thought about them for seventeen years. As a scholar of war and human rights, watching or reading the news is never simple.

Anxiety is running rampant in these dark times.

But there are some strategies I learned in my years studying the Holocaust, slavery, and genocide, that help me to stay sane.

The first is the most important. It’s about perspective. During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu heard hundreds of hours of accounts of the worst violence, torture, and cruelty—what Victor Frankl described after the Holocaust as “man’s inhumanity to man.”

Oprah (yes, Oprah, legit!) asked Tutu years ago how he handled it. Tutu said that most people are like vacuum cleaners; they suck all of horrible things they see inside of them and it just stays there. Tutu said that we have to be dishwashers: to witness, to help others be seen, to process their stories, and to clean them.

It’s hard to be a dishwasher. Reading concentration camp memoirs and stories from the Warsaw Ghetto and U.S. State Department documents turning refugees away, such as the story of the SS. St. Louis, in which refugees from the Holocaust were literally on the coast of the USA, yards away from safety, but were turned away. They died.

I fell into a deep depression the first time I was studying these things, and understandably so. But I had to learn that the act of witnessing, of listening, of not turning away, is itself a good deed. It’s the right thing to do. When we don’t turn away, we can educate others.

When we don’t turn away, we have to process the grief and the horror and the compassion fatigue. It’s hard, but it can be done.

MEMOIRS

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Reading memoirs of trauma and violence can be overwhelming. But they can also be sources of hope—many authors stand out in this category, transmuting their experiences into stories that can uplift us after they make us cry. Organized by going backward in time, here are a few to get you started:

  • Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom (Mandela’s memoir of Apartheid)
  • Ruth Minsky Sender’s The Cage (on surviving the Warsaw Ghetto in the Holocaust)
  • Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography (American slavery and freedom from the perspective of escaped slave—and greatest orator of the nineteenth century—Douglass)

HISTORY

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And reading books that explain how ordinary people either let terrible things happen—or how they chose to fight them—is also helpful. Alphabetically, these are excellent:

SELF-CARE

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It’s also important to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself!

  • Go outside and look at nature, whether that means visiting the flowers in a park a few blocks away, or out your backdoor at the Chesapeake Bay, just DO it! Here’s more on “Why Connecting with Nature Elevates Your Mental Health.”
  • Read a favorite book, one you already know and love. (Check out my Goodreads here!)
  • Watch an old comedy that always makes you laugh. Lifehack has a great list of 10 Movies You Should Watch to Boost Your Mood and Energy. An IMDB user made a comedy list of movies that cheer you up.
  • And seriously, laugh! No, really. Even fake laughter releases endorphins that are very real for your body. If you can’t make yourself laugh, take a gander at “laughter yoga.Call a friend you haven’t spoken with in a long time.
  • Call the people you love and tell them how much you love them.
  • Send snail mail along the same lines.
  • Look at beautiful pictures—faerie eyries, mountains, the beach, puppies–to destress. There are ACTUAL STUDIES on this.
  • Make yourself a special mocktail (here’s my mocktail recipe board).
  • Order your favorite meal.
  • Take a hot bath. Use candles. Add bath salts. Music helps too. Go wild. Add a boat like Chandler Bing from Friends if you need to make it feel more manly. (Actually, here’s a whole fun thread about Friends!)
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  • Listen to slow, soft music that slows down your brain. Here’s Peaceful Piano on Spotify!
  • Take deeeeeeep breaths. In to the count of three, out for the count of five. This gets your body out of fight or flight mode, and lets it normalize itself. Let the Berkeley scientists teach you mindful breathing here.
  • Play: pick up an instrument, lift weights, play video games with your kids or friends, toss a ball for your dog, annoy your cat by removing them from whatever box they are currently sitting in and cuddle.
  • Exercise—just 20 minutes of cardio releases seratonin in a big way. The Runner’s High is REAL, folks.
  • Get in touch with the Higher Power of your understanding and ask for help.
  • Work on mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh is my favorite writer on this topic, and this is my favorite book of his. He even has a great quote on the magic of washing the dishes:

“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity,for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!” -Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

OTHER RESOURCES

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And please remember: it’s okay to ask for help. Reach out. Ask your loved ones for a little extra TLC or a hug. Talk to a trauma therapist. Send up a flare. Let someone see you, really see you—so they can know.

We are all in this together. Keep fighting the good fight and take care of yourselves. And love each other. Love each other fiercely, because life is short. But hang in there, because together, we dishwashers can help heal ourselves, hold each other up, and continue the great work of doing good wherever we can, however we are able

And as always, Namaste, Darlings

—Maggie

feet on the earth

The sea. The mountains. The grass in the park. There is something primal about having our feet on the earth, barefoot.

In yoga, we focus a lot on grounding. Grounding into ourselves, the earth, the ultimate source. Our higher power.

Whenever I’m stressed, I have to stop. Take a breather. Take care of myself. And ground. Let go of what is hurting, binding, release it down. Dig my toes in–never mind the imperfection of the messy pedicure and flip-flop toe stub from the subway–and pull deep from the source. Feel the life in the ground beneath us, the promise in the earth itself.

Wherever you are today, I hope there’s a nice patch of land you can sink your toes in.

I wish you: Peace. Serenity. Joy.

Namaste, darlings!

-Maggie

Think of Your Happy Place

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One of my besties sends me beach pictures most days. He lives in sunny Florida, and he knows I love the sea and sand and sun. So sometimes, if I’m stressed, I just look at the pictures, imagine the waves, and zen out. It’s like meditation for dummies, without the mala beads and the mantra. But the affect is the same: space, light, stillness. A slowing of the breath, and an easing of my soul.

So go to your happy place today, even if it’s just a mini mental vacation.

Namaste, Darlings!