Trust the Process

Butterfly Close up“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” ~ Golda Meir

“None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have Faith.” ~ Paulo Coelho, Brida

“We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end.” ~ Blaise Pascal

“… sometimes when we are beating ourselves up, we need to stop and say to that harassing voice inside, ‘Man, I’m doing the very best I can right now.’ “ ~ Brené Brown, Rising Strong

For several months I’ve felt the ground quaking underneath me. Sometimes change is a slight breeze and sometimes it’s like an 8.5 earthquake. It feels to me like we’re living through one of those seminal times in history when enormous changes take place. My personal life is also going through massive changes. On the one hand, I’m rejoicing. It feels like many good things are going to happen. On the other hand, I’m scared to death. What are these changes going to require of me? Like Iyanla Vanzant says, “When you’re about to try something new, a little trickle of pee should be running down your leg.” Well, I feel like peeing. Yet a comforting voice inside is also saying, “Trust the process.”

That’s kind of hard to do when my modus operandi is also changing. Up until recently, I was the peacemaker in my family. I was the one in the middle who tried to help all the sides come together to work out their differences. But about a year and a half ago, a family row pushed me to set my boundaries and declare the new me. I learned a great deal from that event. First off, it was difficult to be vulnerable enough to state my true feelings and declare that I wasn’t going to be caught in the middle any longer. I risked making some of my family members mad at me, which in fact did happen. But hiding my true feelings away to protect someone else isn’t really living up to my true potential. The second thing I knew already but had to reaffirm to myself was the fact that everyone is always doing the very best that they can at all times. Even though that is true, relationships are still a rough road to navigate because we get caught up in our emotions and our particular point of view.

That family fracas was, in my opinion, a kind of coming out event. I felt apprehensive being bold and declaring my real self, but I gained a large portion of self-love and respect during the process. Ever since that day, I’ve been taking a good look at my old life and throwing out attitudes which no longer fit the new me. I’m learning to be comfortable with the uncertainty of where I will end up since coming out of my cocoon. A side effect of my declaration is that my life is becoming a fun new adventure.

I believe if we’re open to it, our lives go through a reset every once in a while. Or maybe it’s a period of throwing out our trash, or a kind of molting into a new skin. If we’ve chosen to continue to grow and learn, we can’t help but shed the old and expand into the new.

One thing that this transformational period has done for me is to thrust me into an explosively creative period. I’ve got ideas for new projects and ways to make my novel better coming at me fast and furiously. It’s kind of like a spigot has been turned on and I can’t get the new ideas into the computer fast enough.

One of the latest ideas I’ve had is a book titled What If. From a young age sitting in church, or listening to the news, reading a book, watching a movie, or having conversations with my friends, I’ve asked what if that’s not how thus and such happened? What if people could interact with each other differently? What if religious doctrine got it wrong? This is fair warning, I’m going to start writing essays about these questions into this blog from time to time so that at a future date I can put them into a book.

This post is kind of all over the place. Writing is my way of trying to navigate my own thoughts and feelings about the extraordinary things I’m experiencing. I do have to say that I find this birth, death, rebirth process exciting. Where and who will I be in ten or fifteen years? What will the world look like, and what will we all have created only Divine Oneness knows. Curiosity is bubbling up inside me. I want to see what the changes will bring.

Thanks for reading. Share this post with your friends if you’ve a mind to, or leave a comment.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Journal and candle

Journal and candle

“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” ~ Brené Brown

People are like stained-glass windows, they sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in; their true beauty is revealed only if their light is from within.” ~ Elizabeth Kübler Ross

“The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness – even our wholeheartedness – actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences, including the falls.” ~ Brené Brown

I hope this post makes sense. This has been a stressful and tiring few days putting the finishing touches on our student written plays. There are always so many little problems to find solutions for to prepare for performances. All that work means I haven’t had time to continue reading Brené Brown’s latest book Rising Strong.

Last week before the last minute frenzy began, I was struck by a section in the book about how when we fail at something, or some negative event, big or small, happens to us, we make up a story about why it happened, how everyone else is to blame, and that we are the victims. In fact, she says that we’re wired to tell stories. She cites Neuroeconomist Paul Zak who “has found that hearing a story–a narrative with a beginning middle, and end–causes our brains to release cortisol and oxytocin. These chemicals trigger the uniquely human abilities to connect, empathize, and make meaning. Story is literally in our DNA.” (pg. 6 Rising Strong.)

So when we have an argument with a loved one, or someone at work, we tell ourselves their side of the story so we can get that rush of chemicals and feel better. The thing is, we’re probably lying to ourselves. We can’t possibly know how the other person was feeling, or what they were thinking during the argument. We tell ourselves stories about all kinds of encounters. Yet, if we want to grow, we have to deconstruct our own emotions over the encounter.

One of the things I love about Brené is that she tells stories about her own life struggles. She just puts her own process out there for her readers. She’s vulnerable. That’s something I’m struggling to be, open, honest, and transparent.

So, here goes. I sometimes encounter people who want to tell me how to do my writing process. That irritates the heck out of me, especially if they aren’t writing themselves. Going back to another Brené Brown book, Daring Greatly, if you’re not in the arena, then I don’t want to listen to your criticism, or helpful hints about how to do my job! In my opinion every artist has their own unique process, which should not be interfered with. As a teacher, I seek to guide students to find their own creativity not make them cookie cutter extensions of me.

So, when someone, who is not a writer, gives me advice, I make up all kinds of stories in my head about why they do that! I want to blame them for being controlling, or superior when I have no idea why they feel the need to “help” me. But what I’m really doing when I blame them, is avoiding something inside myself, or failing to set my boundaries.

These are the things that are going on in my head, “I’m new to writing. I’m not an expert. I flying by the seat of my pants and following some invisible creativity muse that only I can hear. Or maybe I’m just crazy.” I mean, I make up all kinds of stories about me, and the other person when they try to HELP me. When I should just calmly set a boundary and say that if you’re not an artist of some kind, then I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell me how to do my job. No blame, no shame. I won’t tell you how to live your life. I’ll be there for you if you need me and I may ask for your advice from time to time, and within those guidelines, we can still be friends.

The interesting thing is, I don’t tell myself stories when my writer friends make comments on my work. They are in the arena with me, struggling just like I am, so any help they can give me along the way is welcome.

Brené suggests you get a journal and investigate your negative feelings when they arise. They are sign posts pointing you to something vital that you need to deal with. I’ve been keeping a journal for almost forty years and I can say without a doubt, it is one of the most valuable personal growth tools I’ve got in my self-help tool box. I use my journal to examine the stories I make up in my head for big devastating events, and small irritating ones as well. Lately, I’ve been writing about my issues with people who are trying to help me. I understand you want to help. But sometimes creativity is a solitary process and the best way you can help an artist is to allow them to do their process and just support them with silence and good thoughts sent their way.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Creativity

Daffodils serenading the sun.

Daffodils serenading the sun.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” ~ Michael Jordan

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.” ~ Albert Einstein

“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” ~ Joseph Campbell

I’ve been reading some nonfiction books for a change and as they always do, they make me think about my life. I wrote about reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert last week. This week, I’m reading Rising Strong by Brené Brown. Both books have stirred the pot of my well of creativity. All of a sudden I’ve got ideas about new projects coming at me. In one way, that’s fantastic. In another, I don’t feel like I’ve got enough time to write them all down. I guess the ideas that are meant for me will stick around. The others will float off and land in another writer’s lap.

One idea I got about a week ago has taken hold. It’s a story about a young girl in an as yet unnamed kingdom who is secretly taught to be a warrior by her father. The young women of the villages in her kingdom must submit to a lottery during their sixteenth year to be sacrificed to a dragon who terrorizes the countryside. Or at least that’s the rumor. No one has seen the dragon for many years. However, the girls who are sacrificed never return, so everyone believes the rumor. The girl’s father teaches her to fight, which is forbidden, in an attempt to save her life. His reasoning is that if she can fight and strategize she might be able to slay the dragon and save the kingdom. I have some ideas about what really happens to the girls, and the discoveries the main character makes because, of course, she is chosen to be the sacrifice. But I have to let those ideas sit on the back burner for awhile before I write them down. The cool thing is that every day I get new ideas about the world in which the girl lives and what might happen to her after she meets the dragon.

It’s fun to have a new project in the works, however, I’m on another round of revisions on my novel, The Space Between Time and I want to get through it a couple more times before sending it off to my writer friends for more comments and possible corrections. Sometimes ideas flow too readily, yet, I’m grateful that they are flowing at all. I want to take a shot at writing them down and to see if the stories take shape.

Something else rumbling around in my head is that it’s almost eight years since I quit teaching full-time to become a writer, and at this juncture, I feel like it’s time to take some classes, or submit some work, do some research for my sequel novel, or do something different with all these ideas.

The bottom line is I’m restless, and yet I crave solitude. Kind of a strange combination of emotions. I think what this all means is that a big change is on its way to me, and that is exciting. I’ve got the summer off. Maybe the changes will happen then. In any case, no teaching for me this summer for the first time in seven or eight years. My mouth almost waters at the thought of eleven or twelve weeks to concentrate on my work with fewer distractions. So, if you ask me to meet for lunch or go for a walk, or some other outing during the day. I may refuse not because I don’t like you, but because I’m focusing on finishing my manuscript, and putting all the new ideas floating around in my head into the computer. How about dinner?

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

The Creative Life

Calla Lilies

Calla Lilies

“Creativity itself doesn’t care at all about results – the only thing it craves is the process. Learn to love the process and let whatever happens next happen, without fussing too much about it. Work like a monk, or a mule, or some other representative metaphor for diligence. Love the work. Destiny will do what it wants with you, regardless.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” ~ Brené Brown

“Curiosity is what keeps you working steadily, while hotter emotions may come and go.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

A few days ago I began reading, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s about living a creative life without fear. Some books blow your mind, others help you work through trauma, others are just plain fun. Then there are the books that confirm your feelings, your point of view. Those books can give you courage to continue on the road you’ve chosen. Big Magic is that kind of book for me.

Though I’ve only been writing for eight years and consider myself a new writer, I do have years of experience in the world of theatre. And to echo something from Elizabeth’s book, when you commit yourself to the creative life, you have to stick with it through thick and thin. I’ve been cast as characters that were very different from me and consequently very difficult to play because I had a hard time relating to them. On the other hand I’ve played characters that were so much like me that it was difficult to know where the character ended and I began.

Writing is like that too. Some days I sit down to write my weekly blog post or work on my novel and the words flow out my fingers with little need of revision. Other times I struggle with the concepts I’m trying to convey. I write, then dump whole sections or sometimes begin over. Since I’m under a deadline for my blog, I have to publish it even though what I’ve written may not adequately express the idea that’s been running around in my head looking for an outlet.

At the beginning of this year, I decided that I’d like to try my hand at writing essays and stories to send to publications with open submissions. One particular opportunity struck my fancy. The magazine, Story has called for submissions on the theme of identity. When I saw that, I thought, “I have lots to say on that topic,” and I began writing. That was over two months ago and I’m still struggling with the piece. The deadline for submission is fast approaching and I have too much to say about identity. I can’t narrow my thoughts down into a coherent whole. It’s like when I get close to a vital idea for the piece it floats away from me. As a result I may not get it together in time to submit it for publication.

I was feeling discouraged about that, but after reading Big Magic, my viewpoint has changed. Maybe I’m not supposed to write about identity. On the other hand a story idea flitted toward me the other day, and it’s demanding attention. This story wants to be written, and written by me. Elizabeth’s theory is that creative ideas float around until they find the person who is supposed to bring the idea to life. That’s how this new story idea feels to me, unlike the essay on identity. I’ll continue to work on the essay until it tells me to quit. That’s all a creative person can do, follow the breadcrumbs and see where they lead you.

You also have to put your work out into the world anyway you can. Last night in the section I was reading, Elizabeth related a story of the first piece she had published. The title of the story was “Pilgrims”, and the editor of Esquire magazine wanted to publish it. She was ecstatic. Finally after years of trying, her work would be published in a major magazine. Then she got a call. A large advertising sponsor had backed out of placing their ads and the editor would have to reduce the number of pages for the edition that was to include her story. They wanted to know if she would be willing to cut her ten page story by thirty percent. She could wait for a future publication, but the magazine business was changeable, her contact warned, and her story might never be published. She chose to rewrite the story and it turned out to be a good thing she did, because two months later, the editor left for a new position and her story would have gone into oblivion.

Choosing the creative life sends the practitioner off into a mysterious world. There are peaks and valleys. One day everything is going well with your project and the next, the idea well is dry, or tastes funny, or has gone underground and is flowing toward another artist. All we can do is commit to the work. I find that the deeper my commitment, the more I’m supported by the creativity fairies who sometimes lead me in directions I had no intention of going. Yet, I’ve committed myself to them, so I must follow. The point is, I look forward every morning to sitting down at my computer and following the breadcrumbs left for me that day.

Well, this is one of those blog posts that is kind of all over the place. My ideas are still not completely formed. The ideas from Big Magic are still drifting around in my head, and out in the ethers waiting to crystalize. That doesn’t matter. I’ll publish this post anyway.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

My Father part 4 – Leading by Example

Dad's Birthday

Dad’s Birthday

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” ~ John C. Maxwell

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” ~ Lao Tzu

“Example is leadership.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

This past weekend I had a Facebook conversation, if you can call it that, with one of my friends. His politics are conservative judging by his posts and there have been times when he’s posted photos and memes that are, in my opinion, hateful toward Muslims. Sometimes when I see those, I hide them, because the photo or sentiment promotes violence and hatred, and I don’t want them on my feed. I have not unfriended him, because one thing I learned from my father is that the only way to change someone’s mind is to try to understand them and then lead by example.

Now, this person and I only have contact on Facebook. However, I believe social media can be a powerful tool. With it you can spread any message you choose. I choose to try to spread compassion, understanding, kindness and love. I’m not perfect and sometimes I post questions that are nagging at me about our current national dialogue on so many issues. And sometimes I post memes that express something that I hope people will think about.

Thursday, I found this meme on my newsfeed, which I reposted: “There are well over a billion Muslims on this planet. If Islam was really about violence you’d all be dead by now. Stop letting your TV and Newspaper tell you who to hate.” Most of my friends liked the post, however, it set off a firestorm of nasty comments from the above mentioned Facebook friend. I admit it is rather confrontational and unlike me to repost such a thing, but sometimes we do need to state clearly our point of view which this meme did for me.

However, as I was reminded by the debate I set in motion, you can’t change anyone’s mind once they’ve become entrenched in that point of view. My dad used to say that and he was right as I relearned last week. Fortunately for me, this man did not unfriend me. I stopped trying to convince him of my point of view and he did the same. Maybe if I continue to post my viewpoint about treating others with compassion and empathy, eventually he and I will change our feelings toward each other.

I know it seems like there is so much hatred in the world but if you look you can find messages of hope. Saturday I reposted this meme from “Parliament of the World’s Religions,” after the attacks on Brussels. It reads: “If you are not Muslim, say to someone who is: ‘I’m glad you’re here.’ If you do not know a Muslim, meet a Muslim, then say to them: ‘I’m glad you’re here.’” Whoever created this meme is trying to get us to think in new more loving ways instead of continuing to perpetuate retaliation which only exacerbates a situation. Insert any word that describes a group different that you into the meme and be kind not confrontational with them. That’s easier said than done for me when it comes to politics especially since the extreme conservatives have entrenched themselves and are, figuratively speaking, arming themselves for political battle. It’s been like this for almost eight years and the situation seems hopeless. Yet, we can change the situation by taking a new tack. I’ve read two articles recently that give me hope that the tide is changing away from attack to empathy.

The first is from Popular Resistance titled: “History Teaches That We have the Power to Transform the Nation, Here’s How.” The authors, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers published this on June 12, 2013, but it seems even more relevant today and points out all the times in history when regular everyday people banded together to effect huge changes in their societies. Most of their examples are based on non-violent movements, but our country was formed by people banding together and saying, “We want to govern ourselves.” It seems we’re having to do that again. I hope we accomplish it using empathy this time.

Another article I read recently on the same theme of non-violent change, was a much more personal piece published on March 18, 2016 by George Lakey on the Waging Nonviolence website It’s about his experience protesting outside a Trump rally. The title of the article is “How empathy, not protest, can defeat Trump and right-wing extremism.” In the article he asks these questions: where does the violence of the Ku Klux Klan, and by extension other hate groups, come from? And where is empathy honored in our culture? He believes empathy is the vital tool to bridging the gap in the wide divide between political groups. I think he makes some important points in his article. Each side has been attacking the other. That hasn’t worked to solve our problems. Maybe using empathy will.

These are just two examples of people who are advocating that instead of continuing to confront our “enemies”, we should lead by example and use compassion and understanding to create a bridge. I’m all for that and will continue to plant seeds and show compassion and use empathy wherever I can. My first act of compassion is to keep as friends people who don’t agree with me and show as much empathy toward them as I can. Remember, “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” ~ Lao Tzu. My father was soft when dealing with people. I want to be that too.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share this post with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

My Father part 3 – Honoring Others

Getting a hug from Dad

Getting a hug from Dad

“Find the sweetness in your own heart, then you may find the sweetness in every heart.” ~ Rumi

“Some cause happiness wherever they go.” ~ Oscar Wilde

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

There are some people who light up a room when they come into it, who make everyone feel good, and when you’re with them they make you feel like you are the most important person in the world. My father was one of those people. That was remarkable because he wasn’t the loud extrovert who makes a noisy entrance. He was a humble introvert, but when he spoke people listened, and when people spoke he listened with eloquence. He honored everyone he encountered. What this taught me was that if you are interested in people, you can make a big difference in their lives, and in your own life too.

From my father I learned to be empathetic, to listen and try to see past the outer behaviors and attitudes we all protect ourselves with; the faces we present to the world. These tools helped me as I went out into the world. I encountered people at school, college and work who didn’t know how to use empathy as a tool. Having to associate with them was extremely uncomfortable and confusing. I was surprised that not everyone had learned those skills from their parents. However, as I thought about how different I was from others, eventually, a kernel of an idea began to grow. Maybe everyone comes into this world with a hidden purpose that contributes to whatever it is that is driving all of humanity toward some eventual bright future.

It was at this point that I read the book, Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch. In the book Neale asks God why we had to have a person like Hitler? What was the purpose of having a person who was so filled with fear and hatred that millions of people were killed as a result of his drive for power? Why hadn’t He stepped in to protect us? God’s answer made so much sense to me. Humans have free will. People like Hitler show us the contrast between love and hatred. And when we’re confronted with those people, we have an opportunity to choose whether to follow them, or follow the path of love as set out by people like Jesus, or Buddha or other great teachers. When a Hitler comes into so much power, the only solution, if we choose love, is to stand up to them. In other words, God said World War II was necessary to affirm that we, as a human collective wanted to live by love rather than hatred. That made so much sense to me. Situations like that force us to come together to use our free will and choose what kind of society we want to live in. It is, of course, a slow process. More opportunities to choose, like the seminal moment in which we find ourselves right now, will present themselves. Each individual who chooses to honor others, rather than to grab for power, pushes us toward growth. The process isn’t easy. It’s messy and uncomfortable, but necessary.

We like to think that our lives don’t matter but they do. My dad was a humble man who didn’t aspire to be a world leader, but I felt good when I was around him. He made the people he associated with feel good about themselves. He helped us all discover talents we didn’t know we had, he honored us in ways not many other people did. I’m so grateful that he was my father because as I’ve tried to emulate him, I know that others who knew him are doing the same. The ripples of his influence continue out into the world. He wouldn’t want any more of a tribute than that. And I’m grateful for what I learned from him so I can make my own contributions for love. Thanks, Dad.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment, or share the link for this post with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Things I Learned from My Father part 2 – Kindness

Dad and me on Easter Sunday

Dad and me on Easter Sunday

“No act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted.” ~ Aesop

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” ~ Dalai Lama

“Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me those are traditional values.” ~ Ellen DeGeneres

The other day I was trolling Facebook and saw a video that fits perfectly something I learned from my father: it’s important to always be kind and give people the benefit of the doubt. My dad was almost always kind to others. He rarely lost his temper even at home, even when people were in his face challenging, or yelling at him.

But back to the video. In it a man with a “Trump Supporter” T-shirt and a sign that asked for hugs was standing outside a Bernie Sanders rally. He had a camera crew with him, so I don’t know if he was a real Trump supporter, or someone doing a social experiment. In any case as the rally ended and people poured out, he held up his sign asking for a hug. Only one person said, “F**k you.” Many people walked by without saying a word, but once the first person gave him a hug, many others followed. One woman even said, “Oh, you poor guy.” There was one man who wasn’t sure he wanted to give this Trump supporter a hug, he kind of hemmed and hawed, but finally he approached and gave the best hug. At the end of the video the young man said something like, “See we can overlook our differences and find common ground.”

In this season of so much controversy, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what my dad taught me about being kind.

The summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school, we moved from Wilbur, Washington to a five acre lot, twelve miles south of Spokane. There I was starting at a new country school that just happened to be rivals with the school I had been attending. The students at the new school were much nicer to me than the ones at the old had been when I started school there. That was wonderful, but church wasn’t so wonderful. My father was a progressive thinker in every aspect of his life. The members of the three congregations in Spokane were mostly conservative which as they got to know my father caused some real problems for our family.

At various times my father was, the district wide youth leader, and later pastor of our congregation. As youth leader, he wanted to broaden our experiences, so he did things like start a “Coffee House” in the basement of our congregation every Friday or Saturday night. We drank soda or tea, ate cookies or popcorn and had an open mic where people could sing, or recite or read what they’d written. We were encouraged to invite our friends. The atmosphere was dark with candles on the tables which made it feel very intimate. We kids loved it. The parents did not. We were, of course, chaperoned, but that didn’t matter. There was an uproar that inappropriate things were happening at the coffee house and the experiment was shut down.

Then dad started a program with the local mental hospital. Those of us who attended their monthly socials, would just talk to the inmates of the hospital, play games or read to them, or maybe dance with them. But again, people objected. Why should we be subjected to those unsavory people in the mental hospital? Maybe the parents were jealous. My father was very popular with the younger generation. Whatever the case, our trips to the hospital stopped.

When my father became pastor of our congregation, he started a relationship with the minister of the Baptist church a few blocks away. The congregation was made up of mostly black people and the two ministers cooked up a scheme where the two congregations would get to know each other so we could do some community outreach together. Unfortunately, that too fell flat.

Each of these attempts by my father to help get us out of our insular activities and worship, caused great anger toward him and our entire family. My parents received hate mail and terrible phone calls from congregation and district members. Though my parents tried to shield us from the controversy, I was old enough to catch snippets of conversations that gave me a pretty clear picture of what was going on. My father was considered a rabble rouser and many people didn’t like him. There were times when I witnessed people confronting him at church. No matter what they said or how they treated him, he was always kind.

Witnessing the way my father interacted with people left a deep impression on me. I asked myself how he was able to stay so calm and return hatred with kindness? One thing I noticed was that after such confrontations, he’d go to his bedroom, or some other quiet place to be alone for awhile. When I took up this same practice, I found that it helped me in my attempts to be kind to others.

I’m not perfect. There are times when I feel overwhelmed by emotions I don’t understand and I want to make nasty comments either in person, or on social media. But that would only escalate an already volatile situation. When I feel strong negative emotions, I follow what I learned from my father, I go to a quiet place, write down my feelings and meditate to calm myself. I wish we taught those skills in our schools because if we did, we might have a more peaceful world. I’m grateful I learned them from my father.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment, or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Things I Learned from My Father

James Calvin Sage

James Calvin Sage

“Here is my secret, A very simple secret, It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ The Little Prince

“We are approaching a new age of synthesis. Knowledge cannot be merely a degree or a skill … it demands a broader vision, capabilities in critical thinking and logical deduction without which we cannot have constructive progress.” ~ Li Ka-shing

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and aiming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” ~ Adrienne Rich

“Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking in order to make your thinking better.” ~ Richard W. Paul

Yesterday, March 8, would have been my father’s 86th birthday. I still miss him though it’s been twelve years since his death. He was my mentor, and on this anniversary of his birth, I’d like to share some of the wonderful things he taught me.

First and foremost was to Question everything. My father was extremely intelligent, even though he had to drop out of school. His teachers called him lazy, and told him that he’d never amount to anything. Boy were they wrong. It’s amazing the extent of influence one person has on the world.

After years of struggling, my dad discovered that he had dyslexia, which was unheard of in the 1930s and 40s when he was in school. But by the time he had a label for his condition it didn’t matter because he had taught himself how to read. And what he read about was history and historical places. He loved biographies like those of the Founding Fathers. When my brother and I began college he read philosophy and theology, which was what we were studying. In fact, dad was interested in everything, especially what was going on in the present. “It’s history in the making,” he’d say. So, of course, he read news magazines, the newspaper and watched both the early and late news every night. And he questioned all of it.

He taught me never to assume that I understood what someone was saying or writing. We each attach different meanings to the same words. So, I should analyze information by asking lots of questions. He taught me this, oddly enough, by watching movies with me. When I was a teenager, we’d stay up late on weekend evenings watching and discussing old movies. We’d talk about the plot and characters, their motivations and what we thought the theme might be. Every question he asked me sent me to a deeper level of thinking.

Because he watched movies with me, I began to watch the news with him. I’d ask him questions like, why the police were beating the peaceful demonstrators, or why people were killing black people who wanted equal rights, or why we were fighting the Viet Nam War, and he would say things like, “People hurt others because they’re deeply wounded themselves. They’re scared.” “Scared of what?” I’d ask. “Scared of losing their way of life,” he’d answer. Another thing he used to say was, “People who are in great pain don’t know what they’re doing. They just want to feel better. They think hurting someone else will get rid of their pain, not realizing that one violent act leads to another.” So I began asking lots of questions no matter what I was listening to, or reading, or who I was interacting with.

When I became a public school teacher I learned that asking questions is called the Socratic Method. It’s the method Socrates used to help his students learn to think. Thanks to dad, it’s the way I teach, it’s the way I live my life.

Asking questions about why people do what they do is a particularly valuable tool for me in my day to day life. It’s extremely important to ask what a commentator, a politician, a TV ad, or a writer means by the words they use in their news and TV shows, ads, articles, movies and books. When I ask questions, it causes me to take a deeper look and helps me understand someone’s intent, or their motives. When I have a clearer picture, I’m better equipped to make decisions, and understand my family, friends, students and colleagues in a way I might not have realized had I not asked questions.

This method has also helped me a great deal as a writer. Because as I ask questions about the challenges I face in my personal life, what I learn becomes part of my novel or these blog entries. I’m mining my own life to help me convey complex undercurrents of thoughts and feelings that are pushing their way to the surface of my consciousness hoping to be expressed. I don’t always understand what wants to come forth until I begin writing.

Asking questions has helped me in other ways as well. There have been times when some tragedy happens and because I’ve asked lots of questions for so long, I can make connections between historical events and what’s happening in the present moment. What looks like chaos is really an opportunity for all of us to grow.

Hmmm, I took up so much time on this first important thing I learned from my father, that I didn’t have time to write about the other wonderful things he taught me. I guess I’ll have to turn these posts about my dad into a series. I’m happy to take another look at what he taught me and share it with you. I’ll probably gain some new insights by doing that which is a good thing. Thanks, Dad.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Empathy and Mean Memes

Hands of different races

Hands of different races

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” ~ Stephen Covey

“The struggle of my life created empathy – I could relate to pain, being abandoned, having people not love me.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

“I always think that if you look at anyone in detail, you will have empathy for them because you recognize them as a human being, no matter what they’ve done.” ~ Andrea Arnold

About a week ago I saw this meme on Facebook. “Unpopular opinion: We are not all equal. I worked my ass off to get where I am, I deserve what I have, I shouldn’t have to give up what I’ve worked for to make things equal.” ~ Whisper. When I read this meme, I found it disturbing on several different levels. First of all, it shows a lack of empathy, which I believe to be extremely important in human relations. Second of all, the writer assumes there is not enough abundance to go around which I believe to be completely untrue. We just need to spread the abundance around so everyone has enough.

The other day I was at Target before going to teach my evening class at the college. I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between the man in front of me and the cashier. The customer said that he hoped the cashier’s shift was nearly over, to which the cashier replied, “Nope. I don’t get off until 9:00 tonight … four more hours. And I’m tired. I just came from my other job.” Of course the customer commiserated with the cashier which affected me deeply. I nearly cried. What must that young man’s life be like? Does he have any down time at all? Or is his life going from one job to the next just so he can survive. How horrible. It’s like he’s condemned to a living hell.

We often make the assumption that people who are poor are lazy. I don’t believe that’s true as evidenced by the cashier at Target. It takes a great deal of effort for the less fortunate to make ends meet, which leaves little time for additional education, or looking for a better job, or having fun with family and friends.

When I overheard the conversation in Target, I thought again of the above meme. The writer assumes that some people are more deserving than others. I don’t believe that to be true. We all come from the same place and our country is founded on that very idea. In the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I think what Thomas Jefferson meant was that every single person born on this planet is seen by the Creator as having the same value to every other person, and that VALUE has nothing to do with what we own, the job we have, how hard we work, or anything else which is visible. Our value is something intangible, known to God and only minimally to ourselves.

Most of us are incapable of seeing another person’s or even our own true self. We have no idea who they or we are beyond the tangible things we associate with personhood. That’s the tragedy humans have been trying to overcome since we became the human race. The have nots feel their worth instinctively, while the haves sometimes arrogantly assume they have more worth than anyone else. We hold so tightly onto what we have because we’re afraid of losing it. But our country was founded on the idea that if we share what we have with each other, we all become richer. It has been one attempt to give everyone a chance to be free to navigate their own path and to fulfill their personal destiny. It hasn’t been a perfect experiment as we all know. However, I think, perhaps, we are in a new era of attempting to reset the balance so that everyone can thrive and find their perfect life. It seems to be happening in various ways all over the planet, people standing up for their rights and doing things that change our perspective of what it means to be a person of worth.

In my opinion the solution to our current financial, political, and religious imbalance is to share what abundance we have with each other, to be open and try to understand one another. Compassion and empathy are things each of us can learn. Now when the world is in such turmoil it seems a particularly good time to dedicate ourselves to cultivating both empathy and compassion. It doesn’t take much, just do what Harper Lee wrote in To Kill A Mockingbird. “You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Thank You Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird book cover

To Kill A Mockingbird book cover

“Success should always call for showing greater kindness, generosity and justice; only people lost in the darkness treat it as an occasion for greater greed.” ~ Cyrus the Great

“Words, in my humble opinion, are our most inexhaustible source of magic.” ~ Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” ~ Harper Lee

As most of you know, Harper Lee died this past week. Until last year, her reputation as a world class author rested on one book, To Kill A Mockingbird. I haven’t yet read her latest book, Go Set A Watchman, its on order, but if I rely on the description, it rounds out the maturation of the character of Scout. She learns some things that change her perspective of her childhood, her life and her community. To me that’s what life is all about, learning and growing, accepting the good and the bad without judgment.

In my estimation, having even one book so widely read and acclaimed is quite an accomplishment. Harper Lee’s book lays open the human condition for us to examine. She, like all authors, allows us to climb into the skin of the characters and walk around in them for awhile. Most of us don’t get to make that large an impact on the world, but that doesn’t matter. As another famous author, George Eliot, wrote of her main character Dorothea Ladislaw in the final passage of her book Middlemarch, “Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Each person touches so many other lives. We’re often carelessly wrapped up in our problems that we act in ways that we might not choose if we were thinking clearly. We forget that we have an effect on those around us. Perhaps that’s all part of our drive toward learning as well. For making mistakes with dire consequences can wake us up and cause us to be more conscious from then on. Every interaction plants seeds. Seeds of thought, seeds of emotions, seeds for good or ill.

Often as I’m sitting at the computer writing, I wonder if what I’m writing will touch anyone’s heart and I think of all the writers throughout the ages, known and unknown who recorded their experiences because they had to, because something inside called out to be expressed. For one reason or another, some work is never discovered and read. However, I like to think that nothing is ever lost and what those authors wrote is out there in the ethers somewhere and we are affected by the insights they expressed.

That’s why I write. I know that I may never be a famous world class writer like Harper Lee, but if I learn something vital about what it means to be human from my experience of writing, then I’ve lived faithfully. My hidden life as a writer will add something to the whole of humanity in some mysterious way and that is enough.

I am grateful that Harper Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird. She helped so many people on levels seen and unseen. I’m equally grateful that many other writers dare to expose their deepest insights so the rest of us can examine ourselves at a safe distance. What we read doubles our chances for growth as a human race.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016