Desperate Disorientation

The reminder that life in this dimension is finite crept into our lives again this month…. People we love suffered losses: child, mother, mother-in-law and friends. It has unnerved me. As Sarah Dessensays in The Truth About Forever: One never gets used to it, “the idea of someone being gone. Just when you think it’s reconciled, accepted, someone points it out to you, and it just hits you all over again, that shocking.” I have wept quietly as I have watched from a distance.

It hasn’t been the death so much as the resultant loss that my friends are now experiencing that has unsettled me. This unkind struggle with earthly separation in this fallen world is a disorientating thing and it always seems to catch us unawares:
And yet it (death) is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know.
It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid
I feel helpless as I watch their reality shift. It’s a private journey through pain to acceptance.  How I wish I had enough comfort or a cure or healing but instead I am powerless to remove the heavy ache under their sternums. All I can offer is my presence in their despair and my willingness to stay through the confusion until their world readjusts.

Many Countries in the Same Space

I was fortunate when in London in September to see Yoko Ono’s Exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery: Into the Light. It was a free exhibition as part of the London 2012 Festival. Incredibly interactive it had an underlying message of love, peace and freedom. I was fascinated by the charmingly primitive nature of her work.

Some of her simple concepts resonate with where I find myself in my world right now. On one canvas were the words:
many rooms, many dreams, many countries in the same space
Another, ‘Three Mounds’ was exactly that – Mounds of dirt, each labelled as Country A, B, and C (attempting to blur the invisible frontiers between countries at war).
All of this has me thinking about how under the surface the difference between countries is less than we think…….
…that people across the world are connected more than we realize…..
It has me contemplating similarities and the common ground we share:……in relationships, love of beauty, hope, pain, joy and the pursuit of Love.
It has inspired me to focus more on people’s shared stories
and to concentrate less on the tension…
and more on the harmony fashioned by the opportunities of my own life!

Lessons from ‘Olive Kitteridge': Embracing Complex Lives

 
This month our book club is reading “Olive Kitteridge” By Elizabeth Strout . The book won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 
 
It’s a book of short stories in which, Olive Kitteridge, a seventh-grade math teacher and the wife of a pharmacist, is always present in some way or another. The collection of stories are easy to read and impossible to forget. I was fascinated by the book (on many levels) and even though I read the book more than six months ago, the impression it made on me continues have an influence.
Olive isn’t a nice person but as the stories continue, a more complicated portrait of the woman emerges. By the book’s very structure, “sliding in and out of different unrelated stories and different perspectives, it illuminates both what people understand about others and what they understand about themselves“. I think that what appeals to me most about the book – is that by watching one woman’s life unfold one realises that all people are complex, that there is always more to them than our perception. The conclusion one reaches after reading the story is that we need to try to understand people from different viewpoints and its that aspect that has held my curiosity as I have continued to think about this book.
The fact that so much of a person is actually concealed from others, means that labeling a person is actually a superficial act which probably says more about us than the other person. 
 
I fall into that trap all the time. In order to make sense of my world and the people who come in and out I categorize them and having sorted out in my mind what is relevant (to me) about them I flatten their character and often make them one-dimensional. This tendency is not an admirable one. It’s not one of Grace.
From the opposite perspective, I feel wounded when someone evaluates me and then places me in a pigeonhole.  Long before I started my more mobile existence I realised I was often different things in different situations and with different people. Of course, moving between different cultures and countries compounds that. I feel enlivened by friends who don’t need to rationalize everything about me and who don’t feel the need to “fix” me. 

I am more than you know me as…

I loved the way the author of this book gives us many different angles from which to see the same person. It was a reminder that my preference has always been to try to be understanding of people’s multifaceted lives.
 
But in a more radical way, my Heavenly Dad encourages me to be like Him and to go further by loving people unconditionally.
He doesn’t say I first have to understand them, formulate an opinion of them, or only love them when they deserve it, or when they are behaving responsibly or when they are doing things my way or in the way that makes me feel comfortable.
 
And so, my prayer is that I allow His Love in me to love the lives He interfaces with mine. Period.

Bathing and ‘Confirmation Bias’

 
As I visit different places and listen to people talk about what I consider an essential part of life: “bathing” I have come to realize how many views there are on this topic. 
 
Some prefer ‘bathing’ twice a day (or more), some weekly (or longer), some mean in a bathtub, others in a natural water source, some have the restraints health, some of water…..
Something so ‘basic’ can be viewed completely differently depending on the social mores of your upbringing and your life’s context. What fascinates me about this is: how deeply the tentacles of our flesh-life go. Even in this simple area our opinions show the human need to be ‘right’ or ‘better’ and are strongly defended everywhere.
This psychological mindset, which causes us to connect mentally to evidence that reinforces what we already believe – while dismissing any evidence that would contradict our existing beliefs is called ‘Confirmation Bias’. Obviously, the effect of this tendency is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. “Bathing” is not a critical issue but it is an example of this human tendency that I have experienced recently and it got me thinking.
The thing about ‘Confirmation Bias’ is that it’s so much part of who we are that we often have a knee-jerk reaction against any evidence that contradicts our viewpoint. In other words, we know what we know that we know and we don’t want to be bothered with information that goes against what we think we know. The dangers of this as an attitude are easier to recognize in others than in ourselves.
One wonders how much better off we would be both personally and internationally if this human trait wasn’t so deeply part of human nature. Examples of poor decisions and ugly conflicts as a result of ‘Confirmation Bias’ are not only to be found military, political, and organizational contexts but also in our personal lives and friendships.
As a result of what I call “my complicated life” (and one of its benefits), is that I am becoming more aware of this tendency in me. I am grateful for the fact that my life-experiences are broadening my view. Because of my personal tendency to dogmatism and self-righteousness my heavenly Dad has given me many opportunities to “eat my words” and recognise that my “never” is very much more likely than I ever thought! I am thankful that here are some things I believed for a long time that I don’t believe anymore. I now see those things differently. Nonetheless, this looks like it will be a life-long battle for keeping an open mind to the Truth.