Marble Jar People

In all the things I struggle with, and my friends, there are a few, I find trust to be the hardest. It’s a tough thing to break down and for me, is one of the scariest things to step into.

Trusting you or you trusting me, means I am stepping in. I am willing to expose some part of myself I usually keep hidden and I am hoping that you are going to be careful with what I give you; treat it kindly and with grace.

Of course, we are thoroughly imperfect humans and throughout every day, I know I make mistakes with the vulnerability that is entrusted to me. I do not always honour the feelings that come with vulnerability, or recognize the bravery of another human to expose part of themselves. Others do this to me, and I think it is commonly understood that this hurts, sometimes a hell of a lot.

Trying to navigate trust in relationships can feel to me like trying to find a port in a storm. I have felt so often like I don’t have enough landmarks, like my gut is not reliable, and as if I feel pressure to trust when I feel fear.

I read some of Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly not long ago. If you haven’t come across her work, look her up. She is wise, like guru sage kind of wise. Her ideas are not profoundly complicated but they are deeply profound, and they push me to live more bravely, to show up more fully and to practice vulnerability. A deeply uncomfortable, but transformative process.

There is a part in Daring Greatly where Brene talks about marble jars. It grows out of a story with her daughter, Ellen, whose teacher has a marble jar in her classroom. When the students do something good, a marble goes in. When they do something not so good, a marble comes out. When the jar is full, there is some kind of reward. A simple, behaviour modification technique for children right?

It is in fact so much more. Brene creates this link between the marble jar in her daughter’s classroom and trust in relationships.

In this story she tells, the marble jar represents trust, the level of trust between you and any another human being. When you first meet them, the jar is empty because you have not had any experience to tell you whether you can trust them or not. But as you get to know them, they do little things that show you that yes, you can, in fact, trust them, so you put a few marbles in the jar. Sometimes they break that trust, in small or big ways, and marbles come out of the jar. The level of trust in the relationship goes up and down depending on what’s happening between the two people.

If the marble jar is full, this can be a sign that the relationship is safe. I can be my most vulnerable and exposed self, knowing that experience has shown me that this person “has earned the right to hear my story” (Brene’s words, not mine). If the marble jar is empty, this is a sign to me to be cautious.

I have for a long time, struggled with trust. I don’t like putting my heart in someone else’s hands. We’ve all had experiences where someone has taken what you have exposed and not been careful enough with it and for fuck’s sake, it hurts. So we wall up, we hold back, we make sweeping generalizations about people based on our experiences with a few and trust is the first thing we get rid of.

But this marble jar people stuff, it means that I have to approach each relationship individually. It means that I have to put aside my past experience, what I think I know about people, and I have to enter in. At the very least, I have to put the marble jar on the table and see what happens. In fact, this is really my only job. All I have to do is remain consistently open to building trust, remain optimistic that trust can be established or re-established. That’s it.

The marble jar lets me sit in this space in between trust and not trusting – it’s not an all or nothing game. I can pull back a little if the level of trust is getting low. Perhaps a small confidence has been broken, which makes me cautious in my next story telling with this person. But I don’t have to pull back completely. Maybe in a bit of time, I venture out again, share a bit and emphasize how important it is to me to keep this story quiet. I get a chance to see if this person can hold that trust and when they do, I can put those lost marbles back in the jar.

Even if the marble jar is completely empty and at that time, there is no trust between me and this person, I can stay open. If I am open enough to leave the jar on the table, eventually they will probably do something that makes me put a marble back in. And slowly, we will rebuild to a place of safety and trust again. It is more of a dance, a pushing toward and a pulling back, instead of being either all in or self-protectively, all out.

There are exceptions however. There are people who are hurting so much themselves that they will not understand the value of the marble jar and they will so thoroughly break our trust that they shatter the marble jar in the process. These are extreme examples, but sadly enough, they do happen and some of us may or may not know them from our own experiences. When this happens, there is no rush to get a new jar on the table. It takes time to find the openness to start from scratch again and we may decide that this person is not capable of rebuilding trust with us and we need to move away.

However, I think that most often, outside of these extreme cases, we can keep the jar on the table. We can take the steps back to keep ourselves feeling safe and secure for a time, but we can remain open to what we or that person may offer to rebuild.

But what then are the marbles? What are the things that build or break trust? They are not profound, earth-shattering moments. They are little things, common things and for every person, they are different.

For me, I put a marble in the jar when someone checks in with me to see how I’m doing; it shows me they are thinking about me and makes me feel cared for and valued. I give away marbles when people keep a confidence I have asked them to keep. I put in a few when people remember special memories, anniversaries or moments. I give away marbles for moments of connection through touch, through words, through simple actions. My husband cooking dinner, my friends remembering to call. That’s it; they are not deep moments of vulnerability or heart-breaking exposure that build trust. They are the little things, the things we do every day, sometimes without even thinking about them that build up trust and connection between us. Each time someone does these things, I put a marble in their jar. Each time I do something that is meaningful for them, they put one in mine. Through these little actions, we build up a bank that says to each of us, “this one…. s/he’s okay, step into this”.

What I love most about the marble jar is it takes the pressure off. It means I am no longer under the expectation to trust as I think or observe that other’s trust. I can use the marble jar as a guide. Where am I with this person right now? Am I stepping in or stepping back? Am I being open enough to make sure the jar is at least on the table? What marbles am I putting into their jar so that they feel safe and comfortable with me?

And then we dance. We step in, we step away, we step in. We expose ourselves and find safety, we expose ourselves and maybe find some kind of hurt. But we keep dancing and we keep moving toward each other, finding our way into each other’s hearts and keeping our own safe at the same time.

I have a little marble jar on my desk these days. It serves as a reminder to me to stay open, to approach each relationship individually and to give myself the freedom to dance, stepping sometimes closer and sometimes further away, with those I am learning to love.

Marble Jars

Mama to a Tiny Human?!

I’ve been quiet for so long!! I made all these ambitious commitments to myself about this blog, how often I would write, how often I would post and I will admit here and now, that I have totally dropped the ball.

But there is a reason. A reason I have been so distracted, a reason why anything I tried to write sounded jumbled and confused, a reason why everything came back to one thing and one thing only.

In November 2016, our little family of two, will become a family of three! We are getting ourselves ready to welcome the world’s very first ThomChom (Thomson-Chomolla)!! WHAT?? Yep, you read that right!

We met this news with elation – we were ready for it, we wanted it. I stood in our bedroom holding the positive test and did a little dance and screamed. My bedridden malaria-infected husband sat up in bed and did his darndest to work up as much excitement as his sick body could manage. Okay, so the timing of the test was not ideal, but who cares, it was positive – we’re having a baby!!

I rode the high for about 48 hours before the weight of what was happening fell over me.

It reminded me of a rollercoaster ride. As you stand in line, you look ahead at everyone coming off the coaster, they’re all a little shaken but ecstatic and laughing with each other, remembering the best turns and twists of the ride. You think, this is going to be great and damn it, I’m ready. You get on, lock yourself in and with a big thumbs up to your friends in front and behind, you begin the slow click-click-click up the first hill. You’re still feeling great as you start, thinking yes! I waited a long time for this; it’s going to be amazing.

But then something happens, halfway up the hill, your blood goes cold, your breath catches in your chest and you think WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING??? I’m too old for this shit, this is crazy, I can see the drop after this hill and I don’t think I want to do this anymore. You whip your head around to find the man in the control room, thinking with utter futility, that just maybe you can signal him to stop the ride and let you off. But as soon as you turn, you realize this is never going to happen and you are in now… all in. The click-click-click continues upward toward the impending drop and you find yourself unable to breath well, a scream rising in your chest.

This was me after my positive test 48 hour high.

I am going to bring a tiny human into the world. And even more terrifying than that, I am going to be that tiny human’s Mama. WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING??

I remember when Amani and I were talking about marriage, I had a similar but less intense feeling of overwhelm. I remember thinking, how do people do this? Walk down an aisle toward another human being, commit to love and care for that human being, through the good stuff and the bad, for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. It’s incredible that humans are capable of making a commitment like that to each other. It’s incredible that humans do this every single day as if it’s a normal thing to do. Yep, here’s my whole life, from this day to my dying breath. No biggie, I’m in. WHAT??

But now I am really in, all in. In my view, marriage is a forever thing (see rest of my life thoughts above), but as much as we are loathe to admit it, there is still an out. And thank God there is, for those men and women who end up in desperately awful relationships, suffering abuse and mistreatment at the hands of their partner. If it really goes south, you can get out.

But with a baby? I will be that baby’s Mama until the day I die, like it or not, no outs. Even if it all goes completely to shit, I can’t ever become ex-Mama. I will become a Mama the day s/he is born and I will die a Mama, never my pre-parental self again.

And the really scary part, the part that I can hardly say out loud because it’s just too much….? We’ll screw it up.

I want with everything in me to be, from this day forward, the perfect Mama, to never give this baby any reason to feel disappointed in how I’ve behaved, to be angry with me, to be hurt by me. But it will happen. Hopefully, most of it will be resolvable; we’ll practice forgiveness and live in the mess and all that business. But some of it might sting a bit. I am doing my very best, but I am also a wildly imperfect human and this little life is coming into mine and I am tasked with being one of its closest role models. SHIT.

This little love will hear my voice in their head when they get older. When they sit through their post-adolescent, early 20s therapy sessions, they’ll talk about me, and where I messed up. Fingers crossed, I’ll only give them enough content for a few sessions… maybe I should start living with my fingers crossed. And stop saying shit…

I’m sure we will figure it out, that’s what everyone says. They tell you that you just do it, because you have to do it. That little life is looking at you from the change table with all the dependency it can muster and you have to do something. You try things, you take advice, you refuse advice, you move forward.

With all the optimism I can muster, baby will be just fine. S/he will grow into a toddling human, will some day start school, will some day finish school, and if we play our cards right, will grow into a decent, kind, funny human being. Fingers crossed… again.

But what I love most, and what helps me to keep calm, is that this baby already has this incredible tribe of humans that Amani and I love and value. Grandparents and aunties and uncles, and not all of the blood relation type. This baby will have cousins and teachers, mentors and people who inspire them. Thank God it’s not just me who has to shape them into the decent, kind and funny human I so hope they’ll be. We go into this with our community all around us, from all corners of the globe, and my friends, there is not much that comforts me more than this.

The control tower is out of sight, the guy running the ride is drinking his Coke and we’re in. Click-click-click, the wildness and the wonder are ahead and we’re both terrified and ecstatic. Send advice, send food, send us your very best energy and love, we’ll take whatever we can get 😉 And know that if you are a part of our lives, you are in this too, this little one needs to be held in many hands and told stories from many lips, many more than just mine and Amani’s.

TIMR5105 Our little family of two

 

Damn it, you’ve got to be kind

hello babies. welcome to earth. it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. it’s round and wet and crowded. on the outside babies, you’ve got 100 years here. there’s only one rule that i know of babies – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

– kurt vonnegut

 

There is a lot of complication these days in the pursuit of self-improvement. If you go into any mainstream bookstore and find your way to the self-help section, you will likely become quickly overwhelmed with the vast selection of tomes to help you be more you, or a better you, or a healed and forgiven you, or whatever kind of you, you really want to be. There is probably even a book for feeling overwhelmed in the bookstore and how to set your self-help priorities.

It’s a lot to take in and it can start to become an obsession. Like a first year medical student reading about different diseases and coming up with a 3-page list of self-diagnosed maladies, we can enter into the world of self-help and come out mildly unhinged.

I am not saying that there are no helpful books, podcasts or stories hidden in those shelves. There are and I have benefited immensely from many of them. But there is a problem when we are always looking for a problem. Self-diagnosing ourselves with the latest psychological thought wave and purchasing yet another book to tell us what it’s all about and why we have it.

I will be the first to tell you that my head is a jungle and entering into it alone, is on most days, a substantial risk. I have engrained patterns of behaviour that are entirely maladaptive, I struggle with trust and vulnerability, I have a bit of an anger problem, especially when I am deep in shame and self-protection. I don’t claim to have it all figured out or to have no need of self-help, but I do think that self-help has come to mirror the diet industry – always something new, always some new approach to take and it’s getting old.

I’ve been married for a little over a year and half now and there have been days that have been harder than anything I’ve ever done. Days when I just could not figure out why I chose this, days when I couldn’t see the way forward. We have struggled, there is no need to deny it. But when we’re good, we’re great, so I hang on.

And I got to thinking recently, after a particularly ugly blowout, God damn it, you’ve got to be kind. I saw the Kurt Vonnegut quote above in a cute little notebook a friend gave me years ago, full of wisdom and good words. But that’s it isn’t? Just be kind, stop being such an ass, even if you are scared or feeling the need to self-protect, or struggling to trust someone. Assume that they have good intentions before concluding they don’t. Assume misunderstanding before deciding you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they meant to hurt you. Leave some space, for God’s sake, for curiosity, for uncertainty, and for a hell of a lot of kindness.

The thing is that we walk around with these wounds from what we’ve passed through. People are kidding you if they say they have none. We’ve all bumped up too hard against someone else, got our knees grazed, our hearts bruised or worse. But some of us have learned to put salve on the wounds, to choose trust, to assume the best, to leave space before jumping to conclusions. It’s a salve because the more we do this, the more we trust, the more we see the good intentions of others, the more that space allows us to respond out of our values and not out of our fear.

It’s a tricky bitch, trust me I know well how hard it is to let down that guard that has served me for so long. But when the guard has become maladaptive, when I am hurting people to protect myself from being hurt, it is no longer an effective way of managing fear and struggle.

I am choosing instead to try to be kind. Kind to myself to recognize and acknowledge the hurdles in my way, gracious with my screw-ups and when I slip back into old habits. But also kind with those I love. Careful with my words to protect them and our relationship; cautious with my criticism to decide if what I want to say needs to be said or is just to make me feel vindicated. Generous with my care, without counting how much I have given and how much I have received, putting away the count and choosing instead to believe that the balance of give and take will never be perfectly even.

Leave a space my friends and damn it, try to be kind. We are all hurting more than we let on and we all need a safe place to land. If we can learn to be that safe place for ourselves first, to practice bathing in grace and letting self-compassion be our rule, we can then do the same for those we love. We can protect them and protect what we have with them. We can use kindness to keep that space between us safe, to dance within a kind of miracle that will heal these seeping wounds, one generous act at a time. Kindness is not weakness, it is not giving in, it is quite possibly, the bravest thing you will ever do.

Kindness-confetti

 

 

 

Why I Write

Be yourself and speak your truth. Either people will listen and things will get better, or people will leave and things will get better.

(The wisdom of a great friend from his great therapist)

 

I had some feedback on this blog recently, which got me thinking.

The person who gave the feedback was a bit concerned, asking me in a joking but poignant way, what is this all about??

The feedback was from a person I respect and someone who I also suspect thinks differently than me on a few issues. Potentially, maybe most notably, the use of the word fuck in any public post.

So I got down to thinking, what is this all about? What am I trying to do here?

The real truth of it is, I write to sort out the mess in my own head. My head is a tangle of thoughts, triggers, past experiences and aspirations and on most days, it is a bit like making one’s way through a jungle pass. Writing helps to make the unclear clear, giving me peace and on some days, even sanity.

But there is a considered reason that I choose to put these musings out into a public space. The choice to write publically was a decision to expose a more honest reflection of myself.

I have, for a long time, told stories people want to hear. I think of myself as a recovering perfectionist and a recovering people-pleaser. I say recovering because I think these two things will be with me until the day I die, but one day at a time, I am learning to step into a more honest and authentic version of myself. Vulnerability is scary shit and trying to expose the messy parts of who I am, in an authentic way, has always been hard. I read recently that vulnerability is the first thing we look for in other people and the last thing we want to show someone else. I think this is true somewhere deep in our bones. I want to read authentic and honest stories. I want to hear about the gritty mess, I want to know how people found their way through. And I thought that if I wanted to read these stories, I need to write them.

Because most days, that’s what it is, finding our way through the gritty mess and terrible beauty that make up our lives.

But we all live in a world of social media, and in a world where each one of us are working to put our best foot, photo or status update forward, convincing both ourselves and others that we really do have our shit together, #alliswell. We want to sell a version of ourselves that has the rough stuff cut out, a photoshopped edit that says, It’s okay, I got this.

I have told stories to myself and to others that are untrue. Stories that reflect what I want to be true, rather than what is true.

Circumstantially, I live in a context in my work and geographical location where a lot of assumptions are made about me. I have, until now, allowed those assumptions to stand and chosen not to challenge them. I used to think it didn’t really matter what people thought. But it does.

If you assume something untrue about me or you believe a falsified or polished story that I tell you, you no longer really know me, you only know a version of me that has been created through the weaving together of these false or edited pieces.

The problem is it is incredibly isolating to feel unknown or misunderstood. I have found myself in so many situations, having conversations that made me feel deeply uncomfortable, but finding my voice silenced for fear of offending someone or crushing their view of who they think I am. The deep discomfort of feeling that people don’t really know me has now overcome the fear of vulnerability.

I got tired and that’s really the end of that story. I got tired of keeping quiet. I got tired of not saying what I think, not saying what my experience tells me and of being afraid to stand in my own truth. I got tired of pretending everything is okay when it’s not. I got tired of portraying that I have it figured out, when I definitely don’t.

But the end of that story of silence, assumption and pretense, is the beginning of a new story of honesty and exposure. It is a story that says unapologetically, this is me. You are free to take it or to leave it, and I am equally free to tell it.

So I write to tell my stories, to explore and express my own truth. To understand my values, my passions and myself more clearly; to convey how I see the world without the polishing. I feel deeply committed to telling the truth, to standing in that truth and to doing that in a public space. This space is my learning ground, my authenticity and my voice into the myths of perfectionism so many of us live under.

My hope is that you find something here that strikes a chord with you. There is profound power in understanding that we are not alone. I share these musings to expose my experience, to try to understand it myself but also to say to whoever reads these words, if this resonates with you, you are not alone.

When we struggle, it is often the first place we go, to assume that others don’t feel it like we do. That others haven’t been there, haven’t felt what we feel. But this idea of common humanity, that there is always someone who has been where you stand, is one of the most comforting truths available to us. I am not grandiose or naïve enough to think that I will be that person for you, but I believe that if keep trying to be brave enough to put my most honest thoughts out here, I can remind you that others are struggling too. We may not share the same struggle, but at least we will both know that struggle is a normal part of the human condition. Some of us are in the midst of it, some have passed through to the other side, but we all know it and have felt its weight.

So I write in case today you have forgotten that life is tough for all of us and at the end of the day, according to Ram Das, “we are all just walking each other home”. That’s it, that’s what I’m trying to do here. Thanks for being part of it.

IMG_8382

 

 

 

 

My Liberation is Bound up with Yours

A lot of people move to Africa on a mission. Some of them classic religious missionaries and others compassionate humanists who feel called to serve, to care, to give.

I came here under that banner, thinking I was going to help to pull people out of the mire of poverty. I came here with dreams of Africa on its feet, of people with dignity and strength. I thought I was here to give something, something that wasn’t here already.

I fell in love early in my journey on this continent. I was drawn in and I didn’t really know why. I just knew I wanted to be here, wanted to be part of this.

I have lived here in Tanzania for over 3 years now and for close to a decade travelled the countries of East and Southern Africa. Until very recently, I still thought I was here to help.

I read this quote recently and something in me stirred, like a light switching on in my soul…

Lilla Watson is an indigenous Australian and she said this,

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

There are times when you read things and it feels as if they punch you in the gut. You breath in a sharp in breath and utter some kind of profanity in your mind. This was one of those moments. I had missed it, missed the point entirely. Missed the connection between my liberation and that of the people I am here to work with. I came to help them, I came knowing that I was broken myself but not seeing anything that they had to offer me. I was a fool.

I realise now that my liberation is tied up deeply with theirs. I use words like dignity, freedom and self-reliance to define what I see as the goal of development work and more specifically of the work I do. It is, at its base, about reducing poverty, but I don’t really see that as the bottom line. I want to see people able to stand on their own two feet, to take care of their own, to have the freedom to explore opportunity, creativity, leisure, family and community.

Ask me what I need most in the world? Ask me what I most crave? To stand on my own two feet, to have the strength to take care of my own, to have the freedom to explore opportunity, creativity, leisure, family and community.

I have been looking in the mirror and failing to see my own reflection. I thought that it was them I saw when I looked, that it was them I needed to help, that it was they who needed saving.

It’s been me all along.

It is so painfully cliché to admit this; the words are coming out of me with a deeply uncomfortable cringe. “I went there to help, but it was me who was helped” is a phrase used so often it has become tired and more than mildly annoying.

But it is common because there is truth in it. I remember the very first time I set foot on African soil in Uganda in 2007. I was naïve and uninformed, but I found things I didn’t see much of at home.

I found freedom. I found joy. I found immense gratitude, hope, optimism and faith. I found determination despite struggle, I found compassion and service.

I met women who radiated warmth and hospitality. Who moved with confidence in bodies that would be condemned in other parts of the world. I sat with them and I made the painfully foolish mistake to see only their struggle and not their victory.

In 2010, I did a research project on women’s empowerment and tried to understand what women themselves saw as empowering. Many women told me that what gave them power was the connection to other women like themselves, other women who inspired them. They told me that they had found dignity, to stand with their heads held high and without shame in their communities, something entirely unavailable to them before. I applauded them and was happy for them, and once again, entirely missed the importance of this lesson in my own life.

Now I work beside women who carry themselves with a confidence I can’t understand. Who are unfazed by what the Western world thinks they should look like, what they should wear, what defines success or intelligence. They are sure of themselves, of their contribution and they walk beside each other in a way that baffles me.

Living here, in Tanzania and travelling to different parts of this great continent, has offered me olive branches all along the way, tried to teach me what I most needed to learn. Looking back I see the same lessons over and over again and I see myself missing them each time.

Until now. Until I have realized that my liberation is entirely tied up in theirs. As I see more and more people, especially women, standing on their own two feet and forging a new path for themselves, I am given the courage to do the same. I am equipped by their bravery to step into my own story, to find my own capacity and power to stand in my own truth. I am given the opportunity to find my own dignity again as I let go of the pressure to please others and the loss of myself in the process.

I came here to help, to try to serve. But I have been called to shut up and listen, to pay attention, to recognize the incredible privilege of being allowed into the stories that I hear and for God’s sake, to start learning from some of those stories.

We all walk among those we perceive as weak, as in need of help. Sometimes people genuinely do need help and sometimes we are asked to be that support. Other times, we have just focused on the wrong things. We have missed the strength, the courage, the ways in which they have overcome and we have failed to notice how much we have to learn.

People think Africa is full of poor people who are helpless and broken. The truth is the world is full of broken people, each in our own way. Some of our cultures and countries portray an illusion of progress, some portray an illusion of helplessness. Neither of these portrayals are really true. The truth is somewhere in the middle, in the space in between victory and defeat, where most of us walk, where we encounter each other’s stories.

May we all find the freedom to live in our own dignity, to explore our creativity, to enjoy our leisure and to love our families, our communities, our own and may we all listen to those who are teaching, even if they are not who we expected to learn from.

Pamoja Group/Courtesy of Amani Chomolla

Pamoja Group/Courtesy of Amani Chomolla

When We Are Not Good

I spent a week in Kigali, Rwanda last month. It was a meeting of colleagues from the East and Southern Africa region and for the first 4 days, it was in many ways a celebration of our work, our relationships as a team and learning from each other. On day 5, we were taken to one of the genocide memorial sites and it was as if time stood still.

I have seen the films and read the books about the genocide in Rwanda, which although harrowing, showed me the atrocities at a distance. The terror was in the past and far enough away from me that I could feel it, but not fully. Much like when I now see photos of refugees piling into boats to cross the Mediterranean, bombings by ISIS or drone strikes by America. Painful and truly awful, but far enough away that I can cope.

At the genocide memorial site, we walked through a steel bar door which had been wrenched apart by militia to enter into a church sanctuary. We were told that 40,000 Tutsis had gathered there for refuge and when the militia arrived they were sitting ducks. The iron sheets that formed the roof still had bullet holes from the shots fired and inside the sanctuary there were benches covered with the clothes of those whose lives were stolen. I stood in that space where such a terrible atrocity had occurred and was left speechless, horrified by the depth of human depravity and the evils we are capable of.

Behind the church is a graveyard, three mass graves sit there to house the bodies as they rest. Our guide took us down into one of the graves, into what felt to me like a storehouse of skulls and bones. You could see the force with which each person had been murdered, blunt trauma to the head, cracked skulls, broken bones. These people were not just killed, they were destroyed.

Around the same time as I walked through that house of memorial for a genocide that happened now 22 years ago, a single gunmen killed two people before heading to a local school in La Loche, Saskatchewan in Canada. 4 people lost their lives that day, one of them was the brother of a friend. The family and community are reeling at the loss, so sudden, so senseless. It is truly unthinkable to me for a family to have their loved ones stolen from them like this, to have to bury them and lay them to rest before their time.

I like to imagine that the people who do these things are different from me. That they are just that bit more messed up or unhinged to do the things they do. I don’t feel comfortable to identify with them as part of the same stream of humanity, I want to distance myself from that kind of terror.

I don’t know if we are different or the same. I don’t know if we are all capable of such darkness or if only a few members of our human race can do these things. What I do know is that none of us gets to our places of darkness overnight. We are, of course, accountable for any action we take, even if it is born out of immense suffering. But I think it is important to remember that there was something that got them there, something that shook the very core of their being to inflict such pain on others. I don’t claim to understand what that something was, all I know is that there was something.

I won’t attempt to offer an explanation as an outsider, it would be entirely inappropriate to try to do so. My only point is that there is a story, there is always a story, and we find pieces of it when we seek to listen to those in the midst of the tragedy.

La Loche, Saskatchewan has terrifyingly high rates of suicide. Most adults and young people are unemployed. The town has been forgotten by public services. Our country’s history and how it has treated indigenous populations cannot be forgotten as we seek to understand the story of this tragedy.

The story of genocide in Rwanda is not complete without reference to the deep social divisions that followed colonialism, and the context of scarcity that created an environment where different groups saw each other as threats and not as allies.

The family of Adam Wood, a teacher who lost his life in La Loche, have courageously called for Canadians, and especially the Canadian government, to listen to the community there to try to understand this story.

In an article in the Huffington Post, the family said, “Rather than looking for someone to blame, or coming up with outsider opinions of reasons why this occurred, we must stop and listen to the voices of La Loche. The leaders and members of the community know what types of support and changes are needed. Our responsibility as a nation is to listen and respond to create lasting systemic change.”

To stand in the midst of soul destroying tragedy, to feel our hearts wrenched open by unthinkable losses and yet to remain open to the story behind the terror is to me, a kind of miracle. The Wood family are seeking to understand the unspeakable pain of those who inflicted this atrocity as they stand deep in the river of their own grief. I am thoroughly humbled by their bravery and in awe of their compassion.

Fuel the Change is a charity set up by the family of Adam Wood. The charity aims to support students in La Loche to rebuild, to envision a different future and to set out on that path with support.

“It is in these moments, when tragedy strikes, that we are able to stop and consider life: it’s frailty, challenges, its laughter, and its tears. It is in these moments we are given the opportunity to examine ourselves and hopefully, come out better and stronger as a community and a nation. We feel sadness and remorse but rarely do we use that to fuel change.”

 

 

 

 

There are these moments…

There are these moments, quick flashes sometimes, when everything is right in your world. Catch them if you can.

This week has been rough. Some weeks just are I guess. It’s been a closing in on me kind of week and I’m pretty spent. But there have been these moments, all week long, like something pure and kind trying to get my attention; breaking through the heaviness with little flashes of light.

There was the Facetime call with one of my bests at 8:30am while her world was shrouded in the darkness of night and mine was just beginning to get warm from the morning sun. Just 20 minutes of chat, but my soul felt soothed and grateful.

I’ve been going for walks the last few days and found this little refuge spot. I’ve walked by it so many times before and never taken the time to sit there. This week I did and it was beautiful. A kind of sanctuary, looking out over Lake Victoria, perched on a big Mwanza rock, listening to music and tuning out everything but what was right in front of me. I watched fishermen in their boats and women doing laundry by the lake. I breathed deeper than usual and felt at peace.

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Then there was taking soup to a friend who’s been feeling sick for while. It was fun to make it, to have a tangible way to try and help. It was just as fun to deliver it, her gorgeous children and her endlessly kind husband greeted me with their usual warmth and laughter. Anne Lamott says when we’re struggling that sometimes all we can do is bring thirsty people glasses of water. She’s damn right.

There was coffee and wine with friends, two of my most favourite things that when shared with others, make it all better.

And finally, there was the Brene Brown Living Brave class for this week, where she taught me about empathy and self-compassion. Watching the videos and doing the exercises brought on some big ass tears, but they were helpful, liberating, clarifying even.

This week would have done me in in the past. I would have been under my blankets feeling desperately sorry for myself by now. But I feel stronger these days, less defeated. And I am playing with this idea that there is something else, some kind of cheeky god friend who is finding her way through the cracks to show me that I am not alone, that it is not all bad and that there is still hope, that there is always hope.

When you are working toward greater freedom and liberation in yourself and exploring how to live a more integrated and wholehearted life, there are tough decisions to make and painful conversations to have. But Anne Lamott also says that when there is a lot of pain, sometimes it is because something beautiful is trying to get itself born. If that’s true, then each wave of the tough stuff is worth it. I am learning how to live a more peaceful and joyful life, one big ol’ tough step at a time. And it seems this week, I had a little help on the way.