The Broken Circle by Karen Winnick

We don’t own the earth. We need to share it–

Share it with mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, flowers, trees.

All living things depend on other living things to survive.

Birds need trees to perch and build their nests. Trees need birds to eat their fruit and spread their seeds to plant new trees.

Nature is a fine-tuned circle. Breaking the circle disrupts the natural order. When we don’t see, don’t understand or care, we cause great damage, as when we nearly wipe a species off the face of the earth—

Once, in Yellowstone Park, gray wolves made the circle whole.

They lived with elk, beavers and bears. They also shared the park with foxes, coyotes and many kinds of fish and birds.

The wolves formed packs, and each pack marked their territory with a chorus of howls.

In summer, the wolves romped over grassy meadows. In winter, they plowed through deep snow.

In spring, the alpha female in each pack dug a den and gave birth to pups. All the wolves in the pack helped to raise the pups.

Together the pack chased elk, most often going after the weakest in the herd. They shared their kill and brought back meat to feed the pups.

Contented, the wolves snoozed in the sun while a fox or coyote snuck up to snatch leftovers. Eagles and ravens swooped down to grab scraps, too.

Nature was in balance in Yellowstone. The circle was whole.

Then, fear and mistrust of the wolves began to grow. People called them a threat. Some wolves wandered outside the park. They killed ranchers’ sheep and cattle.

The wolves were hunted. They were chased and trapped, poisoned or shot until all the wolves were killed.

No more wolves were left in the park.

Because there were no more wolves, elk herds grew bigger. More and more elk ventured into the park’s forest to graze in groves of quaking aspen. They grazed until the quaking aspen disappeared.

Few birds flew into the park. There were no branches on which to perch and sing their songs. There was no place to build their nests and hatch their young.

More and more elk munched on the cottonwoods by the river. They munched until the cottonwoods were gone.

Few fish swam in the river. There were no shadows in which to hide, no shade to keep the water cool.

More and more elk browsed on the drooping willows near the creeks. They browsed until the drooping willows near the creeks vanished.

Few beavers splashed in the creeks. There was no wood to gnaw. There were no dams built to slow the water that ran too fast in the creeks. Without the dams, no ponds were formed for fish to spawn or waterfowl to float.

More and more elk chomped the huckleberry bushes growing up the mountains. They chomped until the huckleberry bushes were scarce.

Grizzly bears could no longer fill their bellies with huckleberries before their winter sleep.

Many years went by in the park. Years with scarce huckleberry bushes and hungry bears.

Years without drooping willows or splashing beavers, without cottonwoods or swimming fish, without quaking aspen or singing birds.

Because the herds grew so big, the elk went hungry. Many became sickly and starved.

Some people began to understand, nature was no longer in balance in Yellowstone. The circle was badly broken.

More years passed and then, a few gray wolves drifted down from the north. They settled in the park.

Other wolves were brought in by people who hoped to restore the balance.

The wolves formed packs.

In spring, the alpha female in each pack gave birth to pups.

The wolves chased elk and brought back meat to feed the pups.

While they snoozed, a fox or coyote snuck up to snatch leftovers. Eagles and ravens swooped down to grab scraps, too.

Because the wolves came back, elk herds grew smaller.

Quaking aspen grew.

Birds sang their songs and raised their young.

Cottonwoods sprung up by the river.

Fish swam in the cool water and hid in the shade.

Drooping willows appeared near the creeks.

Beavers splashed and built their dams.

Ponds formed where fish could spawn and waterfowl float.

Bushes swelled with huckleberries.

Bears gobbled them before their winter sleep.

Gray wolves were back in Yellowstone. They made the circle whole.

by Karen B. Winnick

What if All Children Are Accepted for Who They Are

I knew I was gay around age five. I cannot tell you how I knew so young. Yet it is not uncommon for some gay, bi-sexual, transgender people to know at such an early age. As you can imagine, being gay was a secret I kept as long as possible. I dared not tell anyone. I knew exactly what would happen. In church, and within society, it was made clear how much my kind was despised and feared.

At age eighteen I could no longer deny who I was and I told my parents. With the intention of changing me, they sent me to a physician who sexually molested me. Then I was locked in a psychiatric hospital because they thought I was depressed. Sure, I was depressed. I had just been sexually violated and the two people who were supposed to love me, like Jesus would, told me I was going to hell and had broken their hearts.

Sadly, my parents’ Christian religious experience taught them to detest gay people, while at the same time having to make sense of contradictory messages, such as Thou shall not judge and Treat people as you want to be treated. So when I confessed my big secret, they faced their worst nightmare too.

I am certain they believed their motivation was love. Maybe they wanted me to be viewed as “normal.” Possibly they believed changing me to heterosexual would save my soul and I would be free from eternal hell-fire and damnation.

I am also confident my parents desired to escape being ridiculed and shunned themselves if my secret got out. Their words to me, “You’re a business risk,” and I ought to “Go live at the Y.W.C.A.,” revealed their concern about how my being gay would look to their business associates, friends, and church congregation.

My parents, like people who are taught the Bible is the absolute and infallible word of God, were instructed to believe being gay is an intentional choice. Someone who is gay, it is commonly believed, deliberately chooses to sin against God. It is also believed we recruit people to our gay lifestyle: another untruth.

Early in life I found out, as many of us do, two places intended to provide an accepting, loving, and supportive haven—my Christian church in Texas and my home—actually did not. The adage Love your neighbor as yourself only seemed to apply if the neighbor, or child, met a list of specific criteria. I did not meet those conditions because I was not heterosexual.

After a horrible and unproductive ten days in the psychiatric hospital, I was released. My parents went with me to a follow-up appointment with a psychiatrist. I will never forget the look of disappointment on their faces when the doctor explained to them he could not change my sexuality. “Like so many aspects of our uniqueness,” he said, “human sexuality is not a choice one makes.” There would be no praying or converting the gay away. What he would do is help me learn to accept myself in a world that does not.

Halleluiah! For the first time ever, I felt acceptance and compassion. And it came from a complete stranger.

Was he Christian?

Who knows, but his support allowed me to gain a small sense of self-approval. I began to think I might be worthy of love after all. The inner turmoil did not permanently resolve, however, as a result of this one confirmation. Attempting to fit into Christianity, and society in general, when I was deemed unworthy, became a recipe for anger, self-hatred, and emotional chaos.

I had no clue how to navigate the straight world as a gay member of our human family. I did not know how to love Jesus when my Christian religious experience told me God hates gays. I could not understand, at the time, why my parents, or anyone who professed to love an accepting Jesus, could shun me for being different.

For many years I stayed infuriated with and estranged from my family. I loathed them for rejecting me and for sending me to a physician who had the appalling reputation of molesting his patients. I detested the doctor, and men in general, for objectifying, abusing, and dominating women.

I was emotionally devastated by the illogical and holier-than-thou reasoning of those who defended their condemnation of my sexual orientation, when Jesus himself did not say anything on the subject. The mixed messages I received, and the recurring question of why none of the adults in my life was confronting those contradictions, was crazy making. Warring against me and other people is not aligned with what Jesus taught. He would also not excuse my warring against people who judge me. As a result, I suffered under the heavy burden of resentment and confusion—a weight so massive it almost made me give up on life. But I did not give up.

Instead, I questioned my parents’ motivation for taking the actions they did. I realized their desire to change me into what they, society, the Church, and Christianity considered normal was driven by fear. No matter how much my parents believed they were loving me, we do not love one another through insensitive fear. We can only love one another with our sensitive heart; the soul we are.

I am deeply blessed to share a happy ending to this part of my story, as Mom and Dad are now two of my biggest fans and best friends. Faced with the truth of who I was born to be, they eventually came to a place of unconditional love by bravely questioning their beliefs. When they did, they found love to be stronger than fear. What other people or the Church think of me is no longer important to them, as they know my integrity through the honesty, kindness, and responsibility of my words and actions.

My parents always cared for me. They simply had no clue how to accept me while also following their religious convictions. They seem to be at peace with this. The only thing I now feel from them is complete and unconditional love. Just as Jesus himself loves me. But as you can imagine I did not always know Jesus loves me.

Minding Our Mind’s Business by Brijesh Kumar Yadav, Pooranpur, Uttar Pradesh, India

I recently graduated from Lotus Group of Institutions College. It was challenging to earn the degree but I did the work required because this was one of the goals I have for myself. During my time at the college I learned many things about finance, accounting, and business. Everything I learned while pursuing my master’s will enrich my life and career. Yet, one of the most important lessons I am learning, that was not part of my formal education, is my mind has a mind of its own. Meaning, my mind thinks all the time, but I am not always aware of my thoughts. Therefore I am often unaware of how my thinking impacts my attitudes and behavior.

For example, one day when studying for my degree I actually noticed my mind wandering away from what I needed to concentrate on in the moment. I became aware my mind was drifting between what I was studying and thoughts about my landlord, to a career I desire to have, to a recent event. With this awareness I comprehended that my mind must do this, all the time. I then realized if I am paying attention to what I am doing – studying – I am in control of my attention rather than being distracted by what my mind wants to think about. Meaning, when my mind wanders I can re-direct it to think about what I need to think about – studying, cleaning, cooking, speaking with a friend – without being distracted by thoughts that are not relevant to what I am doing in the moment.

When I first experienced this realization, about the power my thoughts have over me, it was hard to accept. Probably because my mind immediately came up with a rationalization to defend the thoughts it had. As I started to pay close attention to what I was thinking I began to understand my thoughts are often made up based upon some personal bias, or on something I have been taught to believe that was never true, or on the opinion of others. Being aware of what I am thinking I now see many of my thoughts limit me with fear, self-doubt, and misinformation.

For instance, there are people who believe the earth is flat. Science tells us the earth is round. If I think the earth is flat and do not question that belief then I am allowing myself to be controlled by an illogical and incorrect thought. Questioning my thoughts is very important because, to create my best life I need to accept that, because I “think” something, does not mean my mind has the right answer. To live a life of purposeful action, I realize how important it is for me to stay focused on my thoughts by asking, is this thought true, necessary, and logical? I am learning that staying aware to ask myself these type questions allows me to accept I am not without power over my thoughts. This is important because our thoughts create our behavior and our behavior creates our life.

I need to challenge my thoughts because what if the actions my mind directs are not logical, true, honest, etc.? What if my thoughts are judgmental, blaming, or cause me to feel jealous? Shouldn’t I ask myself why I am jealous of someone? When I feel insecure about what other people think of me, shouldn’t I challenge the thought that I care what people think of me more than what I think about myself? Why am I judging myself or someone else? Why do I jump to conclusions without seeking evidence?

My mind will think until I pass away because that is what our mind does. While writing this piece my mind tells me there is no hurry to finish. That I can do this at my leisure. Why? If I want to complete this in a timely manner, why should I be influenced by the thought to finish in a few weeks or a month? What is the motivation behind the thought? To get it done later rather than earlier? But if I want to do something the best I can, then I have to tell my mind to mind its own business so l can concentrate on what I need and want to do in the time I want to do it. I have to overrule my mind that is in making excuses, in order for me to do my best.

When I ask myself simple questions about what I am thinking, the integrity and empathy of my heart can analyze my thoughts to determine if what I am thinking is productive and positive, or not.

My friend Regina is teaching me to listen to the aware, responsible, and logical presence within me, and within all of us that has the power to question our thoughts, to challenge our beliefs, and to make the best decisions to create our best life. The hard part is training ourselves to stay aware of our thoughts, when we are thinking them, so we can determine if what we are thinking is valuable or not. I am learning this is a mastery. Like any skill we must practice and practice. But with determination we can do it because being in charge of our mind and the thoughts it creates allows us to stay present in the moment.

When we are present and aware of our thoughts to analyze what we are thinking, we are able to use the integrity of our heart to help guide our actions. I am learning when we lead with our heart we are responsible for our mind that has a mind of its own.

Listening to Candlelight

The match head bounces roughly along the edge of the matchbook.  On first strike it ignites in a flash of orange sparks and threatens to go out with each step I take. I carefully deliver life to a candle sitting close to my bed.

Technology provides life-saving medicines and jet-propelled shuttles.  Electricity, the pulse of our daily life, continues to flicker on and off with regularity.

Glowing warmly, the candle illuminates a small corner of my room.  At first it crackles and sputters as the wax of a new wick struggles to catch fire.  Soon it burns steadily, with only an occasional flicker when a draft from a half-closed window sweeps through the room.

Surveying my surroundings, I am unaffected by the dust on the dresser or the pair of worn jeans tossed haphazardly across a far corner chair.  I take a book from the nightstand and settle down.   Reading by candlelight sounds romantic, but it is difficult.  Nevertheless, watching television, listening to the radio, or dusting will have to wait.

I close my eyes and am cradled in darkness.  My mind circles and wanders through thoughts of the day.  Resisting the urge to put pen to paper and begin a list of things to do, I allow myself to drift.  The peaceful sound of rain carries me away.

… I grab the shiny chrome handlebars of my new blue Schwinn and snap my eyes shut.  With the confidence I have been given superhero ability to ride a bike with my eyes closed, I pedal fast.  Two seconds pass, possibly five, of blissful riding, then crash, into a neighbor’s sedan.  As I am falling to the pebblestrewn pavement, my mind anticipates my father’s looks and my reproach. I’m not badly hurt, but my superhuman powers are not strong enough to stop a tear from falling as a drop of blood appears from a small cut on my knee.  Softly Mom kisses my wound and tenderly places a band-aid on it. A gentle reminder to be careful and watch for parked cars…

… Easter.  A small yellow mass sits in my cupped hands.  My sister, two years younger, rubs her chubby finger over the baby chick’s head.  I watch carefully, observing each stroke, cautious.  My sister’s eyes are wide with wonder as she lifts the downy soft feathers to investigate the tiny chick.  Being older and more experienced, I am hesitant to let her touch it for too long.  I use my sweetest voice to convince her baby chicks must have rest between petting.   The chick cheeps loudly as it is released. My sister and I watch as it determinedly pecks at invisible things hiding in the grass…

… After asking three times, I hesitate at a fourth for fear of being scolded for breaking mother’s concentration, again.  The highway is narrow. In the back seat, where I am sitting with my window wide open, I feel a whoosh as each car passes too closely, I feel, to ours.  At five, I am a backseat driver. As we travel the single-lane highways of South Texas, I search the horizon for over-the-line autos, stray cows, and soda shops close to a turn-off.  Three hours seem an eternity when traveling to Granny’s house. After only minutes, the games were played, songs sung, snacks eaten, and not one cow in sight.  I curl up on the floorboard and listen to the tires on the road.

Lulled into a sleepy state, I feel the rhythm as we cross a wooden bridge — click-clack, click-clack, click-clack — a rapid cadence.  I scurry up to the window just as we complete the crossing and reach the pavement again.  Back on the floorboard, I am soon stirred by a honk.  I untangle my arms and legs in time to return the bald man’s wave as we pass his car.  Without asking, mother volunteers: only twenty minutes more. Soon I leap from the confinement of my back-seat responsibilities and into the arms of my Granny…

… A temporary captive of lace and bows, I rush to my room and quickly shed my Sunday best.  Almost tripping over the dress as it clings to my ankles, I jump high, finally achieving the altitude necessary to free myself from the bright green material.  Hurriedly I don jeans and a T-shirt.

Piling into the car as we do most Sunday afternoons, we are off — my best friend, his brother, my sister, and our moms.  The winding road to the park reminds me of a snake, weaving in and out of tall grass.  We pass duck ponds, a golf course, and the horse arena, arriving at last to a playground full of adventure — but without swings, slides, or merry-go-rounds.

Unspoiled, this part of the Guadalupe River is teaming with opportunity.  Thick vines cascade from sturdy live oaks lining the river’s edge.  Run-off channels rise from the river up to the street.

“I’m a pioneer,” my best friend exclaims, scampering up the gully on a mission to discover uncharted territory.  Following quickly behind, I search for buffalo.

The afternoon sun beats down. Squinting against the bright reflection from the river below, I watch as my sister struggles to climb up, my friend’s little brother close behind.  We toss a few clods of dirt over the side, a bombardment intended only to discourage younger siblings from following. Mother and her friend pass the time at a picnic table close to the river.

It seems we are there too briefly when a honk signals the roundup has begun. In the car, I take a final glance back as we reach the top of the hill, realizing it will be at least six days before we return to the wonder of this place…

It is still dark outside as I slowly open my eyes.  The vibrant memories of childhood summers pass rapidly.  Softball games with hot dogs, summer camp and mosquitoes, band concerts and school fairs, and endless memories of growing up in a small, weather-beaten Texas town.

The candle burns brightly as I revisit a steady stream of friends and events long forgotten.  As I close my eyes again, I make note not to wait for a storm to plunge routines into darkness before I return to the sights and sounds discovered while listening to candlelight.


Broccoli and Me by Risa Potters, D. C.

I’m a gardener, and when my own garden isn’t producing what I need, I either go to the local farmers market, or I go to a farm not far from where I live to fill in the rest.  The farm is family owned and has been around for years on many acres of beautiful, rich land.  When you drive down the road that leads to the entrance, during the summer months there are perfect rows of vegetables sharing space with corrals of resting horses that greet you on the way in.  When I see that much healthy produce spread as far as the eyes can see, row after row, I feel rich – not because the produce is expensive, but because it is abundant. This promise of health in the form of real food, to me, is luxury.  Unlike processed food-like substances, this food won’t kill you; instead, it gives you life.

I digress – I mean to talk to you about the many benefits of broccoli and some of the other produce in the family of cruciferous vegetables.  Aside from broccoli, this group includes vegies like cauliflower, kale, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, brussel sprouts and mustard.  Although they share many wonderful and important qualities, broccoli is the only one of this group that produces sulforaphane. 

“One of the most potent natural anti-cancer compounds ever discovered.” 

The above quote got my attention; it is referring to a compound found in broccoli sprouts called, Sulforaphane.  Broccoli, I discovered, came to this country from the Mediterranean in 1910, only about one hundred years ago, delivered by some Italians.  Sulforaphane, this extraordinary compound, was discovered in the early 1990’s, at John Hopkins University, and apparently there are just two ways to consume it:  Sprouting broccoli seeds and eating the sprouts or taking a Supplement.

I’ve been sprouting seeds in mason jars since my early twenties, so when I started reading the research on Sulforaphane, I got out the mason jars and cheese cloth and stocked up on organic broccoli seeds.  In my enthusiasm, I even gave the seeds to friends, wanting them to share the incredible benefits of this compound; I didn’t realize, however, that most people won’t go to the trouble of sprouting and would rather take a supplement.  There are issues with both ways:  The seeds must be organic and, even then, may not have an important precursor to sulforaphane – glucoraphanin.  This is true for both the sprouts and the supplements.  In addition, our gut microbiome must have a particular enzyme – myrosinase – in order to convert the glucoraphanin to sulforaphane; not all of us have this enzyme in our gut microbiome.

In addition, unless you disinfect the seeds, you risk spoiling the sprouts, which can be a potential source of food born illness.  To avoid this possibility, the researcher who started all this disinfects his seeds with a 1:10 bleach/water solution, which admittedly, I haven’t tried yet.  If you aren’t sure about using bleach on these precious seeds, there are other ways to disinfect them: Try rinsing with such things as vinegar, grapefruit seed extract or hydrogen peroxide.  The other option, buying the sulforaphane supplements, can be expensive and there are just a few companies that do it right and produce supplements with the needed precursors.

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”  – Michael Pollan 

You could also do both, just to cover your bases – make sprouts and take the supplements, along with eating the broccoli plant; you won’t get the sulforaphane eating the plant (that important compound is only in the sprouts), but there are many important properties in the different parts of the broccoli plant, as well as the other crucifers.  As the plant grows, it produces important compounds at different stages of the plant’s growth that are used for its protection against possible predators.  These compounds are repurposed by us as we eat them, adding to the strength of our own immune system…The broccoli stalks (which I love and peel and eat raw), have lots of soluble fiber; the leaves that grow off the stalk are filled with chlorophyll; the heads are abundant with vitamin C and other nutrients; and, eventually the heads produce flowers that go to seed, where the sulforaphane is finally produced.  Then, in order to get the sulforaphane, the seeds are sprouted and consumed.

The Many Benefits of Consuming Sulforaphane 

When I hear about something as exciting and important as Sulforaphane, I feel compelled to share it with the people I care about.   Why shouldn’t everyone learn about something this exciting that will increase your health span and lifespan?  Here are the six benefits that we know of from consuming sulforaphane, … 

1). Lowers the risk of cancer:  Researchers found that this compound enhances deactivation of carcinogens (like glyphosate), increasing protection from DNA damage, slowing progress of the disease in cancers of the prostate, bladder, breast and colon. 

2). Improves detoxification capacity in all three phases of detoxification in every cell.  Unlike other antioxidants, like vitamin C, whose effects last for about a day, this compound’s effects last seventy-two hours or more, without buildup.

3). Protects the brain and restores cognition.  Encourages formation of new neurons and synapses, increasing Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), an important protein that enhances healthy brain activity, cognition and nerve growth.  Increases BDNF in conditions like:  Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, brain trauma, accelerated aging, neurotransmitter dysfunction, obesity and schizophrenia.  Also, decreases brain inflammation and improves learning and memory. 

4). Decreases generalized inflammation.  Modulates joint inflammation. 

5). Slows aging.  Acts as a potent antioxidant, augments glutathione, the body’s most important antioxidant.

6). Improves cardio metabolic health.  Decreases Insulin Resistance, improves glucose tolerance by favorably affecting lipid profiles, regulates the heart muscle, improves endothelial function and improves metabolic disorders – obesity, type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

Risa Potters, D. C.


To Heal – Speak Up

I was eleven when a sixteen-year-old male babysitter sexually molested me. He threatened, “I’ll cut your t**s off if you ever tell anyone what I am doing.” At age eighteen a physician casually ordered his nurse to leave the room so he would be free to sexually molest me in private.  I was well into adulthood when I first shared about being abused because I had been intimidated to stay silent.

Speaking about our emotional trauma is vital to taking our life back from abuse. It is not easy to do.  There are countless reasons why it is hard to speak about the abuse and mistreatment we experience. Certainly sexual abuse is a subject we just do not talk about for a number of reasons, one of which is the fear of not being believed.

When I spoke up about being sexually abused by a physician I was dismissed as just another woman he abused. Without a safe outlet to express what happened to me, I turned my frustration and anxiety inward. I developed deep rage at being forced to face mistreatment in silence and alone. That rage manifested in self-abuse and the abuse of others. But it was not only the sexual abuse that I was not comfortable sharing.

I was forced to sit in church year after year not able to question the religious dogma I was being indoctrinated to believe. I was not free to ask questions or express my views.  I was not allowed to challenge the illogical and hurtful messages I heard.

When we cannot safely express our feelings we often turn that frustration inward. We harbor resentment, blame, anger, and feel unworthy. These emotions fester and can cause us to irresponsibly explode onto other people, often those who are closest to us, like a spouse or partner.

Being silenced about any abuse or being discounted in any way causes us to lose confidence in ourselves. Without speaking up we do not challenge the abusive behavior of others. We do not admit our self-abuse. We do not stand up for ourselves. We bury our emotions and feel invalidated and unworthy. We become co-dependent, abusive, or passive aggressive in our relationships.  We do not feel safe to share our feelings with those we love. We do not ask for what we want in relationship.  Yet, talking about our feelings, experiences, and needs is vital to creating emotionally intimate relationships. Including the relationship we have with ourselves.

It takes enormous courage and willpower to speak about the mistreatment we experience or witness. It takes determination to overcome the fear of being ridiculed or not taken seriously. However, to help ourselves heal, one of the most productive things we do is to acknowledge what we feel – anger, sadness, unworthiness, fear, or shame – by talking about the pain and bad memories because sharing allows us to find our voice again.

Sexual abuse. Psychological abuse. Ridicule. Bullying. Religious persecution. Intimidation. Isolation. Body image shaming. Guilt and coercion. Humiliation. Perfectionism. Abuse of authority. Restriction of individual expression. We do not choose to experience any of these abuses. But we can choose to overcome them.

The truth is, I am who I am today because of what I chose to overcome, not what I was subjected to. You are what you choose to overcome too. And believe me, you ARE strong enough to overcome anything. You just have to love yourself more than you were abused.

Our Beautiful Difference by Catherine Wilson

My older brother, Owen, was a poet, an actor, and playwright. And, he was gay.

It was especially not ok to be gay in our family while growing up in the 1950s in Pennsylvania. Maybe if there had been gay characters on family sitcoms and gay journalists on network television, as there are now, our parents would have been able to accept Owen and give him the love he deserved. But, they needed society’s approval to love their child and in the 1950s my parent’s didn’t have that approval.

Yet, what if they had loved Owen by courageously not caring what society thought about their own child?

When I was in my twenties I worked at a day care center. We had a little 3 year old boy there who was always the first to be picked up. His father would walk through the door whistling the Irving Berlin song, “Always.” Wherever the little boy was, he’d hear that song and knew it was meant only for him. He’d jump up, the castle of blocks he’d spent so much time building, knocked over and forgotten, as he ran into the man’s outstretched arms. The man would swing the boy up and hug him so tight, you just knew the boy would soar through life, like floating from a trapeze, because the man was his net.

The man would laugh. The boy would laugh. Their laughter sounded like home, or the way I imagined home could sound like.  And I laughed too at their happiness and love.

One day the man said to me of the boy, “He’s very sensitive. I can tell he’s going to be an actor like me. Look at our hands. They’re so alike.” He held up his hand and put the little 3 year old boy’s hand next to his for me to examine. The man’s hands were small, the fingers tapered, the nails well cared for. Hands of a musician, I thought, before he told me he was an actor.

The little boy was small for his age, and frail like the man. The child was the man’s girlfriend’s son. None of his genes had been transferred to this boy he was so proud of, but it made no difference to him. The two sets of hands were nondescript. Nothing you’d remember, really. Except I have remembered. For over forty years I’ve remembered his hands and those of the little boy. Not because they were so similar, as the man wanted me to believe, but because I felt the profound love the man had for the boy, which made me love him. To me the man had hands that did no harm.  To Owen and me our father’s hands were capable—not careful.

That is why the concept a man was capable of respecting a child was unknown to me. The profound respect and deep love of this man for this child was not what I experienced in our family growing up. It was foreign, like traveling to a distant country where Owen and I did not speak the language. Yet, through this man and this child I understood the possibilities of what could be.

I remember looking at the man and at the little boy. All I could think was, why hadn’t Owen been born into this family? To a father who would welcome him and appreciate him for his talents as a poet, a playwright, and actor. A father who would be proud to call him son? Not a father who beat and abused Owen when he was the same age as the little boy standing in front of me. And the beatings and abuse were for what? For not being like whom? For not being like him? For being too much like him?

Our father would have names for this man who was in touch with his feminine side and they wouldn’t have been artistic and talented. Panty waist and queer were the names Owen and I heard in our house.

“Stand up straight! Give me a firm handshake, not that limp noodle! Lower your voice!” Father demanded.

I think of my father’s hands that were so different from the hands of the kind man. My father’s hands were large and hard, rough, dry and red, with deep lines. They were the hands of a man who didn’t mind getting them dirty. No matter how much he scrubbed them there was always remnants of dirt under his nails. With his capable hands he could fix a leaking toilet, wire a chandelier, or mend a fence. And, Owen and I knew, when he hit you with one of those hands, you remembered it.

Despite Owen’s lifelong mantra, “To thine own self be true,” he was as much a stranger to himself as he was to everyone who knew him. Whenever you asked him how he was, he would always say, fine.  I know that all of his adult life Owen suffered in silence, just as he’d suffered in silence as a child, every time our father took off his belt and beat him with it.

My brother committed suicide on March 26, 1999. He hanged himself with two belts in his fifth floor walk-up apartment, freeing himself at last from the guilt and shame that eventually destroyed him. He’d been taught to believe that something was wrong with him. He was taught that he was a disappointment. He was taught artistic and kind were not okay for “real” men.

The people who loved Owen, including his small band of friends, weren’t able to convince him he was worthy and that there was nothing wrong with his being gay. I was not able to convince my brother either. But, I am grateful all these years later that the culture is changing. Which gives me great hope for future generations.

I watch my two year old grandson running around the garden wearing fairy wings like his older sister. Maybe he wants to be his older sister. Maybe he just likes wearing fairy wings. I don’t know. What I do know is that in our family he is loved and accepted and will be supported for whoever he is. My family freely gives him the respect, acceptance, and deep love that I wanted so desperately for my dear brother. A love and acceptance each of us has the power to give one another, no matter how beautifully different we are.

Don’t we need to care about behavior that is not loving?


Last week I shared my thoughts about the toxic oil spill off the coast of Southern California that is killing wildlife and wreaking havoc. I discussed how powerful you and I are to help end these environmental disasters for good by curbing our dependency on fossil fuels so we create a clean environment for our children and all life.

And there is something else you and I can do that I believe is just as important to the health and well-being of all children. We can stop ignoring the small toxic leaks of unloving behavior in our relationships.

Little by little the hurtful drops of injury drip. Judgment, sarcasm, anger, frustration, projecting unresolved childhood wounding onto one another, dishonesty with ourselves about ourselves, and more. The hurt we feel causes us to want to escape into the fantasy that it is only one lie or one small drop of disrespect, deceit, avoidance, or cruelty. But the tiny drips of hurt accumulate. And unless these are found and stopped, each unkind word, each episode of ego-boxing and wounding one another in the name of love, adds up, eventually burying our relationships beneath accumulated heartbreak and dysfunction. This is damaging to us and our children. It is not what love does.

When we use excuses that we are rushed, distracted, angry, justified, or did not really mean it, or when we feel powerless to speak our truth, we’re refusing to face the little drops of pain we cause one another. Isn’t that the opposite of how love behaves?

Don’t we need to care that love is not supposed to be judgmental, bullying, cruel, or afraid to address the lasting wounds we cause one another?

Don’t we need to care what behaviors, attitudes, and words in our life and relationships are not loving?

Don’t we need to take our power and act? Be the positive change we want to see?

You may have noticed by now that regardless of whether it is the environment or in our relationships, waiting for a savior is not working. We must step up and be our own saviors, because as the famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Which means we need to step off the wheel of feeling powerless. We do so by getting busy doing things differently to bring about different results in all of our relationships.

We intentionally face the fear of rocking a boat that is already leaking. We appreciate the fact that ignoring the toxic leaks in our relationships will not make them go away. We admit they will not clean themselves. We acknowledge that the dire situations we are creating in our families and in the world are not the legacy our children deserve.

We are powerful to change our hurtful family dynamics. We are adults who can bravely face the discomfort of feeling powerless. We take action and initiate conversation about bullying. We turn off mistreatment when we see it on television, in video games, and in social media. We stop listening to opinionated news commentary and the judgment that too often becomes the basis for our religious attitudes. We pay attention to how negative social media, our emotional absence, or trying to fit children into a specific box of our own making is robbing them of their childhood joy, undermining their self-esteem, and weakening their ability to connect with themselves, each other, and the natural world.  We look at our expectations, distractions, addictions to technology, and how we feel about ourselves and other people with the goal of transforming all we find to be toxic in our relationships.

No matter how insurmountable our challenges seem to be, we are powerful to overcome them when we keep foremost within our heart the understanding that love thinks before it speaks and listens as it wants to be heard. Love is emotionally present. Love overrules a wounded ego’s pride and the desire to fight fire with fire. Love stops us from seeking escape in the comfortable fantasies we create to avoid the hard to face.

It is a struggle for a butterfly to emerge from its cocoon. But once freed, it adds great beauty to the world.

We are in individual and collective cocoons of sorts, struggling to free ourselves from several great challenges. Let’s make this positive effort to create kinder and more connected relationships with ourselves, our families, and our neighbors.  Let’s talk about the challenging subjects of hurt and disrespect with the knowledge that we can transform these for the better. Let’s take care of our earth and our homes by recommitting to all our relationships with thoughtfulness, honesty, responsibility, emotional presence, and empathy.

We can emerge triumphant from the cocoon of feeling powerless. We can add great beauty to our relationships and the world. We simply accept that “I love you,” comes with the huge responsibility to actually love.


We Are Powerful

As I write this, there is an oil spill off the coast of Southern California. Tens of thousands of gallons of toxic sludge are killing wildlife and wreaking havoc on the environment. Yet oil spills and leaky pipes are nothing new, as dependency on fossil fuel goes hand in hand with environmental disaster. This horrible, and predictable, collateral damage is the very ugly side of the relationship we have with our automobiles, planes, and other fossil fuel—powered machinery and the convenience and mobility they bring to daily life.

When these disasters happen, many of us get upset and may even want to do something helpful. Yet I have often wondered why, when the current catastrophe is over, the majority of us simply go back to ignoring, or forgetting, or not caring about the ever-present onshore and offshore danger of a dependency on fossil fuel. Our temporary attention and alarm are quickly replaced with business as usual. It seems all it takes to close our eyes to the endless warning signs about the direction we are headed is a leak fixed, some wildlife cleaned up and released, and the news moving on to the next disaster or political standoff.

Why do we just move on instead of doing something proactive to end these disasters for good?

I have come to the conclusion that we do not know what to do. At times like these, we feel powerless. What can I, as one person, do? Feeling powerless and all alone to effect real change, we do not do what we can. We fall back on the comfort of inaction, preferring to believe life is really fine no matter what is happening around us. That disasters like these, unless they are in our backyard, do not really impact us, or they are not really that bad, or someone else will do something. We have great sympathy for others experiencing disasters far from us, but we do not dig deep enough to empathetically sit beside one another in the truth that if a crisis impacts other people and forms of life, it impacts us, too.

I believe the motivation to move on so quickly stems from the avoidance we developed as children when facing hurt, abuse, or difficult challenges. Because we were powerless to stop what was happening, we did not know what to do. The only thing we could do was escape, most often emotionally. Many of us created a fantasy world with the perfect family where everything was fine. A world filled with the magic of unicorns and the warmth of rainbows. But nothing in the fantasy world helped change the real world in which we lived.

Now that we are adults, I believe it is healthy for us to admit we have never met a unicorn or found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Which means it is time for us to face reality. It is time to accept that we are not without power over our choice to consume fossil fuel. Maybe we take positive action, like installing solar panels on our home, purchasing an electric automobile, taking public transportation, walking, or selling our oil company stock and investing in renewable energy. With a little effort and care, we will discover numerous small things that, when done by many people, will create a big difference in dealing with the fossil fuel challenge impacting us all.

I will do as much as I can.  And I will leave what you can do to you.

But please remember that together we are not powerless. We are powerful! The small changes you and I make to our dependency on fossil fuel will help move us to a clean, sustainable planet for our children and theirs. Together we can be part of the solution, rather than continue to fuel (pun intended) the destruction of our outer environment. We do not have to leave this issue to our children.

Compassionate Communication: Speaking and Listening with an Open Heart during Difficult Times

I’ve spent most of my adult life feeling as though I’m fairly enlightened. Considerate, peaceful, respectful of the rights and feelings of others – “woke,” I guess you could say. Until recently, if you asked anyone about me, my friends, family, even strangers in the supermarket, they’d probably tell you, “She’s calm, kind, – has something encouraging to say…a ‘peaceful’ person.” And I’d smile beatifically, so sure of my place in a benevolent Universe, in my ability to stay centered even when people and circumstances around me were difficult. I was patient with myself, with others, with challenging life circumstances. I handed out copies of Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements to family and friends, believed in “living in the now,” took nothing personally, and woke up most mornings feeling grateful and optimistic.

Lately though, I’ve struggled to maintain the “balance” I’ve counted on to navigate through life. I could probably give you an eloquent and “justifiable” list of “reasons” for this regrettable state of being, for this vaguely alarming sense that, despite my history as a peaceful, happy person, I have become decidedly off-balance.

Sure, this has been a tough year; no one will argue with me there. In a world in which at least a few core elements used to seem relatively certain – being close to family, counting on old friends for love and support, taking comfort in shared memories and experiences, hugging, joking, laughing, feeling like no matter what happened “out there,” we could still count on at least a few familiar rituals, experiences, and relationships to keep us looking forward to what tomorrow, next week, or next year might bring.

But all of a sudden, people I thought I knew very well were repeating fake news, ranting about how seemingly reliable media sources and public figures were “after them,” how a serious public health threat “wasn’t that bad” and how being asked to wear a face covering was “depriving them of their rights.” And if I didn’t agree with them, they declared, then I must be either “confused,” “misinformed” or just plain wrong.

“What’s wrong with them?” I asked myself disgustedly. “How can they say those things! Don’t they understand how negative/disrespectful/hurtful they sound?” I found myself gravitating towards others who were similarly stuck in loops of righteous negativity. As long as we agreed with each other about how wrong “they” were, then surely we were “right”? I was allowing the words of others to “make me” feel anxious, sad – even angry. I wasn’t listening, I was reacting. I wasn’t communicating, I was flinging words into the Universe with no regard to what effect those words were having – exactly what I was accusing other people of doing!

Then one day, I was on my treadmill, getting in my steps to Lady Gaga and Earth, Wind and Fire, when a sudden clarity came over me – not a lightning-bolt kind of clarity, but a sort of calming internal effusion of knowing that almost made me stumble. I slowed down the treadmill and settled into an amble to give my brain a chance to quiet the heck down and listen to my heart

I remembered a conversation I’d had recently with one of my close friends. She still refused to take the current public health crisis seriously, going on and on about how she just couldn’t breathe with a mask on, and how her rights were being violated by insisting that she either wear one or stay at home. Now, instead of reverting to the judgmental mindset I’d slipped into the last time I’d listened to her, I let myself recall the stark fear in her voice as she talked about the prospect of becoming ill, about how sad she was that she hadn’t seen her four grandchildren in more than a year, about her fear that one of her adult children, who’d lost his job and tended towards depression, would sink into despair.

Instead of listening with an open heart, listening to all of her words and the feelings behind them, I’d focused on my friend’s rant about face coverings and personal rights and decided that she was being unreasonable and illogical. By doing this, I was also locking myself into a negative space, unable to empathize with her or offer her comfort. I was also pushing my own sadness, fear and anxiety into a dark corner – never a good practice for someone who claimed to exude inner peace, balance and “wokeness”!

I finished my workout, eased into my recliner, and took a good long look at my recent attitude and how it was affecting my relationships with myself and others. Yes, these were indeed difficult times, but hadn’t I long ago learned that the words I allowed myself to use mattered? I’d let myself drift away from one of my core affirmations: “Today, let me practice compassionate communication”.

Sure, maybe the current state of the world could best be described as “super-mega-freefall-flux,”but that was no reason for me to abandon my commitment to listening with an open heart, and to using words to nurture and support myself and others, not create anxiety and perpetuate negativity.

The way I see it, there are two parallel paths of compassionate communication: the way I speak to and listen to others, and the way I choose to react to the way others speak to me. The first path has to do with being mindful, not only of the actual words I’m using, but also of their intent and impact. During stressful times, the mindfulness with which I usually choose my words might not activate in time to keep me from saying something unkind or thoughtless. It’s up to me to “think before I speak” and to choose my words carefully and kindly. It’s also up to me to listen compassionately, to remember that pain and fear may also be causing others to say things they might not mean. Of course, if I feel that someone is being deliberately hurtful or deceitful, then I can choose to end a conversation, as an act of compassion to myself.

The second path involves the way I react to what I am told. I’ve come to understand that “what I’m told” includes what I hear in the media, and to address this, I’ve had to curtail my consumption of words thrown at me by public figures who wield them to create anxiety, fear, and mistrust. This sort of communication is the polar opposite of compassionate because the speakers don’t care about the negative affect their words might have on others. And with difficult personal conversations, I have several choices: one, I can agree not to take what is being said personally and simply let it pass; or two, I can choose to express how someone’s words have hurt or upset me – as long as I’m not expecting a particular outcome from doing so.

The choices I make about the words I use affect not only my own well-being, but that of others. Compassionate communication, speaking and listening with an open heart, is a deliberate choice I can make to encourage myself and others to live more balanced, peaceful lives, even during difficult times. 

By Vicky Elabd

(Instagram: @vickyelabd)