My doctoral work involves WWII, including the actions of the Nazis and those they commanded. One of the more astonishing facts I stumbled upon recently was the Nazi strategy of keeping the young German Nazis involved in and occupied with sports.
They wanted to keep them active and running around...focused on winning not on thinking. Some group of resistants snuck away from the sports and started reading...banned books, probably. Anyway, it was through this development of the mind, that the absurdity and deranged nature of the whole regime became apparent.
I had a much more minor, but similar awakening this fall and winter. I sprained my ankle doing the Lindy Hop (great WWII dance, actually). Because of this sprain, I could no longer spend my free time running, dancing, leaping, rollerblading or even swimming.
Instead I read theory. I read 30-40 books about my field. I sat still, I distilled, and I considered more fully and more carefully this world in which I found myself.
This was not my conscious choice, I often bemoaned my crippled state..hobbling to and from the library gazing at my swollen foot. But something important did happen for me during those first 3 months of recovery. I created a base to my thinking that I will continue to draw upon for the rest of my career.
Of course now that I am healed, I'm up again and training for the Cherry Blossom race, swimming and planning my next dance class. But I'm considering now, more fully, the consequence of moving versus thinking.
Those who train for triathlons or marathons know the impact of training on their lives, if not their minds. In fact, Swimmers magazine just ran an article about triathlon divorces, referring to the number of divorces prompted by one partner spending the majority of their time in motion...running, cycling or swimming away from their partner.
This question of the impact of over-sporting on our relationships and our minds is especially salient in the Washington, DC where I live. Fitness abounds. Races are held every weekend during the spring. The combination of the enormous military presence along with the disciplined rule followers working in law and government has led to a kind of fitness bonanza.
It's a very fit city. I think fitness is fantastic. It's something I do love about DC; I also wonder if it has a way of numbing us. We question the system less...instead of considering the deep structural problems, contradictions and inequalities in our system, we go for a run.
We just burn off our aggression without considering whether there are some problems we need to consider in deeply theoretical ways.
For the betterment of our world, I suggest that once in a while, instead of heading to the gym, consider taking a bath and reading Foucault, Arendt, Wilbur, or someone else who blows your hair back...running is not the only way to feel the wind in your hair. Ideas are mighty powerful.
How many times have you "lost" a friendship or a relationship only to find that some time later it returned?
Every time it happens to me, I'm shocked. So many times, I have thought a certain friendship or family relationship was over, destroyed, permanently altered only to find that days, weeks, months, and often years later the whole situation just kind of righted itself.
I wanted this to be the weekly topic because I know how saddened these absences have made me and perhaps this little blog could be a reminder to those reading who are sad about a friendship, lover, family member or work relationship that things can change in the most miraculous ways.
If we are open for the relationship to heal we can leave the "how" to someone else...
Here are several examples of absolutely astonishing reunions.
The Missing Person
My first official non-family friend was Craig. I was two, he was four. I don't remember the early days, but what I do remember is that he lived in the house behind me and we spent countless hours playing GI Joe, dress up, animal hospital and climbing trees. He was the best neighbor. We never fought and my family loved him. Ultimately, he made living in the woods an absolute joy.
In those days you only needed to dial 4-digits to call your neighbor. So, I would dial 8443 and ask "Can You?"
15 minutes later he would bound through the forest appearing at our back door.
Then Craig moved. I was 10. I never found him again. He wasn't on Facebook and we somehow never connected after that. It was like a death.
But then last year, twenty-plus years after his departure, he appeared in the most unlikely place...the workplace of my other childhood best friend. She recognized him and now she has befriended this gem. I have not seen him yet, but just knowing that I will this Spring brings such a sense of joy and peace that I am even further encouraged in all things.
Craig is back.
The Rejected Parent
Then there are the relationships you think are damaged beyond repair. Actions and words, we believe, have destroyed the very fabric of love that made what we had so precious. But this too can be transformed, transmuted, healed in astonishing ways if both parties can prioritize love over pain, or self-rightesousness.
My mother had to leave when I was 12. I say "had to leave" because I see now that to find herself she had to go. But anyone who has had their primary caretaker walk out knows heartbreak and the years it can take to heal that wound. I am one of the fortunate ones because she always worked to keep the connection with me, but honestly, once that bond of trust was broken it seemed impossible to ever really heal.
And it has taken years...10, 20 maybe. But now? Now, I have a mother who looks twenty years younger than her age because she left to build a wonderful life for herself. She married a man who as in turn touched my life immeasurably and they both have become two of my best friends.
The transmutation of a parent from a source of pain to cherished friend, confidante and role model can be one of the most meaningful.
Oddly these too can find their place. Intimate relationships once destroyed often seem to have obliterated hearts into billions of fragments of space dust that could never possibly be reunited into something solid or whole.
If both are willing, with time, peace can be achieved, if not complete celestial reunion.
The biggest one for me came two years ago. Christmas morning two Decembers ago, we went to Church. Nothing remarkable for me happened during the service, but afterwords we stood in the memorial garden.
All of a sudden and I felt this wave of forgiveness for the intimate relationship that had hurt me most. I literally felt a wave of pain leaving my body, from my belly up and out through my heart.
During brunch, I explained to my family, "the oddest thing happened in the garden. I just felt this wave of forgiveness for him. I can now, finally, truly wish for his happiness and well-being."
Now, let me be clear hear. This was two years after the break up, but apparently it was still strangling my heart. Not a word or email had been exchanged during that two year period.
Within 48 hours of that Christmas revelation, I received an email from him saying to the effect, "Sarah, something just compelled me to write you. I looked at the last email you wrote me that I didn't have the courage to read two years ago. I would really like to talk to you."
We talked, we met, and some pieces were healed. Not everything. We are not a couple and we shouldn't be. But at least it has shifted and the silence is broken.
The Best Friend
Similar stories have happened to me with "The Best Friend," "The Boss," "The Teacher."
In fact, this past two month three important relationships came back in a new way. Three!
Facebook, etc. makes these reconnections easier than in the days when I lost Craig.
However, in every case where miraculous healings have occurred, I have been willing and able to let go of the hurt in the hopes that something greater or new may occur.
"What about death?" you say. Well that only matters if you believe in death as a finality. I don't. I see it as a transition. A topic for another post perhaps. I believe you will see these people again too.
If you have lived and loved you have suffered in relationship. If you choose to still love, you will suffer again.
When the opportunity comes to change the "end" of the story, you may find you cannot even remember exactly how the relationship became derailed.
In the recovery process, none of that seems to matter.
Forgetting can be helpful. Here's to forgetting. Hope this post makes readers a little more open to the delicious and surprising ways life keeps the story going.
Oh and if you think all your relationships are perfect, don't worry. You'll screw something up soon enough and have an opportunity to fix it. That's just how this place seems to work.
Ok, off you go..
Paddle on...go see who's around the bend, today...
Thank you to Pastor Mary Conant (the heart of this precious congregation) that resides in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. The 900 person town of Sonol. Thank you also to the congregation for welcoming me, sharing your dreams and your cookies...Oh and thanks to the bobcat who came to the house and let us admire him/her for over 10 minutes.
There are many great world religious and spiritual traditions. All have their own practices and rituals designed to help people connect with themselves or with whatever they decide to call the magic of life.
I have come to appreciate lent the way I have come to appreciate winter. They both invite us to pull back from the social chatter and our worldly activities to go within to hear the thump, thump of what is actually us.
I have been asked by a friend to give a sermon this Sunday. The first Sunday of Lent. Even though I am not a practicing Christian, I deeply connect with this annual ritual. I know if I can truly embrace this period of reflection, my year will be all the sweeter.
Aside from the reflection marathon of Lent, shorter periods of unplugging and reflecting also seem to offer great benefits.
Brendon Burchard taught me to take 4 days every 3 months and totally disconnect. This February, I chose Alaska as my AWOL destination. (Note: you can do these anywhere. Winter trips to Alaska are not required)
As you may have read in my earlier posts, I recently flew straight into the heart of winter (Fairbanks Alaska) to stand for 5 nights in -30 and look up at the sky. I had no agenda other than clearing my head.
Sometimes looking up at the sky can feel overwhelming.
At the Arctic circle there are not only millions of stars overhead they continue all the way down to the horizon on all sides. Imagine standing in the middle of a snow globe and the plastic boarder has stars all the way down to the base all the way around. Totally surrounded.
I am not sure I could really appreciate the magnitude of what I saw. I felt like that spinning wheel on mac when the computer freezes.
There is a whole lotta something going on out there that has nothing to do with us.
Seeing the green lights, however, softened that feeling of celestial insignificance. They felt close, warm, and comforting. They dance above your head, cascading across the sky with the glee of dolphins bounding forward...changing direction sometimes in an instant and sometimes over 20 minutes.
While there is a scientific explanation for the lights, the feeling most people had in seeing them suggested more magic is afoot.
There was also a power in facing winter so squarely. ...To walk into Alaska in February! Locals thought I was nuts. Really, you want to stand outside all night in this cold? Silly tourists.
Until I ride the shuttle to the outer atmosphere, this is as close as I am going to get to space travel. (Honestly, with the amount of clothes I had on, I might as well have been wearing a space suit.)
Celestial magic is something we can connect to anywhere. Even living in the city a little star or the moon shines through.
There is something poetic about the fact that you need the dark to see the lights.
You must walk into the darkness and frigid cold in order to feel the warmth of the sky dancing lights.
I plan to lead a trip there next winter where we will spend our nights looking up and our daylight ours deconstructing and releasing the stories that constrict possibility.
Please let me know if you are up for the ride...
About 3 months ago, a friend called to tell me about the photos of earth from Voyager 2.
They were not new, but they were new to us. We gawked, we gasped, we couldn't believe our little size.
( I wrote you about it a few blogs ago).
Since then, I have found myself sneaking out of the library when I could no longer see straight first going to the movie Gravity in 3D, then to the local Planetarium to learn about Black Holes (I know Hawking doesn't believe in them anymore..) and then in mid-Februray to the Arctic Circle.
That's me above, I know I look a bit like a South Park character with 17 layers on.
All this star gazing and glaxaxy contemplation has started to have side effects.
Ok, that isn't so unusual, big deal.
I had the opportunity to cover a couple Master's classes at the School of Conflict Resolution and Analysis and shared with the students that if they bring 1 thing to a conflict, it ought to be perspective..Help everyone chill out. Show them a picture of tiny winy little earth.
Here's how my new perspective surprisingly turned around my day today.
This afternoon, I was riding the BART train from San Francisco airport into the city. I faced a Chinese woman (about 50) and her mother (about 80). They were chatting away in Chinese.
I heard myself think, "They look so foreign here, I wonder how they ended up in San Francisco."
Yikes, I thought.
That's a weird thought.
That's a lame thought.
Weird because I had lived in a Chinese neighborhood in San Francisco for three years. So, I understand the huge Chinese population.
I decided to work with my thinking...I thought about the Tiny Blue Dot image...the one taken by the Voyager that shows earth as this little itty bitty tiny winy pin head.
We're all riding the same rock around the sun, I reminded myself, and this is as much their rock as it is mine.
Having this thought felt better.
I watched the mother unwrap a snack sized Milky Way bar (rather ironic) and nod as her daughter went on about something.
After navigating the chocolate morsel into her mouth, I noticed her little sticky fingers and offered her a hand-wipe.
They both lit up.
They seemed so surprised that this zippy white traveller in her pleather jacket, celestial scarf with two bags was concerned about the mother's sticky hands.
We had a laugh about it and then went back to our own thoughts.
When I got up to leave the train, my water bottle dropped off my bag.
The elderly woman leapt across the seat, grabbed it and put it back in for me.
It required quite a bit of agility - the doors would close in a moment so she had to move fast to help me.
I was so touched.
I said, "xie xie" (shay shay) to them both.
And the younger woman said "you speak good Chinese"
No, I don't. I had visited my brother who lives in Beijing and had to know a little to get about.
But my effort with the language shortened the planetary divide.
Ok so why this long story?
Because had I not been sneaking out to all those star gazing events, I would not have so quickly remembered that we all share the same ride around the run.
International Boarders, language and culture have evolved over time. They serve all kinds of economic, cultural, and security purposes.
I get that.
But I also get that it's a HUGE universe out there. That's far older and far bigger than earth.
Our galaxy has an estimated 100 billion stars..
Yes, our galaxy has about 100 billion stars like our sun!!
Guess how many galaxies they think there are?
Around 100 billion.. Or close to that. Or was it 100 million? Well, it was something enormous.
Any way you get the idea.
If you were floating around space like Sandra Bullock you'd be happy to see ANYONE from earth. It may be a bit crowded here, but it seems a bit lonely out there.
When I realized this, it made me feel closer to my Chinese seat mates. We shared a little moment. It completely turned my day around.
If there's a moral to the story..I guess it's when you feel tight, ungenerous, scared, burnt out, or disconnected..go to the planetarium, look up, peruse celestial pictures on line. It may improve your metro ride one day..or even your life.
Keep me posted...I'm gazing at the San Francisco evening sky right now and curious to see what will unfold.
Sarah Federman, PhD
Enjoy these short blogs and videos designed to bring you a little cheer.
My other blog Language of Conflict addresses the importance of word choice and narration in conflict.
Finish and Flourish supports writers struggling to complete projects.