The moral high-ground

Yesterday Israel commemorated the assassination of the late Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin. Twelve years ago, he was killed by a man who probably was unbalanced at the time and certainly was provoked by an agent of the Israel government, Avishai Raviv, who has since been sanitized and has disappeared from public view. The assassin has been in jail ever since.

People who teach the “Rabin Legacy” speak of “the right” as having killed Rabin. They speak of the rabbis and teachers whose speech led to it. This is of course, patently untrue. “The right” is not a monolithic group and it certainly does not have a tradition of killing its opponents. In addition, every person carries the responsibility for his own acts.

It was Rabin who pitted himself against “the right,” delegitimizing them in the service of his making a peace with the Arabs that even he knew was unlikely to come. It was he who characterized “the right” as being unworthy of consideration. His words and actions were harsh.

So now, each year on the anniversary of the assassination, the Rabin spokespeople talk about democracy and openness, and it was only last night that one of them said (referring to the assassin) “he and his whole disgusting family of insects…” and then went on in a high-toned manner to deplore “incitement.”

I think that Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination was a terrible, criminal act, but I despise the fact that those who revere him have used it to demonize a significant part of the population. If that is his legacy, it should best be forgotten.

Lies

There are a few things that are, for me, principles of parenting that should not be violated. One of them is that parents should not lie to their children.

To me, it seems like a “no-brainer.” Our children need to be able to trust us. Without trust, they cannot feel safe and secure. That means that they should be able to trust the things that we tell them. Therefore, except in rare, extreme situations, we should be very careful to tell them the truth.

So it came as a shock to me that today I heard of two instances where the parents lied to their children. They lied when there was no good reason to lie. One lied because it was easier for her than explaining things to her children and the second lied because she wanted to say what she needed to say to calm her daughter down.

In the case of the first mother, her lie will become clear when the family is invited to the wedding of their uncle and his “wife” who, their mom told them, were already married. The children will find out. It’s a sure thing. And then what will they think of their mother?

The second case, though is much more toxic. In this case, the teenage daughter had feelings of not being respected and not being taken seriously. She had good reason not to trust her mother who had failed to protect her in the past. She pleaded with me to ask her mother to honor a very reasonable request she had made of her. I did so. The mother told me that she would comply with her daughter’s request. I spoke with the daughter and told her that her mother had agreed. Today, three days later, the mother called in a panic. The daughter had become very angry and upset. In the course of explaining what had gone on in the last couple of days, the mother spoke of having twice done what her daughter asked her not to do. The mother had called me to ask me to speak with her daughter. I said to her, “What about the promise you made to her?” She said, “I never promised.” I said, “You told ME that you would comply!” She said, “Well, that was for THAT day.” I told her that now that I had no credibility with her daughter since she had lied to me and I had vouched for her, she needs to find someone who will have credibility to help the daughter.

I think that what I did may have shocked the mother, but I needed to shock her because she has denied her daughter the most important gift we give our children, security. If a parent is not reliable, if a parent lies, if a parent pretends to respect the child and doesn’t, then the child will lack the security he or she needs to grow up whole and healthy.

Where I am today…

It’s not that I have nothing to say; it’s that I have too much to say. Life gallops along at such a pace and in so many different ways that it’s hard to saddle it or begin to describe the path.

In the last few weeks I have been working with clients and feeling very gratified with their efforts to change. A long time ago I told my husband that I wanted to sell a needlepoint to therapists that said, “There are no good therapists; only good clients,” and it seems that recently, after not providing therapy for a couple of years, I have been lucky enough to be chosen by good clients.

At the same time, I have been getting ready to teach once again. When I entered the classroom a week and a half ago, I was gratified to find a group of intelligent, motivated women ready to seriously tackle the knowledge and skills needed to become therapists. Teaching them is a joy.

And, of course, there is China. Once again I am readying myself for an adventure. Already I hear the echoes of Chinese music that is relaxing and calming. In my mind’s eye, I already see the gardens. I see myself on a boat on the Li River viewing the magnificence of the Karst mountains. I am already picturing the Stone Forest.

I can’t help but smile remembering the man on the trip last spring who pretty much took everything in stride. He was enjoying the trip, but in a low-key way. As we rode in the little open air cart through the Stone Forest, he sat behind me. As I was once again appreciating its beauty, I heard him say in ever-rising tones, “This is fantastic; this is fantastic; this is fantastic; this is FANTASTIC!”

And I suppose that is what sums up my feelings about my trips to China.

I love being with people who are truly enjoying themselves, experiencing things that are new and nourishing.

And so as I pack and prepare for the trip, I have a high level of anticipation and excitement.

About anger and healing

People have an amazing range of behavior. Unlike other animals who act out of instinct, we have the ability not only to to choose among a number of goals but to plan our behavior in an attempt to achieve them.

What surprises me, though, is how often people use this ability to sabotage themselves and actually make life worse for themselves. For example, there are people who choose to be angry for long periods of time– sometimes for their whole life. They may legitimately have been done wrong or they may feel themselves wronged. What they do with the anger and frustration they feel determines what their lives will be like. If they choose to remain angry, they are embarking on a lifetime of unhappiness. They may feel as if their anger is punishing the other person or persons who have wronged them. They may feel justified and righteous about the anger. They may choose to act angry, talk angry, and be angry– all in an attempt to set the record straight. After a while, their anger becomes their close friend, their identity. It feels right- familiar if not comfortable. But, in fact, they are harming themselves and the people they love.

Anger makes people look harsh. It make them age prematurely. It takes away the joy from their lives. It hurts the ones they love the most.

So what is one to do? Well, if there is hurt, then something has to happen to make it go away. If the person who did the hurting did it maliciously, then there really isn’t the possibility of talking it over. So what we need to do as healthy adults is to find a way to let go of the anger. Sometimes physical activity works to dissipate the tension. Sometimes talking with a friend who can be a sounding board is helpful. Sometimes sitting and writing about it helps to get the hurt out. But ultimately, to live a good life, it’s important to let the anger go.

People can choose to have a good life. They can choose to transform negative experiences into growing experiences that sensitize them to others’ hurts and enable them to bring kindness and healing to others.

A number of years ago a young woman, Shoshana Greenbaum, was murdered in the Sbarro’s bombing in Jerusalem. Her husband, Shmuel, has turned his pain into a campaign for kindness. Anger, although fully justified, would have achieved nothing. It would have prolonged his pain. His decision to respond with kindness is allowing him to rebuild his life.

If he could make that decision, can’t the rest of us?

The Tour Guide

In the old days in the old country we used to have two cars. Sometimes when one had to be serviced, I would forget that I couldn’t take the other one and pick it up. I would often have the image of driving two cars home— magically stretching my one very versatile leg all the way through the doorway of one car into the other and somehow twisting it, enabling me to drive with both feet at the same time. The steering part was a challenge and the measurements were problematic. And so, it did always take two of us to bring home the car.

Well, today I am driving two cars home.

This morning, class begins at the Neve Yerushalayim campus of the University of North Texas, and I will be teaching the first session of the basic counseling skills class to a group of women who will be setting off on their journey to become family therapists. They are likely to arrived excited and curious about what type of experience this will be. As their tour leader, I will tell them what to expect, what they need to bring with them, and what it may feel like to be on this journey.

In the afternoon, I will be meeting with the people who will be going on my next trip to China. They are likely to arrived excited and curious about what type of experience this will be. As their tour leader, I will tell them what to expect, what they need to bring with them, and what it may feel like to be on this journey.

I feel happy and exhilarated. It’s going to be a great day!

Enough to go around

A long time ago I came across the Warm Fuzzy Tale (highly recommended) and it was the first time that I realized that there really is enough love and kindness and good feelings to go around. In fact, the more that one gives away, the more one has. A couple of years after reading the tale, I became aware of the same thing as a lactating mother: the more milk my baby took from me, the more milk I would produce. In the act of giving, I was actually participating the in process of creating even more.

The other day I was talking to one of my daughters. She said to me that she really doesn’t subscribe to the mystical beliefs that many people in Israel seem to share. In Israel many people, both those who would describe themselves as religious and those who wouldn’t, believe in the power of: blessings from certain rabbis, prayer at the graves of righteous people, water blessed by certain rabbis, saying prayers at a specific location (the Western Wall, Rachel’s tomb), buying new mezuzot and/or tfilin, wearing special amulets or wristbands, etc. She told me, however, that she does think that good things she does, in some way will increase the goodness in her environment.

And I would agree.

When I was in driver’s ed class in high school, they showed us a corny movie about driving courtesy (for the Israelis in the audience — no, that is not an oxymoron). It showed someone driving down the street and seeing someone in another car trying to get into the flow of traffic. The first driver smiled and let the second one in. The second driver,when faced with a similar circumstance also smiled and allowed another driver to maneuver past him. One by one, there was a chain created of people being generous and kind to each other. Back when I was contemplating the meaning of life– something that preoccupied me for a period of time– I came to the conclusion that the real meaning in my life was the increasing of goodness in the world. I wanted through my actions, to set off chains of kindness and caring and generosity. And it seems to be true- that for the most part, the more kindness and caring one can give, the more one will receive.

Of course there are people who are bitter and angry and hurtful and malicious, but if we allow them to change our behavior, then we become a part of a cycle that brings increasing negativity to the world. And after all, there really *is* enough kindness and love and caring and gentleness to go around and the seeds we spread can grow and bloom and produce more seeds and more blossoms for us, and our children and our grandchildren.

I have a friend

I was about to entitle this “I had a friend” and then I remembered, that was exactly the point… I HAVE a friend…. but I’ll explain.

A hundred years ago when I was a young mother with four little children- ages 1, 2, 4, and 5.5 I taught Lamaze classes on the Army post where my husband was stationed. It happened by accident. After the birth of our first child by the standard “grin-it-and-bear-it until the saddleblock” method, I realized that I probably could have avoided the saddleblock injection that relieved me of about 5 minutes of pain and left me lying flat for 6 hours to avoid an unbearable headache. So with the next pregnancy, I read a lot of books and went to Lamaze classes and learned coping mechanisms to help me through my next labor. And the next three labors were a lot easier.

We moved from Pittsburgh, where our two youngest (at the time) children were born to the Army post where there were a lot of young families, many of whom were having their first and second and third children. Among these people was a couple who wanted to learn Lamaze and knowing I had taken the course and had had my babies using Lamaze techniques, called me to ask me if I would teach them. I responded that although I had read literally every book there was on childbirth, I had no formal medical background and so didn’t feel comfortable teaching. The husband responded that he was a physician and he would be available for the medical information, and so I consented and taught them. Within a month, two more doctors and their wives came for classes and then yet another and soon the word got around. In a short time I was giving course after course to couples on the post.

And then one day, someone told me that in the nearby town there was a husband and wife who were also giving Lamaze classes. I didn’t know about them until then and my first thought was that they would feel as if I had encroached on their territory. Of course, I was not working for money. Until that point, I taught because I enjoyed it and the couples continued coming. The idea of charging never occured to me. So that probably made it even worse because I was giving away for free what I assumed they were charging for.

But still, I decided to get in touch with them in the hopes that we could find common ground and maybe even help each other.

I dialed the number with trepidation, but after the initial introduction was greeted in the warmest, friendliest manner. Marcia and I must have talked for an hour or more that first time. Within a day or two I went to her house to meet her in person.

Between us developed a friendship like no other. I can describe her with these words: gracious, caring, giving, unselfish, kind, loving. Marcia has always been a truly generous person— and I am not talking about material generosity. I am talking about the ability to be present freely and wholeheartedly in another’s life. She has patience, and grace. Around her, I always knew that everything would be all right.

We left that Army post in 1976. I remember that the parting was painful. I can’t trace our friendship through the years other than a brief encounter on our way to Oklahoma in 1984. But the wonders of email have connected us once again and we once again are sharing our lives.

Yesterday, I wrote her “Whenever I hear from you it reminds me of how much I miss you after all these years. You were a really good friend.” She responded, “What’s this about “WERE”??”

You are, as always, right, Marcia. You ARE a really good friend, a blessing.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Life is precious. That’s why it’s important to make every day count. That’s also why it’s important to take good care of yourself and those you love. It means driving safely, being aware of safety hazards in the home, keeping dangerous things out of reach of children, eating right, geting enough sleep, taking your prescribed medications, and a hundred other preventive measures.

Often, though, it is the simplest things that we don’t do. Women need to examine their breasts on a regular basis- as frightening as it may be, it is better to panic when finding a lump when it is still small than ignore it until it is big. Women need to be aware too that not all breast cancers begin as lumps. There are any number of other symptoms– some mistaken as mastitis– that may be the first warning of inflammatory breast cancer, a particularly nasty form of cancer.

Please visit this blog written by an incredible woman- and join Team WhyMommy to increase the awareness of this terrible disease- and maybe save your life or that of someone you know. Life is precious.