Monday, May 30, 2016

Joy in the Journey - Again -

I spoke at my church's women's meeting yesterday. I took my "Joy in the Journey" talk and reworked it to fit a little difference audience. It went over pretty darn well.

In President Monson’s General Conference talk in October 2008, he said, “Let us relish life as we live it, find joy in the journey, and share our love with friends and family.” I will be referring to this talk (one of my all-time favorite conference talks) today.

I’ve been asked to talk with you today about being spiritually, emotionally, and financially secure. And I’m not going to speak about this! Rather, I’m giving the pre-lesson, because I believe if we are happy, hopeful, finding joy in our journey, then stability and comfort will be ours.

Poet and Philosopher Henri-Frederic Amiel said, “Life is short, and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling in the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”
President Benson said, “Be cheerful in all that you do. Live joyfully. Live happily. Live enthusiastically, knowing that God does not dwell in gloom and melancholy, but in light and love.”

How many of us are so busy getting from point A to point B that we don’t enjoy the middle? We push through the middle, get to the end, and then get started all over again. How many of us spend time worrying? Do I have the right tools, Is my child’s party going to be as grand as his friends, Why doesn’t my art project look as good as the one in Pinterest, What if it rains? And we worry, and that takes us away from enjoying the moments that we have. And leaves us wanting what we don’t have, rather than appreciating what we do have.

Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I can’t help but think of the atonement, and how we don’t have to live troubled miserable lives.  If we are miserable, then where is our faith? Are we partaking of the blessings of the Atonement? (Brad Wilcox’s talk, “His Grace is Sufficient” both in writing and available on Youtube, speaks clearly and poignantly to this point.) The Book of Mormon and the Bible teach us over and over again to be prepared, to have hope, and to live in joy. Men are that they might have joy, 2 Ne. 2:25; In this life I shall have joy, Moses 5:10–11; The purpose of mortal life is for all people to have joy, 2 Ne. 2:22–25; The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord,

Isa. 29:19; (2 Ne. 27:30). John 16:33 reads, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” President Monson said, “Prepare for the future, Learn from the past, Live for today.”

What brings you joy?

Have you ever, or have you heard your children say, “I cannot wait until . . .” “How much longer?” “How much further?” “How many more days until . . .?” Of course we’ve all said those phrases, but how can we make our journey as important as our destination? Especially when that destination changes on a daily basis? Margaret Lee Runbeck said, “Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.” Live, don’t just exist, or worse, wait. Between birth and death, triumph and sorrow, beginnings and endings, we enjoy innumerable experiences that often happen without our noticing them. And I’m not saying we have to pause our life to enjoy the “middle,” but to be aware of the middle as we are traveling. “Mmmmm, that is great lettuce.” “I am so grateful for my washer and dryer today.” “Look at that, we have $5 in our checking account, what a blessing.” Simply acknowledging a night’s sleep, a clean toilet, a kind word, an extra lap around the track, uninterrupted time to put on your makeup, are ways to note that good exists in our lives – a beautiful sunrise, fresh snow on the mountain, a good book, scriptures read, are reasons to celebrate. If we allow our hearts and minds to take in the wonders of the every day – we can then have joy in our journey. And it’s about finding a balance – balancing our checkbook, balancing our time taking care of ourselves, balancing our own pursuit in finding peace.  

What brings you peace? What brings you security?

Far too often we let these simple moments pass us by. Don’t! A quote, attributed to George Clooney (J), is this, “Stop capturing moments. Live the moments.” In the day of instant and social media, are we putting down the camera/phone and sinking our teeth into the here and now, rather than freezing and posting, for tomorrow? And what is the cost of doing this?
A few weeks ago Scott and I met with our banker, a single woman, cute and smart. Between transactions she asked us about our children, and she talked about how she couldn’t’ wait until she was married and could have a family. She asked us if we like to travel, and of course we told her “yes.” And as we talked about places we’ve traveled, she said, “I just need to travel now and ‘get it over with.’” And I replied, “Maybe you need to start, rather than get over.”

Author Jack Kerouac said, “Be in love with your life, every minute of it.” Don’t be so busy existing that living is not an option. Pres. Monson, in his 2008 talk, said, “I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and nonexistent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do.”

In our goal driven 12-step focused, promotion preparing, dollar strengthened, daylight extended, social media comparing, with the end in mind society, it’s tough to focus on what is truly important – living, living and enjoying today. And if we are, I believe we become healthy women – our spiritual and emotional well-being is strengthened.

Can we live in the moment, being grateful for the here and now? In Nephi 2:27 we read, “Adam fell that man night be, and men are, that they might have joy.” And darn it, this also alludes to opposition in all things. So, in order to recognize the joy, we have to have bad days – messy diapers and snotty noses, stiff muscles from gardening and working out, cranky kids and co-workers, flat tires and flat hair, lost shoes and lost loves. But – real life most often happens during the in-between times – when we are not at Disneyland, but on our way to. Discouragement is unnecessary pain and a denial of divine power. It hinders spiritual growth, so while we may have a discouraging moment, it does not need to affect our entire road trip. 

M. Scott Peck, begins his book, “The Road Less Traveled,” with, “Life is difficult.” And once that is accepted, then the fact no longer matters, and we can move forward. Life will never be totally pain-free. But it can be a lot less painful if we accept what is. Our days are filled with U-turns and unpaved roads. OK, don’t make these diversions axes to carry, make them adventures. The less burdens we carry, the healthier we are.

How do you redirect?

Throughout our lives we must deal with change. Some changes are welcome, others not so much. There are sudden changes – job, loss, illness. But most of our changes take place subtly and slowly. Some days are just ho-hum days – but celebrate these days – they are a part of what makes our days treasured.

Day by day, minute by minute, second by second we move from where we were to where we are now. The lives of all of us, of course, go through alterations and changes. The difference between the changes in my life and the changes in yours is only in the details.

Have you ever looked back – and seen that the bad things that happened in your life put you directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to you?” *I know I certainly have – from a lost business, to a lost marriage, to cancer. But I refuse to see this as lost time, lost years. *I remember telling a friend, “I want to live cancer to the ultimate, I want to make sure that I learn everything there is to learn, so I can move past this.” And my friend told me, “Ronda, you’ll be learning from this experience for years to come.” Well, nearly three years past treatment, I am still learning, good continues to come from the journey, the trial. The journey still continues as I help those who are going through terrible difficult illnesses.

How do you know you are on the right path?

I beg you to not spend your life looking forward, “what if’ing” life’s scenarios. I also ask that you not spend your time looking back, “if only’ing” your life. Author Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” Too many of us spend our time worrying over past regrets or grievances, or dreaming or worrying about the future. We need to ask ourselves, “If I am living in the past or future, who is living my life right now?”
I have learned from my husband, when I ask him, “What are you doing tomorrow,” and he replies, “It’s not tomorrow yet.”

President Monson quoted author Sarah Ban Breathnach who wrote, “Both abundance and lack of abundance exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend . . . when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present – love, health, family, friends, work, nature, personal pursuits – the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.”

Roman philosopher Horace, admonished, “Whatever hour God has blessed you with take it with grateful hand, nor postpone your joys from year to year, so that in whatever place you have been, you may say that you have lived happily.” And if we are happy, carry joy and confidence in ourselves and our Father and Savior, then we will have enough, we can be secure in knowing we are on the right path. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bullies - A Plea for Help -

Any suggestions for dealing with grade school bullies and the dear sweet one being bullied? Please, your insight and comments are requested and greatly appreciated!

All I've read is about how to not be bullied, that bullying is bad and can cause lifetime scars (no kidding), but practical real-world advice would be lovely - Thanks, Ronda

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sweet Home Alabama -

For years I've mourned leaving Alabama and never returning there to live. Which is what I foolishly thought I would be doing when I first left the Shoals more than twenty years ago.

I've returned to visit a few times, and it's been grand, yet I thought that some day I would return, to live. Shortly after my divorce I returned, spending time with my friend, Debby, and exploring employment opportunities, full-well thinking that perhaps I would return, alone, on my own recognizance. But I didn't return. Rather, I fell in love with a man from Utah, which is where we've stayed. I've learned to love the red rock desert of Utah, while still pining the lush green and fervent blue.

We've traveled to Eastern Tennessee, Eastern North Carolina, Washington DC and surrounding areas. And they've fed my soul, warmed my heart with southern-ness. But . . .

This winter I told Scott I needed to return to Northwestern Alabama, to the area that shaped my adultness, and played a generous role in defining my children. And I wanted him to learn about this part of me, the me that loves bluegrass music, pecan pie, southern authors, magnolias, and green.

He agreed, and off we went, on May 7, for a ten day excursion down memory lane. This post isn't a travelogue. Rather, it's a "fair'thee well."

We drove from Tennessee to Mississippi back into Tennessee and dropped down into Florence, Alabama. When I saw the "Welcome to Florence," sign I had a little tightness in my chest, tears formed in my eyes, and I had to take some deep breaths. But then all was fine. We drove straight to my first house there, a hundred year old home, gorgeous, with the family who bought it from us still living there. I took pictures. We drove down to the Tennessee River, where my young family would walk the trail, wander the woods, splash in the water. And the trail was overgrown and inaccessible. We drove to Florence, and I couldn't remember where my house was, they all looked the same. We left the neighborhood, I remembered the house number, and we returned. That house was not my house! It did not look at all like any place I had lived. I didn't take pictures.

As we drove away, got on the highway loop that goes across the Tennessee River, my heart was light, my load was lifted. I was no longer in mourning, no longer yearning to return to where I had returned. We spent the day with friends (2 of the 5 we wanted to visit), with them sharing their story, the entire time knowing I was but a visitor.

Does time really heal? Is home where your love is, where your family resides? My roots in Alabama were just setting when we left, and they were pulled up on leaving. Most of my friends have left the area - going to their families, and I realized the time spent in Alabama was magical, but that magic was my making. And I can make magic anywhere, as long as those I love are near me. I will always hold this area close to my heart - it is here where I began to learn - began - and the path this set me on brought me here, where I am now.

I am a product of my environment/s. I love scents and colors and sounds. The fireflies were just joining us, and I am so grateful for all I was able to see, and not. Because what I saw was that I am home, really really home. My love, my children, my parents, my siblings, friends, work, future. I am happy, I am at peace, I am in love with my life here. Nothing is missing - except a few fireflies. This in no way means I'm finished with the south, no way.

Time marches on, and I didn't think I lived in the past, until that chapter in my book finished as we drove away from Florence, Alabama, looking forward -

Friday, May 20, 2016

Seasons Greetings - Antiques -

While perusing the jewelry cabinet in an antique store in Alabama, I found this pin, attached to a card (just as that added display element):

I liked the pin, and I knew I wanted to buy it for $4. Then I opened the card. It read:

Sweet. But on the other side of the card, in green ink I read:

Mary, Just wanted to thank you for all the cards and well wishes you've sent thru out this year. I think of you often and hope you are doing well. I'm getting alone ok and have 2 more chemo treatments in Jan. Then will be done. 
This was one of my mother's old Christmas cards she never used. No telling how old it is. Love you bunches, Ellen. 

And I knew the card was meant for me, this message on this card, in this antique store, with this pin attached, was Ellen's note to me.

I want to meet Ellen. I'd like to know how those last two chemo treatments went, how she's doing, and I'd like to tell her how awesome it is she felt well enough to send out Christmas cards, especially how awesome it is she's using old cards, perhaps vintage them, even more so now.

Pretty cool find. Pretty great lady (and James).

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Another Death -

I had a client die last week. I've known since I met her that she would be passing.
Does that make her death easier? No.
Did me being the clinician make me more objective? No.
Was she prepared to pass? No.
Did she know her time as a mortal was limited? Yes.
Did she die kicking and thrashing? Yes.
Did she leave loved ones? Yes.
Did they know she would be dying? Yes.
Did that make parting easier? No.
Is death gentle and quiet and peaceful? No.
Is there one pat way to lose and grieve? Hell no.
Will those who mourn be comforted? In time. In time.

And what has she left? What is her legacy? A forty-seven year old mother of two, grandma of one, with a mother and a grandmother. She traveled lightly, not a whole lot of matter to distribute. She had few friends, simplifying her life and moving near family once she received her diagnosis. In fact, no funeral service, only a family left mourning and ashes to distribute as they see fit.

But for me - her legacy is this - it's OK to care, it's OK to go deep with a patient, even when I know time is brief. It's OK to invest in a relationship where reciprocity is minimal (on the outside) but so rewarding. It's also OK for me to care for the caregivers. I'm learning and learning and learning just how vital good caregivers are to those who are passing. And I'm learning they need as much support as the client. In fact, even without a diagnosis, they are likewise patients of mine.

I'm learning how to be silent, how to hold hands, rub shoulders and lower backs, how to speak softly and gently, how to speak words of kindness and strength and sympathy and concern.

Thank you, Miss Becky, for being my teacher. My love -

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Frustration - Zen Habits

I subscribe to Zen Habits, and I enjoy Leo Babuata's weekly posts. Because I've been away for several days, and now back, trying to get out of the vacation groove and back into the daily life groove, this post has much relevance.

Enjoy -

A Mini-Guide to Not Being Frustrated All the Time

Pretty much all of us experience frustration on a daily (or even hourly) basis. We get frustrated by other people, by ourselves, by technology, by work situations, by small crises that come up all the time.

You know you’re frustrated when you find yourself sighing, or complaining about people, or fuming about something that happened, or going over why you’re right and they’re wrong.
Frustration is normal, but holding on to frustration is not so fun. It’s not even helpful: if the situation isn’t great, adding frustration on top of it just makes it worse. Often frustration will make us not happy with someone else, and worsen our relationship with them. Or it will cause us to be less calm, and handle a situation less than ideally.
How can we calm ourselves and let go of our frustrations, so we’re not so irritated and angry throughout the day?
Let’s talk about why we get frustrated, and how to address this problem.

The Origins of Frustration

Where does our frustration come from?
It’s from not wanting things to be a certain way. Not wanting other people to behave a certain way. Not wanting ourselves to be a certain way.
It’s a rejection of how things are.
From this, we start to tell ourselves a story: she shouldn’t act that way, she should do this. And she always does this! Why can’t she just see that she’s wrong? She’s so irritating!
We tell ourselves stories all day long, and we get caught up in them, and this is where we dwell in our frustration.

A Guide to Overcoming Frustration

You can’t help frustration coming up, no matter how Zen you’d like to be. It’s natural, and so are the stories we tell ourselves.
However, you can develop an awareness of it. Are you mad or irritated with someone right now? Do you find yourself clenching your jaw because of a situation? Sighing? Complaining to someone, wanting to vent? Are you fuming? Arguing your case in your mind?
When you notice yourself experiencing frustration, pause. Just sit still for a moment, even just a few seconds, and notice your frustration. Notice how it feels in your body.
Then start to notice the story you’re telling yourself. What are you telling yourself is wrong with the situation? What are you saying the other person should or shouldn’t do? How are you characterizing the other person or situation?
Now ask this: is this story helping me? Is it making the situation better or worse? Is it helping your relationship with the other person? Is it making you happy? If it’s not helpful, maybe you’re creating your own unhappiness, entirely in your mind.
Instead, perhaps you can see this frustrating situation as a lesson in mindfulness, in letting go, in acceptance, in finding happiness no matter how other people act, no matter what situation you’re in. Every moment has a lesson, if we’re willing to look. If we open up ourselves to this situation, we can learn a lot about how to see other people not as we want them to be, but in the glorious messy beauty of how they actually are, without needing them to change.
If you’re learning from this situation, you can also see that the other person is suffering. Not in the sense of “life is simply miserable and I’m suffering in agony,” but in the sense of “something is making me unhappy.” Something is causing the other person to act “imperfectly,” because they’re conflicted about something, they’re frustrated themselves (as you are). In this way, you are both experiencing the same thing. You are connected, and you can understand how they feel because you’re feeling it too. They are behaving imperfectly, yes, but we all do that. That doesn’t make it right, but perhaps you can empathize with them, maybe even try to understand their story, where they’re coming from. Try to see how the way they’re behaving makes sense to them from their perspective. It does, you just can’t see it.
Now perhaps you can let go of your way. You want things to go your way, want people to behave the way you want them to. But you don’t and can’t control the universe. You aren’t entitled to getting everything your way. Other people get to act imperfectly, behave their own way, and it’s true that you don’t have to agree with them or love the way they’re acting, but insisting in your own mind that things go your way or people act the way you want them to won’t work, and will only make you frustrated. So let go! So “c’est la vie” and loosen your grip on the way you want things to be.
Finally, say “yes” to this experience. It’s perhaps not ideal, but what is? Say “yes” and embrace the way this moment is. Practice this saying “yes” on a regular basis, and you’ll loosen up on your clinging to things, you’ll start to appreciate what is beautiful about the present moment, and start to be frustrated less often.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Sweet Home Alabama - Goin' Home -

In another life I lived in Alabama, The Shoals area, as it's called. I always thought I'd return there to live, rear my children, teach at the local university, learn to cook good barbecue (the kind with southern white sauce as the condiment of choice), make mustard slaw, and have southern drawl speaking grandchildren. But - nay, not so. So I've resorted to returning, to at least some part of the south, whenever I can. I've been back to The Shoals a few times, with the kids, and by myself 12 1/2 years ago - a time when I was trying to sort out what to do with my life as a recently divorced woman of 2 adult children. I spent time then with my friend, Debby, who is now living in Florida.

Scott and I are heading there soon. Although I've been to Western North Carolina, DC, Eastern Tennessee, I need true South. It's not a glamorous place. As I've told folks where we're traveling this summer, many have wondered why Alabama. No answer, just that it's calling me; I left a portion of my heart in the south, thinking I'd return to live, but now I return to get grounded, There aren't many people I want to visit, really just a couple of folks, but the area, oh boy, I am so excited to get back to the humidity (Southern arms wrapping around me), the Tennessee River, the Natchez Trace, Shiloh Battlefield, Muscle Shoals Sound, Ivy Green - Helen Keller's birthplace, the Dismals, and just soak in enough green and rain and love to fill my soul.

Oh yeah - I'm going home!!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Bullying Part 2 - Adults -

And let’s take a look at adult bullying – college through career. It’s alive and thriving. My niece is a great athlete, and she had to change schools because some of her team mates bullied her and some other players. And – the coach was a bully because he didn’t take their reports seriously, even asking these amazing players and women to change their behavior, so they wouldn’t be bullied!

And the workplace – oh goodness. I think everyone has had a boss or manager who gives threats, treats one employee differently than others, talks behind backs, schedules the best or worst shifts, talks down to employees, skip over someone for a promotion. Or worse, those cliques that run behind the official handbook – whose in, whose out, who to avoid, who to snuggle up to, etc. What happened to the whole idea of the Golden Rule and surrounding ourselves with the best people we can?

I’ve had a few incidents as an adult – including a father-in-law who was mean, a bully for sure, who took out his frustrations and revelations on me more than once. In fact, I think this bully did quite a bit to wreck my first marriage. He was an abusive father and spouse, and although he was never physical when his children became adults, he managed ways to continue to hurt those he said he loved. I had a co-worker who tried to “wish” me well during my cancer treatment – but really, it was her way of controlling me and controlling what I did and didn’t do – “Oh, Ronda’s not feeling well today, I’ll do that project.” “Ronda’s just not in the right place now to take on a project like that.” And her weekly GWS cards with messages such as, “You REALLY need to rest,” gave me anxiety to the point of not wanting to open her cards!

I wonder what these folks who are adult bullies had to face as children. I don’t condone their behavior, but I wonder what stressors were in their lives that cause them to wreak havoc on others?

Have you gone home from work thinking you can’t take one more day, handle one more conversation, be in the same room with . . . ?

Adult bullies are manipulators, gossips, game players, abusers, mean people, and typically underqualified for their role and fearing being found-out – or in other words - cowards!

I don’t have solutions – although I am full of phrases that have kept me sane – It is not me with the problem. Love the sinner, hate the sin. Surrender to win (meaning – he may think he’s hurting me, but I’m tossing spears of fire and hitting his target every time he tries to hurt me).  And those of us who are recipients of adult bullying – do we take it home or to our own work group? Does that bullying go from the bully to us to unwitting loved ones, or the dog?

Remember – knocking someone down is not a way to get to the top. Speaking ill of someone speaks more of the bully than the one being spoken of.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bullies - Grade School and Beyond -

Over the past couple of years I've had students write research papers about bullying and the residual effects of bullying. This has been a hot topic as students become aware of how their associations with others, particularly in elementary and junior high, have affected who they are as college students.

One student wrote about Chronic Shame and how this began in his early years because he was skinny and not athletic. When he couldn't perform on the game field like others, he was laughed at and teased. Because of this, he turned inward, and that shame carried over into other aspects of his life, including pornography and drinking - alone. He was seen as anti-social, but reality was that he was scared - scared of being teased and rejected, so why not just be a loner, where his wall would protect him from others, which, sadly, included folks who could have been his friends. Shame and Trust

Another student wrote about growing up on a dairy farm, where she did chores before school, and where, more than once, she arrived at school with a touch of dairy farm perfume still on. It didn't matter if she tried to tell the kids this is where their milk came from, the taunting just became stronger. Those kids who could be her friends didn't rally around to support her, because they didn't want to be seen as friends or supporters, or risk being bullied themselves. Lack of Confidence and Shame

Still another wrote about being called "gay," in junior high because he enjoyed dancing, music, acting, and those weren't good talents for an Idaho farm boy. Lost and Questioning

Others have written about being overweight, shy, having physical disabilities, being gay, being a different skin color, having speech impairments, and the effects of bullying on them. And not all of these students have healed. They are still aching, sorting through, coming to grips, attempting to move ahead. I'm grateful they feel comfortable enough to write their words, in my classes. 

I remember talking to a mother in a former neighborhood, attempting to tell her that her sons were teasing and making fun of my son. Her response? "Boys will be boys." But sadly, girls can be just as cruel as boys, or more so. Jenna had it pretty bad - in fact, I took it as a sign to pull her and Tyler out of school and home school them (which was a huge blessing). Excuses for Behavior and Trust

And yes, I have been the victim of bullying, although at the time I just figured I wasn't wanted or I had done something wrong. 

The first case was in 5th grade, yes all the way back to 5th grade. I think that makes me 10 years old. I was skinny, blonde, and very quiet. I wanted to be a part of something, I wanted to belong. There was a group of girls who were hanging out together, they seemed to be popular, in their own circle, and they always were together. The word went out that they were having "auditions" one day - and anyone who wanted to be a part of their group had to write a note asking to become a "member," and what they could contribute to the group. So, I did, I wrote a note, on lined notebook paper, folded it carefully, and gave it to LuJean and Patty, the seemed to be social leaders. I waited for two days to hear from them, and then I heard, and their answer was "No," we don't think you'd fit in with us. And I felt horrible, and I cried, but the terrible part of this was that they then began to treat me totally as an outsider. Not only did I not belong with them, I didn't belong with anyone, at all. Going to school was hard - I saw all the other girls who had submitted applications now being a part of the group, and they were told to distance themselves from me, and I really struggled with finding someone, somewhere that I felt safe. 

Four years later, 9th grade. I had a few friends, and I was still skinny, blonde, and very quiet. There were three elementary schools that were bunched together for 8th grade, and another was added for my 9th grade year. And for some reason, two girls, Patty and Ruth, newcomers to the school, decided that they would taunt me. I found nasty notes in my locker, my lunch spot taken, my change for a treat popped out of my hand, and I was teased for my clothes and my awkwardness, constantly (I didn't even know I was awkward). I skipped school more than once complaining of a stomachache, which I legitimately had, nerves just thinking about having to face these two girls another day. 

Later, 10th and 11th grades. I had made the decision that I would never let anyone feel left out. And so I and my three good friends (all girls who lived in the country, came from older parents, with no ties to the town, they were safe and not a part of any of the previous bullying) decided we would never let anyone feel left out. We befriended a couple of loners and gave them friends. 

Yet I remember more than once walking down the halls of the high school being laughed at, whistled at, and hearing, "She's so stuck up," "She thinks she's too good for us," "She's conceited." And I had to look up that word! And I still hurt from this, wanting to turn to these people, guys and gals, and say, "I don't belong; I don't know what to say; I am shy." But I couldn't. 

And what could I tell my parents, when they were busy with children and restaurants, and I really had no words to tell them how I felt. So I shut up, put up, and tried to not be seen. 

Me! And all these years later I'm writing this, for the first time. I am who I am today because of those taunts, teases, unkind words and gestures, not-belonging. 

Because of my early years, knowing that I didn't belong, that I was different, I work hard, every single day, to be a person who anyone feels safe with, feels loved by, feels accepted by. I am not a discriminator of smell, size, gayness, or dollars. I'm more interested in their stories than mine, more interested in how they were reared, how they handle "different," and how their lives have been shaped by this. Although, I am still uncomfortable and awkward around women with great makeup, nice nails, fancy clothes and cars, and I am still a loner, easier to be different than it is to belong. Still I'm often seen as aloof, but my introvert personality is strong, and as I understand this, I see more how I was such an easy target for being bullied. 

I've been thinking about this lately because I now have grandchildren who are in those same ages and stages. I see their personalities - bubbly, forward, quiet, contemplative, awkward, athletic, studious, stumbling, and I want them all to belong. I want them to know there is a place in this world for all of their personalities, introvert or extrovert. And I want them to know that if anyone ever teases or taunts them, that I have their back, but more, that they do not have to "take it."

I wonder what is missing in the bullies' lives to make them reach out to hurt someone else. And when I see adults who are bullies - well, I have to wonder what is missing, where they are hurting, who is hurting them, and where their desire to bully comes from (who were their examples - media perhaps?). 

We all need to belong to a community - whether it's a group of girl friends, a team, a family. That is our humanity - to belong, not to be alone. 

I have simplified my story, and I know there are people whose stories of bullies are horrible. I also know my story is valid, and that I am who I am because, and I like that me. Am I ready to thank those bullies? No. Am I ready to open my arms to my students with stories and to others who feel as if they don't have any place to belong? Yes.