Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thank God for people who open their doors

This morning at 5:15 a.m., our doorbell rang at the precise moment that my husband’s alarm clock went off. I didn’t question the second layer of sound, but my husband padded barefoot across the cold tile to see who it was.

In below freezing weather stood a tall, bare-armed, crying woman who’d just escaped a physically abusive relationship.

My husband brought her inside and came back to wake me in the bedroom, saying, “Honey, we have a problem in the living room.”

I thought our cat had died.

Her name was Laura and she was in shock. She began crying very hard and her words were mangled and muffled. We learned that her boyfriend had tried to strangle her and had hit, shoved, and kicked her.

He’d fallen asleep, and she’d grabbed her clothes and purse and left their apartment. She wandered the neighborhood finally ringing our bell.

My husband called 911 and we put Laura on the phone with the emergency operator, who dispatched a police officer to our home. We then had her call her sister who lived about 30 minutes away. I was afraid that she would call her boyfriend, but she didn’t.

While we were waiting on the first officer to arrive, I put on water for hot tea, wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, gave her some tissues, and talked with her.

Laura said it was her fault for what he’d done. She was terrified to go back and terrified to stay away. I told her that she’d done the right thing in leaving and stopping at our home. I said that what he’d done is wrong – wrong for anyone to hurt another person, and that she’d made the right choice in getting out. My words bounced off her agony.

When the officer pulled up, he parked his car under the streetlight back a house, so I couldn’t see that he was legitimate, but he was in uniform, so I let him in while my husband got dressed.

At first, we were a little bit afraid that what was happening could be a charade and that we would be at risk. Each incident compounded and supported Laura’s story. She was shivering and distraught – fearing that he would come after her family because he’d taken away her phone with its contacts list.

The officer took her report and called for back-up. She said that she’d seen an old friend – a parole officer, actually – and that she’d stepped out of her car to say hello and give him a hug. Her boyfriend was furious that she’d disrespected him and not introduced him. It was not the first time in their ten-month relationship that he’d hurt her.

She cried out that she didn’t want him to get arrested, and that if the police went to her apartment that she’d get in trouble too. She worried that he’d go after her friends. She worried that she’d be evicted because he was staying there but wasn’t on her newly signed lease. She blamed everything on herself.

Her sister arrived after the second officer and brought great comfort to Laura. She expressed her relief to us that her sister was out of harm’s way and okay. "Thank God you opened your door," she said.

Soon we had a domestic abuse officer on site, another tall woman with high cheekbones and a gentle but commanding presence. She began talking with Laura about how she’d done the right thing to leave and contact the police.

Two EMS workers arrived and began to examine her physically, and we stepped out of the living room to give them privacy. I heard comments about her emerging bruising and marks. One of the attendants said that when someone attempts to strangle you that the swelling can continue several hours after the incident, so it was important that a physician examine her.

The officers (three of them by now) were going to go to the apartment to attempt to pick up the boyfriend. The sister planned to drive her to the hospital. The domestic abuse officer gave them paperwork, phone numbers, and web information for resources and then gave special instructions on how to get her quickly processed at the emergency room without a long wait.

The kindness, grace, and professionalism demonstrated by each of these individuals were testaments to their callings.

At 7:20 a.m., everyone left and my husband drove on to work. He wouldn’t leave me until everyone had gone.

When I got to work at 8:15, I shared Laura’s story with a couple of coworkers, but I didn’t feel like broadcasting such a sorrowful event in someone’s life as water cooler entertainment. I felt subdued and thankful that my husband had let her in.

Just 30 min. later, he would have been gone, and I’d have been alone. I would not even have looked through the peep hole much less open our door in my pajamas to a stranger at that hour.

Laura was several inches taller than me or my husband. I initially worried that her hysterics had been a ruse to get inside our home – maybe she was homeless or dangerous to herself and others. Maybe she would aggress against us.

Maybe she would have gone back to him if we hadn't taken the risk.

Thank God for people who open their doors – this was repeated several times by the sister and by the domestic abuse officer.

Laura said that she chose our house because she saw the Air Force sticker on my husband’s truck. She thought it meant that she could trust us.

Thankfully, she could.

I count my blessings tonight for all the doors opened to me in my life, and for my loving, kind husband.

Thank God for people who open their doors. I will carry this with me for some time.

National Domestic Violence hotline:

Friday, December 31, 2010

Needle Dee and Needle Duh

At dinner this week, I was admiring a friend’s new heart-shaped tattoo. It’s blue and filled with embellished swirls that she designed. She got this in the same month as her flu shot. I think she likes being needled.

Among my friends, I’m almost the only one un-inked. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, and I just got my ears pierced once. It’s not that I’m afraid of needles – I just lack a fondness for most sharps. In fact, the only swoon-proof needle in our house is the diamond stylus on the turntable.

I may shirk the points, but I always honor my commitments to donate blood. It’s that little big thing you can do to help out a person in need. The worst part is the initial iron test jab when they prick your finger and mangle out blood into the tube. I can’t eye it; I just turn my head and look away.

Monkey no see, monkey no spew.

My tattooed friend says she has to look at the needles administered by the phlebotomists – by watching she feels more in control. I choose to close my eyes and trust them – which backfires – it makes me look like I’ve passed out, so they shake my shoulders and talk to me. I hate to be a big drip, so I squeeze the stuffing out of those little rubber balls. If it speeds me off the table and into the snack room, it’s a bonus.

Have you donated blood recently? Is it time to make your next appointment? Are you a Nutter Butter or an Oreo fan in the post-drip snack zone?

I wish someone would needle my good dress pants; two fugitive buttons went AWOL in the laundry and I’m making do with a paper clip until I can pick up replacements. I’m not hemming and hawing about donating blood, though, I’ve got a date with the Oreos and OJ this very weekend. And this kid’ll eat the middles first.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Deal with It

We recently played a long night of cards with a ten-year-old family member who loves the game Uno! With six people at the table, we kept it pretty lively with reverses, draw two’s and wild card draw four’s. As plays flew back and forth, the colors changed as fluidly as a bad acid trip in the sixties.

The object of Uno is to play all the cards in your hand. You want to hold them close to the chest, so that the others can’t see how you are suited. You have to give the warning call when you are down to one card, or you risk being penalized by having to pick up two more.

Life, it seems, does not mimic Uno. At least in my house, we wear our colors on our sleeves. It’s a perennial come-as-you-are party.

Instead of dumping cards, we’re accumulating possessions faster than the space to store them. It’s shameful to admit that we have a storage unit to hold all of our stuff that doesn’t fit in the house. Out of sight, out of purpose?

Perhaps not: I often refer to our storage facility as marriage insurance – with things out of sight, clutter is reduced. It also has a lower back indemnity clause – my husband’s not toting heavy seasonal boxes in and out of our attic up and down the fold-down ladder in our garage that taunts, “Climb me, I dare you!”

Nonetheless, in this era where lean is cool again, it’s time to pinch the love handles of those possessions that are weighing us down and consider giving them the boot. Except that I can’t give the boot to my shoe collection – I need them, all fifty gazillion pairs of them. My overflowing closet is a caterpillar’s heaven.

Make that a hungry, hungry caterpillar if you examine our pantry and kitchen appliance closet. Our stacks of canned goods from the Carter administration make ours a habitat for inhumanity as we bicker over what to keep and what to toss. A good clear-out might convert it to a demilitarized zone.

If it has a motor, boasts an on/off switch, and makes a noise when it runs, then my husband is likely to buy it off a 3 a.m. infomercial. Embraced at first, they all follow the same stop-motion trek from countertop, to under counter, to closet, to garage, to storage. Like broken down satellites orbiting the earth, they begin their out-of-this-kitchen trajectory as soon as they’re launched from their cartons, ending up in peripheral drift as space junk.

Are you handing yourself another “Draw 4” instead of playing what you’ve been dealt? Does your space give you abundant peace or an abundance of peas? What’s taken up residence that ought to be tossed in the discard pile?

I’ve pledged to reduce our storage unit to half its size within two months. Rather than go all out, we’re still tapping it for spinal protection. I’d rather us be shouting Uno! than oh, no! the next time we’re shoving the Christmas tree back in its cubby. No one wants a truss in their stocking next year.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hold the Popcorn, Pass the Ballot

My husband and I are still discussing the films we saw at the 17th annual Austin Film Festival. We’ve passed the popcorn for nine years during the week-plus celebration of competition and marquee movies, documentaries, and short films.

After the screenings, we cast our ballots rating our favorites and dinging the stinkers. Audience votes can help the filmmakers acquire distribution for their films, so we always participate. It’s hard for me, an industry outsider, to rate any of the movies harshly – no matter how outside my taste they are.

The courage to pour your heart into your work and see it through to completion, deflecting all obstacles is admirable and inspiring. The ability to assemble a diverse crew, on a scant budget, that can cooperate and tell cohesive stories demonstrates the conviction of the urge to create.

Hubby and I split our votes on several occasions. Higher or lower, one of us walks out with a different level of connection or distance, ah-ahs or uh-ohs. We may split the vote, but we are always united in our love of the festival and the fascinating people it draws, particularly during the Q&A sessions.

The “Casino Jack” screening was followed by the final interview with the Emmy-winning director, George Hickenlooper, who passed away the next night from a heart attack.

During the Q&A, Mr. Hickenlooper talked about the upcoming election and said that he voted for candidates from either party, depending on the needs of the country at the time.

It’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone admit this in public. Folks are polarized beyond conversation. Civility seems exhausted and has turned in for the long, dark night, pillow over head, shutting out the glare and growl.

I hate “pulling a single lever” – or now, clicking a straight ticket square that speeds away my convictions over little bits of copper into a portable chunk of magnetic memory. I’d never do that at the film festival – tick the same score again and again.

It struck me: do I pour more thought into rating a low budget horror movie than on choosing the leaders who will guide us into the next decade? Now, that’s a scary story!

Are you feeling the power of one? Will you make your voice count? When the polls close, will you have voted your true convictions?

I’m inspired by Mr. Hickenlooper to finish reading that stack of articles I’ve been clipping and collecting before I stand in the queue and the election volunteers call, “Action!” When it’s a wrap, I’ll pat my “I Voted” sticker to my shirt and head straight home to our “craft table” and delicious conversations on festival favorites.

Just hold the popcorn, please. I’m still picking kernels out of the laundry.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Show of Tiny Hands, Please?

The Texas Nonprofit Summit in Austin last weekend, sponsored by Greenlights for Nonprofit Success and the OneStar Foundation, brought together 700 of my closest, like-minded, do-gooder, non-profit amigos –- all eager to do better in an age of making do with less.

One of the breakout sessions that I enjoyed was “Lighting a Spark: Volunteer Engagement for Maximum Impact and Effectiveness,” with Rosa Moreno-Mahoney and Sarah Jane Rehnborg.

If you’ve ever had to recruit people to accomplish a goal, you know that they’re not knocking down your email pinging pick me, pick me! It’s more about having to burst through call screening and email dodging to pluck them out of a self-imposed identity protection program.

Many people suffer from volunteer fatigue. We often ask too much of too few.

But there's a smarter strategy to engage but not tire out those raised hands: in micro-volunteering, the requestor provides a task, the volunteer brings the skill, does the work, and gets out: small time blocks, big benefits.

When you plan up front, understand the gifts your volunteers can share, task them to achieve specific results, provide them the authority and tools to accomplish their missions, and then close with some praise and lessons learned, you complete a successful cycle.

We’ve all experienced good volunteering and bad volunteering.

In bad volunteering, it’s a cluster crash. Three people BELIEVE they’re in charge. Half the supplies are missing or no one has skills to use the tools at hand. Keys have ambled off in absent-minded pockets. At least two people rearrange the supplies for the task because the stapler belongs on the left, even if you’re right-handed. There’s no water or web connections, the bathrooms are locked or, it’s 103 degrees and the steaming port-a-pot stalls were emptied last Thursday. No one has a cell number to call for direction -- but if you could dial any number at all, it would be to a cab to speed you away from that hell. Three dozen tacky Tweets and Facebook unfriendings later, you’re enemies for life.

In good volunteering, you show up, there’s a person in charge who knows what they are doing and, better yet, has a clear plan for what you should be doing. The needs and capacities have been considered and there’s a shared measure of a successful outcome. There are snacks and enough to drink. People say thank you and mean it. The group works cooperatively, goals are met, and everyone parts satisfied with the group’s accomplishments.

With planning, in-depth skills assessment, and delegation, the latter can be history not fantasy.

What was your last volunteer outing? What it something you gladly attended, or did you slouch toward the commitment? If you had the day to live over, would you do it again?

Keynote speaker Linda Crompton, President and CEO of BoardSource, wowed us when she stated that nonprofits will need 80,000 leaders by the year 2016. That’s a lot of leaders organizing a lot of volunteers to serve a lot of needs in just six short years.

Well, that’s if that Mayan calendar thing is wrong.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Of Butterflies and Cockroaches

My husband and I recently treated ourselves to a night at Zach Theatre for Mary Zimmerman's "Metamorphosis," a production that wrings an interesting twist from Ovid's classic tales of transformation.

Upon booking our seats, we were warned of the splash zone, an indicator that this wouldn't be your average night out on the planks. In the center of the theater, the Whisenhunt Stage cradled a luminescent aqua swimming hole. Overhead, perfectly choreographed aerialists in long spans of white silk climbed, soared, and spun with mesmerizing grace and strength.

Though we sat one row above the splash zone, we still got sloshed a bit from the diving actors. They did not follow the adage: Say it, don't spray it.

When I hear the word metamorphosis, images switch from flittering butterflies to Kafka's dark tale of Gregor Samsa transforming into a giant cockroach. A monarch butterfly takes around five weeks to complete its four life stages. An American cockroach can live up to two years.

Either way of going through "the change," you end up with six legs.

Dorothea Brande wrote, "Old habits are strong and jealous." We struggle more with change than do the butterflies, resistant in our habits and habitats. It takes just one quick, brave poke through with our antennae for us to launch ourselves and soar to new perspectives.

Are you ready to burst from your chrysalis? What's the tastiest "host plant" that nurtures your transformation? Where will you let the wind take you this fall?

On their way to becoming butterflies, our caterpillars spent their summer vacation mowing down our host plants of dill, fennel, and parsley. Our salads have been lackluster, but its been our most glorious butterfly season ever. Besides, my seeds for next year's herbes fines are ready for their encore.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Screech of an Arching Eyebrow

On my nightstand is The Fifth Agreement, by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz, with Janet Mills. This is the latest in the popular Four Agreements Toltec wisdom series. If you aren’t familiar with these books, they are a collection of life principles from the Toltec society of artists, scientists, and healers in central and southern Mexico.

While the Agreements are not a religion, I have found that if I follow them faithfully, life just works out better and with a lot less calamity.

The Agreements came into my hands nearly a decade ago, when, in a difficult work situation, I needed a new approach for navigating a too-long string of spirit-killing days. Succinct and direct, the minimalist guidelines are:

1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

Like the board game, Othello, these agreements take about a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.

I greatly benefitted from practicing the first four, so this summer, I’m eager to explore the challenges in the new book, The Fifth Agreement: Be skeptical but learn to listen.

Be skeptical. The power of doubt is alluring. I like questioning things, having learned to do this early in life. Before I entered first grade, I once asked my mother, “If it’s on TV, it must be true. They can’t lie on TV can they?” This was when I first heard the screech of an arching eyebrow.

Did you know the word gullible is not in the dictionary? Screech! Gotcha!

Discerning when to be skeptical is a lifelong challenge. How do we carefully consider the cacophony of incoming messages and identify what’s distorted or true – those twisted fibers so difficult to unravel?

On the zero of the spectrum: a child’s arms wrapped around your neck with sweet “I love you’s” in your ear. No skepticism allowed.

There’s doubting, and there’s being questioned or doubted, a dimension of skepticism that’s suddenly uncomfortable. That’s where practicing the previous four agreements comes in handy. If you’ve done the work, you’re centered and sturdy for the journey. When someone probes your pronouncements, you’re in sync with the integrity of your words. Let them question away.

Learn to listen. I’m all ears for good advice on listening in a world where you can’t hear yourself think over pod players, multiple speakers barking over themselves, the poly-pummeling of pocketbook-plundering promotions, and multi-tasking minds scurrying to get past one another so they can get home and multitask some more.

Listening may be more difficult than skepticism, but it can be practiced into fruition, and become quite fun. Removing the roadblocks is challenging but essential. When shyness creeps over me at a gathering, I shift my thinking to: This might be my only chance to understand that person’s perspectives. It’s easier to engage and open your mind when you are on a mission.

Listening involves receiving whole points of view without judgment, pro or con. Per Toltec wisdom, we each live in a dream world where we each create our own truths, some beautiful, some detrimental. No two people exist in the same dream. This perspective is as exciting as it is frustrating – depending on whether you’re fascinated by others’ visions, or you’re time crunched to create your own truths of the moment.

What will you be skeptical of this week? When will you make time to really listen? Who’s been a good listener for you?

The Fifth Agreement may not be summer beach reading, but I’m ready to kick the sand out of my ears and explore some new perspectives on truth. I doubt I’ll regret it.