“In a culture of deep scarcity – of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough – joy can feel like a setup.”  Brene Brown in Daring Greatly

I lived those words for most of my life.  Every time I found myself knee-deep in joy I fantasized about when someone would come pull the plug and it would all drain away.  When the girls were two and four, Bubba was traveling more often than not, struggling with an undiagnosed illness that left him hospitalized every few months, and I was scared.  I was wracked with stomach cramps and sinking deeper and deeper into depression with every passing day and I somehow felt right at home.  While I couldn’t accurately predict what any one day would bring, dealing with crisis after crisis kept me busy and feeling competent. I could put out fires all day long and, while I was exhausted at night, dealing with one fire meant that I didn’t have to worry when or where the next one would flare up.  If a day passed without anything falling apart, my nerves were stretched taut as I waited, hypervigilant, scanning the landscape for the slightest new flame.  I expected danger. I anticipated fear. I did what most of Brene’s research subjects talked about; I lived in fear so that when something awful happened, I was already in the trench and wouldn’t have to feel the pain of falling or climbing back down. It was easier to stay in the dark than to suffer the loss of light.

Or so I thought.

These days I expect joy.  Despite a very challenging summer and early fall, struggling with a major construction project that is two months behind schedule, one pet’s death and a cancer diagnosis for another, and a very close call with one of our daughters, I have somehow managed to stay positive.  Instead of waking up each morning in trepidation, worried about what this day may bring, I open my eyes and seek the light.

In Daring Greatly, Brown writes about gratitude being the antidote to fear of joy. She says that people who practice counting their blessings aren’t afraid to feel joy like so many others.  I believe that wholeheartedly and credit my own daily gratitude practice with helping change my perspective on life, but I think there is another step beyond gratitude that is even more powerful. If the spectrum starts on the left at fear of joy (or, as Brown says it, “foreboding joy” – that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop the second you realize you are happy beyond measure), gratitude is nearing the other end, but I say that the far right end of the spectrum is expecting joy.

I wake up every day expecting joy. Knowing that no matter what challenge or sadness I may face today, there will also be joy. Something will happen today that will bring me pure happiness.  This is probably the single biggest thing ever to happen to me.

“Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections? What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world? Who are we to be joyful?” Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Indeed. Who am I? Why do I deserve to be joyful? I used to ask myself this question, and then, at one point, a friend pointed out to me that I certainly deserved it, given the struggles I have had in my life – from a difficult childhood to my husband’s prolonged illness and beyond.  I calculated up the traumas I have faced and had to agree with her that I probably did ‘deserve’ joy on some level.  But this entire notion of deserving joy is something I am patently uncomfortable with.  For one thing, as a mother, I don’t want my children to have to EARN their joy by enduring hardship, or worry that if they do live joyful lives, they will one day have to pay for it with trauma and unhappiness.

The fact is, there isn’t some High Priestess of Joy doling out happiness according to a balance sheet she’s been given about who deserves what.  Joy is out there in the world. We simply have to train ourselves to recognize it, acknowledge it, expect it.  Joy coexists with sadness, it doesn’t cancel it out. When I look at my sweet puppy boy lying on his bed, feet twitching as he dreams, I feel a tenderness and an outpouring of love for him and the relationship we have and that love sits side-by-side with the knowledge that he has malignant melanoma and will die sooner than I want him to. The joy and gratitude I feel at having been so lucky to have him in my life are deepened and enhanced by the knowledge that one day soon he will not be here anymore.

We humans like things to even out. We love balance, but we also like to be ready for disaster.  The irony is, as we use our energy to prepare for calamity, we rarely prepare for joy.  We walk around searching for potholes to avoid, ready to duck if something comes flying, but very few of us spend any time practicing opening ourselves to receive or recognize opportunities for joy.  We are creating our own imbalance.  I have decided to turn that on its head and, instead, wake up every morning expecting joy, believing that, if nothing else, today I will discover at least one thing that will stop me in my tracks with wonder and awe.

The house we lived in when Lola was born bordered a protected salmon-spawning creek. While I’m certain I had seen it on television or in a film at the science center somewhere, nothing quite prepared me for what it would be like to see spawning salmon in real time.

The creek itself was about twelve feet across and, in the summer and early fall, rarely more than five or six inches deep except for some hidden pockets.  Because this is the Pacific Northwest and we take our salmon seriously, there was a 150 foot setback on both sides of the creek that prevented anyone from altering the vegetation even slightly. Both banks were crowded with alder saplings and older maple trees, thick with Himalayan blackberry and stinging nettle and holly that choked out the Oregon grape and ferns.  Using his farmboy skills, Bubba whacked a deer path wider for us with a rusty machete handed down from his father so that we could walk out and stick our toes in the thick mud in the summer.

The first October we lived there, I smelled the creek fifty yards before I got there – the rich, sour smell of rotting fish hung in the air like fog.  Another ten yards and I could hear splashing but couldn’t conjure a picture in my head of what was causing it.  Finally, I stood on a piece of plywood we had laid across two rocks on the bank to keep our shoes clean and gaped.

Hundreds and hundreds of salmon whipped their tails side to side, packed in next to each other so tightly I could have crossed the creek on their backs. The water was so shallow and these fish so large that fully two or more inches of their bodies protruded above the creek.  Water sprayed in wide arcs as they frantically pulsed their tail fins to push forward, upstream. Their heads were silvery-grey and their bodies flashed red-orange in the daylight.  When I scanned the sides of the creek I saw dozens that had given up the fight and lay dying or dead on the banks.  There were a few who had found refuge behind fallen branches, in pockets of deeper water, where they hung out resting before they forged ahead again and I nearly wept in recognition of their fatigue.

There have been times in my life when I was that fish – the one taking a quick breather before heading back into the fray, barely holding on to breath but knowing that there was no going back, if only because there were others behind me that were plowing ahead and I would get in their way.  And I have wished for the world to stop for a bit, for the flow of the creek to hit pause so that I could breathe without quickening my pulse, without watching the clock, without steeling myself for the rest of the journey.

In a dream the other night, I had a change of perspective.  Instead of being on the outside looking at that fish and empathizing, I was the fish. I was surprised to discover that, instead of dreading what was to come, hanging out in the cool, deep water, I was anxious to continue on.  Instead of focusing on the fatigue of swimming upstream against the current, I was excited for the journey towards something, and I felt the solidarity of all my fellow fish in the water. We were all swimming with purpose, certain of where we were going and why, clear in the knowledge that it was bigger than all of us.

The phrase “like a salmon swimming upstream” is forever changed in my mind.  And as long as I don’t linger too long on the fact that the salmon all die shortly after completing this journey, when I begin to feel too tired to go on, I can remind myself that I am moving in the direction of something important and kindle the excitement instead of giving in to exhaustion.

I don’t work for the federal government.
My husband doesn’t work for the federal government.
We don’t need federal assistance to help us feed ourselves and our children.
We don’t need federal assistance to get medical care or housing.

And yet.

My mom, who has been a real estate agent for most of her adult life, told me last night that she is worried about the government shutdown and the effect it will have on her because most of her transactions in the past three years have been short sales. The paperwork is endless and labyrinthine and often refused for some small technicality and the banks who handle these sales rely on government workers to approve them.

I heard a story yesterday about a man who owns and runs a hot dog cart near the capitol building in Washington, DC where he expressed his fears about a long-term shutdown. He is a hard-working individual who relies on foot traffic to make his living and there is none these days. Tourists can’t visit closed buildings and monuments. Government workers who walk past him daily aren’t coming to the office right now.

These are the ripples. And the thing that occurs to me is the larger lesson here. You can’t have ripples without connection. Without interdependence. Without commonality.

Very few of us in this country live Unabomber-style, off the grid, isolated, without any human contact. The rest of us rely on each other in ways big and small and, whether we like it or not, we are all connected. That is what I worry we are forgetting.

What is bad for one of us is bad for all of us. The good news is that the opposite is true as well. What is good for one of us is good for all of us. A rising tide lifts all boats. We all benefit when one of us benefits.

Of course, the truth of that hinges on the word ‘us,’ and our ability to embrace it.  It is hard for me to think about what is good for Ted Cruz being good for me, but the fact is, I don’t think he is buying in to the notion of ‘us’ as a large collective, an entire, inclusive human race. I interpret his rhetoric to be inclusive of only those individuals he deems ‘worthy’ by his own standards (I won’t attempt to say what I think those standards might be).

The basis for taxation is collective. Everyone buys in so everyone can benefit.
The basis of the new Affordable Care Act is collective. Everyone buys in so everyone can benefit. The healthier we are as a nation, the more we can help each other. It makes no sense to exclude entire swaths of our population from services and options that can help them because in the end we are hurting ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but I have no interest in accounting for who gets what. I simply want to live in a world where collective humanity is a given, where we all support each others’ endeavors (and right) to get what we need to thrive because that is how we all ultimately thrive.  There is no such thing as exclusion. If there were, there wouldn’t be ripples. No matter how much anyone might want to deny it, we are all connected. We all feel the effects. We have to step outside of this artificial notion of Individuality. Yes, we are all unique individuals with strengths and talents and potential. But we are also possessed of desires and needs that we cannot fulfill alone and it is only through coming together with others, supporting everyone, that we can begin to thrive ourselves.

Last night I had the incredible good fortune to spend the evening with a group of dynamic, passionate, clever individuals. Most of them I have never met before, but we all share one vital quality. We all want to live in a world rooted in humanity, honesty, compassion and a shared sense of fulfillment and we are all willing to begin acting as though we do in order to effect that change.

There were writers and engineers, human resource experts and folks who fund and support start-ups and one individual passionately committed to restorative justice. There were men and women of all ages, most of us parents, each one of us visionary in our quest to find new ways to connect individuals and groups in ways that are authentic and meaningful and based in respect and caring for one another.  It was not a fund-raiser. It was not a sales pitch or a cult initiation.  It was simply a group of people coming together over a delicious meal to talk about how we can begin to realize the dream of living in a different kind of world.

We were challenged at the beginning to be as honest as we could about who we are, what we want, and how we make our way through the world. To be hyperaware of how we talk about our own lives. I was reminded several times throughout the evening of three books that have had an incredible impact on me and whose fundamental lessons I have to remind myself of often:

Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements,
Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly,
David Whyte’s The Three Marriages.

I dreamt about some of the conversations we had overnight and as I head out to a weekend without my laptop, I am certain the notebook I am bringing along with me will be well-used, filled with lines of inspiration and epiphanies sparked by this amazing gathering of people.  The ripples from this night will continue for days and weeks to come and I am so energized, so grateful to have been introduced to this movement that will change forever how I view my place in the world.  There is something so powerful about being reminded that people crave connection and community that rewards them for being exactly who they are, that being an ‘idealist’ is not a bad thing, that it may one day change the way we all live for the better.

The first day of school can’t come soon enough.
There isn’t enough time to get everything done before I leave for a long weekend.
I didn’t get enough sleep last night.
I don’t have enough clarity about CB’s cancer diagnosis.

These are the thoughts that run through my head and body like cars on the expressway, zipping and zooming past each other, weaving in and out, their red lights illuminating the night as I watch them retreat.  These are the thoughts that create a tightness in my jaw and shrink the spaces between my vertebrae as I wilt beneath their weight.

These are the thoughts of scarcity.
These are complete bullshit.

As I sit here with the dog’s warm chin straddling my feet, I sit up a little taller.  There is more than enough. It took me a long time (40 years or so) to recognize the fallacy of ‘not enough,’ and my own tendency to see things through that lens, but I’m working on it.  Truthfully, when it comes to the things that really matter, there is plenty.

There is so much love that surrounds me if I just choose to stop and see it.
There is as much time as there ever has been and if I am deliberate and thoughtful about how I spend it, I have more than enough to accomplish the things I truly care about.
There is creativity and cleverness in my children, my husband, the laborers working on my house to help us realize the vision of a relaxed gathering place for friends and family.
There are so many avenues open to me at any given moment and when I shift my gaze from scarcity to possibility, I am overwhelmed.

My spine lengthens. My lungs fill up a bit more. I can bask in the warmth of enough. Scarcity is a trap, a construction of my own mind. It is borne of comparison, a thing I already know is toxic, and the most insidious part of it is the assumption that chasing more and living in dissatisfaction will eventually get me to enough, or to the enemy of happiness – perfect.

The truth is, I am already there, so long as I choose a place of acknowledgment and gratitude. When I opt to look at how full my life is, brimming with love and connection and opportunities to learn and grow, I feel an embarrassment of riches.

My mother’s side of the family has a very distinctive “look.” All but one of her siblings is female, and they all fit a similar profile, not very tall, olive-colored Ukrainian skin, round faces and their father’s freckles. Lots of freckles.

My father and his sisters all have very similar faces (do I say ‘have’ even though Dad is dead now? It seems strange to write ‘had’ given that his sisters are all still alive). Three of them have thick auburn hair with a slight wave to it and the youngest, Martha, looks somewhat different from the other kids, but she and my Dad had nearly identical mouths.  They also all have freckles.

I am covered in freckles, more as I age, but few on my face. Like my parents, they mostly dot my arms and chest with a few on my legs.  Growing up, I always assumed that I would eventually look like my mother, given that I was female.  Of course, this notion was ghastly as soon as I reached adolescence and I denied any suggestion that I would ever look like her – not because she looks awful, but simply because it was important to me to look like me and only me.

Last year I agreed to be interviewed for a video presentation that would appear at the fundraising luncheon for Eve and Lola’s school.  I went in looking like me, in my favorite grey top and freshwater pearl necklace my Aunt Barb gave me for high school graduation. No makeup to speak of, hair styled like I do it every day (which is to say, washed and combed and largely ignored).  A month or so later when the video aired on an enormous screen in a hotel ballroom in front of 700 people, I was shocked to see myself.  I looked like Dad.

There have been times in my life where I knew I resembled my father, or at least his side of the family, and probably equally as many when I was struck by my resemblance to Mom’s side.

This morning I began wondering whether those shifts come with age or demeanor or situation.  Do I look like Mom when I am doing things I associate with her?  The video was certainly something Dad would have done (and reveled in, frankly), and I can’t imagine my mother in that situation. Is that why I  looked like him there?  We have photos of me with the girls as toddlers where I have such a maternal, doting look on my face and I see Mom in there so deeply.

I don’t recall a time when I was able to look at my face and see both of my parents simultaneously, melded together as one. Honestly, my freckles are the only thing I consider to have come equally from both bloodlines, but how much of that has to do with the fact that I don’t really remember my parents together at all? For the vast majority of my life, I see-sawed between parents’ houses and affections so maybe it is a bigger challenge for me to consider them as two halves of a whole versus opposite ends of a swinging pendulum when it comes to my physical appearance.  Do other people see themselves this way?

I wasn’t aware that it was possible to feel weary and frantic at the same time. Like a bowl full of eggs that has been whisked and poured into a skillet to become an omelette – resigned to that fate – and then suddenly a spatula pokes in and folds and turns and scrambles.

I am weary of the continued news of Anthony Weiner’s sexting antics and his wife’s attempts to rescue his public image. I don’t care. I get frantic when I read about corporate interests taking over politics, conservatives using their angry voices to manipulate voting districts and women’s rights, all the while touting their own gun rights and rights to free speech as gospel.  I am weary of news items that tout the FDA’s new plan to define ‘gluten free’ for food labels because I don’t trust that agency as far as I could throw them. This is the agency that recently increased “acceptable” levels of poisonous pesticides in our foods at the behest of Ag-giant Monsanto.  This is the agency that refuses to address the levels of arsenic in chicken feed or antibiotics given to farm animals when they aren’t sick.  This is the agency that moves at the speed of snail when it comes to responding to anything in the public interest, and at the speed of light when money is involved.

More than anything, I am sad. I have, in my Facebook feed, several organizations that I have ‘liked’ because I think their values align with mine*.  And then I read solicitations for comments like this on one (shall remain unnamed) organization’s page:

“Once the stuff of tabloid headlines (there was general “tsking” when paparazzi captured Suri Cruise in silver peep-toe heels), wedges and heels for tots and tweens have gone mainstream, turning up in schoolyards and on playgrounds far from Hollywood or Madison Avenue. Industry observers say the trend is part of a bigger, so-called “mini-me” craze in the children’s wear market, linking fashions for children’s clothing and accessories with the latest from mom and dad’s runway, no matter how impractical it may be for a child’s rough-and-tumble lifestyle.” – The New York Times

What are your thoughts on children wearing heels?

It prompted a storm of mother-shaming from readers who lambasted Katie Holmes for dressing her daughter in heels and all I could think was, ‘Aren’t we supposed to be building community? Helping each other stand taller? Why are we picking on each other like this?’

In my circle of friends and acquaintances, there are many people who I believe are motivated by love and compassion for others.  I hold on to that like a lifeline. And I am shocked and saddened when I hear others say precisely the opposite.  On the radio today were two guests talking about the ‘sharing economy’ (things like Air BnB and Lyft car where strangers rent out things they own to perfect strangers). One guest was thrilled with the advent of these organizations and talked about how they are creating efficiencies in creative ways. The other guest said he thought it was crazy – that “people can’t be trusted to act in their own best interest, much less the best interest of others, and these kinds of things need to be heavily regulated.” When pressed, he admitted that he believed that people are basically bad unless motivated by some outside influence (including religion and/or punishment) to do good. The other guest had to respectfully disagree.  I was astonished. Are there people, well-respected, published author, NPR guest-like people out there who honestly believe this? That people are bad unless bribed?

I can only hope there are more of the other kind of guests out there.

*If you want to go deeper down the cynicism rabbit hole, check out this article in the Guardian.

I had a lunch and dog-walking date with a new friend last week on a gloriously sunny (unseasonable) June day.  We hurtled ourselves down the block through conversations about parenting and feminism, justice and writing, laughing and marveling at shared sentiments.  We sat down to a lovely lunch of salads with another friend under the shade on a tree-lined sidewalk and the discussion was as satiating as the food, filling us up and nourishing us with the camaraderie of friends who share passions.

As it came time to meander back, the conversation turned to a more challenging subject with a history of hurt feelings and misunderstanding and while the two of us took care to tread lightly and with solid intent, the tone was certainly different.  At one point, T stopped and cocked her head to listen.

“Is that? Yes, it is!” she crowed as two children popped out onto the sidewalk from their front yard.  These kids, a young boy and his younger sister, were T’s neighbors and had just closed up their lemonade stand.  They were headed to buy a slice of pizza and some ice cream with the cash they had made and stopped to introduce themselves to me, all sunshine and smiles and enthusiasm.  We spent a few minutes chatting with them and when they had moved on, T turned to me and said,

“No negativity! See? I told myself that whenever something starts to get negative, something positive will show up to take its place.  We were talking about something hard and then, boom, the kids showed up to interrupt it. The world is a marvelous place!”

I loved her perspective and joy at having run into her neighbors and thought about what she said for several days afterward.  What a fabulous idea – that we can choose no negativity.  What if I tell myself that every time something starts to turn negative, something positive will show up?  It speaks to my belief in balance (I am a Libra, after all), and the tendency of energy to come back to equilibrium.  What if that is what always happens and I simply have to tune myself in to it?

It’s worth a shot.

“Idiot compassion.”

I was re-reading Michael Greenberg’s “Hurry Down Sunshine” last week for a writing workshop I’m taking and when I saw the phrase ‘idiot compassion,’ it struck me as though I hadn’t read it before.  In fact, I think this was one of those memoirs I read so quickly and superficially that I’m very grateful I was led to read it again for this class.  I don’t think I absorbed much of it at all the first time and I suspect that is because the notion of being locked away for mental health treatment is something I fear almost more than anything else.

But I digress….

The description of the phrase ‘idiot compassion’ was basically when you get so sucked in to someone else’s pain and suffering that you begin to empathize on a cellular level. You begin to have trouble separating your pain from theirs and you render yourself completely incapable of offering any assistance whatsoever.

Been there, done that.

I suppose the reason the words impacted me the way they did is because one of them is a favorite of mine and the other one I generally abhor.  The word ‘idiot’ conjures up meanness, judgment, misunderstanding of another’s true gifts. ‘Compassion,’ on the other hand, is something for which I strive each and every time I interact with another human being.  Putting the two together jolted me in to assessing how often I drag myself down that rabbit hole of compassion to the point of idiocy.  How many times have I over-identified with another human being so completely that I start to panic at the emotions that are triggered in my own body?  And how is that helpful?

It isn’t.  Nobody who is suffering wants that kind of compassion. We may all want empathy when we are struggling with a difficult challenge, but not to the point where others appear to take on our suffering. For one thing, it isn’t possible – trust me, if it were, I would have made the enormous mistake of onboarding Bubba’s, Lola’s, and Eve’s discomfort from time to time.  And, if I’m already drowning, your flailing about in the same freezing water isn’t going to do either of us any good. It might be a little less lonely there in the ocean as my lungs are filling up with fluid, but ultimately it doesn’t change my suffering a bit to know that you’re wheezing right along with me. In fact, it might increase mine by making me feel guilty you’re there at all.

More and more as I age, I am reminded that the most powerful form of compassion lies in something that looks a hell of a lot like inactivity.  I call it “holding space.”  It doesn’t involve telling you about my life experience with a similar issue and offering advice. Holding space doesn’t have anything to do with holding you, unless you want a hug and it will make you feel better.  It is simply the act of me sitting with the acknowledgment of your pain and allowing you to feel it as you need to.  Holding space is not judgment or an attempt to diminish or ‘fix’ your suffering, it is a validation of your feelings and your right to feel them.  It clears the way for you to sit with your own frustration as long as you need to, knowing that I will be there for as long as it takes.  I can’t take any of your pain away but I can help you hold it for a while until the time comes for it to move on through.  And so if you ever have occasion to hear me say I am sending love and light your way, it simply means that I am holding space for you. It means that within that space there will be love and light surrounding you for as long as you need.  That doesn’t mean I don’t desperately wish there was something more tangible I could do to help, but idiot compassion doesn’t help any of us.

A few days ago our neighbors had a tree service come take out an enormous tree on the sidewalk near their property. The trunk was probably five feet in diameter and I don’t even want to hazard a guess as to how tall it was.  I think it was some kind of maple, rough-barked and stolid, standing on the corner like some kind of massive pin that held the block in place to the earth.

As I walked past yesterday, before they had come to haul away the chunks of debris, I could see the center of the trunk eroded like so much sawdust and thought to myself, Aahh, it was dying. That’s why they took it out. I don’t know about your city, but our city doesn’t take too kindly to removing established trees, especially those considered ‘exceptional’ examples of their species – ones that are large specimens that have been in the ground for decades.  We like our greenery here in the Pacific NW and God help you if you want to embark on a construction project that might necessitate the removal of a tree on your property. The neighbors will stage protests and tie neon ribbons around the trunk, write letters to the city planning office and plead the case for this poor, defenseless tree like they wouldn’t for a human on death row.  The fines for removing a tree without a permit are based on the assessment of ‘fair market value’ for the particular tree, and can run to tens of thousands of dollars.

But as I strolled past this one, I thought I could plainly see why they had removed it.  Until a man and his dog came around the corner and stopped short. Thin and grey-headed, the bearded man in his Seattle-uniform of khakis and work boots and olive green vest led his dog up to the remains to check it out.  I was still about half a block away and watched them circle the pile of limbs and trunk sections, the dog marking each piece in that special dog-way.  As I neared, I prepared to meet the man’s eye and smile a greeting, but he looked at me and shook his head with a mixture of disgust and sadness. He was clearly unhappy that this tree had been cut down.

I immediately checked my thoughts about the tree removal.  Maybe my assessment had been wrong – maybe what I saw of the inside of the tree didn’t represent disease or a good enough reason to cut it down. Had these people been wrong to do this?  

Fortunately, I was able to recognize this pattern of thinking for what it was. Namely, my tendency to assume that my reaction is the wrong one upon encountering someone else who feels very differently than me. Especially when that someone is a stranger, older than me, and male.

As children, we begin forming our opinions by mirroring or imitating our parents. As we move into adolescence, we slowly start to individuate, often by reacting to situations in the opposite way of our parents, but this generally lasts only for a few years as we try out different personalities in order to better determine who we are.  Generally, as we become adults we settle in to some middle ground where we are able to exercise more critical thinking and assess our own reactions and opinions with some degree of realism.  Hopefully, this comes about thanks to parents or other influential adults in our lives who have taken the time (and patience) to guide us through our teenage years as we react to things more based on emotion and erroneous assumptions than clear logical thinking. (That said, if you haven’t read Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide, you should check it out because he reveals how much of our “rational” decision-making is actually based on emotion and gut-feelings and how important that is).

I spent much of my adolescence straddling the line between adult responsibilities and desperately wanting to rebel but fearful of the consequences.  I often felt as though I was faking it as I worked hard to convince the adults in authority around me that I was capable of taking care of myself both physically and emotionally so that I could be left alone. On the inside, I was terrified of being ‘found out’ for the chickenshit that I really felt like.  That set me up for a deep mistrust of my own opinions and anytime I encountered an older person who seemed like they might have it all together, I fell all over myself to defer to their ideas of right and wrong.  It took years to begin to put stock in my own thought processes and values and, sometimes when I least expect it, my tendency to doubt my own beliefs sneaks up on me.

Fortunately, it’s not important whether or not I think the tree removal was justified, but it sparked a valuable inner exploration of how often I discount my own knowledge without thinking simply because someone else appears to think differently.