“Me Too!” ~ with a twist

The Intruder

. . . . ENTER:  the intruder . . . .

We all imagine he might come one night-
The man so angry, so full of hate,
Disturbed, defensive, deliberate distraught;
He might enter our lives with kisses, sweet words,
Or barge through our doors, violent- violating
Our homes, our bodies, our peace, our souls-
Ravaging, rampaging, ruining- rendering
Our lives devoid of sanity, of hope . . .

. . . . EXIT: the intruder.                                          1/1/93

 

By profession, I am a registered nurse practitioner specializing in anesthesia. In 1990, I also completed a BA in Cultural Anthropology.  While pursuing my studies, I’d been enthralled by Margaret Mead’s research in American Samoa for her doctoral thesis in Anthropology.  I’d also had the opportunity to meet her daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, when she was a visiting lecturer at George Mason University.  So when an advertisement appeared in our anesthesia journal in early 1992 seeking volunteers to work in American Samoa, I knew I had to respond!  I wanted to experience Mead’s South Pacific paradise for myself!

Making it happen was no small task.  I didn’t want to move out of my condo, so my son Michael agreed he would stay there and cover the expenses.  I contacted LBJ Tropical Medical Center and told them of my interest, sending my resume and  copies of licenses, etc.  I also began looking into possible free-lance work to do after I returned.  I told my boss about my plans, and to my surprise, he offered me a leave of absence instead.  I happily accepted.  Finally I was ready to go!

Dr. Sam met me at the airport on July 1, 1992.  He told me I would be staying at the Rainmaker Hotel temporarily because a hurricane the previous year had damaged the volunteer apartments.  The hotel was lovely; I settled in and began working the next day at the hospital, which was about a mile away.  But by July 7th, I wrote in my diary, “I’m bored staying here!”  So I visited the damaged area to assess the condition of my future “home.”  The apartments were filthy but some were structurally intact.  I chose one with a roof (!!!) and then went to speak to the head doctor of the hospital.  I suggested I could clean up the place myself.  He agreed, so the next day I moved my belongings and went to work!

For the next few days, I provided anesthesia services during the day under less than optimal conditions.  Medications were in short supply, equipment was outdated and un-serviced.  I had to be constantly alert for the types of problems I’d never encounter on the US continent.  Evenings at “home” were just as challenging! The apartment was not air-conditioned and depended upon louvered windows (with no curtains) for air circulation.  I had also quickly discovered my four- and eight-legged roomies!  Roaches, rats and geckos had preceded me!  I cleaned to discourage the roaches, repaired the cupboard bottoms which allowed  constant access for the rats, and decided the geckos were my friends!  So when I went to bed on July 11, 1992, I was exhausted!

[Diary entry referencing events of July 12, 1992, early AM]

“I was awakened from a sound sleep by the click of the door opening (outside door near my bedroom.)  Still lying down, I looked and saw  the shadow of a tall thin man at my bedroom doorway.”

Groggy confusion quickly gave way to pure terror.  I screamed at him to get out, irrationally demanding to know who he was and what he wanted.  As he slowly walked toward me, I sat up and wrapped myself in my bed sheet and grabbed my glasses.  Then he plopped into the chair near my bed and said, “I just want to talk.”  Right!  Although it was quite dark in the room, I could see he was wearing only swim trunks. I demanded to know how he’d gotten in and he told me he’d broken in with his knife; then he reached for my cigarettes on the table and knocked over a glass of water at my bedside.  It shattered on the floor. ….. Shorts. Knife. Broken glass…..  No idiot would believe his intentions were to merely “talk” to me.  My heart sank; I put my hand to my forehead wondering how I was going to get out of this alive.  He asked, “what’s the matter?”  “I’m tired,” I lied.

Over the next hour or so, my mind raced to accommodate the reality of my circumstances. Years before, I had taken a US Department of State class on how to deal with a hostage situation.  The keys to safely surviving were: be calm and avoid escalating fear or anger in the situation; try to get the hostage-taker to see you as a person, not a target; above all, stay alert for any moment during which you might escape.  So I talked, trying to get a feel for who he was, and to see if he was sober.  I alternately raged, placated, cajoled and shamed him.  My emotions sometimes got the better of me, and I spoke with anger and derision, backing off when he responded negatively.  Several times I considered just getting up and walking out.  But then I’d remember the knife and broken glass on my floor, and the possibility he might try to stop me- or worse, attack me.  I’d be no match for him. Then:

“I’ve gotta pee.  Where’s your bathroom?” he asked.

“Right across from the door you broke into!” I barked.

The time had come.  I waited until he got through the bedroom doorway then said I needed to get some water.  Carefully, I got out of bed at the foot, avoiding the shattered glass.  He didn’t turn.  I hurried toward my kitchen, opened the outside door and ran!  The slamming door alerted him, but he couldn’t have had time to pee- he chased me!  Thankfully I had enough of a head start toward (hopefully) inhabited apartments.  He saw where I was going, then turned and ran the other way.

EPILOGUE:

The person who responded to my door banging called hospital security, who chased down the intruder and called the police.  They brought him in handcuffs so I could ID him.  But he looked me in the face and said, “It was me.”  I asked him why, and he said he’d seen me through the windows and I’d looked “nice.”  He was taken to jail briefly then sentenced to be publicly shunned.  Several days later, the Assistant Attorney General of American Samoa called to tell me about how shunning is used to shame people for certain crimes when no physical injury had taken place.  He said it works very well in their culture, as public avoidance causes much shame.  He also asked me to please stay for my promised three months, as Samoans depended on their volunteers for health care.  I assured him I had no intention of leaving.

Local people and my friends and family were very concerned and supportive.  The emotional toll wasn’t a burden I could have easily carried without their help.  Yet there were just a few who asked, “What’s the big deal?  He didn’t hurt you, so. . .   ?”  But of course pain is rarely only physical.  The comments and attitudes of those few still haunt me, just as the sight of the intruder’s knife left behind  near my chair haunts me.  They are just a tiny glimpse of what the “Silence Breakers” must face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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OPEN LETTER TO CONGRESS

 

Donald Trump should be removed from office immediately.

This missive is not meant to convince you of Mr. Trump’s incompetency in his role as President of the United States.  Your own eyes and ears have informed you of his instability, narcissism, paranoia and lack of a normal moral compass.  You have no doubt felt waves of disbelief, disgust, and fear in your heart and gut as you witnessed his behavior, listened to his words, and read his “tweets.”  Your internal body wisdom has been flashing a neon warning sign! Yet you have a job to do, a career to pursue.  And so you have attempted to accommodate him and “give him a chance,” because after all, some of his beliefs mirror your own.  And of course what can you accomplish for your constituents if you are not re-elected?   But being co-opted into Mr. Trump’s mindset and allowing him to set normalcy standards of behavior and belief are not conducive to fulfilling your duties as our representatives.  Neither will it be possible to try to work around him.  He is a dangerous and unpredictable man.   [Please read The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, October 2017, ed. Bandy Lee, MD.  Contributors are 27 mental health experts who felt it was their civic and moral “duty to warn” us of the danger Mr. Trump presents to the USA in his presidential role.]  Therefore it is incumbent upon each of you to ask yourself some difficult questions:  Who am I?  What do I believe?  What are my most cherished goals?  Each must be answered honestly (if only to yourself!) without prejudice or rationalization.  Then remind yourself there is strength in numbers!

We, the people of the United States, have elected a group of wise, moral and powerful women and men to help us maintain and improve upon the nation our forefathers created for us.  To do so, you must reclaim your power and become a united front!  Together, your primary responsibility must be to help heal the divisiveness in our country.  All other agendas must wait.   A gentle, non-judgmental hand will be needed to accomplish so noble a goal.  Keep in mind Mr. Trump won the presidency by acknowledging and validating the concerns and fears of some among us.  That in itself is commendable for all who aspire to leadership, as the knowledge may be used to realistically address common concerns.   But such was not Mr. Trump’s goal.  He inflamed fear and anger while emboldening incivility toward one another.  He encouraged scapegoating- blaming the “OTHER” for our problems.  Then he decreed only he could help.  Mr. Trump appeared to be understanding, empathetic.  But his goal was to create an image that would buy him a win, the power of the presidency.  The image is a sham.

By reclaiming your power and leadership, you who represent us in Congress can stand united and reject the “malignant normality” presented by Mr. Trump. [Terminology used by Robert Lifton, MD, in the aforementioned book. It refers to creating a culture in which abhorrent practices are deemed “normal.”]  Using either impeachment proceedings or the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, you can reveal the sham Mr. Trump has engendered.  By being truthful and sincerely empathetic yourself and by avoiding making Mr. Trump himself a scapegoat, you can remove him from office and prevent further damage to your integrity and the integrity of our country.  Then through legislation and public discussions, you can encourage us to reaffirm that all human beings deserve dignity, respect and kindness.  You have the power to empower, to remind us we are each in control of our own destiny; blame and shame have no useful place in our lives.

I beseech each of you to do your part as an elected and trusted leader of our country.  Thank you for choosing to serve us.

Most Sincerely,

Sue Valk

[Sent to Virginia Representatives.]

WITH A PRAYER

We are wholly human:
The  soul-mind-body share
Each moment in time-space,
With just one chance to care.

We are holy humans:
Hearts whispering a prayer;
Urgent voice within us,
“Please spread love everywhere!”

We are wholly holy:
Our minds charge, “Be aware!
Our conscience and our love
Can ease the world’s despair!”

Wholly Holy Humans:
Whose souls scream, “We don’t dare
Ignore our primal cry!”
We must answer . . . . .
. . . . . with a prayer.

 

The need to love and be loved: our primal cry is just that simple and just that complex.  Love demands much from us.  Caring, compassion, kindness and commitment rank high among those requirements.  Without love none of us would survive beyond birth.  We need each other.  Alone, we die.  Together we flourish and have the opportunity to experience joy, hope purpose and contentment in our lives. Yet nothing is guaranteed.  That means we have work to do!

Fully understanding who we are as human beings is our essential task.  When I refer to us as “wholly holy humans,”  I mean we are the embodiment of conscience and love [holy] with the instinct for personal and species survival [human.]  These two primary aspects of human nature are permanently intricately intertwined.  Nevertheless, tension exists between them.  This tension may be thought of as a tug-of-war for dominance.  Our holiness and our humanness are constantly competing for our attention as we choose how to view both the world and our place in it.  This tension gives birth to most of the challenges we face throughout life.

Our personal and species survival rely upon our interdependence with each other, which in turn requires us to love and have compassion for one another.  Meanwhile, our humanness decrees we want to define the terms for interdependence!  Moreover, our definition of survival has become, “I want to be who I choose, live as I choose, while maintaining my self-esteem along with my reputation and status in society!”  Each and every time we perceive our desires are threatened or under attack, we feel afraid.

Fear may lead to anger, antagonism, even war.  But on a day-to-day basis, fear often lurks beneath our awareness, creating suspicion, hypervigilance, and anxiety.  Such states of mind may lead us to misinterpret the people and circumstances in our lives.  Too often, we don’t recognize our fear and ‘own’ it as an essential and useful part of who we are.  Instead, because we have come to believe fear is a human weakness, we externalize it.  Consequently we mislabel our fear (often in a self-serving or righteous manner!)  then name a scapegoat.

Our scapegoats take many forms:  another person; a group of people; natural and accidental events; a world view or a religion; a supernatural being like a devil.  All become diversions which prevent us from correctly understanding our own issues and finding useful solutions to  them.  They waste our time, emotions and energy while leading us down a rabbit hole.  We may war with our scapegoats, but we can never control them!

Fortunately there is another path.  By recognizing and embracing who we are as human beings, we can actually nurture our holiness by putting our survival instinct to good use, the use for which it was intended!  It is incumbent upon all of us to use our innate intelligence  to continuously question our perceptions with self-honesty and an open mind.  Our challenges were born within us. Their solutions must come from within.  Voila!  Control is in reach!

 

Dedicated to:

The people of Charlottesville, Virginia, who endured bearing witness to the consequences of fear run amuck while seeing events for what they really were, yet persevering with grace, dignity and forgiveness.

The people in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and all the Caribbean Islands who were in the path of recent hurricanes, along with those who came to provide assistance.  The world was privileged to witness your struggle as you faced catastrophic conditions.  You showed all of us the enormous capabilities of humanity,  giving us hope.  May your recovery be swift, your hearts lightened.

 

 

 

 

 

PRIORITIES: NATIONALISM IN A GLOBAL REALITY

Consider the implications of these truisms:

  1. We must take care of ourselves before we can take care of others.
  2. Charity begins at home.
  3. No man is an island.

Together these truisms exemplify one approach toward living our best life possible.  They tell us we must each nurture our own physical and mental health before we are capable of caring for another.  Then we must meet our responsibilities to those closest to us- our families and communities-  to the best of our ability.  Furthermore, we should do so while recognizing and relying upon our interdependence with one another.  Many of us prioritize our personal lives in this way, and we often apply the same truisms to any large body of people with whom we form an allegiance as well.  For example, we may put the needs of our own country above the needs of other nations.

While these truisms direct us toward a conscientious life path, they presume of course that we will be alive to make life choices.  They take for granted our survival as a species is assured.  It is NOT assured.  We must never ignore the fragility of our existence on this earth.  Therefore it is imperative for us to see the bigger picture.  We are each but ONE person living on Earth among 7.4 billion others who share the same needs, the same aspirations.  We are completely interdependent- not only with each other, but also with the planet we call home. Therefore we must align our priorities to match the realities of our life on Earth.  I believe three CO-EQUAL PRIORITIES must top our list if we hope to survive:

A.  PLANET HEALTH:  Gone are the days when we, as a much smaller number of human beings, could avail ourselves of the earth’s resources without much concern.  Now, given the enormous growth in our population, we cannot deny our presence here affects the health of our planet, its ecosystem and atmosphere.  It is essential for each of us to respect and nurture our environment. We are responsible for taking care of the only home we are likely to inhabit.

B.  HUMAN RIGHTS:  In 1945 after World War II ended, the United Nations was formed.  Then on 12/12/1948, those countries signed a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Preamble begins:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. . . ”   [Full text available on the United Nations website.  There are currently 193 member nations.]

Try to imagine living in a world without our co-operation to maintain human rights.  I doubt many of us would care to live in such a world.  Our humanity must be cherished by all, for all.  We can only hope to enjoy human rights if we are willing to protect them for everyone.

C.  PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE:  During the 20th century, we created the means to annihilate humankind.  Before then, our ability to kill each other was limited to mere thousands at a time.  During the 21st century it is incumbent upon us to demand of ourselves that we create peaceful solutions to our differences.  War must not simply be the “last option,” it must be eradicated from our mindset altogether.  The alternative is obvious, inevitable. [Please read my blogs on this subject: A Rose. . . and War by Any Other Name Still Stinks of Fear and Death; Fighting Words: Our Misguided Constructs.]

We have heard a great deal lately about putting “America First.”  Our allegiance and commitment to our great country is honorable and commendable.  Yet our first priority must always be to humanity and its survival.  Our allegiances should and can  be balanced within the larger reality.  Our innate goodness and humanitarianism- the holiness in our humanity-  will guide us.

 

 

 

 

 

THE LIE

I published this originally with the intention of addressing why the average person lies,  how our lies affect us, and what we can do to change our behavior.  This essay does NOT address those who are chronic liars or who have personality disorders.  Those people are not likely to be amenable to either advice or treatment.

 

Wholly Holy Human

She believed-
Until the lie was whispered.
She had faith-
Until the lie was confirmed.
She hoped-
Until the lie was repeated.
She cried-
Until the lie was denied.
Then she left
When the lie no longer mattered;
And now,
She lies to herself.

We tell ourselves stories: stories which include part reality, part perception, and lies- tiny lies, huge lies, self-serving lies. Sometimes we even lie to ourselves about why we tellthose lies.  So can it be any surprise we lie to others?  Why are we so dishonest?

I’ve thought about this a lot and have come to believe the answers reside in our egos, our images of ourselves.  We all wish to believe we are good people, and we each have an internal definition of what that means to us.  I believe our stories to ourselves and others reflect our definition, and if it conflicts with an…

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SO! We Want to Make America “Great Again?”

It seems we have a problem!  To solve our problem, we must first define our terms: what do we mean by “great”;  how does America currently fall short of greatness;  what are the causes of America’s supposed lack of greatness?  Too much to think about, you say?  TOO BAD!  Unless we are willing to start our problem solving in this way, we will stumble along life’s path with a vague sense of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and anger- in other words, with a continuous life backdrop of FEAR.  None of us can solve our problems or address our fears without being willing to define both and by looking them squarely in the face.  No cop-outs or wimpiness allowed.  No ignoring them and hoping they will just go away.  No hoping someone else can take over and do our job for us.  But above all: no blaming our problems and fears on life circumstances or on some faceless OTHER, whether that OTHER is an individual or some loosely defined group of people unlike ourselves.

To borrow Al Gore’s phrase, we must address some “inconvenient truths.”  As barbaric as it may seem, this world into which we were all born owes us nothing.  NOTHING!  From the moment we were conceived until the second we die, we depend upon the compassion and conscience of other people.  If we make it through infancy,  we must learn to  negotiate our place in society.  We are quickly taught we are interdependent, which means we must give to society in order to receive from it, whether within our families, communities, or the world at large.  As we continue living, we must always be conscious of our worth and usefulness to society, simply because if we have nothing worthwhile to give, we will surely find that no one has any interest in giving to us!

Which brings us to John F. Kennedy’s admonishment,  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!”  ( 1/20/1961)   Each of us has honorable gifts to offer the world and to our fellow Americans.  It is our personal responsibility to define, perfect and offer those gifts to others in exchange for having a place in any society.  Interdependence is our only means of survival.

We must honor our responsibility by consciously defining our own problems, our own fears.  Then we must ask ourselves Dr. Phil McGraw’s classic question:  “What can I- I!– do to make things better?”  When we find ourselves reverting to one of our greatest challenges as a human being- ignoring our own responsibility and insisting our issues originate outside ourselves- we must check ourselves and go back to square one.  As Dr. Phil would say, “NO ‘yeah-buts’ allowed!”

As human beings we have tremendous power to change ourselves through consciously: defining and  redefining all life’s challenges;  learning and relearning all we can about our world; asking ourselves the hard questions about how we feel; recognizing the oneness of humanity, the holiness in our humanity. I’ve said it before, but I will say it again: this is our ONLY power, yet we need nothing else.  Pick up almost any self-help book on the market and it will delineate the ripple effect of our ability to change the world by changing how we think, act, feel and react to our individual life circumstances.  Once we “get it” we will realize the only way to keep America great is to BE a Country of GREAT AMERICANS!

 

“America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”  –Abraham Lincoln

 

 

 

“Build That Wall!”

Throughout history, people have built walls to ensure their safety and security.  We’ve built homes to protect us from the elements; walls around our cities to keep invaders out; walls to jail individuals we believe should not live freely among us.

Yet history also clearly shows us that the walls we build are always- ALWAYS!- temporary. They can be breached with some determination: over, under, around and through; destroyed by man; erased by nature.  Think about the earthquakes and hurricanes which have destroyed our homes, our cities.  Consider the  intruders who invade our locked homes, and   prisoners who have bribed or killed their way out of jail.  Remember the demise of ancient fortresses, and the damage done to strongholds like the Alamo.   And who can forget the dismantling of the Berlin Wall?  Nor can we ignore the fate of the Great Wall of China, which has become a tourist attraction instead of a protective barrier.

Given that the walls we build are temporary, it seems obvious those structures offer only temporary protection also.   I suggest they often function as a false sense of security.  Does that mean we shouldn’t continue to build our homes or fences?  No, it simply means we should not depend exclusively upon them to keep us safe.

Remember: as human beings, we tell ourselves stories. [See my blog entitled “The Lie”]  Some of  these inner dialogues are based in fact, some are wishful thinking, and some are lies.  We use our stories to address our concerns, fears and anxieties.  Envisioning the numerous threats we face daily, we try to make sense of how and why they exist, and how they can affect us and our loved ones.  Then we attempt to identify solutions that may keep us safe and content.  But all the while we are considering our concerns and solutions to them, we must carefully fact-check ourselves.  We must examine the premises upon which we base our concerns and look closely at what we hope to achieve with the solutions we devise.  Then before we choose to act, we must also try to imagine the consequences of our actions. From past experience, we all know some of those consequences may be unintended and unpredictable!

As we build our walls of wood, stone, mortar and steel, we must acknowledge them to be temporary and incomplete solutions to assuaging our concerns, our fears.  They are so because we have only temporarily and incompletely defined our issues!  Our issues are within US as humans, and therefore the solutions can only come from within.  Our strength, our sense of security, lie not in the walls we build but in the holiness of our humanity.  We must embrace it!