Wisdom and Roadblocks

I’ve been binge-watching the show Younger for the last few weeks, and in addition to being entertained by the program, I’m intrigued by the idea of going back in time and starting over, knowing now what I wish I knew then.

I remember my twenties as agony, my thirties as much greater fun. As my body calls out with daily new aches and pains, I long for the time when age wasn’t catching up with me. With what I’ve learned up to this point in my life, think of what I could do with all that health.

me-c-1987
Me at 27 — or 29 — doesn’t matter, it was a long time ago.

There are moments, somewhat fleeting, when I’d love to be 27 and have the full opportunity to start a new career, with a lifetime of growth in that field ahead of me. In my mind, I can picture myself as professional, successful, innovative, and admired for my deftness in cutting edge work. I have long hair and a stylish wardrobe, and if my lipstick wears off, I doesn’t dangerously age me.

As intriguing as the idea of a second chance may be, it discounts the opportunities available to me today. Yes, youth has its advantages and its appeal in the workplace. But for many, too many, it comes with limitations, arrogancy and insecurity.

Younger isn’t a going-back-in-time show, it’s a pretending-to-be-14-years-younger-than-you-really-are show. The reality is, I do, in fact, look younger than a lot of women my age. Not 14 years, but enough. It’s heredity, and I’m thankful for it. Still, not enough to pretend I actually am in my 40s, with all the opportunities that still exist for women of that generation. That’s because, at some point, in some way, I’d have to return to the angst of that decade. And as Younger shows us, you can’t escape who you are.

I’m best at being who I am today. At times confused, somewhat scared, yet more than anything else, optimistic. In recent years I have been blessed with greater wisdom and insight, and a more relaxed attitude toward life. I don’t worry as much about what others think, I see through the lies and pandering of popular media, and I’m better about standing up for myself. Far from perfect there, but I no longer fear the consequences of saying “you can’t treat me like that.”

There is a reason I am where I am today, and given the chance to take my life experience and place it in my resurrected 27-year-old body would fail the human experience somehow. I am meant to be taking risks, making friends, loving my family and defining my priorities in part by the age I am, with all the gifts and drawbacks that brings.

october-2016
Me today. Yes, I’d prefer it if wearing my hair long didn’t age me. But in the scheme of things, that ranks low on the happiness scale.

Authenticity and being true to oneself are such lofty terms. I don’t seek my authentic self. That self is already here. I seek integrity in my actions, reality coupled with creativity in my goals, and those precious moments when my cat curls up in my lap and purrs himself to sleep. I have my insecurities, but they don’t dominate my life like they used to do. I have my responsibilities, and I seek to meet them.

Authentically, honestly, I am 56 years old. That brings baggage and relief, wisdom and roadblocks. It is like any other age, with limitations, frustrations and opportunities. Life is a journey, one you are constantly having to re-navigate. Thankfully the tools get better with age. After all, I now have more wisdom and experience to break through those roadblocks.


Radical Authenticity

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The Least Among You

Suppose you met someone who told you she just got out of prison for terroristic threatening.

What would you think? This woman in front of you is well-groomed, dressed fashionably yet somewhat conservatively, certainly doesn’t have a prison-tough look or demeanor and timidly is talking about her seemingly impossible search for work.

Turns out, you’ll discover, she went to prison because she threatened her ex-husband with bodily harm while holding a knife, with the children in the next room. In fact, it was her oldest daughter who called the police. It wasn’t the first argument she’d had with her husband, although it had never gone this far before. The police had been called one other time, about a year earlier, when neighbors heard them arguing and were concerned. No arrests at that time, but there was a record of the call.

pink butterfly no bkgdNo drugs, no alcohol, no physical violence. She went to prison, did her time and while she was there got anger management training, a certificate in Microsoft software proficiency and another in office administrative skills. She’d had a good job before, had always been a good worker. Now she’s fighting to get work again as the first step in regaining custody of her children, who are living with her parents.

But terroristic threatening.

In today’s world, that’s a horrible thing to have on your record. It sounds like, well, you’re a terrorist, when in fact what you did, while criminal, wasn’t what we normally think of as terroristic. Legally, what I’m talking about here means you threatened someone with the intent to terrorize them, in other words, frighten them to the point they believe they’ll be harmed. It also means it’s a highly subjective crime to prosecute.

In the case above, she threatened her husband to the point her children believed he was at risk. While that wasn’t her intent, it was the predictable result, and she went to prison for it.

Being in prison, even jail, has a terrible stigma. There is reason for that; one has committed a crime. Let me explain, briefly, the difference between jail and prison: jail is where you go when you’re first arrested, before you’re convicted, and where people with shorter sentences will end up. It’s also where people who are going to prison will start out while they wait to be transported, and in some states that can be months. Prison is where people with sentences generally over one year serve their time.

Yes, these people have done something very wrong, and there is common sense in being wary when you encounter them. But more important than that, they are human beings who are struggling to make things right. For whatever reason, the woman I described above messed up to a point of breaking the law, and of course the underlying problem wasn’t something that started that night. This likely had been going on for some time. But who am I to judge her for the path that led her there?

To see prisoners and inmates as people first is critically important

in bringing about change in their lives. They have families, they love their children. While Whatever they’ve done in the past may cause you to argue they put themselves, drugs or some other thing before their children, and perhaps they did, now they want to figure out how to do the right thing. It’s a challenge for most, more than you can imagine.

monarch no kgdThere’s the young woman whose father was injecting her with heroin when she was eleven. What chance did she have? At the age of 21, she’d spent more of her adult life in jail than not. She had a three-year-old son, and she desperately wanted to do right. Today, at 25, she’s clean and sober, has an associates’ degree and a good job. All because people cared.

These stories aren’t the exception. More often than not, this is the type of history former prisoners have.

Most don’t want to go back to criminal behavior. I can’t say all of them have a heart of gold, but they have value. And yes, we should use discretion in the doors we open for those who have committed a crime in the past and not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of in any way. However, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.

Many who ended up in jail or prison got themselves caught up in a cycle of bad behavior they didn’t know how to get of, or they weren’t fully aware how deep in trouble they were. They are far from hardened criminals. They are people who really screwed up, and have been held accountable for it.

Please know I am aware there are those violent offenders it is wisest to stay away from in all circumstances, and hopefully they remain in prison. And certainly we need to use caution around sexual offenders, although I suggest you find out the specifics of the crime. Not all sexual offenders are sexual predators. Urinating in public and consensual sex with a teenager, even if you’re underage yourself, can put you on the sexual offender list in some states.

I’m also aware, from my own experience, of the trauma and anger that comes from being the victim of a crime. These are all legitimate concerns.

red butterfly no bkgdYet we need to use wisdom appropriate to the individual situation, and can’t place all former prisoners in the same category. It’s easy to dismiss them completely rather than allow for the possibility of reform and rehabilitation, change and growth. You may not be the one to give someone the in-depth counseling they need to get back on their feet, but your smile and considerate behavior can give them the confidence to get through the day.

And if you doubt this is the right way to view others who have failed, remember this: it’s how Jesus treated the thieves and prostitutes, the criminals, around him, down to his dying moments.

Photo Credits: (Sky background) © Graphic Stock; (Butterflies) © ecco — Fotolia

Caged — a Guest Post

Today I’m honored to share a post by guest blogger, Arpita Pramanick.

Arpita is a talented author and recently published a collection of her insightful and sensitive short stories, “Bound by Life,” available through Amazon Kindle.I asked Arpita if she would write something for followers of my blog because I see such kindness and thoughtfulness in her writing, qualities I always wish to emulate. What follows Guest Postis a true story about a little girl in her neighborhood in India.

Caged

When I was in high school, Nisha and her family came to live in the flat apartment opposite to ours. Both the families lived on the first floor and our balcony faced theirs. Nisha was probably three or four at the time. She was thin, fair, as cute as a four year old can be and a chatterbox. She wouldn’t stop talking at all. She wasn’t going to school yet. All through the day she squatted in her balcony, watching over everyone who passed our street.

She called out to the ladies and gentlemen in the neighbourhood, the hawkers who came to sell utensils or vegetables and asked everyone how they were doing. Not a single person could pass the street without being accosted by her. Whenever my mother went to the balcony to hang wet clothes on the rope or to water our potted plants, Nisha would cry, “Aunty! What are you doing?” At times, my mother wouldn’t go to the balcony for fear of being held up by the tiny-tot and getting delayed in finishing up her chores.

Soon, Nisha became the most talked about personality in the neighbourhood. If for a day the family went anywhere, we would miss Nisha terribly. It would be like the street had become empty.

One day, I watched Nisha’s mother scream at Nisha from our window. A few minutes later I saw Nisha coming out of the apartment. Her mother shut the door on her face. The little girl kept knocking, begging her mother to let her in. When her mother did not listen, she went and sat on the stairs. She sat quietly the entire time, like she saw no point in crying out anymore.

I watched her sadly, but did not dare to call out. What kind of parent shuts the door on a four year-old’s face? Her mother wasn’t exactly a friendly neighbour, so nobody dared or cared to ask her for the reason.

After a few months, I started college in a different city. I moved there.

When I came home during vacations, I heard Nisha had started school.

“Her mother doesn’t let her talk to anyone anymore,” my mother said as she served me hot fritters – my favourite snacks with dinner.

“What do you mean her mother doesn’t let her talk to anyone?” I said, looking up.

“Well, who knows! Earlier, her mother used to talk to me, but now she’s changed.”

“Queer!”

“Yeah. They don’t communicate with anyone from the neighbourhood.”

Over the period of four years of college, I saw less and less of Nisha. She did not come out to the balcony anymore. Once or twice I found her out on the street with a few kids of her age, but those were perhaps the only time she came out. I wondered if she had grown shy or it was really her mother who stopped her from mixing.

When there is a sapling growing in your yard and you obstruct its growth, either it becomes stunted or breaks through the barrier. It was yet to be seen what became of Nisha.

When I returned home after completing college on a few weeks’ break, there was an addition to Nisha’s family – a pair of parrots. They stayed in a cage in the balcony, where I was used to seeing Nisha formerly.

If I woke up early enough, I saw Nisha waiting with her mother near their gate for her school car. She wore a blue and white uniform, one I had left years back. She must already be in the third grade. Since they didn’t talk with us, we had no way of knowing.

One evening, I was about to go to the market with my mother. When we went downstairs, we found Nisha waiting at their gate. She was dressed, perhaps to go someplace. Her parents were still upstairs.

Nisha waved at me. I waved back. She had this angelic smile on her face. After all these years of non-contact, I was delighted at her easy approach. My mother went ahead to speak with her. I wasn’t sure her parents would like it, so I stood where I was checking whether they came out or not.

My mother and Nisha conversed in whispers. I stood still like I was an accomplice in some crime and hoped my mother would come away soon. Why did she need to speak to the girl, anyway? Nisha’s mother won’t probably say anything to my mom, but she might make Nisha stand outside the door once more.

Just then I saw Nisha’s father come out and fiddle at the door. Maybe he was waiting to lock the door after his wife came out. My mother had never said anything about Nisha’s father opposing her free mixing with neighbours. In fact, once when I was home during my college days, we met the father and the daughter on the road and he was very cordial. But you couldn’t trust people to stay the same always. Plus, Nisha’s mother was going out too, and as far as I knew, the mother was the boss of the house.

“Mom,” I hissed, “let’s go.”

My mother returned in moments. I was glad Nisha’s father hadn’t looked down.

As we walked on my mother said, “I asked her if her mother forbade her to talk to us.”

“Yeah? What did she say?”

“She said yes and then said, ‘You go now, my mother is coming’ when she heard the door being locked. Poor girl!”

“Poor indeed! She wants to talk – she waved at me first.”

“Yeah, that she does whenever she thinks she’s alone.”

When I was younger I wanted to have parrots as pets. In the drawing classes, I drew parrots at every chance I got. I don’t know when the fascination for pets vanished. It must have been those stories I read about animal rights. I accepted it was unfair to cage animals and birds, but I never quite realized it until I saw the parrots in Nisha’s balcony.

One afternoon, suffering from post-college blues, I sat pensively in my balcony. The parrots in Nisha’s balcony caught my attention. Nisha’s father was painting the cage as the birds thrashed up and down. What did it matter to the birds whether the cage was violet or black?

Caged brain inside a male head

Long after Nisha’s father had retreated, the birds kept moving to and fro in the cage. Suddenly, I imagined myself inside the cage – and felt myself walking in that confined space. Claustrophobia embraced me with its gnarled tentacles. I had difficulty breathing. What a terrible place must the cage be for the birds! What a terrible place must Nisha’s home be for her – with only two rooms to move about and two people to converse with!

As I mused, I watched a cat crawl up a Neem tree in a neighbour’s yard. The cat stayed at the crotch of the tree for a while and then came down. Its simple act left a mark on my mind. I wondered why it climbed up the tree. Was it enjoying the view from the top? What made it come down moments later? What really goes on in the brains of cats?

For that matter, what really goes on in the brains of men and women? What makes Nisha’s mother restrict her child from communicating with us? What makes people cage birds? What makes them cage themselves within the four walls of their homes?

Arpita Pramanick

Image Credit: © Adrian Niederhäuser – Fotolia.com