Practicing Conflict

An essay from my church talks about the writer avoiding conflict, fearing conflict and disliking conflict. This interests me, because I do not avoid conflict, I don’t fear conflict and actually, I like it. Our emeritus minister once did a sermon in which he said that when you are thinking about two conflicting things at once, that is grace. I have thought about his words many times, especially when I am not in agreement about something.

Does this interest in conflict mean I fight all the time? Well, sort of, but not in the way you think. I don’t fight with other people much. I fight myself.

What? No, really. Most topics have multiple sides. Not one, not two, but many. Like a dodecahedron or a cut gem. Hold it up to the light, twelve sides, each different. I argue the different sides with myself.

I learned this from my parents. My parents would disagree about something, they would discuss or argue about it, and then they would bet. Sometimes they bet a penny, sometimes a quarter, sometimes one million dollars. Then one of them would get up and get the Oxford English Dictionary, or the World Atlas, or some other reference and look it up. This was pre-internet, ok? 1970s and 1980s.

Sometimes my parents would even pay each other. The penny or quarter. My father spoke terrible French and my mother had lived in Paris for a year after high school, so he could get her going by insisting that his French was correct. It wasn’t. Ever.

There were other arguments in the middle of the night that were not friendly and involved yelling, but the daytime disagreements were funny and they would both laugh.

Once my sister is visiting after my mother has died. My father is present. My father, sister and I get in a three way disagreement about physics. I’m a physician, my sister was a Landscape Architect and my father was a mathematician/engineer, so we are all three talking through our hats. However, we happily argue our positions. Afterwards, my gentleman friend says, “That was weird.” “What?” I ask. “That was competitive and you were all arguing.” “It was a discussion and we disagreed.” “I won’t compete.” “We let my dad win, because it makes him happy.” “That was weird.” “Ok, whatever.”

My gentleman friend is also shocked when my teen son challenges me at dinner. My son says, “I am researching marijuana and driving for school and there isn’t much evidence that it impairs driving.”  I reply, “Well, there is not as easy a test as an alcohol test and it was illegal, so it has not been studied.” We were off and having a discussion.

Afterwards my gentleman friend says, “I am amazed by your son bringing that up. We weren’t allowed to discuss anything like that at dinner.” I say, “We pretty much discuss anything at dinner and both my kids are allowed to try to change my mind. About going to a party or whatever.” He shakes his head. “That is really different.” “Ok,” I say.

This habit of challenging authority, including adults, did not go over well when my son was an exchange student to Thailand. It did not occur to me to talk to him about it. He figured it out pretty quickly.

Back to my internal arguments. If I take a position, I almost immediately challenge it. I think of it as the old cartoons, with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The devil will make fun of things and suggest revenges and generally behave really badly. The angel will rouse and say, “Hey, you aren’t being nice.” Then they fight. The internal battle very quickly becomes comic with the two of them trading insults and bringing up past fights and fighting unfairly. When it makes me laugh inside, I can also be over the driver who cut me off, or someone who spoke nastily, or whatever. My devil is very very creative about suggested revenges. When the angel says, “You are meaner than the person who cut you off!” I am over it.

When I was little and disagreeing with my family, my sister could tell. “You have your stone face on!” That meant I was attempting to hide a feeling, especially fear or anger or grief. Siblings and family are the most difficult because they can read us and see through us like glass. My physician training also teaches control of feelings. I have sometimes wanted to grab a patient and scream “Why are you doing this to yourself?” but that really is not part of the doctor persona. I am doing it inside, but I can put it aside until later. Then the devil goes to town! And the angel tries to calm the devil down.

Maybe we all need more of this skill. Pick a mildly controversial topic. Argue one side of it. Then switch positions and argue the other side. Go back and forth until it gets ridiculous. Let each side get unreasonable and inflammatory and annoying. This can play in your head and not on your face. Once you can do a mild topic, move on to something a bit more difficult. If you only know the arguments on your side, read. You can find the other side, the internet is huge. Start gently.

A friend says, “You always argue about things.” I say, “I prefer to think of it as a discussion.” “You always take the other side.” “Well, it interests me. And if there is no one to discuss something with, I discuss it with myself!” “Weirdo,” says the friend. I think he’s jealous, really I do. Don’t you?

shut

I was keeping the door cracked, hoping a friend would come back
but it’s too painful to hope all the time, a constant heart attack
I slammed doors and windows this morning, took my heart out of hock
If you want to see me again, you can damn well knock!

_______________________

Four flocks of geese flew over on the beach a couple days ago, heading south. It always makes me want to travel too! And one of my trees is shedding leaves already, yellow and all over. Fall is on its way.

flight

Cormorant, I think.

About to take flight.

A good take off point.

It takes five years for bald eagles to fully mature. This one is close.

And a great blue heron in flight in the fog.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: flight.

Unexpected hero

When I first think about divorce, I call my sister.

I say, “I am thinking about a divorce.”

She replies, “YOU don’t want to be a single mom.”

I think, well, crap, that is true. Me: “I AM a single mom. It’s just that one of them is FIFTY.”

My sister proceeds to tell me how difficult it is to be a single mother.

I have to self examine my OWN prejudices against single mothers.

Then I wade in, to solo and couples counseling, for a year. My ex fires our couples counselor after a YEAR. He says the counselor is on my side. “We have been talking to him for a year!” I protest.

“I want a new one,” says my then husband.

I find a new one. I am filling out the paperwork. It asks, what is your goal?

That is the moment I decide: I write “Amicable divorce.”

The two years before that moment, I am not sure. I am trying very very hard to see if it can be fixed. But it takes two to tango and my then husband will not tango. Not one step.

We were each attracted to something specific in the other person. My then husband did not want to work at any sort of traditional job. His father would come home angry from work for years. I loved working, always.

I was a terribly serious child, growing up in an alcoholic family, and I have food insecurity. That is, at some deep level, I always worry about whether there will be food. When I meet my then husband he says that his goal is “To have fun every day.”

This slays me. Have fun? And he WAS fun. Biking, jitterbug dancing, he was a tennis and golf pro, he was smart, well read, divorced from a marriage of convenience to a lesbian to cover so she could be a small town librarian. Really? Yes, really. I demanded to see the divorce papers before we got married. My then husband thought I was very very funny and I thought he was too.

When we divorce, people tell me he will never pay child support. He won’t stay in contact with the kids. There are a lot of opinions.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. My ex returns to school, gets a “displaced homemaker scholarship” because he was a househusband (yeah, I said he was smart). He goes to nursing school and gets an RN. “You’ve yammered about medicine at me for fourteen years, I might as well.”

He gave me hell about us living in an “old person’s” town. Then in nursing school he calls. “Hey, I’m doing a rotation. Guess what it is.”

“Don’t know, what?”

“Nursing home.”

I laugh.

“I LOVE these OLD PEOPLE.” he says. And he DOES. He is wonderful with them. He works in a nursing home for years. He gives scholarships to the medical assistants when they leave for nursing school. He brings coffee to his medical assistants and the other staff. He drives by on his day off because one elderly woman will only take her medicine if he gives it to her. He gets pianos for the nursing homes. He does memory loss concerts, where he tries to engage memory loss folks. We store music as entire songs, or entire albums, so if someone starts a song, they can often go through the whole thing. He can sometimes get someone singing who no longer can string a sentence together. Families love it.

Early in covid he calls me. “I have covid.”

“Sh-t.” I say. “Are you ok?”

“Oh, yeah. Everyone at the facility has it. Two staff didn’t so we sent them home. We are working sick because there isn’t anyone else.”

“Holy crap.”

“Yeah, it’s a little depressing. My memory loss folks can look ok at the start of the shift and are dead by the end.”

A quarter of the patients die. This is before the vaccine. My ex sails through covid, says he doesn’t feel bad, for him it’s just a cold. He says, “I miss some of them.” Yeah, holy crap.

So another hero. And he paid the child support every single month and stayed in touch with his kids in his own odd way. “Mom, he tells me about his golf shots,” says my daughter. I laugh, “Yeah. Well, he loves you.” “I don’t care about golf.” she says. “I know, me either,” I say.

The photograph was taken with my camera by my friend Amelia in 2014, I think. It is me and my ex, seven years after the divorce was final.

I read this to my ex prior to posting. Posted with his approval.

Defiance

Ok, this is a beautiful and romantic song, and yeah, George Strait is pretty.

And then there’s the Offspring. Singing Self Esteem. Guess which I like better.

The Offspring: defiance and singing about all sorts of things that we don’t talk about: “The more we suffer the more we really care!” Some of my patients needed to listen to this song. Often the mom, with a spouse and three children, who was taking care of all of them but not herself. “Who takes care of YOU?” I would ask. “No one,” some moms would say. “Look. There are FIVE people in your family. You are one of them. You deserve the same level of care that the rest of them are getting. I want you to include yourself in the people you take care of.” “BUT” “NO BUTS. If you don’t, then you are setting expectations for your children: the boys that a wife will take care of them and the girls to be walked on. Is that what you want?” “NO.” “Change it.” They often would, slowly but surely.

And The Offspring are further my heroes because of this song: Opioid Diaries. Ok, a punk band telling opioid overuse people to get help. MY HEROES! Thank you Offspring!!! It’s not easy to watch but wait until the ending and what if offers. I treated opioid overuse for the last 12 years in my small family practice clinic along with everything else: diabetes, hypertension, whatever. I never felt threatened or frightened, but some of that is because I grew up in an alcohol family. I recognize addiction. Reminding my of my parents is not a good sign. And I had to learn boundaries at home first. This is an uncomfortable video to watch but to me it is beautiful, because it offers hope.

skulls

I took this on my trip in March 2022. So far no one has guessed where I was correctly. There is a wonderful Zoology and Science Museum. A mystery for you to consider, where was I?

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: ancient.

of the air and water

Great blue herons never look like they are of the earth to me. They look like they are of the air and of the water. Unearthly. I keep wondering if they are angels.

Eagles do not look earthly either. They do land on the beach occasionally but I see them in the air or in the trees most of the time.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: unearthly.

angels

The Ragtag Daily Prompt is halo, and I wrote this yesterday, after a discussion with a new friend about angels and my angel dream.

______________________________

angels

light angels fall into dark

dark angels fall into light

there is no separation

we are longing for the Beloved

we are longing to be reunited with the Beloved

we have never been separate

we are one

light falling in to dark

dark falling in to light

seeing both is grace

no separation

sun halo

I search my phone photographs for moon and come up with this photograph: an eerie sun and cloud photograph with a halo. Sometimes the clouds and fog combine with the sun to form frightening light, even though it is beautiful too.

The computer also picked this picture in the moon search. I’m not sure what that is about. Elwha had hopped into the bathtub not realizing that I had just gotten out. He was soaked and howled, because he couldn’t get out. He was a very grumpy kitten, grooming for an hour.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: halo.

peace me

peace me, loves
peace me, strangers
peace me, Beloved
free us from dangers

peace as a river
peace as a wave
peace as a verb
peace saves

peace my heart
peace all of ours
peace all the friends
peace the wars

peace a gift
peace a joy
peace fearless always
no war toys

peace apparent
peace dove
peace triumphant
peace love

peace me, loves
peace me, strangers
peace me, Beloved
free us from danger

I kept the paper cup in the picture, because the cup is animals and plants, but the cup also is a pair of lungs. Breathe peace. And breathe for all the people recovering from covid-19, short haul and long haul. And breathe love and shelter and support to all those grieving for our dead and let us grieve too.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: apparent. And for peace.