Authentic Existence - Strength at the Broken Places

Uncategorized

August 27, 2013

Hope Realized

     In honor of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, NBC news has been soliciting input from their viewers.  Their idea?  To have people create a brief videotaped message completing the following statement:

“I have a dream that__________________________”

     It struck my interest as I heard it in passing and it has stayed with me the last few days, so I thought I might take a stab at it on the ‘ol blog but before I do, one bit of context.

     A few weeks ago my little brother who is an elementary school vice-principal, sent me a document via email.  It was a copy of a district/state policy advising faculty and staff how to deal with transgendered students.  This policy was pretty direct and to the point.  My simple summary of it would be: transgendered students have a right to attend school without being harassed or made to feel excluded and faculty and staff have an obligation to eliminate or minimize any harmful effects of being a sexual minority on campus.  As I read it, I became emotional and wrote him back thanking him for passing it along…(I just went back and read the email and here’s a portion of what I said): “…the thought that little ones are being raised in an environment where policies like this are in place gives me hope.  Of course we can’t legislate tolerance and understanding anymore than the Right can legislate their notions of morality, but the enforced progressive policies of today, lay the groundwork for the ‘norm’ of tomorrow.”

Okay, so, back to my “dream:”

…I have a dream that before I die, our country will have progressed to the point where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals will live in freedom, possessing the same, exact rights as all other citizens and existing absent of any externally imposed discrimination or fear.

…I have a dream that in my lifetime, LGBT individuals:

  • will be able to legally marry in all 50 states if they so choose
  • who are in loving, committed legal relationships will never be denied partner rights that heterosexual couples take for granted
  • will be able to attend proms and school functions with the people they choose
  • will appear more often in popular media, in local and national leadership positions and will be seen, if deserving based on their merits, as role models for our young people
  • will be able to attend school where painful and degrading words, slurs and jokes will not be tolerated, rather they will be viewed as an unwelcome rarity
  • will be increasingly welcomed back to churches that once condemned them
  • will openly play professional sports alongside their “straight” teammates and will be cheered with equal vigor
  • will be taught at home and at school that they are not an abnormality but rather, a beautiful statistical minority, who add to the complex tapestry of humanity
  • will never, never , never again live in fear simply because of who they are and who they love.

While I am hopeful, I am far from certain that these things will occur in my lifetime.  But the times…they are a changin’.

     I grow weary and a bit perturbed with all the “talking heads” on television who presume to speak for Dr. King…who presume to know what he would say currently or how he would have continued to conduct his affairs.  So in a conscious attempt to NOT do that, let me simply say that while I have no idea what ground he would be staking or what issues he would be willing to be beaten and jailed for today, I hope that LGBT civil rights would be one of them.

But here’s what others ARE saying:

     Representative John Lewis, the last surviving podium speaker from the original March on Washington and long-time civil rights activist has said: “I fought too long and too hard to end discrimination based on race and color, to not stand up against discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’…Human rights, civil rights, these are issues of dignity.  Every human being walking this Earth, whether gay, lesbian, straight, or transgendered, is entitled to the same rights.  It is in keeping with America’s promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

     Julian Bond, the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center and former president of the NAACP stated: “LGBT rights are civil rights.  No parallel between movements is exact. But like race, our sexuality and gender identity aren’t preferences. They are immutable, unchangeable – and the constitution protects us all against discrimination based on immutable differences.”

     And Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an icon of our own time who is no stranger to oppression, suffering and the fight for justice, declared: “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this…I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.”

So world, I guess that’s “my dream”…my hope for the future.  But meanwhile here in the present, right now, I am alive to witness amazing changes: old voices and new, black and white, straight and gay, all speaking up for equal rights and respect for all people.

Hope realized…

I’ll close with the words of Bayard Rustin, a black, gay man who was one of the primary organizers of Dr. King’s March on Washington, 50 years ago this Wednesday:

“When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.”

Uncategorized

August 24, 2013

Souls Generated by Love

     Each year I have the distinct privilege to be one of many people that volunteer to train the residence life staff here at the University of Wisconsin – Superior.  These are amazing folks…student-workers who truly constitute the front line.  They live in the residence halls, side by side with our students and work every day to form relationships, earn trust, seek understanding, mediate disputes, listen to complaints, design fun activities, sponsor educational events and yes, report violations of the rules when this is warranted.

     My contribution typically is to speak to them about diversity and inclusivity.  To discuss issues of social justice like privilege and oppression and give them pertinent information and strategies that hopefully will aide them as they seek to create an environment that is safe, open and welcoming for all people.  I often share my personal story of the long and painful road I traveled coming to grips with my authentic identity – racially, spiritually, sexually, etc., my small attempt to lead with and model, vulnerability.

     So yesterday I found myself out in the scenic woods of northern Wisconsin at the Pigeon Lake Retreat Center explaining and sharing and listening and laughing with over 50 of our “best and brightest.”  During break-out sessions when they were working in small groups discussing training scenarios, I roamed around the room listening to these young leaders thinking deeply, feeling empathetically and seeking solutions for fictitious situations that could easily become realities sometime during the coming year.  There were some pretty special moments and I can assure you – you would have been inspired.  

     Meanwhile on the news tonight, I saw devastating and disturbing pictures from Syria — rows and rows of dead children, the innocent victims of chemical weaponry launched at their homes by forces engaged in a civil (or not so civil) conflict they couldn’t begin to understand.  What must their last moments of life been like? And a family in Australia mourned the loss of their college-aged son, living here in the US and attending school in Oklahoma where he played baseball.  While out for a run he was shot dead, in the back, by three African American teenagers who apparently didn’t know him and had no motive for this violent act.

     And all of this – local, national, international is taking place in the context of the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the civil rights March on Washington and Dr. King’s famous, I Have a Dream speech.  There has been and will continue to be much discourse by the talking heads as to how much progress has actually been made since those turbulent and glorious days.  I’m not sure any of us really knows.  However it seems clear that as long as the news is broadcasting posthumous photos of murdered Syrian children and mug shots of American teenagers accused of murder, that we still have a ways to go.

     So tonight I choose to turn my thoughts back to the “Res. Life” staff here at UWS.  They will likely not have to deal with civil war or drive-by shootings but they will doubtless encounter the embryonic seeds of such tragic behaviors: ignorance, fear and misunderstanding.  And in those critical moments, if they can fall back on their training and better yet, the best and most sensitive aspects of their own natures, perhaps an entrenched position might be softened or a bigoted viewpoint respectfully challenged; a discussion rather than a slur, insights rather than insults.  Am I naïve to think that integrity displayed on this local level might actually avert a tragedy broadcast on some future edition of the national evening news?

     So here’s my “shout out” to those beautiful and committed folks: to the directors, the central staff and the RA’s of Ross, Hawkes, Crownhart, Ostrander and Curran-McNeil Halls.  Thank you for your commitment and all the hard work to come.  You are truly great.

 

     Dr. King said:  “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Best Wishes,

Terencio  :O)

Uncategorized

August 14, 2013

Existential Graffiti

     When I am on a roll…when I am doing well in life, I can be found in the gym at 6am most mornings.  That’s the only time of day that it’s realistic I will get my workout in.  I like to use the exercise bike so I can read while I sweat.  I have tried this on the treadmill and it doesn’t work.  For some reason the only thing I can do on the treadmill is walk and concentrate on not falling off.  So I have settled for the bike and a good book.

     Lately, I have been re-reading J.D. Salinger’s, “Catcher in the Rye.”  Geez, there’s a reason it is a modern classic.  I know many people don’t care for it and still more just don’t get it.  I’m not arrogant enough to think I have totally grasped all of what Salinger was trying to convey.  But here’s why I find it valuable.  The principle character, Holden Caulfield is often dismissed as a disrespectful, “rebel without a cause.”  I think this is a tragic misrepresentation and underestimation of this complex character.  Holden, in my opinion, is the mouthpiece for all the things I think, day-to-day, but dare not speak.  He is graphic and irreverent and down right coarse at times yet when I read him I experience some kind of private, guilty catharsis…as if I am boldly speaking vicariously through him.  But here’s the thing, as he muddles through a confusing couple of days wandering around New York, skipping school and expressing his anger at myriad people and institutions, Salinger allows his vulnerability to seep out ever-so-slightly and beneath the youthful impertinence is a scared little boy wanting to believe that someone really cares…that someone out there really is authentic.  Listen to this excerpt I recently copied into my journal:

     “I went down by a different staircase and I saw another ‘Fuck you’ on the wall.  I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something.  It wouldn’t come off.  It’s hopeless anyway.  If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world…That’s the whole trouble.  You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any.  You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write, ‘Fuck you’ right under your nose.”

     Why in the world am I drawn to this passage?  While not entirely sure, two things come to mind.  First, I think I feel his disappointment with life’s tarnish.  It seems like there is no place that is pure…no where one can go and not see the damage that humanity wreaks on itself.  I have spent my life listening to people’s stories…mostly their pain and disillusionment and I have often said that I wished that I could go home, take a “shower” and wash it all away.  Not the after affects of the people themselves but the struggle and despair that they convey.  It makes me sad and reminds me that there is so much that I cannot fix.  I can rub and rub for the rest of my life but there will always be another ‘Fuck you’ sprayed on somewhere.  And yet, unexpectedly I had another thought: every single ‘Fuck you’ is actually someone, somewhere trying to say something.  No, I am not trying to romanticize graffiti though I do believe it can be, at times, a legitimate art form…a legitimate form of self-expression.  What I am trying to say is that we are surrounded by masses of people who are secretly depressed and anxious but are actively working to bury this so deeply that no one knows they are falling short of the “American Dream.”  We smile when we want to cry; we scream when we want to be heard; we push away when we really want to be held tightly.  We are so afraid of anyone seeing our vulnerability that we go to great lengths to hide any trace of these deep longings in our lives…to the point that after a while, we begin to fool ourselves into believing the lies as well.  We can gripe and complain about the ‘Fuck you’ messages we seem to encounter at every turn but maybe the reason we are so disturbed by them is that in all truth, we want to write them ourselves!  On my worst day, if I could ever release the iron grip of control that I impose on myself, I wonder if it wouldn’t feel really good to rent a large billboard and with a gigantic can of spray paint, write my own ‘Fuck you!”  Of course whatever release it would give me would be short-lived because my desperate declaration would be decried out-of-hand by my fellow citizens with no one understanding that below the frustration and anger they assume motivated my vandalous act there exists an honest plea for someone to listen to my pain. 

     Maybe the answer is not to keep rubbing out the ‘Fuck you’ messages of the world.  As Holden indicated, that would be impossible.  Maybe if we were all willing to risk speaking the truth and we were equally committed to listening to one another, the existential graffiti of our lives – the mad etchings of an unheard populace — would disappear on their own…

Uncategorized

August 13, 2013

Sigh…

Damn it!

Where did the spring go?!  What happened to my lofty goal of two posts per week?  How is it that nearly six months have passed since I took the time to write here?

There probably are answers to these questions but it wouldn’t really matter.  Life gets busy, priorities get misplaced and we convince ourselves that there isn’t enough time for some things and so back on the shelf they go.  Truth is, we make time for what is most important.

So, here I go again.  No promises, just check in every once in a while and see if I have said anything worth reading.

:O)

 

Uncategorized

February 2, 2013

Winter and Spring

 

It is cold here.  No, I am mean REALLY cold!  We have had many days lately when the high temperature did not eclipse zero degrees.  Bone-chilling cold.

 

As I write this morning, there is a part of me that feels warm and safe inside my little home.  It is beautiful outside in a frozen sort of way.  The sun has risen and glares off the snow and ice and gazing at it from the warmth of my “nest,” it is not threatening in the least.  It occurred to me that I am “quiet” right now.  There is nothing really big happening.  I have resumed my routine at university.  I know my job…my comings and goings are familiar territory.  I like that.  The weekends are uneventful too.  And not a lot to do outdoors for me.  No baseball, no bike riding, no long walks or tranquil pipe smokes.  Far too harsh for any of that.  So I wonder to myself if this is not what winter is supposed to be for us higher level mammals as well?  Should we not also slow ourselves and take account and appreciate the shelter we have and the chance for a lazy stride?  Hibernation.

 

And yet…

 

I also feel a faint restlessness.  As if there is something coming right around the bend but rather than an active awareness of it that would necessitate caution or action, it feels more like the slightest memory of a dream that has been mostly forgotten.  More an impression really.  I feel as if I should be staging for something.  Ramping up.  Prepping.  There is a part of me that wants to thaw and run.  Warm up and get going!  Attack the day.  Move back into the outdoors of late spring and summer that I love here in the upper Midwest.  Movement.

 

I suspect this is a larger tension of life.

 

The little boy in me wants to lock himself inside, surrounded with his familiar possessions and smells and sensations…a little fortress where the harshness of life cannot intrude.  I can dance, or sing embarrassingly loud or nap unprotected or walk around partially clothed.  Anything I want to do because I can.  Yet the man in me sees opportunity all the time.  Fascinating professional challenges just waiting for my unique talents, lived experiences and skill set.

 

Perhaps what I am really feeling is not as simple as a cute, dichotomous metaphor of the changing seasons in the Northland.

 

Maybe what I am really trying to ask is whether I have entered a time in life where it is acceptable to slow my pace (as with winter) and enjoy the journey I have traveled.  To slow down a bit and relax.  To REALLY be okay with just having a familiar routine.  Have I not earned it after 45 years of striving and schooling and “earning my stripes?”  But then there is this other part of me that wants so much more…so much more.  I want to run faster than my literal, middle-aged physical body will move.  I want to grab every moment lest another one doesn’t offer itself.  The world is blooming and reawakening (as with spring) and don’t I need to be right in the middle of it?  Isn’t there a book I should be writing?  An article to publish?  A crusade to pursue?  An injustice to right?  There is so much out there and so little time.

 

And if I did those things would it then offer the sense of satisfaction I believe I am longing for?  Would it finally give me the recognition I think I deserve?  Would it finally satisfy the critics voices…whispers that in truth, only exist in my own head?

 

I doubt it.

 

There needs to be an additional season.  One that exists out on the frontier between winter’s cessation and spring’s movement.  One called “peace” where one can just be…and that’s okay.

 

It’s really cold outside…

 

 

Uncategorized

January 13, 2013

Haunted

For those of you who have not seen it or have heard negative things about it, could I take a moment to comment on the recently released movie, “Cloud Atlas?”  I have seen it twice now and will probably see it again before it leaves the theaters.  It’s not that I don’t have anything better to do.  Quite frankly, I am haunted by it.  I really mean that.  It is a very complex movie consisting of six different story lines, spanning hundreds of years and the movie is constantly moving back and forth from one story to the next.  At first it is confusing and even frustrating as one attempts to mentally force the movie to rewind…to stop everything and say, “Okay, so this is how that connects to them…”  In the end indeed all six stories are connected in a timeless tapestry that somehow gives this jarring ride a deep sense of meaning and purpose.  The reason to return to it again and again is that each time I view it I figure out more of the connections.  They’re all there but at times things are moving so fast you don’t readily recognize them.

 

Another truly remarkable aspect of the movie is that the same ensemble of actors portrays all the different characters in each of the time lines.  Through the use of amazing make-up and prosthetics these artists of the silver screen bring to life multiple lives and as someone who would love to be artistic and creative but simply cannot conjure it, I have so much respect for their versatility.  Really grand work.

 

So why am I writing about all of this?  The point is not an amateur movie review or to try to convince the few of you who follow this blog to go see it.  I’m guessing many people will not find it an enjoyable journey.  I am writing because I think for me, the allure of this complicated movie is that it speaks to the complex longings and questions and desires of my own heart.

 

I’m a tough nut to crack sometimes (as we all can be).  You see I absolutely reject determinism – the idea that somehow our lives are all laid out ahead of time (either by a divine being or simply by the universe).  Instead I am a big free will guy who chooses to embrace that we daily (if not hourly) directly interact with fate/god/the universe to determine our own destiny.  That in the end our paths are a long chain of personal choices that we have made for our lives.  As an existential psychotherapist back in my clinical days, I had a theoretical bias that for a person to be healthy and whole they had to do at least two things: embrace the responsibility she or he has to live their own personal lives and then to go live them, taking responsibility for each individual choice made each day.

It’s kind of like paving the road in front of you, one brick at a time but laying them down as you walk.  So rather than standing on the edge of my future, looking out on the horizon identifying which way my path leads it is more like I stand on the edge of my future and in front of me is just raw landscape.  I can envision what it might look like when I begin to put in place each successive brick but in fact the road will not exist until I get moving.  After a while I can reflect back behind me and see where I’ve been.  And I can look down and see where I am at now but when I look forward the path is as yet undetermined.  Now despite my existential dreaminess, the “undiscovered country” can be quite intimidating and downright scary at times.  Especially when you truly own the fact that it is my responsibility to lay the bricks.  I am often frightened by the prospect that somehow I won’t do it right.  Or that I will choose a particularly difficult route.  Or that in retrospect and with regret, I will discover that had I gone through that valley instead of those mountains that the experience might have been far more positive.  Well you get the point.

 

Now back to the story.  The characters in each of the six story lines did not know that in the whole scheme of things they were all interconnected.  Each was preoccupied by her or his own concerns in the moment on their own respective sojourn.  But pull back and consider the entire patchwork of lives and experiences and one begins to see a pattern…a series of connection points that not only stitches the various stories together but somehow gives each one added meaning.  And that’s why I write this morning.

 

As strongly as I reject determinism and believe that my life is guided by my own free will, I want there to be some deeper meaning in it all.  I want to be able to look back and see how the course my path took was altered in beautiful ways by the intersecting paths of fellow pilgrims on the journey.  No, not the revelation of some grand predetermined universal plan or the unrolling of the blue prints of some master architect.  But rather complex beautiful individuals all facing the same daunting task of paving their own roads but what would be revealed in the end…what couldn’t always be readily recognized in the moment…is that my choice to lay this brick in that particular place allowed me to “bump” into you as you were laying your brick.  And while at times I would dismiss this chance encounter as an unwelcome intrusion and walk off on a newly altered course, there might be other times when the curiosity of this chance encounter might invite both of us to pave parallel paths for a while and “join” together for part of the journey.  What a beautiful thought.  But it is more complex than even that.  What if those bumps along the way…even the ones we readily dismissed as inconsequential or worse yet, irritating…what if later as we are reflecting back we realized that there was far more meaning in the moment, far more consequence than our temporal distractions allowed us to recognize?  And that as we have walked all this way and paved all these miles it turns out that it really wasn’t just an individual quest but that the actual, very real direction of my path was altered innumerable times by the encounters I had with others, even when I couldn’t or wouldn’t see it in the moment.  And even better, that as I travel through life and grasp this mysterious truth that I might so condition myself as to begin to watch for these moments…these people and that I might CHOOSE to invite one to walk alongside me for a spell.  Or I might CHOOSE to ask myself, contemporaneous to the encounter, “I wonder what meaning I might draw from that?”  Or that I might CHOOSE to intersect another’s path humbly believing that I might influence her or his journey in a positive way.

 

I really do find comfort in my belief that no one person or thing dictates how I must live my life.  But as I have grown older and hopefully wiser, I am finding that the rugged individualism has given way to a lonely heart’s longing to have people to bump into…and to want beautiful and challenging people to bump into me.  And while it is true that this means I don’t have the singular control I thought I wanted and while it is also true that some of these chance meetings might not be pleasant nor their meaning readily obvious, what it does mean is that I am not alone…

 

An excerpt from the Amazon.com book description:

“The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.”  Cool.  :O)

 

Terry

 

Uncategorized

January 7, 2013

Safety and Ships and Such…

I like a good quote as much as the next person but I must admit that I had never heard this one before: “A ship in harbor is safe but that is not what ships are built for.”  I heard that from Dustin, my therapist the other day and it has stayed with me – haunted me – ever since.  “Safety” is an interesting concept and I think it deserves a little unpacking here.  But I will confess up front, I realize that I view safety through two very different and oft times conflicting lenses : those of Dr. Terencio Daunte McGlasson, PhD, retired psychotherapist and current professor of counseling…and just plain ol’ Terry McGlasson, vulnerable and fragile human being.  So, if you want to read on, I’ll let both of them speak their respective minds to you and you can sort it out…

 

Dr. Terencio Daunte McGlasson, PhD: Safety from a counseling perspective is critical.  Not safety physically (though of course this is important) but rather psychological and emotional safety.  We live in an emotionally unsafe world.  We bind up our hearts and souls because we’re terrified that if we put the real us out there we’ll get sliced and diced.  I’m not suggesting that every moment of every day we consciously withhold or repress.  No, it is far more insidious than that.  It starts when we are very young.  We are born into this world rather uninhibited.  We cry when we hurt, we laugh when we find something funny.  We speak without edit or censure.  Why?  Because as little ones it doesn’t occur to us not to.  We are simply acting out of our nature and its instincts.  And while this can create untold embarrassing moments for our parents and teachers and ministers there is truly something to be admired here.  I think it is just one of the reasons why we all look so fondly upon children.  Perhaps there is a little envy there?  Oh to be young and uninhibited again.  But usually that’s as far as we take it because we also implicitly understand that to be young and uninhibited also means to be vulnerable and relatively defenseless.  As we grow and mature, we absorb the proverbial blows of life and we begin to discern a message that it is far less painful if we don’t put ourselves out there…if we don’t speak our opinions…if we don’t share our feelings.  Worse yet we are conditioned by the adults and older kids around us that it is not appropriate to cry when we’re hurting or laugh at the things that we find funny.  And we really should withold our raw thoughts because it’s not polite to speak our minds.  And you can see where all this leads.  The combination of the indoctrination by adults that had long ago shut down their own true selves with the body blows of our raw, honest heart offerings being shoved back down our throats, would tempt even the most steadfast, pure spirit to callous over and drink society’s Kool-Aid – in essence to give in and gag ourselves in deference to conformity and survival.

 

Now back to my original point.  Professor McGlasson teaches his counseling students that our first priority as therapists is to be SAFE PEOPLE and to create a SAFE SPACE for our clients to enter into.  This safe space (the therapy office) is what D.W. Winnicott referred to as the “holding environment” and interestingly the premise of his excellent work on this issue of psychological safety was built on the intimacy of the mother-infant relationship.  He believed that for a therapist to create a safe-enough environment for healing to occur, the therapist needed to re-create the safety and nearness of the mother-infant relationship.  In essence the therapist is to authentically communicate unconditional acceptance as a way of wooing the “little child” out of its hiding place residing deep within our adult shells.  As this dance begins, the truest aspects of who we are emerge and they then are secured in this holding environment where the therapist (in lieu of mom) cherishes them and keeps them safe.  Now for you non-counselor types this might seem weird or sound like a bunch of psychobabble but trust me when I tell you it is very real, it is accurate and I have had the distinct privilege of witnessing it hundreds of times in my career.  Truth is once a person feels safe the rest begins to happen quite rapidly.  Why?  Because most of us desperately want to be heard and seen for whom we really are.

 

A side note: two of my former students, April and Jake, stopped by to see me yesterday with their beautiful 3 week old daughter, Atlee.  What a profound joy to bear witness to this young couple with their tiny, baby daughter.  What satisfaction to hear them recall the story of Atlee’s birth and their accompanying feelings as she struggled towards life in the world outside April’s safe womb.  And as I watched them hold her and attend to her these ideas about safety came home to me.

 

Okay, so that’s the basic idea of psychological safety from Dr. McGlasson’s perspective to.  It is sacred, it is critical to the therapeutic relationship and basically without it nothing can be accomplished.  Now let’s hear from plain old Terry McGlasson, vulnerable and broken human being…

 

Plain Ol’ Terry McGlasson: I want to be safe all the time.  I don’t want to take risks.  I don’t want to get hurt.  I don’t want people to think I am weird or off-base or silly.  I just want to fit in.  I want to look like everyone else.  I want to be found acceptable.  I want that special person to see me as attractive and desirable, not complicated and needy.  I don’t want to be laughed at or misunderstood.  I want to be seen as brilliant and insightful.  And consequently on a personal level I am loathe to take risks.  But despite the fact that I say I want real friendships with people, time and time again I balk because I am not sure that I want them to see the real me.  And despite the fact that I say I long for the companionship and love of a life partner, time and time again I balk because I am afraid of being rejected.

 

Enter Dustin and his comment about the ships…Now stay with me because here’s the BIG clincher:

 

I am sitting in my therapist’s office on Friday morning where he has worked to create a safe holding environment (remember Winnicott’s theory?) so that I can be real and share the thoughts and feelings that reside deep within (of which he has done an amazing job) and then he pulls out the million dollar “ships quote,” basically saying to me, “You can keep playing it safe and maybe you will avoid feeling rejected and hurt, but that’s not what you are designed for.  That’s not what LIFE was designed for.”  WOW!  He created a safe space so that he could challenge me to stop playing it so safe!  Ha!  Counseling students: that’s the key to successful therapy!  Everyone else: that’s the key to successful life!  Yes, we desperately need safety and we can’t be our true selves without it.  But safety taken too far leaves us constrained, hiding in the shadows.  Permanently anchored in safe harbor, if you will.

 

Whew!  Okay, I’m going to stop writing for now.

I need to weigh anchor and get back out to sea.

To be continued…

Uncategorized

January 3, 2013

Disgusting.

NYMAG.COM (01/02/13) -

“After taking its sweet time but eventually addressing the fiscal cliff, the House of Representatives thinks it deserves a little break. Speaker John Boehner and his gang of merry Republicans will likely fail to pass a bill providing aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy before adjourning this week, leaving a $60.4 billion package passed by the Senate to die. If no vote occurs, legislation must be reintroduced and passed all over again in the new Congress.

“This is absolutely indefensible,” said Republican Peter King of New York on the House floor Tuesday night. “We have a moral obligation to hold this vote.”

Another New York politician Representative Nita Lowey echoed King’s disappointment in Boehner. “I truly feel betrayed this evening,” she said. “We can pass this bill tomorrow with bipartisan support.” The House has for weeks put up resistance to the Senate aid package, which is set to expire on Thursday at noon.

“It is truly heartless that the House will not even allow the Sandy bill to come to the floor for a vote, and Speaker Boehner should reconsider his ill-advised decision,” said Senator Charles Schumer. Nancy Pelosi added on Twitter, “We cannot leave here doing nothing. That would be a disgrace.”

A spokesman for Boehner told Buzzfeed, “The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month,” but the symbolism of waiting to address the disaster — especially in the wake of the fiscal cliff mess — is enough to rankle just about every politician from the affected areas. “I am stunned, stunned,” said Representative Rob Andrews of New Jersey. “I assume there is a tactical consideration here, that the Republican leadership didn’t want to be anywhere near a big spending bill after the fiasco of their handling the tax debate. I understand the tactics but there is a real human need here that is being ignored.”

Update: President Obama joins the chorus calling for action in a statement:

It has only been two months since Hurricane Sandy devastated communities across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut as well as other eastern states. Our citizens are still trying to put their lives back together. Our states are still trying to rebuild vital infrastructure. And so, last month, working closely with the Governors of the affected states, I sent Congress an urgent request to support their efforts to rebuild and recover. The Senate passed this request with bipartisan support. But the House of Representatives has refused to act, even as there are families and communities who still need our help to rebuild in the months and years ahead, and who also still need immediate support with the bulk of winter still in front of us.

When tragedy strikes, Americans come together to support those in need. I urge Republicans in the House of Representatives to do the same, bring this important request to a vote today, and pass it without delay for our fellow Americans.

 

Uncategorized

January 1, 2013

A New Year and a New Look

Happy New Year everyone!

Thought I would give the blog a clean, fresh look and use a font that was a little larger.  Hope you continue to read in 2013.  My best wishes to you all!

Terry

Uncategorized

Hanging Up the Vest…for Now.

 

I’m home and it feels really good.  I made a quirky decision on the plane to extend my personal Christmas as I feel like I missed out on many quiet, peaceful moments leading up to the holiday due to my time in bustling New York City.  So as I write today my Christmas tree is lit, I am listening to carols on my computer and I am sitting at my desk in front of the familiar living room window that I find myself so often gazing through (the lower large window to the far right in the picture above).  Snow covers the ground and it is 5 degrees outside.  As of yet I have not made a decision when “Christmas” will be over for me…just taking it day to day though I have the strangest sense that I am cheating on something or breaking some kind of sacred rule.  However I find solace in that for some branches of Christendom, Christmastide lasts until January 6th.  So there!

I spent a long, blurry day flying home in a state of quasi-sleep.  Much to my chagrin I have never been able to rest on planes.  But what a beautiful sight as we approached the Duluth airport (big metal shed), to fly in over Lake Superior.  Though I have only been out here less than three years, I have grown quite fond of my transplanted upper midwest home.

My apartment was just as I had left it two weeks ago with the exception of a mailbox stuffed full of bills, advertisers and Christmas cards and several of my plants in desperate need of water and none to “happy” with me.  I unpacked, took a long hot shower, watched some college football and had some dinner.  Then just to prove that I had not lost my obsessive-compulsive tendencies during my recent travels, I went back through all my New York blog entries, correcting misspellings and generally cleaning things up! (BTW, if you haven’t noticed I am a freak about “commas;”  I’m not sure why but I insert commas EVERYWHERE and then have to go back and delete 95 % of them which causes my brother Jamie no small amount of amusement)  Why did I feel the need to go back through all my posts?  Because it would have driven me “crazy” not to.  Yet another crack in the portrait.

But seriously, posting here during my two week deployment was so cathartic for me.  The only time I could realistically write was early in the mornings at Red Cross headquarters before I would head out into the field for the day (my hotel charged $14 per day for WiFi).  But usually this did not afford me much time and it was never quiet or slow there so I would sit in front of a lap top with people buzzing all around me and my ear phones firmly implanted, desperately attempting to drown out the background noise.  It is really quite amusing as I reflect back on it mainly because this type of environment is about the exact opposite of the way I normally live.   I thrive on quiet and solitude.  I typically write or blog or study in total isolation.  So sitting there next to the main printer on the floor with people passing by me constantly, I would type fiercely racing the clock and often tearing up while I relived the events of the day before.

The last two weeks have flown by.  What an incredible experience.  I am sure that I have not yet processed it all and I find myself wandering back to New York in my thoughts with the images of many individuals in my mind.  While I was definitely ready to return home and felt good about the work I did there, the overwhelming majority of people I met still have such a long way to go.  Simple things that I take for granted just since returning home less than 24 hours ago: a hot shower, electricity, a mold-free environment and all my possessions, secure as when I left them — these are all privileges that the people I worked with do not enjoy this New Year’s day.  I was catching up on the news last night (I am a confirmed news addict) and of course the “fiscal cliff” dominated the headlines.  While this routinely caused me to roll my eyes before leaving for New York, I found myself actually angry last night as I listened to arrogant politicians feed the cameras bullshit excuses as to why they were not doing their jobs and acting on the best interests of the American people.  And then I thought about how this must sound/appear to the stricken folks I met in Staten Island and Queens and Long Island.  Can you imagine?  These people, in addition to everything they are living through daily, now face a reality of higher taxes and penalties because a bunch of selfish narcissists refuse to set their egos aside?  Of course this morning comes late news that the disaster has apparently been averted for another month or two, whereupon we’ll get on the same silly ride all over again.

 

 

I hung up my red vest for now though I hope not for the last time.  For any bureaucratic faults the American Red Cross might have as a gigantic volunteer organization, I have a lot of respect for the work they do.  I have only had a limited glimpse but I can testify to countless people who expressed their heartfelt appreciation and said to me over and over again that if they were to give to a charity in the future it would be the Red Cross.  That was nice to hear.

One final thought about all of this.  My last day in NYC I enjoyed speaking on the phone to one of my students, Jim who is currently interviewing for a paid internship/job with a counseling agency.  It would be an amazing opportunity for him and he is an incredible individual, gifted not only as a counselor-in-training but as a human being.  I helped him navigate all the “counselor speak” that was being thrown at him and was pleased to be able to share with him the benefit of having spent nearly two decades in the profession.  Counseling students, like anyone new to a trade or profession, often struggle with the nomenclature and nuances of the reality of the profession as we can only expose them to so many things in graduate school.  He seemed to find the discussion helpful and I hung up with a satisfied feeling.  I hope he gets the position as I know he could do much good.  But the conversation stood in stark contrast to what I had been doing in New York for two weeks.  You see even though to deliver disaster mental health services for the Red Cross, you need to be a licensed professional, they also have very strict guidelines as to what we can do and not do while working for them.  We cannot diagnose or treat…in other words, no real counseling or therapy.  This can be incredibly frustrating at times but I completely understand it on practical grounds, not to mention legal ones.  So ironically, what we are left to do is just basic human comfort.  I shook lots of hands and gave many hugs and listened, listened, listened.  Back to the basics.  And how wonderful indeed.  My student Jim is at a place in his budding counseling career where he needs to be at the top of his game, understanding the differences in theoretical orientations, treatment techniques and protocols.  But in my heart of hearts what I want most for him and all those that I teach and supervise is that they never forget the primal human needs: to be heard and to be respected.

The great author, W.H. Auden once wrote:

“Healing, Papa would tell us, is not a science but the intuitive art of wooing nature.”

I have had this quote written in a book for quite some time as I knew he was conveying something special that I couldn’t quite get my finger on.  Now I think I might understand what Auden’s father was trying to say.  The people of New York have recently been at the mercy of nature’s ferocity having little to no control over the rising tides, the winds and rain and they paid a heavy price — no “wooing nature” there.  Yet upon meeting these battered and bruised people many of whom were not initially keen on opening up to a complete stranger — a retired professional therapist whose clinical skills were necessarily fettered — I found myself falling back on my instincts: speak their language, show them you pose no threat, listen much more than you talk, respect their dignity, allow yourself to be touched by their pain and anger.  And in so doing (though certainly I  did not do it flawlessly), I think in my own little way, I “wooed nature” and hopefully, opened the door ever so slightly for healing to begin.

So I guess that’s it.  I will post this and return to my college football, assorted snacks and likely a long nap in the comfort of my secure little home.  But always, in the back of my mind, is the awareness of how fragile all of this really is.

Happy New Year.

Terry

Uncategorized

December 30, 2012

Out Processing – Day 13

It feels very strange to have nothing to do.  All the teams went out today but myself and a colleague are staying in-house because we have to do all the paperwork to end our deployment (out processing).  We followed up on some cases by phone today known as “hot shots” and I can feel myself winding down…and longing for home.

I wanted to thank  you all again for reading along.  Please know that I would love to have you continue to connect with my blog.  While I don’t usually post everyday like I did here in NYC, a former student of mine from Portland State, Ben, recently inspired me to get active here again so my goal in 2013 is to post at least twice a week.

As I stated earlier, when I get home and have had some distance from here and a little time to process, I will write some more…my way of getting closure on this amazing experience.

I will usher in the new year in my quiet little apartment in the cold of Superior, Wisconsin but as cliche as it may sound, I will do so with a renewed perspective on how fortunate I am and at the same time, how fragile our lives really can be.  I hope that the valuable lessons I have learned here will not be soon forgotten.

As per my custom (and as is with so many others), I will be reflecting on 2012 and setting goals…seeking a vision really…for 2013.  And in that light I wish you all a meaningful and reflective holiday.  “Talk” to you soon!

Terry

Uncategorized

December 29, 2012

A Good Tired – Day 12

Well, my time here is almost complete.  This will be my last blog entry from the field though I will write some summary posts upon my return to the Twin Ports.  I will be out in the field one last time today, “out process” tomorrow and head to the airport Monday morning.  If all goes well I will spend New Year’s Eve in the comfort of my home in Superior, Wisconsin.

I am tired but it is a good tired.  I have met and worked with some amazing people from all over the country.  I will miss some of these folks as they have really encouraged me as to the quality of our profession and inspired me personally.  But of course those that I will remember the most are the ones that I came to serve.

We went out to a long-term shelter on Staten Island yesterday and I met four adorable little girls, sisters who were literally trapped on the roof of their home as the flood waters rushed by them just feet below.  I met a young man, 21 years old that has been suffering from a nerve disorder and the ability of he and his mother to receive adequate treatment for his condition has been severely complicated by this disaster.  I met another young man, 17 years old who had to swim, along with his family, for their lives in the darkest moments of the storm.  All of these folks have been living at an old Catholic convent, in tiny rooms for two months now.  Even being right in the middle of all of this, I still have to step back and see what is actually in front of me.  Because if you are not careful these folks become just the “mission” for today.  We get up early, we walk to headquarters, we receive our assignments, we head into the field, we contact “clients,” we listen and empathize and try our best to connect them to the resources they need and then we return to do it all again tomorrow.  But every single person I meet has been deeply impacted.  Most have lost their homes and their possessions and many have lost their cars and even their jobs.  And the emotional and psychological difficulties will last far beyond my deployment.  I must remember this.  Just as when I was in practice, I had to remember that while the clients I saw each day represented my income, each one was a unique human being who was struggling and needed me to be fully present, listening and genuinely caring about them.

There are so many faces, so many stories, so many encounters that I have had, I cannot do most of them justice.  I have tried to honor them here in these posts and document (while trying to be discreet and preserve their dignity) the tragedy and upheaval I have seen.  I have included one more round of pictures I took the other day in Queens to help you understand that, even two months past, people still  have so much work to go.  And the harshest days of winter have not even arrived yet…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to thank you all for reading along with me.  And I would like to leave you with one last encounter I had — a seemingly unlikely one to include here.

During my day off I went into Times Square to have a nice, sit-down breakfast and then head over to the movie theater for a matinee.  The young female server who greeted me and took my order looked very, very tired and stressed.  The restaurant was quite busy and I instinctively gave her that “counselor’s smile,” trying to convey that she’ll make it through okay and that I won’t be one customer that screams at her.  She took my order and shortly arrived with my food but I had no utensils.  When I asked her for some, through a heavy European accent, she apologized several times.  I had noticed her name on her name tag and spoke it and then told her in as calm and reassuring a voice as I could use, that it was okay and that I thought that she was doing a wonderful job.  She smiled and thanked me and left to retrieve a fork for me to eat with.  When she came back she paused and thanked me again for being pleasant to her.  I asked her if she was okay and she said she was…that she had just been working a lot of hours due to the holidays.  Then she paused, watching nervously behind me no doubt looking out for her supervisor, and she told me that I was the first person to show her real kindness all shift and that she really appreciated it.  I told her it was no big deal and that I was glad to as I noticed she appeared to be having a hard day.  And then she did something so sweet.  She reached out and touched me on the shoulder and said that she wanted to “get” some of my positive energy that she could use for the rest of the day.  I reached over and placed my hand on hers just for a moment and then our interaction was over.  It was a precious human connection in the middle of the busyness of Times Square and in the midst of the fatigue and chaos of my disaster deployment.  Just a brief, human interaction between two peopl, that apparently meant a lot to her.  I know it did to me.  I left her a large tip and a hand-written note of encouragement and walked away.

I share this because it touched me personally but it also gave me a moment to look at my own reflection.  Why did I react the way I did?  I think it was because in my role here in NYC, I am a “helper.”  I have been called upon to reach out to those in need.  I saw her need that morning, certainly not at the level of those who have lost their homes, but a real need nonetheless, and I reacted with what I believe was sincere compassion and empathy.  But I must confess that when I am back home and in the midst of my routine and having a bad day or stressed over my job or feeling sorry for myself or hurting over something that happened to me, or just being lazy, and I see these types of things…I see these types of people in need…I often do nothing.  In fact I can be quite prickly when I don’t want people to intrude upon me or see my vulnerability.

Each of us has countless encounters every day where we have the chance to make a difference in people’s lives.  I don’t want to be a good and admirable man, only when I am wearing a red vest and deployed with a mission.  I just want to be a good man.  So as my incredible experience here is coming to an end I find myself looking in the mirror, questioning the REAL Terry McGlasson and hoping that the charity and sacrifice I have displayed here will translate into my daily life back home.  That is something that you can do…that is something that I can do.  And we will never know what that might mean to another…

 

 

Terry

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

December 27, 2012

Rest! – Day 10

I got about 7 1/2 hours sleep last night!  For me that is remarkable.  Apparently I needed it.  I have the day off today and right now, am sitting in a busy Starbucks, writing and watching many, many people walk by the window.  In a moment I am going to head over for an actual sit-down lunch and then probably catch a matinee.

However I  wanted to pause for a quick moment to tell you that yesterday, I was back out on an ERV and was fortunate enough to go on the same route as I did my third day here, so I was able to reconnect with some people I had met before.  One in particular, I felt you all would want to know about.

I wrote about en elderly widower who I sat with as he cried in his empty kitchen.  Well I sought him out yesterday and he is still going strong.  There has been some progress on his first floor and he assured me that he had spent Christmas in the warm presence of his family.  He is still using his stove to heat the downstairs which makes us all cringe but he seems to be  careful.  He looked better…a little stronger and that encouraged me.

I was also able to see several others I had met previously and what a joy to give them a hug!  It seemed to mean a lot to them that I had tried very hard to remember their names.  I walked into several of their homes and was able to celebrate and affirm them as to the changes and progress I could readily see.  It was a very cold and blustery day but my heart was warm.

Please keep all these folks in your thoughts and prayers as we are getting lots of wintry weather.  I can only imagine the negative associations and fears these folks experience when they see bad weather in the forecast.

Again, thank you all for continuing to read and for keeping me in your thoughts as well.  This has been…and continues to be…an amazing experience and I am doing fine.

Be well,

Terry

 

Uncategorized

December 26, 2012

Christmas Decorations – Day 9

By my estimation Christmas Day was either going to be really busy because people desperately needed to get help and we would be open and operating despite the holiday, or it would be really quiet because the folks affected by the hurricane would be gathering with loved ones.  It appears that the latter was true.  It was a very quiet day.  I was back at the St. Francis warming and food distribution center but there were not many people coming in and though I had some meaningful connections there was not a lot of work to be done.  We were blessed with nice, sunny, crisp weather though which was a pleasant change.

I did want to share one illustration that I thought was so telling.  In a meeting of the mental health staff the other day, several workers who had deployed here right after the initial storm event, were sharing the similarities and differences between that prior deployment and this one.  One counselor said that this is what stuck with her:  when they arrived in early November, so many houses that had been hit hard still had tattered Halloween decorations strewn across their yards and in front of their houses, evidence that the force of what hit them had disrupted daily life and a whole new set of priorities was in place.  So during this deployment, the counselor said she considered it a positive sign to see houses that had Christmas decorations hung.  An indication to her that for some, life was returning to some level of normalcy and that people were trying to get back to what they knew.

I have the whole day off tomorrow to rest and reconstitute and then I hit the home stretch.  Not much more to report today so I thought I would upload pictures that I have taken and then, I need to get out into the field again.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terry

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

December 25, 2012

Christmas 2012 – Day 8

I teach counseling.  I am privileged to be one part of a large team that is working to train the next generation of young counselors.  Of particular joy for me is teaching the Introduction to Counseling course at the University of Wisconsin – Superior.  It is exactly what it sounds like – the new students’ first glimpse into our profession.  Consequently I find myself often thinking about the foundational aspects — the very core components of our profession — that I practiced personally for more than 15 years.  There are many myths about our job but two that I often speak to my students about are as follows:

1. We fix people who have problems.  While we can assist people who are having difficulties, no one can really “fix” the problems of another.  In fact we believe that the overwhelming majority of clients have the answers within them but because they are caught right in the middle of their world, they often can’t see them.  So as we listen and discern, we are helping them to hear what they are really saying and to see all the wonderful and beautiful aspects of their person hood that we see.

2. We have to be “strong” for the people we serveWe cannot allow ourselves to affected by the lives and struggles of our clients because we won’t be able to be objective enough to assist them.  While it is true that we have to maintain professional boundaries and remain objective enough to help others, we have to be impacted by the things that impact our clients or we’re just not human.  It serves no real purpose to allow an emotional wall to be erected around our hearts for the cause of self-protection because its very existence actually sets us apart.  Instead we teach our counselors-in-training to learn appropriate boundaries and that we MUST take self-care seriously, right from the beginning of our training.  This balance allows us to remain in the profession long-term but still permits our hearts and souls to touch the hearts and souls of others (and for theirs to touch ours as well).

I say all of that as a prelude to explaining my day yesterday.  I wrote the last blog, yesterday morning and referred to some of the emotions and fatigue I was feeling.  It was to be expected.  I was at the halfway point experiencing many powerful connections with hurting people, working long days and sleeping out of a hotel room in NYC!  It was also Christmas Eve and I was 3,000 miles away from family and loved ones.  But as we moved into the day, the roller coaster really picked up speed.  The events of yesterday are too complicated and require too much background to go into a detailed explanation.  Suffice it to say not a whole lot went right.  It was tiring, confusing, frustrating, painful and even maddening.  Mind you it was nothing “major” in the whole scheme of things and I am not unique.  Every Red Cross volunteer experiences this same type of day eventually.  It’s just that yesterday was my day.  The long and short of it was that my colleague and I spent an entire afternoon trying to locate a single individual in the city whom we were told truly needed food and supplies.  At one point we found ourselves so lost and our GPS so dead, that we had to abandon our search, head back to headquarters, get a map, a new GPS and reinforcements and head back out again.  And as we were headed out a second time, determined to help this individual, he informed us that he wouldn’t accept the disaster ration food that we were bringing to him, stating that the food made him sick.

I do not write this to cast this man in a negative light.  There are myriad factors that impact people, especially when they are under extreme stress.  And the folks around here tell me that these meals are also not the most nutritious.  But this whole thing left ME ragged.  When we initially lost him and had to turn back, I was heartbroken.  I had allowed myself to get too wrapped up in our mission and felt like a failure and was pretty hurt.  Then, when we set out again only to be turned away, I found myself angry and frustrated.

But here’s the key (counseling students, if you’re reading this pay attention): I then had an obligation to care for myself.  I came back to headquarters and sat down with two veteran therapists and processed the whole day with them and shed some tears.  It is amazing how effective sharing our hurts can be.  Because these ladies were experienced they understood exactly what I was struggling with and patiently listened and affirmed me for my efforts.  They also helped to ground me and assist me to gain a more rational perspective on the day…and the whole deployment for that matter.  Then I walked away from work and spent the rest of the evening, being good to Terry.  I spoke with my family, had a good meal, hit the town and enjoyed a wonderful night — Christmas Eve no less — in Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza.  I journaled extensively and ended the long day at St. Malachy’s for midnight mass, where my soul even received some triage.

I don’t share these things to brag about myself but to allow the reader to understand that what makes a good, effective counselor is NOT our “super-humanness,” but rather our very real and fragile humanity.  It is the broken parts of who we are that reach out to the broken parts of our clients.  We just have the education, the training and the experience that all work to inform us to be aware of what is happening inside us and then, to take action toward self-care so we can get up the next day and do it again.

It is not an exaggeration when I share with you that I felt so good, and strong and free last night, even I was surprised.  My training kicked in just like it was supposed to and because I have learned over the years that Terry is worth being taken care of and loved, I did just that.

A very hard day, tore away the thin veneer of my “strength” and “stability” and revealed a very tender and vulnerable man who has learned through the years that it is his humanity that allows him to care for humanity.

 

 

Merry Christmas…

 

Uncategorized

December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve – Day 7

 

Greetings to everyone who has been reading this blog.  Thank you.  I know many of you are and although we have not spoken directly, I can feel you.

It is early Christmas Eve morning.  I am tired as I have been putting in 12 hours days for a while now.  I found myself walking to headquarters down 49th Street today getting emotional.  I was listening to Christmas music on my I-Pod and thinking about…well, thinking about what we all think about this time of year.  Family and loved ones and special Christmas memories.  Manhattan is a long way from the small central California town I spent most of my childhood in.  I grew into a man and moved to Oregon to pursue my career and practiced there for many years.  Then, two and a half years ago I made my way to Wisconsin to accept my professorship and begin what I hope will be my last “official” career – education.

And here I sit.  I am writing from Red Cross New York headquarters, preparing to go out into the field today with another mental health worker.  It sounds like we will  be assigned to a community site that has been connecting with a lot of people.  My heart and mind are filled with so many images and exchanges that I wish I could convey to you.  Some I choose not to write about out of respect for the people.  But most, I simply lack the skill to convey in words any image that would make sense to you so I thought this morning, given my limitations and my time constraints, that I would just list some “snap shots” for you:

- burned out and broken down homes and buildings intermixed between homes and businesses seemingly untouched

 

-proud men accepting free food and water without making eye contact

 

- mothers speaking messages to their children in a language I don’t recognize

 

- the voice of a young mother and wife, fatigued and worried that her children and husband have suffered more damage than she can readily see

 

- extreme poverty in some sections of town and within blocks, incredible wealth

 

- a Red Cross volunteer, exhausted and stressed

 

- cars lined up in front of a home that has just lost a son

Of course I will write more, but these were some of the images filling my heart today.  Even as I write I am tearing up.  Nothing bad, just a natural expression of emotion as my mind and soul try to make sense of all I am taking in.

The Christmas tradition speaks of a little child, born to young unprepared parents having entered the world just outside a large metropolitan area with chaos and crowds of people all around that left the young family no place of privacy and peace but a small stable.  And of course as the story goes, that “child” changed the world.

I’m not much of a Christian anymore and I have no idea whether this story is historical fact or an allegory of a larger truth that God or a divine entity wanted us to grasp or if it is simply narrative tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.  But it is a tale filled with images that I remember from my own earliest childhood.  And now, as a middle-aged man who has experienced much in his life and at times can be quite cynical I find myself wanting it to be true.  At least the moral of the story.  That in the midst of chaos there can be peace.  In the midst of noise, there can quiet.  In the midst of stress and tension, there can be clairiy and solitude.  And in the midst of devastation, there can be hope.

Merry Christmas to you all  from New York.  And thank you all for your thoughts and prayers…

 

Uncategorized

December 23, 2012

St. Francis Warming Station – Day 6

Yesterday we left headquarters quite early and headed out with a van of volunteers to two sites in the Rockaways.  But rather than moving out in the ERV’s, we were at two fixed locations: 94th Street and the The St. Francis Church.  These locations set up huge tents with warm air piped in.  Inside these tents, where local folks have tried their best to decorate them for Christmas, there are tables for the FEMA folks, attorneys volunteering their time, a makeshift community bulletin board and lots of coffee and warm food.

The weather had forced my site, St. Francis, to close the day before so people slowly made their way in during the morning hours not sure if we would be there or not.  Remember that we are about 6-7 weeks post hurricane now and for many people in the area, this has become a ritual or routine for them.  You can debate whether, in the long run this is positive or not but the fact is, there are still  a lot of folks that need help.

We spent the early morning hours cleaning the site and getting all the food ready for serving.  Everyone just jumped in and did whatever needed to be done.  We joined up with amazing volunteers from the neighborhood that are giving hundreds of hours of their own time.  As the people came in I tried my best to greet them and make them feel welcome.  Much of our role as disaster mental health workers is just to get people talking and then to listen and watch.  If we see any warning signs that someone might be in acute distress, we can take immediate action.  But normally I think people just want to feel like you are a friend that’s willing to listen.

 

This area, they tell me, was hit very hard.  You can still see berms of sand all up and down the city streets — sand that is supposed to be in the bay.  They said they had to bring in bulldozers to clear the streets and dig out people’s yards and home fronts.  — So anyway, I ran around greeting folks and chasing pigeons out of the tent and joking with our NYC police officer and doing my best to spread some holiday cheer.  As I write this it occurs to me that it doesn’t feel very exciting…no dramatic stories.  And yet I find myself wondering, “Wow, where did all the time go?  Did I really just run around a warming tent for 8 hours?”  Yes, I suppose I did.  But there is such a reward…you feel such a relief to spend an entire day not worrying about your own concerns or your bills or work or…well, you get the idea.  I think I try to be an altruistic person as a rule but in truth I think I’m probably as selfish as the next person.  So it feels good to be someplace where you are focused on everyone else.

It’s kind of hard to describe on a blog what it feels like to be here.  There is a lot of “grunt work,” mundane stuff sparked by moments of confusion and rush and the occasional odd or difficult moment.  And sure enough, ours was coming.

The hot food was arriving, graciously donated by local restaurants and delis and we were gearing up to serve lunch.  I was excited because I knew this would mean lots of new contacts.  But it was not to be.  The winds started to really pick up and they called in some local contractors to inspect the tent as it was starting to heave pretty dramatically.  They poked and prodded and examined for a while as we continued to prepare and then they finally made the call: we had to shut down immediately.  We were heartbroken as we knew that word was finally getting out and people were coming.  So literally within 20 minutes, every volunteer in the tent sprung into action and we made over 100 sandwhiches and packed them with chips and fruit in paper bags and handed them out from the sidewalk.  Again, these words don’t do justice to how chaotic and how exciting this was.  Complete strangers that had all just met that morning: families, Red Cross workers, local church members, all racing to do whatever we could to help people, many without food and the ability to cook, to get some food.

Well the tent didn’t collapse, we got as much food out as we could, people seemed very grateful and I was exhausted.  I have to sign off for now because we are headed out again but I will write more soon.  Another day in NYC…

 

Uncategorized

December 22, 2012

Dividing Lines – Day 5

I have been thinking a lot about “dividing lines”  and I’ve been struck the last few days as we drive into and out of disaster zones, that the disaster demarcation lines seems so arbitrary.  Why did everyone south of this corner or west of that house or right of this street…why did they get wiped out but just across these imaginary lines life continues as usual?  Of course the ultimate answer to this is some sort of technical environmental or climatic issue.  But to the causal eye it just seems so random.  And that disturbs me.

As I walk around this majestic city I see the same type of thing.  A middle class neighborhood seems to magically end at a particular block and the buildings instantly transform into what is apparent to even a visitor, to be a more affluent section of town.

And then I started thinking about not just geographic lines, but lines between human beings as well.  I have flown from Wisconsin to New York and taken my Christmas holiday to volunteer my time to help those who have been deeply impacted by a natural disaster.  And yet on my way to Red Cross headquarters each morning I pass people who are hurting and impoverished and homeless and I don’t stop to assist them and I grow irritated when they slow my pace to ask for some spare change.  Why?  Where is the line that makes these people less deserving of my “humanitarian care” than those in Queens or Staten Island?

I found it curious the other day when we were out in the ERV handing out emergency food that the driver and worker also gave meals to the construction workers and even a couple of UPS drivers that came by.  I noted that somewhere inside me it pricked my sense of right and wrong.  The driver said that it is not their place to say who gets help and who doesn’t.  I stopped and thought for a bit — practically speaking, I can understand such a policy.  Can you imagine putting that level of stress on volunteers to decide who gets assistance and who doesn’t?  Now to be sure they don’t let someone just walk up and take 20 meals with them.  They try to monitor it as best they can but ultimately they don’t want to be the judges.  And who am I to say that I know the relative security that the construction worker lives in?  Maybe he is just getting by day to day and as he is down in these wrecked neighborhoods making some money, the free lunch gets him just a bit more ahead.

In fact I had an interesting conversation with one of the workers one day as he waited for his meal.  I realized this was a bit touchy so I proceeded cautiously.  I said something like, “You know it’s weird, here all these people were hit so hard and have lost so much and now here you guys are down here helping them to restore their homes and lives and because of this disaster you have gainful employment.”  … it was something like that.  It wasn’t so straightforward and I doubt I used the phrase “gainful employment” but you get the idea.  However it was what he said that really held value.  He understood what I was getting at and he indicated that he had thought of the same thing.  And he conveyed that for him the only way it all makes sense is if he chooses to treat these people in an ethical manner.  Wow.  That really gave me pause and I asked him to explain further.  He said in disasters, people often get gauged by those who would take advantage of a terrible situation when they are most vulnerable and he thought that the way it all comes out right in the end is if he acts as an ethical contractor.

And I guess that’s the point of this reflection.  There are arbitrary lines everywhere in our lives.  Good/ bad, right / wrong, have’s / have not’s.  These seem to be decided by powers and systems so much greater than any of us.  And the only way I can find any peace about this at all is to realize I still control my actions, my thoughts and my behaviors.  I, Terry McGlasson, get to choose where I draw my lines…or how I operate within the lines that society has drawn for me.  I can strive to be a good man or a lousy one.  I can strive to treat people in an equitable manner or not.  I can strive to respect people’s ethnic heritage and political views and spiritual beliefs or I can scream and yell and force my views on others.  It’s my choice.

So here I am working with victims of a huge natural disaster, many of whom are struggling deeply and have lost so much that will never be replaced and in about 9 days, I’ll return to the safety and relative comfort of my stable and secure home.  How do I live with that?  By being the best, most ethical, most empathetic volunteer mental health worker I can be…now.   A choice this moment, and in the coming hours and all throughout the day…

 

Uncategorized

December 21, 2012

E.R.V. – Day 3

I finally made it out into the field yesterday.  It is hard to describe here what a massive operation this is.  It is really beyond belief.  Four of us mental health workers drove out to Queens to the staging area.  We had a wonderful time.  They are each amazing people with storied careers helping countless numbers of lives.  We arrived at a huge Casino parking lot where there were tents, semi-truck trailers and easily 100 ERV’s.  E.R.V. is the abbreviation for Emergency Response Vehicle – the iconic red and white trucks that you often see on the news during natural disasters.  These trucks are used primarily to bring hot food and needed supplies out to the people who need them the most.  Our  mission was to jump onto one of the ERV’s and get out into the field where we could make contact with people…and then do what counselors do.

We had no specific truck assignments so four counselors went running around the parking lot looking for a ride and explaining over and over again, who we were and what we were doing.  I finally found a truck and after helping to load all of our food, off we went.  We ended up out in the Rockaways…you may remember that name from the news reports.  They were hit really hard and now, over 6 weeks later the struggle was still quite evident.

Our specific location were two designated streets in a neighborhood that our driver had been to many times before and had begun building relationships with the local people there.  While the driver and his assistant worked hard serving meals block to block, I jumped out of the truck and just started walking the streets, meeting the folks coming up for some food or busily working on their homes.

It is a strange experience to be in a flood zone 6 weeks after the fact because the damage is not always readily evident from the outside.  If you were cruising down the street in your car not knowing where you were, you might not even realize the pain and struggle behind the front doors of these homes.  Most of the first floors of the homes were destroyed and have been abandoned or gutted and are in the process of being refurbished.  I met person after person working hard, trying to reclaim her or his home and the life they knew before the storm.  I helped one woman take food back to her house and walked in to see a first floor home that was nothing but plywood and sheet rock.  Talking with her and hearing her voice quake when she recalled those events broke my heart.  She was trying to be strong but there was tremendous strain and fatigue on her face.  This experience was repeated time and time again throughout the day.  I spoke with another woman as she was walking out to her car.  She and her husband have two adopted young boys who are still showing signs of uncertainty and fear.  The parents are doing all they can to get them counseling and create a sense of safety in their home that has been pratically destroyed but through tearing eyes, she asked rhetorically, “How do you help them feel secure again?”

Perhaps the person that struck me the deepest was an 80-something year old man who lived alone after the passing of his wife.  He lost many of this life-long possessions and those that survived the flood were all crammed on the second floor of his home.  He had no heat and was using a gas stove (which really scared me) and walked very slowly with a cane.  I brought his meal into the house for him and he sat in a metal folding chair in his empty kitchen describing to me all that he had lost.  I set out his meal for him and as he spoke he began to cry.  I didn’t want to embarrass this proud man by drawing attention to this so I simply got down on one knee and put my hand on his shoulder and we sat there for a moment.  Would he be better off living with relatives?  Of course.  But how can you ask this man to abandon the only thing that he owns?  Perhaps the strongest connection he had to his deceased wife and the many years of memories they and their children no doubt shared together in this small home.  And so there he sat, eating his disaster rations alone in his kitchen.  He assured me his daughter would be checking in on him the next day and that he would be spending Christmas with relatives.

I walked out and headed down the street.  I met countless adult children and grandchildren of elderly parents who were coming back day after day between their own jobs and commitments to try to put their folks’ lives back together again.  And I witnessed so much strength.  Determined people with heavy accents and gracious words of appreciation for what the Red Cross was doing for them.  I can’t imagine how hard it must be for some of these people to come out day after day, and accept free food and handouts.  But they do because they need it.

We awoke to a heavy rain today which is sure to complicate everything.  I am a little sleepy but ready to get at it again.  I’ll run around and find a “jumpseat” in the back of an ERV and as we go rattling down the streets to our next destination I will listen to Christmas carols on my I-pod and hope for peace for these tired people.

 

Uncategorized

December 19, 2012

New York City – Day 2

The day I left Superior my department chair Terri was laughing and teasing me about how “impressed” she was that I seemed okay about deploying within 24 hours of getting notice.  The humor in this is that anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner.  And, as I have written about on this blog previously, I like CONTROL!  So it was quite a step for me to find out Monday morning that there was a need and Tuesday afternoon I was on a plane to New York.  And in the short amount of time that I have been here, it is obvious that life or god or the universe is intending to stretch me in the “need-for-control” department.  Flexibility is the key.

It started last night when I arrived at LaGuardia and rather than someone coming to pick me up, I received instructions as to the hotel I was staying at and to use a cab to get there.  Riding in a New York City cab is an amazing experience.  Not for the faint of heart (or in my case, for someone who gets car sick!).  We finally arrived and after my heart rate returned to normal and I actually figured out how to pay the cab driver, I made it into my room about 11pm.

I was told that there was a good chance the accommodations would be meager at best, so I was ready for a Red Cross shelter and 250 “roommates.”  But instead I have an 11 x 9 motel room right downtown near Broadway.  It is not the type of motel most would stay in on a vacation but I consider it a real blessing.  A little space for me to retreat to at the end of what are bound to be some very exhausting and emotionally draining days.

I woke up and wandered around NYC lost, because I walked right when I should have went left.  So while it was fun to peek in the window of the Today Show being broadcast, I was late for my orientation.  Another terrifying cab ride later, I arrived at the Red Cross headquarters.  This is a massive operation, staffed almost exclusively by volunteers.  Incredible people from all over the nation (and the world) who are here because they care.

This entire day so far has been running from one orientation to the next. I have acquired an arm full of policy and instruction sheets and am trying to process the information as it comes.  They issued me a cell phone and it looks like tomorrow I will head out into the field.

I did have the chance to shadow a counselor this morning when we went downstairs to meet a family who was struggling.  I met a father, mother and their little son who basically lost everything in the storm and ensuing flood waters.  They have been staying at a hotel since then and their voucher will run out soon.  They were incredibly kind, patient and appreciative of all that has been done for them but you could see the fatigue and stress in their eyes.  The counselor did a great job of engaging the little boy, getting him to draw a self portrait.  The father showed me a picture on his cell phone of their living room filled with water and dead fish.  I felt great compassion for them and I realized on this, my first contact with victims of this disaster, that the hardest part is going to be that we can’t fix their lives…we can’t give them back all that they have lost.  We listened and chatted with them for a few minutes and the counselor gave them a couple tips and phone numbers they did not already have, but eventually they got up and left, the little boy clutching the Mickey Mouse stuffed toy he received from a Red Cross worker.

I am tired but so glad to be here.  I am ready for tomorrow…I think.